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How to React to a Controlling Spouse

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My wife is a really controlling spouse. It leads her to take on too many responsibilities and she can’t seem to handle them all. My individual therapist and I figured out that she may have the need to be super mom because of her own mother. I have seen how her mother puts her down and tells her that she can’t handle anything. Her mother, on the other hand, was able to raise a severely disabled child and she feels she is capable of doing anything. I see how my wife may be trying to over- compensate and prove her mother wrong.  My therapist suggested I tell our couple’s therapist about this. What do you think? How can I tell her without her reacting and how can I deal with my resentment about my wife’s controlling behavior?

See your controlling wife as a little girl.

It’s wonderful that you have been able to see the big picture and try to understand the underlying causes of your wife’s controlling behavior instead of judging her.

The most important thing you can do is to have compassion for your wife and imagine what it must have been like growing up in her home with her mother.

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Hold that picture in your mind and heart and realize how unfair it was for her mother to have such little faith in her daughter’s abilities.

Yes, it could be your wife is trying to prove to her mother that she can handle anything, when in reality you say that she is over-committing and controlling.

And, yes, if your wife would be aware of this, it may help give her permission to not try to be super mom.

Yet, I would tread with caution.

Your wife may not take it the right way if you tell her that you and your therapist have a new revelation to explain away her behavior.

She may get defensive.

It would be best for her to come to this realization on her own. It also depends on your relationship.

Couples that have worked on their marriage together and have openly discussed the childhood impact on their current behavior, will have a much easier time suggesting such a hypothesis. If this is not the case for your relationship, you may want to be careful playing “psychologist” with her (here’s more about why this can hurt more than help).

If your joint therapist is someone she trusts and it is a safe setting, it may be helpful to bring it up, but again, with caution.

Your wife may agree 100% with your hypothesis but she may also completely deny it.

I have had couples where one spouse wanted to suggest a plausible childhood reason for the other’s strong reaction and it was completely rejected. If she rejects it, it may leave you back at square one.

Therefore, the most important thing you can do in learning how to react to her controlling behavior is to have compassion for her story.

As you begin to become less triggered by her “need for control”, she may begin to loosen the reigns.

People often grasp for control because they feel unsafe, chaotic, or that if they don’t do it, no one else will. Of course, this makes it hard for the spouse to even pick up the slack.

If there is a way for you to step up more, you may notice that she will not need to be in control as much because she knows it will get take care of.

You may also encourage and tell her its ok not to take on such an extra responsibility.

Learning how to have compassion for your spouse is an important topic that we cover in Chapter 4 of Marriage School, our self help marriage counseling program- "Acknowledge the Other". When you learn how to do this, it opens yourself up to a new way to love and awakens love for your spouse that may have been dormant.

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Be in touch,

Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin

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It is uncomfortable to be married to a controlling spouse.

Exploring his/her need to be controlling will free up the pressure on you. Learn these skills by enrolling in Marriage School.

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