We all know people who want control of their relationships and situations. It can be difficult to try to have a healthy relationship with someone who is constantly trying to force his/her way.
Maybe it’s your mom, your husband, or your boss. It could be your mother-in-law who tends to be difficult and meddling. Or… maybe it’s you who struggles with being a control freak. If so, I can relate!
Before we think about the signs of a controlling person to watch for, let’s consider the definition of a controlling person.
The definition of a controlling person
Here’s my definition:
A controlling wife/controlling husband tries to take over other people’s God-given free-will and decision-making. This is way beyond leading, influencing, or sharing ideas, advice, or encouragement.
A controlling spouse, parent, boss, coworker, or friend tries to coerce, manipulate, and force others to do their will and gets very upset or anxious if others do not cooperate.
Controlling women/controlling men may believe that they are holding up the universe, in many ways. They think they know best. Because of some warped understandings, they think their efforts are keeping everything from collapsing into chaos.
Sometimes this is conscious but many times it is a subconscious belief system that originated in childhood.
Unwittingly deceived, controlling people believe that their responsibilities extend far beyond where they actually do into other people’s lives and God’s responsibilities. This faulty belief system compels them to act in dysfunctional ways.
This person consciously or unconsciously expects others, and even God, to submit to them in everything. Their sinful nature is in control, not the Holy Spirit.
They believe that it is their God-given right and responsibility to make other people do what they believe is best. Sometimes they act out of fear for their loved ones’ safety. Other times out of pride. Often both.
A controlling person does not submit to the Lordship of Christ, seek God’s will first, or humbly embrace dying to self.
Being in a relationship with a controlling person can be very challenging. They are prickly and difficult to love. Usually, they don’t know any other way to think or act. They think they are doing what is right and loving.
They don’t know that they can be free from this compulsion. Thankfully, they can be!
15 signs of a controlling person
It’s important to discern rightly if your spouse (or anyone else) is controlling or if you have skewed thinking. Or you could have both situations going on at the same time, which can make things more complicated.
Ways people try to control others
These are all just ways we relate to others dysfunctionally when the old sinful nature is in control.
- Pressuring others and trying to force them to do our will.
- Attempting to put people on guilt trips.
- Playing the martyr.
- Idolatry of self or happiness/narcissism.
- Insulting people to verbally wound them.
- Giving bribes/gifts with strings attached
- Gaslighting to make others think they are crazy.
- Manipulation in all kinds of ways.
- Passive-Aggression is a more subtle, but still dysfunctional attempt to control others.
- Interrogation and acting like a prosecuting attorney.
- Giving the silent treatment to punish others.
- Neediness/clinginess or codependency with others.
- Isolating someone from everyone else and every outside influence in their life
- People pleasing to try to use niceness to get people to do what we want.
Do you feel like others try to control you?
Some of these situations really are about another person controlling and others aren’t.
We may feel like someone is trying to control us…
1. And they are.
A person is trying to make a decision for us that belongs to us. They don’t understand where their responsibilities end. Or they are trying to take over as our Holy Spirit and take on God’s authority that does not belong to them.
They may believe they are loving, protecting, or helping us. Perhaps they don’t see that their help or approach offends us. But they have overstepped.
2. But they aren’t.
Maybe someone is simply trying to give us love, counsel, and sound advice. That is not necessarily controlling. We may not want or appreciate their advice, but other people sharing their ideas or suggestions is not necessarily controlling behavior.
It is when they try to force or pressure us to do what they think is best that it becomes a problem.
If we don’t ever want to hear anyone else’s thoughts or ideas that differ from our own, we may have a heart issue on our end and need to learn to receive counsel, constructive criticism, and godly rebukes. We may be dealing with a spirit of offense.
3. But our flesh is just weak at that time.
Sometimes our feelings tell us someone is trying to control us, but we are misjudging the situation. Our emotions are not always accurate. If we are exhausted, hormonal, really hungry, etc… sometimes normal interactions with others can feel oppressive when they aren’t.
Or we may be in a negative thought spiral that is based on assumptions, not facts.
4. But someone with legitimate God-given authority is trying to lead us in proper ways.
Maybe we are unwilling to honor their leadership or the Lord. If my boss gives me an assignment, asks me to change something about my approach with customers, or tells me I have some area where I need to improve, that is not controlling. That is appropriate leadership.
If my mentor lovingly, respectfully confronts me about sin in my life, that is a blessing. If I, as a mom, ask my elementary school-age children to get ready for bed by 9 pm (without yelling or insulting them), that is not controlling. That is me using my authority properly.
God-given leaders (according to Scripture) include:
- Parents for underage children (Eph. 6:1-2)
- Husbands (Col. 3:18-19, Eph. 5:22-33, 1 Cor. 11:3, I Pet. 3:1-7)
- Bosses (Eph. 6:6-9)
- Pastors/church leaders (Heb 13:7, Acts 20:28, 1 Tim 3, James 3:1)
- Government leaders/military/police officers (Rom. 13:1-7)
These people are responsible before God to protect those in their care, to lead them to Christ, to do what is best for them, to set godly examples, and to honor the Lord in their decisions.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… It shall not be so among you.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Matt. 20:25-28
Of course, some people in leadership positions act like selfish tyrants and truly are controlling or abusive, harming others. This is completely unacceptable in God’s eyes.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.”Jeremiah 23:1
It can get confusing to sort things out.
