My husband controls who I have for friends, what kinds of meetings I go to, what I should wear to cook breakfast in. I’m thinking of leaving him. Please help. What should I do?

Dear Struggling,

You really do have some choices before you move out. You and your husband have slipped into an unhealthy pattern. At some point, he decided to become controlling and overbearing. Without knowing his background, it is hard to say what his motives are for being this way. My guess is he is frustrated. When controlling people don’t get their way, that's how they usually feel.

Some people don’t have a high tolerance for frustration. Those people might not be willing to change, and therefore, are not good candidates for a strong relationship such as marriage.

Nevertheless, rarely will a controlling person change without you first making some decisions about the quality of your life, and if you have them, the lives of your children. You may need to show some emotional strength in order to help you both.

What You Can Do For Him

You may need to take the initiative when it comes to changing how you intercommunicate in your marriage because you are the one who is not happy with the current situation. Discovering why he reacts the way he does is the first step. Remember the adage that hurting people hurt people. He may have some deep underlying issues. Ask yourself:

  1. Is his father controlling with his mother. Some behavioral patterns are learned at a very young age. If he has been raised to believe this is how husbands should act to “be the man of the house,” then it will take a while to un-program that message. And he will need to make a considerable effort to do that.
  2. Does he feel emasculated? Is he misinterpreting your actions and reactions, or has he heard you talk about him to your friends behind his back? Couples should build each other up, not tear each other down.
  3. Does he have an over-demanding boss? He may subconsciously be trying to control you in order to compensate and feel more like a “man.”
  4. Does he have trust issues? Did someone hurt him deeply in the past and so he feels the need to control you so you don’t hurt him? Is he concerned, whether founded or unfounded, that you may have a wandering eye, so he wants to monitor your acquaintances and monopolize your time?

If you can, find a quiet time to talk with him and tell him how you feel. However, be sure not to blame him or accuse him. That will only put him on the defensive. Realize it most likely will be an ongoing conversation for several months, if not years.

What You Can Do For Yourself

I would seek a counselor to help you deal with this issue. At one time, you allowed yourself to be controlled or were attracted to his controlling manners. A counselor can help you figure out why.

Role playing and other therapeutic techniques can be eye-opening and life-changing. Building your own self esteem will help you lovingly confront his behavior. As you gain confidence in yourself and your ability to make your own choices, you will feel emotionally stronger and more capable of handling his personality.

Even if he yells, stay calm. Don’t let the situation escalate. For example, you might say, “I love you. But I can choose what I want to wear. Let me show you that I can pick out something that meets your approval on my own so you can see you can trust my choices.” That way he believes he has not lost control, while you have in fact gained some. If he continues to be unreasonable, smile, say “I love you but I cannot talk with you when you are like this,” and walk away.

Soon, he will discover he cannot control you as he once did. He may buck at first. He may try other ways to manipulate you such as yelling, throwing things, or the like. If you take it slow and keep expressing the love and respect you had for him when you walked down the aisle, then he may begin to calm down and treat you differently. Again, it depends on his tolerance level of the frustration he experiences from the boundaries you intentionally set. Your therapist can better advise you.

Perhaps you can talk him into joining you in counseling. He may scoff and say you need it because you are acting strangely. Ask him to come along for a few sessions and allow the trained professional to arbitrate your conversations.

Eventually, as you regain his trust, and he sees you do not need controlling, he will gain more love and respect for you. But it is going to take both of you working together.

Please note: If he is prone to violence, have the phone nearby to call 911 if he threatens you physically. If he hits you, call the police and have him arrested. It’s against the law to hit women for not wearing what you want them to, or for any other reason for that matter. No one should put their lives or well being in jeopardy.

This article is an adaptation and expansion of an article by Dr. Ginger Gabriel.

This article was written by: Julie Cosgrove

Photo Credit: Ben Blennerhassett