Jun 24, 2010
Living With a Control Freak

Sholom Bayis Blog with Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch. Question #3: My spouse is always telling me what to do and how to do it. What can I do about this controlling behavior?

Question #3: I am very bothered by my spouse's controlling behavior; Always telling me what to do and how to do it. Sometimes I feel that my opinion doesn't matter and it's 'my way or the high way'? What can I do about this issue?

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch's reply:

Controlling behavior may be the number one reason that marriages need help. In fact, it is one of the main reasons that couple's come to speak with me looking for guidance and support.

If you are unfamiliar with the topic of control, it's no surprise. Most people are unaware that control is a major topic for counselors, therapists and psychologists-at-large, which until recently has not entered into the public's attention.

Today, many frum therapists are beginning to talk about control, including one of the leading Orthodox experts on marriage and relationships, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., who wrote an entire book on the topic. In "Successful Relationships: At Home, at Work, and with Friends: Bringing Control Issues Under Control," Rabbi Twerski explains that, "Everyone may have the need to wield control, and there are many relationships which may indeed require control. Exceeding an acceptable amount of control invites trouble."

Trouble, indeed. Think about your relationships. Which ones do you find meaningful and enjoyable and which ones do you avoid like the plague? Take your friends, for example. Do you try to control them, tell them what to do, yell at them, kvetch when you don't get what you want right away? Probably not. So why do we feel free to try to control our closest and most intimate relationships?

Perhaps controlling behavior is due to human nature taking over. When we are married and live with someone for many years, we get accustomed to their habits; we get used to their small idiosyncrasies and begin to take for granted that, on some level, they exist to fulfill our needs. Over time, however, living with someone who is controlling is very difficult. Controlling individuals tend to create emotional distance and the people living with them develop the following beliefs about themselves:

* They are stuck with another person's definition of them.
* They do not have the right to their own opinions.
* They can earn love and acceptance by abdicating control to another person.
* They are "successful" if they fulfill another person's vision, even when it does not in any way support their own.

They must obtain permission to act in matters that are, in fact, their own business.

For those who find it difficult to imagine this kind of behavior, try to remember the last time you felt controlled by someone close to you, and then multiply that feeling by one-hundred-fold. Most of us have experienced some kind of control in our lives. For example, your parents may have tried to control what you ate or when you went to sleep. At work, you may have experienced a boss who aimed to control your behavior or ensure that your productivity was high. In the classroom, your teachers may have tried to control your behavior and make sure you focused on your studies.

Some people grew up in families where anger and criticism were used as methods to control each other. If these external forms of control were used in your family, you may have learned to respond to it with compliance: being a good girl or boy. You may have learned to put aside your own feelings and go along with what others wanted, in the hope of avoiding their wrath.

After learning how to handle control as a child, some utilize the same principles in marriage. Now it manifests itself in new way, for example, trying to "baby" your spouse by controlling his or her every move, giving in easily to what they want, or retreating or resisting their attempts to control you, are all systems of control.

That's why as a counselor, I often find myself teaching couples how to moderate their level of control and increase their levels of mutual respect. The line of reasoning flows like this:

Less control and more focus on the relationship = healthy marriages.

More control and less focus on the relationship = unhealthy marriages.

When people are less controlling and more concerned about nurturing their relationship they are a lot more pleasant to be around and often live happier lives. They also find it easier to create and sustain loving and supportive relationships. To achieve a truly healthy marriage each person needs to shift from direct control, and focus on fulfilling the other's stated needs.

Getting controlling behavior to change can be a difficult task. If discussing the need for your spouse to reduce their controlling attitude and to focus on your needs doesn’t work it is probably a sign that the controller may be experiencing a range of deeper emotional issues that are best worked out with the aid of a good therapist.

In therapy many control issues are often traced back to feelings of weakness and vulnerability where a person grew up feeling unable to negotiate their needs. Instead they learned early on how to go on the offensive and make demands before they were denied. In marriage the desire to control continues and may not end without intervention. In many cases these kinds of emotional issues can be explored and resolved if a person is committed to the therapeutic process.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch is a trained marriage and family therapist who maintains a practice in Crown Heights specializing in couples therapy and families with teenagers at risk. Visit JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723.

Sholom Bayis is an advice and anonymous counseling blog on COLlive.com for married Chassidic couples. Questions can be sent to rabbischonbuch@yahoo.com or as a comment below. They will be answered appropriately and anonymously.

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Opinions and Comments
Great article -- wanting more info. for the writer
Dear Rabbi Schonbuch,

This article sheds light on a very important issue in some relationships.

Could you add some advice for the writer, however? Your information is helpful to someone who has just realized that they are being too controlling,

But it doesn't give real resources to someone living with someone who's too controlling. The writer sounds like one of those whose controlling spouses don't know and/or don't care to examine their controlling behavior.

Again, many thanks for the important insights you provided. Can you please go this one extra step? Most controlling people don't think there's anything wrong with them (or feel threatened at the prospect of considering that their behavior might be flawed in any way, i.e., "It's my way or the highway," as the writer said). Thus, they are not so open to looking at their controlling behaviors.