We need the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit to see ourselves and others rightly according to Scripture.
What if a person in a position of leadership abuses their authority and tries to control us?
We need to be sure that if we feel someone is trying to control us who does have a legitimate position of authority that we respect the position, the person, and God’s design. God’s Word instructs us to treat them with honor and respect.
So we seek to have a generally cooperative spirit whenever possible. Ultimately, we do this to honor Christ, and because we trust Him and submit ourselves to Him above all else not because the person deserves it.
Our willingness to cooperate with people in positions of leadership isn’t about them being perfect or infallible. They are not deity. They are supposed to be God’s agents to bring order and blessing. They are supposed to serve others humbly with love.
But there are limits to human leadership:
Leaders don’t get to demand to control our thoughts, our faith, our decisions, etc…
We also can’t follow them into anything God calls, “sin” or false teaching.
“We must obey God rather than men.”Acts 5:28
If someone oversteps their God-given position as a leader, spouse, friend, or family member, we may need to respectfully address it. (If we are being abused or are not safe, we can to reach out for help from other authorities ASAP.)
Ultimately, we each answer to God, alone. All people in leadership positions answer to Him, too. No one has authority from God to coerce us into sinning or to abuse others. And no human has equal authority to God and His Word.
Abuse of leadership dishonors God and is sin
If a husband says, “I am Christ to you. You have to do anything I say, whether it is sin or not. You have to go through me to get to God. You must bow to me!” That is not godly leadership. It is inappropriate and outrageous.
A person who demands to be treated as a deity is not following God or listening to Him. He is following the enemy. Even if he is the ruler of a nation. We can’t worship him or submit to him as a god. That is idolatry or false religion.
That is what the Antichrist will demand 3.5 years into the Tribulation time. Anyone who refuses to worship him will be killed. In the end, God will judge and punish him severely.
Historically, see what God did when Herod allowed people to honor him as deity. Or what God did to Nebuchadnezzar to humble him from his pride.
There is only one God and He alone is worthy of our worship and full submission.
No human has the authority to control you or force you to do something against God.
No one has a right to ask someone to violate the Greatest Commandment. Or any of God’s commandments.
Or if a husband said, “We’re going to have a threesome with this woman. You have to obey me.” Or, “You have to watch porn with me.” That is not appropriate leadership. He has no authority to tell you to commit sexual immorality against the Lord.
If a husband says, “You have to respect me so that means I can cuss you out and hit you and you have to stand there and take it and say nothing.” That is not remotely what God had in mind for leadership.
God hates violence and abuse. God provides other authorities (pastors, counselors, thehotline.org, doctors, and the police) so that we can reach out for help if someone abuses us.
If you feel like your husband is controlling because he won’t let you have any contact with anyone else, he threatens your safety, he often has an uncontrollable temper, he makes extremely unreasonable demands, etc… you may need additional help. This is not okay.
Sometimes these situations are very black and white. Other times, they are more gray and difficult to discern. That’s why we need the Spirit and the Bible to help us every day so we can make the right choices in His sight.
Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light on my path.Psalm 119:105
Godly leadership does no harm and always seeks the best for others
If you have your own skewed thinking about God, yourself, and others, it is possible for you to feel controlled when someone in a position of leadership is just trying to lead in a godly way.
For example, if your husband says, “We are spending way too much. My hours have been cut at work. Let’s try to keep our spending to $150 per week on groceries for the time being.”
That is wise leadership. Not control.
A wife would honor the Lord by having a cooperative spirit with her husband’s leadership. There is only so much money so both spouses will have to cooperate to avoid going into debt. We are all to be godly stewards.
Or if your husband says, “I think you have too many commitments on your plate. You’ve been exhausted and stressed so much lately. I think it would be a good idea for you to give up your ministry at church for a while so you can have more energy and get more rest.”
That is wise, God-honoring leadership. He is looking out for your best interests and trying to take care of you.
Maybe your husband notices that your best friend is encouraging you to go against the Lord or against your marriage and loves to complain, argue, and cause drama.
If he says, “I‘d like you to limit your time with her,” that is wise. You can look at Scripture and see that we are not to surround ourselves with divisive people who gossip, tear others down, and lead us astray.
If you feel like your husband is controlling when he offers loving advice, guidance, protection, wisdom, or a perspective that is different from yours, the issue may be on your end.
Of course, sometimes there are problems on both sides. Interestingly, as we allow God to change us and make us more like Jesus, amazing things can happen. And He can give us the discernment and wisdom we need in our situation.
How to stop trying to control others
One of the keys to a healthy, godly marriage, is for both spouses to completely yield themselves individually to the Lordship of Jesus and to seek His will far above their own.
It is only really when we die to our old sinful selves and pride that we can lay aside our dysfunctional, toxic ways of relating. Then we can set aside our fear, our anxiety, and our compulsion to try to control others, if that is our tendency.
Through Jesus, we can learn to relate to others in healthy, non-controlling ways. He can give us a brand new nature in Him, His wisdom through the Bible, and the power of His Spirit to help us love with His divine love instead of trying to control others.
The Peaceful Wife book
All the baby steps you need to break the addiction of trying to control your husband and finding real peace with God, your husband, and yourself.
Some of my posts about control
What Does the Bible Say About How to Deal with Controlling People? by www.gotquestions.org