What to Do with a Controlling Husband

Letter #1


Introduction: Over the past 30 years, I've seen women increasingly concerned about power and control in marital relationships. It's an issue that deserves the attention it's been given and women usually have good reason to be alarmed at the controlling behavior of their husbands. It not only deprives them of their personal right to freedom of choice, but it also ruins their marriages. The attempt of one spouse to control another is a short-sighted solution to marital conflict that backfires every time.

The first letter I've chosen is long, but particularly good in describing what women put up with when married to controlling men. The second letter is from a man who is being accused by his wife of being controlling, but he doesn't agree. Most controlling men don't. Is he really trying to control her, or is she just caught up in the paranoid thinking of some women these days?

Dear Dr. Harley,

My husband is a very controlling person. He likes to be in charge of everything and he's always telling me what and how to do things. I used to always feel like I couldn't live up to his standards. I realized that with simple things, such as doing the housework, he would quiz me on what I had done, what he thought I should do and how long it took me to do my chores. He'd come home from work, look around the house and ask "Did you do housework today?" I tend to lean towards perfectionism, so you can imagine how frustrating it is was for me to spend hours trying to meet his needs, then have him question me, instead of praise me.

We both work full time, but he controls the purse strings in our household. I can't spend a dime without asking him. If I buy something out of necessity, I make a point of telling him over the phone, while he's still at work so if he gets angry with me he has time to cool down before he gets home. What I find really embarrassing is that other people see how controlling he is and it makes me look like a wimp.

My husband is also a loud person. When we argue, he raises his voice so that he's yelling. I ask him constantly not to yell, but he ignores my request. He also is the type of man who won't apologize. When I've told him he's hurt me, he just won't admit that he's wrong about anything.

I have realized that he's always been controlling, and that was what I needed when I was young. Now I've grown and I need my space to be my own person, and pursue my interests, go out with my friends, but it's an uphill battle. He wants me to account for what I do on my days off. If I suggest doing anything on my own, such as being with people who share my interests, he becomes so unpleasant that I usually just stay home and resent him instead. I could understand his jealousy if there were a lot of men involved, but all the people interested in the hobby I pursue are women.

Whenever he's wanted to improve himself, I tell him to do it. I stand behind him and cheer him on. However, when I mention my dreams there is a distinct lack of support and understanding. He doesn't understand that I feel empty and unfulfilled, as if my brain is wasting away. We could live easily on his income while I upgrade my education, or re-train to better myself. But as soon as I mention school, night classes, or correspondence, he tells me that no one is happy at their job, so why should I be any different. It's like he's telling me not to be such a cry baby.

Oh yes, and our sex life. Well, I like affection, and my husband isn't affectionate at all. Every time he touches me, it translates into sex. He can never just touch me out of affection, it always means more. I've come to resent this. When he reaches out for me, if I can avoid it, I do. I bought a self-help book recently, and when he saw it contained a section on help in the bedroom that's what he wanted to read. That was a big turn off for me. I just looked at him and thought, there's so much more that's wrong with our relationship, sex is at the bottom of my list. Maybe if I got the respect and support and affection from you that I need from a relationship then you wouldn't have to worry about the sex.

I realized a while ago that I don't love my husband anymore and I am thinking about leaving him. I don't want to try to save this marriage because I feel that my husband is too stubborn to change. He won't ever become the sensitive and supportive type if he's never been that to begin with, will he?

When he tells me he loves me at the end of our phone calls, I can't say it back anymore. I haven't told him I love him in a long, long time. I guess what I'm after is more information on controlling types of men. I want to know if I'm blowing things out of proportion in my imagination or not. I think about our relationship on a daily basis and wonder if I'd be better off on my own or not. I'm not happy with my work, or my marriage.

K.W.

Dear K.W.

Your husband probably loves you more than you can ever imagine. While it's true that his demanding and controlling tendencies are driving you nuts, he does it because he has no reason not to do it. It works for him, so why should he stop? Besides, he probably doesn't think he's at all controlling. He probably thinks he is protecting you.

You probably have put up with his controlling ways over the years because you felt that if you left him, you might not survive. So you have allowed all the love units to be drained from your Love Bank until there are none left. If you wait much longer, he'll be so far in the red that you'll hate the man. When you were first married, your husband met many of your emotional needs and deposited enough love units for you to fall in love. That's why you agreed to marry him. But, over the years, he has not tried as hard to meet your needs, particularly your need for affection, and that has lowered his account balance in your Love Bank. Since your sexual responsiveness to him is very dependent on affection, instead of learning to be more affectionate, he has become sexually demanding. Those demands have further eroded your Love Bank.

Then there is his loud and controlling behavior: That has drained your Love Bank of all the rest of the love units that were once there. He has not learned how to make decisions that take your feelings into account and that makes you feel miserable. Whenever he forces you into a decision, instead of reaching one through mutual agreement, love units are withdrawn from your Love Bank. He gets his way, but at the expense of your love for him.

The reason that you feel you need space to be your own person is because of the way your husband makes decisions. Who wants to be married to a dictator! When you were in love with him, you would have gladly made mutually agreeable decisions, because you felt emotionally connected to him. But now he feels like a stranger to you, and all you want is to get away from your jailer once and for all. Your relationship with your husband has become so unfulfilling to you that even the idea of mutual agreement may be unappealing to you -- you simply don't want to deal with the man anymore.

To be honest with you, if your husband encouraged you to spend evenings with your friends, he'd never see you. If he agreed to support you so that you could attend school, when your education would be completed, you'd leave him. In fact, the reason you may have stayed with him this long may be due to how difficult it would be supporting yourself on the income you are presently making. To some extent, he may be aware of how you are slipping away from him, and in his desperation, he may become even more demanding and controlling.

What can be done about it?

I know you have tried to tell him how you feel in the past, and he doesn't seem to listen. But I suggest you do it one more time. This time go to him with a plan.

You mentioned that you gave him a self-help book once before, and his enthusiasm with the chapter on sex turned you off. Well, my book, Fall in Love, Stay in Love, also emphasizes sex, but it's in the context of a host of other factors that come together to make sex very appealing. The book will help you learn to negotiate without being demanding or selfish. I show you how to make decisions without trying to control each other. It also shows you how to overcome Love Busters, such as selfish demands, disrespectful judgments, and angry outbursts. These destructive habits have just about ended your marriage, but if you can eliminate them now, you may be able to save it.

And, it also explains how time for undivided attention with affection and intimate conversation is a prerequisite for sexual fulfillment -- especially for women. By the time you have learned to negotiate with ease, have overcome Love Busters, and have created a romantic relationship, you won't need any help with sexual fulfillment.

Your husband wants you to be happy living with him. I guarantee it. And he is probably aware of his failure. But he doesn't know what to do about it. He doesn't know how to talk to you about your conflicts, and he can see you drifting away from him. Fall in Love, Stay in Love will teach him how to discuss conflicts with you without being controlling, and it will teach him how to make you happy. After you've both learned its lessons, you'll find a much greater willingness on his part to help you finish school, to develop new interests, and to expand your horizons. But it will be done without the threat of you leaving him. Instead, he will be involved with you in your development, not as a controlling husband, but as an interested lover.

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