Thank you, and it's great to see your column on COLLive!

A fan
(6/24/2010 1:32:54 PM)
With all due respect
I dont see how the question was answered. The answer only explains what controlling behavior is, not "what to do about the issue:.
(6/24/2010 1:45:29 PM)
Thank you
Rabbi Schonbuch , You are the BEST!!!!
(6/24/2010 1:46:07 PM)
BS:D the best solution is to become a control freak it will cancel out the others behavior
(6/24/2010 2:43:58 PM)
Control has no place in a Healthy Marraige
In a marriage, a controlling spouse is one of the clearly defined markers of spousal abuse. It demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the other person as an independant human being with unique talents, ideas, opinions, needs and preferances and the right to express and actualize these. A healthy marriage is a joining of two separate human beings each created in the image of Hashem in which the two work together as a team to build a happy healthy loving and productive life together and supporting each other in actualizing personal and joint goals, dreams and shlichus. A healthy marriage is not a dictatorship in which one spouse uses tactics such as manipulation, guilt and control to get their own way without respect for the other's preferances or needs. This is what control is. It's a manipulation tactic to get one's own way. It is not justifiable and has no place in the healthy give and take of a healthy marriage. In order to have a healthy "we" in a marriage, there has to be a clear and unique "You" and and a clear and unique "Me" which is recognized, respected, appreciated, and responded to. In the words of a very wise person, "If you are you because I am I, and I am I because you are you, then you are not you and I am not I. But if you are you because you are you, and I am I because I am I , then I am I and you are you and now we can be a we."
(6/24/2010 3:15:59 PM)
To #1 and #2
When someone is truly controlling his or her spouse it is unlikely that the couple will fully resolve the issue on their own. To clarify, I am speaking of the situation in which the controlling spouse is not aware of the controlling behavior or does not wish to examine it. In either case, the other spouse is best off seeking outside help, either in the form of a neutral party who can diffuse the situation and bring peace between the spouses, or in the form of a therapist who can help each spouse explore what it is they want and need from the relationship, and how to go about getting it in a healthy manner. The time has come for people to take these steps, see a therapist (that is NOT a dirty word), and resolve these issues. If the controlling spouse is not ready, willing, or able to attend a consultation with a therapist, then the other spouse should go alone to get the process started. There is no sense in tolerating such a situation that is intolerable.
(6/24/2010 3:23:51 PM)
Living With a Control Freak
I agree with # 4. Living with a controlling freak for many, many years & just taking it & it does'nt get better only worse & it affects your health, that is the only solution. I don't think it'll cancel out the others behavior or change them in any way but it makes you feel better & they loose some of the controll.These are sick people.
(6/24/2010 3:26:52 PM)
u just
you have to give her more love and it will all be good
(6/24/2010 6:09:08 PM)
Once again...
I don't see where he's going with his answer and how his advice can help someone. It seems more like thinking out loud than giving advice.

Although, I can imagine it can be hard to respond to someone without having the full story. I did not see him ask her Why she feels he's being controlling. Is it cause he says she should wash the spoons before washing the forks or because he asked her to put in a new toilet paper roll when one runs out?

I did not see any practical aplication there..
(6/25/2010 12:36:01 AM)
To Do List
1. If possible, stand up to the controlling behavior.
2. If not strong enough or the controlling only gets worse, get the controlling person to a therapist/psychologist, and if medication is needed, to a psychiatrist.
3. If controlling person won't go, you go. At the very least it will help you cope.
4. Divorce is an option if none of the above work. Repeat that to yourself as often as needed.
(6/25/2010 8:55:29 AM)
The dynamics...
a "controller" can only function with someone who is submissive and hasnt yet individuated (ie become a separate entity). Controllers zoom in on such a person and in an odd (unhealthy) way, the other party subconsciously (and unhealthyly) seeks out a "controller". It is like two (unhealthy) puzzle pieces locking in. When the weaker party finally (usually through therapy), manages to become their own person, the puzzle no longer fits and the relationship either improves or more often than not, dissolves. (PS, women can also be "controllers")
(6/25/2010 11:28:47 AM)
This is what I did
1.Studied hypnotic language patterns and countered it with meta model language patterns. I studied this in NLP and it really helped
2. Studied LHF, light her fire , set of 12 cds understanding what women want
3.A Chossid of the Tzemach Tzedek had a controlling wife, the Tzedmach Tedek said "El Ishech Teshukaseich, veHu imshal Bach" by you its the opposite, meaning make sure she has a greater physical desire to you that you have to her, and you will have Shalom Bayis, this is similar to what I learned in LHF
4. Total Transformation is a program for you to learn appropriate Gevura, it really works for Chinuch and is good to have a little of it in marriage
5. It probably boils down to understanding your and her needs
(6/25/2010 1:45:09 PM)
#12 sounds like a rare open-to-insight spouse
Yasher koach!

It IS possible for a controlling spouse to come to understand the problems this behavior causes for the marriage, and for them to resolve to improve in this and other areas.

It's great to see this! Thank you for making my day!
There's always hope.
(6/25/2010 4:45:08 PM)
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