How to navigate a relationship towards calmer waters with a controlling partner

Stock Photo - spouses quarrelling sitting on couch at home,
Stock Photo - spouses quarrelling sitting on couch at home,
Image: 123RF

Being married to someone who believes they are always right and can’t handle correction or receive guidance from you is frustrating and disempowering.

Though controlling and manipulative, their behaviour does not always come from a bad place.

People with controlling personalities usually have a high level of self-confidence and are often leaders in the community or the workplace due to their strong and imposing personalities.

These choleric personality types are naturally result-orientated, extroverted, quick-thinking, active, practical, strong-willed and easily annoyed.

They are independent and are likely to only follow their rules rather than someone else’s, and are direct and firm when communicating with others.

They like pressure and are easily bored when things don’t happen fast enough, and get especially annoyed when things don’t go their way.

They tend to have explosive and often uncontrollable fits of anger.

Cholerics are domineering, decisive, opinionated and find it easy to make decisions for themselves as well as for others, without even consulting them.

They leave little room for negotiating, it’s usually their way or no way.

Due to their domineering personality, they are rarely in touch with other people’s emotions or even their own, and can have terrible people skills.

They’re more goal-orientated than relationship-orientated, producing results but often hurting people in the process.

In marriage, they are likely to see themselves as being in a parent-child or teacher-student relationship, which means they can’t be wrong about anything.

Incorrect way of handling them

There are two common, negative responses to a controlling spouse.

The power play:

The attitude is, if you’re going to try to control me, I’ll fight you to the end.

This approach leads to anger and heated arguments. The more the controller argues, the more you argue.

No-one wins, but the power play continues. Many couples follow this pattern for years.

The submissive servant:

The attitude is, I yield to the controller and avoid conflict. The motto is “peace at any cost,” which essentially renders you a slave to the controller’s demands.

Ironically, the submissive servant approach doesn’t create peace.

Externally, you and your spouse may seem to be at peace, but you’ve turned the battle inward.

How to live with them?

There are two positive approaches that have proven successful for many.

Influence by agreement

Respectfully agreeing without allowing yourself to be controlled holds tremendous potential for influencing a controlling spouse.

This approach doesn’t strike at the controller’s self-worth or significance.

You aren’t arguing that their ideas are bad, which will always be interpreted as personal criticism.

However, it’s important to follow through with the second half of this approach and not allow yourself to be controlled, such as the executive decision to buy certain appliances for the sake of the budget.

This approach applied consistently over a period of time has influenced many controllers to a more balanced approach to life.

Play to their strengths

In the world of sports and business, good supervisors find the strengths of the player or employee and use them to the maximum.

This principle also works in marriage and is especially helpful for influencing a controller.

Since the controller is performance-orientated, they will respond to challenges to reach a given goal.

Therefore, the controlling spouse will welcome a request to help.

You won’t win an argument with a controller; you can only prolong the battle.

Influencing by agreement and playing to their strengths are much more helpful approaches.

They both assume a kind, but firm refusal to be controlled.

You can’t change your spouse, but you can influence them.

Here are a few other practical pointers on how to handle a controlling partner:

1. Most controlling people experience anxiety when they feel their power is being challenged.

They may or may not be conscious of this, but rather than simply resisting their control, consider acknowledging their anxiety and offer to negotiate.

2. If you feel you are in the right, provide them with corresponding data to support your position.

If the context is financial for example, offer the appropriate numbers to prove your point.

3. Control your emotions. The more upset or emotional you get with a controller, the more irrational they may see you.

Offer your point of view calmly and rationally.

4. Pick your battles. Don’t challenge everything.

Do not get hung up in a parent/child process. Pick your battles rather than resist for the sake of resisting.

5. Part of controlling your emotions also means to be objective.

Admit that there are some areas in which the other person may have proven to be more competent.

In these areas, they should be allowed more control.

6. In acknowledging their anxiety, you may want to provide them with an explanation for their behaviour.

For example, controllers may have suffered severe losses in childhood or were forced to cope with incompetent parents, for instance.

Gently and respectfully discussing these historical experiences and linking them to a current need for control may lessen this need.


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