If you try to control your husband, what options does he have to respond to you? Or if your husband is overly controlling, how might you respond to him?
There are a whole lot of unhealthy ways for a spouse to respond to being controlled. And there are productive ways. But even if a spouse responds in godly ways, there is no guarantee the controlling spouse will understand, repent, and change.
You can’t control a controlling spouse any more than they can control you.
We each ultimately have free will from God and the personal responsibility to make our own decisions about what we think, believe, say, and do. We each get to choose whether we will rebel against God or obey Him. Whether we will trust ourselves or trust God.
No one has the authority to take that responsibility from us. God, Himself, chooses not to take that decision from us. And He holds all authority in the universe.
The way to a healthy marriage is for each spouse to submit to the Lordship of Christ dying to self and laying down our own will. As we seek God’s will and His glory individually and together, we can have the beautiful marriage God designed for us.
When one or both spouses won’t submit to Christ but live for the old self, things get messy and painful. That is part of human relationships since the Fall.
Definition of a Controlling Person
Let’s define a controller as someone who tries to control decisions that are ultimately your God-giving responsibility: your relationship with God, your relationship with other people, your thoughts, your emotions, your convictions, your beliefs, your diet, your obedience to God, etc…
There are many things spouses may do to work together as a team:
- A wife may share her insights, concerns, and ideas respectfully. She may make suggestions and requests.
- A husband may seek to lead his wife toward Christ, giving wise counsel, directing the family. He cares about what is ultimately best for his wife and children. He is gentle, humble, and selfless.
None of these things are controlling. They are beautiful.
The problem comes when a spouse believes they have the right to make your decisions for you or force you to do what they want.
We each decide to voluntarily submit ourselves to the Lord or rebel. And we each face the consequences for our choices individually before the Lord when this life is over.
- God commands a wife to respect and submit to her husband’s leadership (honor and cooperate with his leadership). But note, these commands are given to the wife. She must choose to obey the Lord for herself. (Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:19, I Pet. 3:1-6)
- God commands a husband to selflessly love and lead his wife, to be understanding, to not be harsh with her. These commands are given to the husband. He must choose to obey the Lord for himself. (Eph.5:22-33, Col. 3:19, 1 Pet. 3:7)
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.Rom. 14:12
A wife can seek to honor God’s commands for her and can seek to be a godly example and godly influence on her husband. But she can’t make him do what she wants. It is ultimately up to him to choose to yield to the Lordship of Christ and obey God’s Word or rebel and go his own way.
A husband can seek to honor God’s commands for him and can seek to be a godly, Christlike leader. But he can’t make his wife do what he wants, either. It is ultimately up to her to yield to the Lordship of Christ and obey God’s Word or rebel and go her own way.
If our spouse is not obeying the Lord, there are healthy ways we can address this. We’ll talk about that in the next post.
7 Unhealthy Responses to a Controller
Many of these responses are ways that anyone in any relationship that feels controlling might respond. But they are especially true in a marriage where one spouse feels controlled.
A controlling person, subconsciously or consciously, expects/demands the other spouse give them absolute submission (the kind that we only owe to God as Lord). The controller expects to be idolized and expects the others to bow his/her will to the controller at all times rather than bowing to Christ as Lord.
NOTE – It is important to acknowledge that sometimes people feel others are controlling when they really aren’t. Our perception of whether someone is trying to control us can be skewed by our own issues and also by different cultural expectations, history, filters, and other factors.
For example, some wives feel that their husbands are controlling, when really they are trying to lead in godly ways. Or a husband may feel his wife is controlling when she simply asks, “How was your day?” Most husbands wouldn’t find that to be a problem.
Some ways people could respond to a controlling person that probably won’t end well:
1. Say Nothing and Try to Avoid the Controller’s Wrath.
Because a controlling person believes he/she has the responsibility and duty to make the other person do what he/she wants, if a family member resists, the controller often gets exceedingly offended. Of course, the controller gets equally angry in the face of total silence, as well.
Silence can be a wise option, at times. But we need to watch our motives and not be silent out of hatred, malice, resentment, or apathy. Total silence all the time doesn’t allow the controlling person the opportunity to understand what the problem is and repent and correct their error.
It was not a gift to me, my husband, or our marriage, that no one ever addressed my control issues and that I went on and on for years without a godly rebuke, correction, or an opportunity to understand what was wrong. We all suffered because everyone was silent and I didn’t see my sin.
2. Cooperate and Pretend the Controller Is Right, Knowing This Is Not True or Healthy.
Some people hope if they go along with the controller, this will bring peace. The other spouse/family members may be afraid to confront the controlling spouse. Perhaps because they have tried before and things did not go well, at all.
