Controlling marriage counseling Louisville Gottman

Controlling: What Does it Mean and How Can Marriage Counseling Help?

Have you found yourself caught up in marriage with a controlling spouse? The truth is there are several ways in which control can be present in a marriage, yet not all of them are easy to spot – at least not right away. For some spouses, signs that their spouse is attempting to control them can take time to unravel. For others, controlling behaviors can sneak up on them unexpectedly. In either case, if you suspect your spouse is controlling you, you must become aware of these signs and learn how to take them seriously.


Controlling Defined

The word control, in this case, is best defined as exerting influence over one’s environment, actions, or behaviors. Some controlling spouses exercise control in excess because they fear the loss of control. They may fear the unpredictable or feel the need to prove themselves—some controlling spouses (and controlling people in general) act from a place of emotional fragility and profound vulnerability.

No matter where this constant need for control stems from, it can cause you to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Dealing with a controlling spouse can feel impossible at times, to the point where dealing with that person can look like merely “putting up” with them. Sometimes it is actually the partner being controlled who feels lucky that their controlling spouse puts up with them. This is the extent to which emotional manipulation can take over – when the controlled spouse believes that they are the villain.

When controlling is a constant element in a marriage, it is rarely a good or healthy situation.  It some cases, if the spouse doesn’t retain some control of their own, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual abuse my transpire.


“Initially, being controlled might feel good because it’s easy to mistake it for love.  A controller is not trying to control you because they love you.  They are trying to control you because they are afraid.”


Ways a Spouse Can be Controlling

It is likely that if your spouse is controlling you, they will not limit themselves to just one way of doing so. They will use many different ways they know how to take control of you, whether or not you realize it. Here are a few ways your spouse may try to control you and the common signs to look for:


  • They may isolate you from your family and friends.
    • “I don’t think you should hang out with that person.”
    • They will strip you of your support network, trying to turn you against anyone you rely on for support besides them.
  • They may demonstrate chronic criticism.
    • Even with small things, they will believe their criticism is warranted.
  • They may make threats against you or them.
    • Threats to cut off any privileges.
    • Threats they will harm themselves if something does not go their way.
    • Threats in regard to losing your kids or financial support.
  • Their love, caring, and attraction is only conditional.
    • They send a message to you that says you are not good enough as you are right now, so try harder.
      • “I’d be more attracted to you if you would lose some weight.”
      • “If you can’t be bothered to help do laundry, I’m not sure why I bother either.”
    • They keep a detailed scorecard as a way to always have the upper hand.
      • They demand to be acknowledged for their efforts.
    • They may use guilt to manipulate you.
    • They may create a debt you are stuck in.
      • They may give you gifts or make romantic gestures which they will use against you later for something in return.
    • They may spy, snoop, or require constant disclosure.
      • They check in your phone, email, or internet search history.
      • They feel they have a right to know more than they do.
      • They justify their snooping.
        • “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you shouldn’t be afraid to show me.”
      • They violate your privacy and show no interest in trusting you.
    • They may exhibit excessive jealousy or paranoia and make accusations.
      • They accuse you of being flirtatious in many interactions and leading another person on
      • They display signs of anxiousness, insecurity, and competitiveness.
    • They may not respect your need for alone time.
      • They make you feel guilty for needing time to recharge and try to convince you that you don’t love them enough.
    • They may make you earn their trust; there is no inherent trust no matter how long you have been married.
      • They convince you to give up your passwords/give them access to your emails or texts.
      • You must go into detail regarding your whereabouts at each moment of the day.
    • They may presume you are guilty until proven innocent.
      • They feel entitled to be angry if they suspect something and will not hear your side.
    • They may make you so fed up with arguing that you want to give in
      • They keep bringing up conflict because they know you will eventually give in, and they will triumph in the end.
    • They may belittle you for your beliefs.
      • They constantly try to change your mind about something that is important to you.
      • You make you feel silly, small, or stupid.
    • They may be passive aggressive.
    • They may become defensive or stonewall.
    • They may make you feel inadequate or unworthy of having them to create a dynamic where you are willing to work harder to keep them happy.
      • They want you to show gratitude for being in a relationship with them.
      • They compare you to their exes.
      • They like to highlight their accomplishments as compared to yours.
    • They may tease or ridicule you.
      • Their emotional abuse can be thinly veiled.
        • “Stop taking everything so personally; I was just messing with you.”
      • They rarely are willing to hear your point of view.
        • They constantly interrupt you.
        • They quickly dismiss your opinions.

“Limiting your behavior does not curb their appetite because that kind of despair does not come from the outside.  It comes from their own insecurity.” 


Solutions to a Dealing with a Controlling Spouse

Have a support system – They may do anything to dismantle it but have one anyway. Use your support system to help you determine whether your spouse’s behaviors, requests, or demands are reasonable.

Engage in self-care–Self-care is not selfish, even if your controlling spouse does everything in their power to make you feel that way. Take the time you need for yourself and remember that you do not owe anyone an explanation.

Set boundaries – Consider what tasks are essential for you to be in charge of and set clear boundaries with your spouse to prevent them from interfering with that. In the matter of dealing with a controlling spouse, “no” always means “no.”

Keep following through – Be consistent with your boundaries. Remind them of how it feels for you when they try to control and micromanage you.

Encourage therapy – Encourage individual therapy for your controlling spouse to help them cultivate more awareness of and responsibility for their actions.

Seek marriage counseling–In a relationship where there is little to no room for your feelings or interest, marriage counseling will help create more space for that and for you by addressing your controlling spouse’s insecurities that manifest as manipulation and control.

“It’s feeling a gigantic tangle of uncomfortable things and believing that the way to soothe yourself is to dominate another person’s behavior.”


How Can Marriage Counseling Help?

The harsh reality to face about marriages where one spouse is controlling is that person creates relationship dynamics that are difficult to change. Thankfully, marriage counseling can help, as long as your partner is willing to acknowledge that their behavior is hurtful, harmful, destructive, and/or inappropriate. They also must be willing to change and commit to marriage counseling.

Controlling marriage counseling Louisville Gottman

According to Dr. John Gottman, a marriage counseling researcher, under all controlling behaviors there is a hidden dream.  A Gottman Method trained therapist will help discover the dream, which can help the controlling spouse understand how their pursuit of control may be their biggest hurdle to true intimacy and connection.

As a Gottman Method trained couples therapist, I can help you both with your ability to understand and share your feelings with one another to find more understanding and solve your perpetual problems. I will help provide you with the tools and techniques you need to establish and maintain effective communication, set clear boundaries, and make compromises. I can help you cultivate a greater sense of empathy as you come to understand your spouse’s behaviors, triggers, and thought processes.

Every marriage has its unique set of struggles. When it comes to controlling spouses, it is plain to see how the unhealed or immature sides of one partner can negatively impact the relationship as a whole. Dealing with a controlling spouse is not just about dealing with manipulation, guilt, or accusations. All the ways in which your controlling partner behaves add up to impact your overall quality of life. You deserve a chance to finally feel heard, and your spouse’s actions are likely a sign that they need to be heard too – only this time by a professional who can truly listen, respond, and advise for the sake of your marriage.

If you would like to meet with a trained Gottman Method marriage counselor in Louisville, Kentucky, I am always here to help. Feel free to contact me  to schedule an appointment, and if you would like to learn more my approach to marriage counseling, then check out my marriage counseling page.