Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Husband's Control Issues Cause Havoc In Marriage

April 10, 2006

Allen is a perfectionist, a workaholic and a guy trying to win approval from others by doing all the "right" things. He is trying to overcome his feelings of shame and inadequacy that came from growing up in an alcoholic home. His compulsive need to "look good" is taking a tremendous toll on his family.

Allen is good in his work. He goes overboard trying to please his customers. He works long hours. When he is at home, he’s hard to be around. He continues to try to engineer every little thing and has an opinion on about everything.

Wife stops fighting back. Allen’s wife, Emily, can't take it any longer. She has tried to get through to Allen about problems in their marriage and family. His temper, pushy ways, blaming and constant barrage of criticisms are wearing his family out.

Allen is so argumentative that Emily gives up trying to raise issues with him. She feels constantly under attack. In an argument, he will pursue her and keep the pressure on until she finally gives up.

After one bad blowup, Allen tried to make a few changes.

His temper outbursts were fewer and he started to spend more time with his family. However, his intensity, his need to be right and his overbearing manner didn't change. The changes he did make were minor in comparison to how domineering and demanding he still was.

Allen had little insight into his steamroller tactics and his poor listening habits. He hadn’t changed his lack of respect for Emily and the one-sided quality of his conversation. To Emily, it seemed like he always had to be right, no matter what the cost. Despite his good intentions and Emily's unhappiness, Allen reverted to his controlling ways.

Emily leaves him. Finally, Emily packed up the children and went back home to her parents. Left. In a crisis, Allen meets with his pastor and proclaims he has changed. Emily isn't buying it. She knows better. She has been down that road too many times. She wants real change or she wants out.

To his credit, Allen realizes there is no quick fix to his problem. He seeks out counseling. He gets some insight into his role in driving Emily away.

Allen is soft-spoken, apologetic and full of promises. He is too much the opposite for Emily to believe that it is not an act just to get her and the children back.

However, he now uses his counseling as proof that Emily should come back home. In this area, he continues to be overbearing and keeps the pressure on.

Emily feels blamed for not welcoming him back wholeheartedly. To her, it seems like counseling has helped Allen learn to be more subtle in his arguments. This makes him even harder to deal with. All the years of hurt and control are too painful to be set aside just because the right words are being said.

What changes does Allen really need to make?

- Self-understanding and acceptance. Allen needs to learn to explore the connection between his growing in an alcoholic home and his workaholic perfectionism. Allen buried the pain of his childhood long ago. He hasn't come to terms with his past.

Allen is trying to earn approval through the work ethic. Behind Allen’s dedication to work is a scared little boy who was never good enough for his father. As much as he resented his father, Allen picked up some of his pushy ways. He can stop using his family as punching bag to prove he is, at least, better than they are. He doesn't need to protect his pride by blaming others or finding fault.

- Light-hearted and easy-going. Allen needs to learn to be playful about life. He needs to take life less seriously, laugh at himself, let his hair down and develop a sense of humor. He needs to take care of his own needs in a positive way. Allen needs to understand that mistakes are to be learned from - both his own and his family.

- Putting others first. Instead of incessantly trying to engineer things for his own happiness Allen needs to go out of his way for others. His own needs are so strong that his goals and desires come first too often.

- Learning to listen and care. Most of all, Allen needs to be a good listener and to genuinely connect with his wife's feelings. His long-winded, pushy communication habits make problem-solving with him an ordeal. Allen doesn't understand how mechanical and how cold he comes across as be begins one of his lectures.

No matter what else happens in counseling, Allen has to learn to change his conversational style. The one-sidedness of the relationship becomes apparent whenever he opens his mouth - or fails to listen. Allen’s communication style is controlling and at the heart of why Emily doesn't want to be around him. She thinks her feelings or ideas are not important to him. This doesn’t feel like caring or love.

- Be patient. Men like Allen show up at the pastor's or counselor's door full of pain, good intentions and in a big hurry to fix things. They don't understand that real change is tough and will take much work before their doubting spouse will find hope that things can really be different.