The controller may think all is well for a while with this approach. But eventually, they will know something is wrong. And the person who pretends to cooperate may have to deal with resentment, bitterness, contempt, and other issues. These things will come out one way or another.
This is not real peace and the other spouse does not feel safe. The non-controlling spouse feels like a “dog on a short chain” or like a prisoner. They feel they have no voice and no say in decisions. They feel like a second class citizen.
Real vulnerability, connection, and emotional/spiritual intimacy are pretty impossible to have when people can’t trust someone to respect their personhood and free-will.
3. Become Passive-Aggressive.
Some people choose not to directly confront a controller because the conflict is too intense. So they resort to making veiled digs at the controlling person. Of course, the controller still doesn’t get a clear message. They know something is wrong but can’t get a straight answer. That is very frustrating.
Still, there is no godly rebuke or anyone speaking the truth in love so the controller doesn’t see the problem on their end.
Often the pain on each side just escalates. The controller blames the spouse/others for all the problems in the relationship. They see the bitterness and contempt and don’t understand where it comes from.
The other spouse blames the controller. Constant tension and bitterness simmer on both sides, just waiting to explode.
4. Stonewall and Completely Emotionally Shut Down.
Some people eventually just stop talking. They are in a no-win situation. If they try to defend themselves, they are wrong. If they try to explain that the controller is not always right and has issues in their life to address, the controller will likely react with a lot of venom and bitterness.
Life might get infinitely worse if they address the issues, at first, which seems scary.
Some spouses decide to say nothing so the controller can’t use their words against them. Controllers tend to twist words and make all kinds of untrue assumptions. But because controllers are so convinced they are right and everyone else is automatically wrong, it can be extremely difficult to help them understand they aren’t seeing things accurately.
Often, no amount of explaining or discussion will change a controller’s mind. They are deceived.
Shutting down and becoming passive seems like a more peaceful alternative to open conflict. But it is a false peace. The emotionally shut down spouse becomes a shell of his/her former self. The shutdown spouse often plummets into depression, shame, self-destructive thinking, and even physical illness.
The controller has no idea why the other spouse is shut down and blames the other spouse for being unloving, ramping up the efforts to control even more to try to bring the other spouse back.
There is little real intimacy or oneness. This can continue for years with no resolution.
5. Declare Open War
Some people decide to fight, going the brute emotional/verbal force route. They refuse to cooperate with the controller at all costs, defending their legitimate free-will and honor.
They may assume the controlling person is purposely insulting them and they may try to force the controller’s blinded spiritual eyes open.
They may purposely completely rebel against anything the controller wants just to prove the controller can’t force them to do what they want. They may prove their point. But they haven’t addressed the skewed thinking in the controller’s life or the pain and spiritual/emotional wounds the controller has. Someone who tries to control others is deceived. They need a spiritual awakening.
The controller is not the real enemy. This is a spiritual battle that requires spiritual weapons.
An aggressive approach causes a lot of serious clashing, arguing, contention, yelling, and maybe even violence. Of course, the tumultuous relationship is very unstable and lacks any semblance of love, peace, or safety.
6. Turn to Addictions or Distractions
Some people choose to numb out with TV, hobbies, working overtime, video games, books, friends, an affair, clubs, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or anything that helps them feel like they can escape from the controller or reality for a while.
This just adds a new layer of problems, pain, hurt, and dysfunction. It is like pouring gasoline on a fire in a marriage. The controller is upset about the addictions or avoidance. They try to force the spouse to change even more. The other spouse often digs into his/her addiction in reaction to the controller and the cycle gets worse and worse.
7. Idolize the Controller
Some spouses/family members decide to cooperate with the controller and make their spouse’s approval more important than God’s approval. They may opt to become people pleasers and resign themselves to being “a dog on a tight leash” or a “doormat.”
This is idolatry in God’s eyes and it is extremely toxic and dysfunctional.
This spouse gives up his/her identity, self-respect, and dignity, and sets the controlling spouse on the throne of their heart rather than Christ. This is what the controller wants and demands, but this arrangement will destroy the marriage and both spouses. It is spiritual suicide.
Controllers are insatiable.
They think they will be happy if everyone does everything they want, but this is not true. Nothing other people can do will ever fill them up enough. There is nothing that will satisfy them but yielding to Jesus. They just don’t realize it yet.
The best way to start is to understand what is going on in his/her mind and to have a solid grasp on the root issues the person is facing. If you don’t address those, the controller will not understand what you are trying to communicate. They need the Holy Spirit to open their eyes.
Different cultures and personalities also have different sensitivities to what feels controlling. So as we talk about possible healthy options, we also need to keep in mind that biblical concepts are always wise and dependable. Some parts of our practical approach may need to be tailored to the specific situation.
Surrendering the Burden of Controlling My Husband – By Shannon Popkin