How do I stop being controlling towards my husband?
December 3, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop being controlling towards my husband?

I have become aware that some of my behaviors that I thought were normal are actually controlling and borderline abusive. For example, he had a business dinner downtown that was supposed to end by 8:00, and at 8:20 I called him to see where he was. He didn't answer, and I called several more times. He said he'd had the ringer turned off and he was upset that I didn't trust him. At the time I thought this was reasonable behavior, because I was "worried that something happened to him." I'm starting to realize that what I really want is to know where he is and what he's doing. I read about people stalking their significant others, and I think that could eventually be me. The domestic abuse thread on the blue yesterday freaked me out, especially one woman who said her boyfriend made her call from a land line so he could verify she was where she said she was. I have enough sense not to ask him to do that, but I think about it.

Other examples of my (admittedly irrational) behavior: Checking his web history. Getting upset when he tells me repeatedly that he's going on a diet but eats ice cream. Controlling his videogame use and complaining he doesn't spend enough time with me. Getting upset when he masturbates. Asking who's calling when he answers his cell. He recently joined facebook and oh my GOD this is so juvenile it's all I can do not to constantly refresh his page.

The thing is, on an intellectual level, I do trust him. He's never cheated and he has solid values. Plus he is obviously very committed to me. He's affectionate and generous and I really do love him. I would be a complete idiot to mess this up. Which is why I'm here.

I am trying to stop and think about what I say or do before it happens, and I'm getting better at that. How do I deal with the internal impulse to control? I am afraid of him leaving, but I'm aware that I'm creating the potential for just that.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you mature enough to handle it if he he tells you that you're acting too controlling? The first thing I thought of to help fix the situation is for him to tell you that you're being controlling at the time of being controlling.
posted by theichibun at 8:38 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Talk to him about it and ask him to call you on it when you start behaving that way. You won't like hearing about what you're doing, and he should be prepared for how you might react, but it will give you a chance to think about how often you're doing it, and you'll be able to stop yourself in the act. Even if that means you're so mad you have to leave the room at first.

Also try keeping a diary of your behavior or a progress report. Give yourself daily goals like "Today I won't even go to my husband's Facebook page" and maybe even reward yourself when you succeed. I know it sounds juvenile, but you could even literally give yourself a gold star on your good days.

My mom does a lot of the things you find yourself doing, only she never stopped herself before she got worse. I started exhibiting some of those signs myself when I got older, so I did all the things I suggested just now, and now I don't worry about it so much. Taking a deep breath and counting to three wasn't good enough for me in the beginning, so I had to tell a boyfriend at the time, "Don't let me walk all over you. I don't want to be like my mom." And I kept a written journal for a while. But now, while I'm not perfect, I'm pretty good about reminding myself to chill out. Practice makes perfect.
posted by katillathehun at 8:40 AM on December 3, 2008

I used to exhibit a lot of the same tendencies in previous relationships, and most of my fears turned out to be well-founded (sorry). In my current relationship, I very, very rarely have any of those urges, and it's super easy to talk myself out of them when they do come up. So I'll say--it's my personality/issues, but it was ALSO those relationships that made me insecure and controlling.

However, you're married, so I'm guessing unless you catch him doing whatever it is you're afraid of, you're sticking with him. I recommend what's mentioned above--have an honest talk with him about it and ask him to call you on it--and also do some personal counseling to find out what's triggering your behavior.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:51 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

What do you think is at the root of your emotional distrust of him? The controlling behavior sounds to me to be more of a symptom of a deeper issue, which is that for whatever reason - despite his affection and commitment and generosity, you still feel deeply insecure in this relationship.

He deserves to live with a wife who trusts him, and you deserve to be in a marriage in which you feel secure. The answer is not just to swallow it when you feel insecure or like you can't trust him, it is to figure out why you feel that way and address it.

Therapy will probably be the best option for you, that should help you uncover it. Did something happen to you in your past that's triggered by a certain behavior? Have you been controlling like this in previous relationships?

I think a good place to start with any of this kind of stuff is to make a pact with yourself to not react until the emotional flare up is gone for a period of time. Say two weeks. So in the business dinner incident, you might have called him at 8:20, and when he did not answer, simply waited until he called you back. Allow yourself to feel those feelings and really examine them.

But really, therapy will probably help you the most. Also, if you take that step, he'll likely be more receptive to working with you to help you to feel more secure (if he is as loving and generous as you say). So if you say 'I'm trying to stop being controlling and exploding on you by doing x', you can also ask him to send you a text when he's going to be late, instead of inflaming your worries, etc.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:54 AM on December 3, 2008

First, good for you for trying to better yourself.

