How to Be Happy in a Marriage When Your Spouse Refuses to Give up Control

Spouse refuses to give up controlMarried couples, not infrequently, are faced with this challenging dynamic, where one partner is controlling in the relationship and has an investment in keeping control. This could be over finances, lifestyle issues and even sex. With men, this can take the form of bullying their wives emotionally and worse case physically. For controlling women, the outcome is often control over the kids, money and even the bedroom.

Most often, controlling tendencies come from a person’s unique, personal history. In other words, they bring this personality into the marriage – rather than the marriage being responsible for creating a controlling spouse. Past hurts, especially developmentally, go a long ways to create anxiety and the need to not be hurt again.

Controlling behaviors often come from a position of insecurity. The fear behind this is losing control over their world and ultimately, being hurt in the process. Coming from a wounded childhood where little control was given over as a child, means controlling behaviors become a way to cope and survive. If no one is going to meet my needs, I’ll make sure I get them met. And instead of being vulnerable in the marriage, I’ll insure I don’t get hurt and will keep things in order so I’m not at risk.

So the question becomes for the non-controlling spouse, how do I maintain my own happiness – knowing I can’t change my spouse and that even trying to change my spouse, would threaten him or her and lead to more efforts to control and manage the relationship? Happiness isn’t a cheap commodity so this is a tall question but critical one.

First and foremost, stay out of the control-response loop. Just because someone is trying to manage your behaviors and feelings, doesn’t mean you bend and give in to the pressure. So maintaining your individuality becomes critical.

Remember, the controlling spouse ultimately wants to limit your individuality as a person and in ways that don’t conform to his or her vision of who is in charge. They falsely believe this is an antidote to insecurity. Your individuality can be threatening to their feeling of security. But it’s vital you don’t surrender your growth because of his or her fear. As we go through life, we all need to prioritize our potential and uniqueness to be whole people. This brings satisfaction and certainly happiness at some level.

Second, don’t try to become controlling as a counterpoint to your spouse’s actions. The answer isn’t to “fight fire with fire.” This only makes things worse. Instead, manage your own life. Fill it with positives and the lifestyle you want. It is important to do this in ways that don’t threaten your mate – you don’t want to trigger their need for control if they feel you are exiting the marriage. Be firm about your individual interests but also invite him or her in to your life. Teach them they don’t need to control you to have you in their world. But don’t forget to honor and reinforce positive behaviors from them when they demonstrate non-controlling efforts to connect. And if you catch them being vulnerable, don’t forget to be there for them and try to bond with them at that level.

Third, set clear boundaries about what’s OK and what’s not. Being able to tell him or her “That doesn’t work for me – can we try another way?” is helpful if done in kind and caring ways. They may not respond but you’ve done your part in speaking clearly about what is and isn’t acceptable and you’ve been positive about wanting to staying connected as a couple.

Fourth, find legitimate sources of support that bring positive connection and help fill you up. A close friend can be instrumental in sustaining your evenness and being with you in caring ways that allow you to feel close and valued.

Finally, develop a powerful voice in your personal life and with your partner. Find positive ways to talk with your spouse about what you want in the relationship. Be clear and assertive, while supportive of what he or she wants. Developing a vision about closeness and intimacy may relieve the anxiety a controlling spouse lives with about whether their needs will truly get met or not. Remember, the controlling spouse is scared – afraid their wants don’t matter and so they must manage behaviors to reach that outcome. Doing an end run around the panic and fear means talking about connection in a way that consoles and also allows you to talk about what you want.

One caveat. A controlling spouse may be an abusive one – even physically. If this is the case, seek professional help immediately.

Remember, we create happiness. It doesn’t just happen. You are the author of your life and so it becomes essential that a controlling partner doesn’t take away your effort to build a happy and successful journey.





Un-Happy Valentine’s Day?

Single on Valentines DayFor the seemingly few who are in healthy, happy relationships Valentine’s Day can provide romantic inspiration. But for everyone else it can be an annoying reminder that they don’t have that kind of loving bliss. If you are finding yourself frustrated or lovelorn this Valentine’s Day I want to offer you some food for thought.  First, honestly answer this quiz question:

If the person I’m in love with doesn’t love me the way I want:

a.)    I let go and move on to find someone better.

b.)    I‘ve never had this kind of connection before so I hang in there trying to recapture that initial feeling.

c.)     I hate being alone. Any relationship is better than no relationship.

d.)    I date other people but still keep seeing him or her.

Are you holding on to the fantasy that all the good things that happened in the beginning truly define who your significant other is? Are you hoping he or she will change and go back to being the ideal partner you initially saw him or her to be?  I call that leftovers. When food is hot and fresh, and you’re really enjoying it but you’ve eaten all that you can, it usually seems like a good idea to take some home for later. But it never tastes as satisfying the second time, does it? Sometimes it’s still good. It’s just different. The end result usually isn’t fulfilling. Well, the same principle applies to romantic leftovers. When you feel connected with someone, you want more. If he or she doesn’t feel the same, you’re left with whatever he or she is willing to give you. If you choose to starve yourself waiting for whatever crumbs he or she may drop, you most certainly won’t get the nutrition you need or deserve.

If you answered b.) or c.) above and you’re indulging in romantic leftovers, I’m hoping you can see what I’m trying to illustrate. I know you feel like you will never be as connected to anyone else as you are to this person. I know no one else makes you feel like he does when you’re with him. But someone else might not make you feel as lonely and empty as you feel when you’re not with him. Someone else might truly love you and make you feel loved. I promise you this: you will never find someone else that you connect with as much as you do with this leftover as long as you are still allowing him to be a part of your life. You will find someone else if you’re brave enough to let go of this leftover. I promise you!

If the leftover you crave was all you ever got to eat, could you survive?

Imagine what would happen to your body if you only ate once or twice a month or less. Would you get the nutrients you need? Would you feel good? Would you look your best? If you answered d.) above and you are indulging in a hot leftover, I want you to put a nutritional value on the amount of time you spend with him or her. If you couldn’t survive, then throw her out! She has gone bad. She will never again be the person you fell in love with, and you’re too good to wait around and rot while she’s out having fun! I know that is easier said than done when you’re crazy about someone. But it is liberating and empowering when you decide that you don’t want them. Reclaim your power. The person you need to be most crazy about is you!

So this Valentine’s Day celebrate your uniqueness. Don’t allow this holiday to make you feel bad if you’re alone. Be your own Valentine and make a proud declaration that you’re single, rather than in an unhealthy, or bad relationship!

If you’re confused about what went wrong with a great connection, and you’re hungry for a good meaningful relationship, try snacking on my new book Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships : Recipes for Healthy Choices. Take my Do You Have a Junk-Food Relationship or a Healthy Meal? quiz to determine to quality of your relationship.