My Spouse Says I’m Controlling

Whether you are controlling, someone is claiming you are but you disagree, or you are being controlled in a relationship, there is something going on that needs to be fixed in your marriage.

No one wants to be controlled, yet everyone’s view point on what ‘controlling’ actually means can differ based on past experience, the specific situation, and thoughts and opinions about what is going on.

Because everyone has had unique past experiences and have learned how to relate to others from parents, mentors, and friends, one spouse may incorrectly perceive an action as controlling when really there were good intentions behind it.

Control really can be a complicated idea.

Two Types of Motivation

Let’s look at the two types of motivation, and this will help us understand why someone might want to control another or even be controlled themselves.

Learning about what motivation really is and determining the type that is going on, will help you to see what you or your spouse’s ultimate goal is.

Approach motivation:

Think of this like you are moving toward, or approaching, a desired stimulus, which could be internal or external.

“I want to look good naked, so I am going to start going to the gym more.”
“I am going to clean the entire house so when my husband/wife gets home from work she will feel appreciative and happy.”

Avoidance motivation:

Think of this like you are moving away from, or avoiding, an undesirable stimulus.

The person who has this type of motivating is going to do something in order to avoid a consequence.

“I feel fat, so I am going to stop eating sugar, bread, and drinking alcohol for six months.”
“I am going to clean the house so that I won’t get griped out for something when my wife gets home from work.”

The avoidance type is usually perceived as the negative type; if you constantly use this in a marriage or believe your spouse is using this, then it needs to stop.

Reasons behind avoidance motivation are usually filled with manipulation, anger, annoyance, anxiety, etc.

Avoidance goals tend to be emotionally charged; therefore, this can cause resentment, poor self-esteem, and perceived less value in the relationship if this type of goal is used often.

Why do People Control?

This is a complicated topic, and in the field of psychology and sociology, there has been an enormous amount of research on it.

‘Why’ is the big question—we need to know where the controlling behaviors are stemming from.

Let’s say we are talking about your spouse who is exhibiting controlling behaviors.

You may wonder:

Were his/her parents controlling as well and is this something he/she witnessed growing up?

Was there a specific event, perhaps even a traumatic one, from childhood that has stuck with him/her that has influenced the way he/she reacts to things?

Does he/she feel so out of control in his/her own life that they feel the need to control everything and everyone around them in order to feel safe?

Is he/she fearful of something and is trying to maintain peace and order?

Positive and Negative Effects of Control


When is controlling good?

Obviously control can be beneficial if it is used to legitimately help someone with meaningful intentions.

For example, Brett has started to drink an excessive amount and his wife Casey is aware that he has been drinking and driving, risking not only his own life, but the lives of other innocent people.

If Casey asks Brett to stop going out drinking and to cut back on the drinking all-together, is she being manipulative and controlling?

Brett may think so; he probably will get defensive and perceive Casey as a controlling or jealous woman who doesn’t want him to have any fun.

The motivation behind the control is healthy—Casey wants her husband to make good choices and not risk his life or possibility of going to jail.

How to Approach This

Casey needs to be careful in how she approaches this situation and in the way she communicates her needs to her husband.

She needs to voice her concerns in a calm way, not project any negativity or judgement about the situation, even if she wants to, and she needs to set some healthy boundaries within the relationship regarding the drinking, especially surrounding the act of drinking and driving.


Controlling can be bad when the reasoning behind it is solely to manipulate and control for the benefit of one party.

For example, let’s say that Brett was taking Uber to the bar a few nights a week, hence drinking and driving is not a factor in this particular scenario.

Casey becomes jealous because she does not want Brett spending his time away from her and knows that there are attractive women who go to that bar as well; she does not want her husband around those women having a good time.

Brett catches Casey following him to the bar one night, and in addition to her sneaky behaviors, she has been withholding sex on a regular basis.

The intentions of wanting him to stop going to the bar are valid in her own mind, but they are not truly good intentions—they stem from jealousy and wanting to control her husband’s actions.

How to Approach This

If Casey continues to engage in controlling and manipulative behaviors, this will negatively affect their marriage and may end up with Brett leaving her.

Brett needs to confront her about her actions and they need to have an open and honest conversation about what is really going on.

How to Stop Controlling or Being Controlled

  • Figure out WHY this is happening—-then you can figure out an action plan to stop the control.
  • Seek out counseling (professional or religious).
  • Establish healthy boundaries within the relationship.
  • Communication is key; admit the control and apologize. Tell your spouse what you plan to do to make things better
  • Do NOT make excuses—don’t justify your actions unless your spouse asks you why—no need to elaborate.
  • Exist as equals; no one is better than the other, therefore no one should be controlled or dominated in the marriage.
    Live what you preach.

If you are being controlled in your marriage or you realize that you may be controlling your spouse, communication needs to take place to begin a safe and open dialogue about what is really going on.

The ‘why’ behind the motivation of the controlling behavior needs to be determined and then an action plan can be created in order to get both parties back to a peaceful marriage.

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