Second, this is likely to be a long process. Change takes time. It happens in stages, and there are setbacks. Don't expect to be able to quickly or easily alter deeply ingrained habits of thinking and behavior, and don't let yourself get too discouraged if you feel lost or stuck.

I have a few ideas that I hope you can use.

I suggest that you think about where your fear might come from. Have you felt this fear in every relationship you've been in, or is it unique to your marriage? Was it always present in the same degree, or has it grown over time? What was the relationship between your parents like, and could that be related to the fear and need to control that you're struggling with? If you can find an event, a series of events, a relationship, or some other cause that has resulted in the feelings you describe, that will be a useful starting point.

I suggest that you find a trusted friend to discuss this with. The best such friend, of course, is your husband himself. Can you say to him what you've said here? What I took from your question is this: you trust him, you love him, you do not see a rational basis for the fear that you feel, and you want to get rid of that fear and change your controlling behavior. None of that appears to be about attacking him, so I really think you're quite safe in sharing that with him and asking his for his help. He likely knows you very well and can help you try to figure out where these feelings are coming from. He may be able to suggest alternative coping strategies or help you push your boundaries. If he knows what's going on, he can support and encourage you. This isn't your problem alone. It's a problem that you and your husband share in your marriage together. It may be useful for you to deal with it together. In any case, at least talk to a friend about it and ask for their input and advice. Often, the people we are close to can see things about us that we can't. You may benefit from that objectivity.

I suggest that you analyze the problem step by step. When do you start feeling the fear? I imagine it can't be at maximum force all the time, so something must trigger it. Is it when your husband begins to put his coat on? Closes the door behind him? An hour after he leaves? If so, what are you doing when it first hits you? Is it half an hour before he is supposed to return? If so, when do you start watching the clock? Then, take that moment when you really begin to worry. What is that worry like? Is it a vague general sense of dread, or are you thinking of very specific scenarios? If they are specific, where are they coming from? Are they drawn from memory or experience? How are those memories or experiences like or unlike the present moment? Then, what happens when he is late or doesn't call? What are you imagining? Then, you engage in the controlling behavior. I assume this immediately brings you some relief. What is the nature of that relief? In other words, what is it that you're actually feeling? Is it that you are reassured that the specific scenario you feared did not occur? Is it that you are reassured that you still have the power to make your husband do things he doesn't have to or want to do? Finally, what do you feel after you have been reassured? Is there some fear left? Of what? It seems there is some guilt. Etc. I suggest you think through some recent incidents at that level of specificity of detail, and ask yourself all of those questions and more. Write out all of your thoughts. Try to get a really clear sense of what is actually happening to you, and which parts you think are reasonable, and which parts are not. Once you really understand how this works and what the process is, you can start to look for the triggers that you can avoid, for the places where you know you need to try to re-channel your energy, and you can develop a sense of control over the experience: I know what's happening, I am about to feel x, I am going to do y and see if that helps.

Here is where enlisting the aid of your husband or your friend can help. If you share your problem with a friend, you can call them when you are tempted to engage in the behavior you dislike, such as spying, and tell them what's happening. They can help you calm down and avoid the temptation. In general, they will help you continue to redefine what normal, healthy behavior looks like, which will ultimately help you conform to a standard of behavior that you are more comfortable with. Moreover, putting it out in the open can strip away some of the power from your feelings because they won't be a secret, and secrets always feel more powerful. For example, say someone texts your husband. You feel an impulse to ask who called. Instead, say, "there it is again, I feel anxious about that text. But I am going to ignore it." You'll say it, and perhaps feel a little silly, and it just won't seem like such a terrible horrible issue. It's just an impulse. You know it's unnecessary, and now he can shrug it off with you, or you can laugh at it together. You don't need to act on it. You don't need to be ashamed of it, and you don't need to torture yourself over it. And your husband can help you monitor what's happening and help you set goals and make progress.

Finally, don't feel like you're a bad person. You have a problem, and you're confronting it. Good for you.
posted by prefpara at 8:59 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

You have to make a conscious effort to treat him with the trust and respect he deserves. You're feeling anxious and insecure and you're broadcasting these feelings as though you are entitled to do so. You need to find a way to tamp these irrational displays down. Either through therapy, if you feel like your insecurities are controlling your life, or through self-discipline.

Think about a controlling parent or friend or co-worker that is constantly complaining or is filled with moodiness or anger. We don't look forward to spending time with them. They do not bring out the best in us. We feel uncomfortable around them and we certainly don't feel compelled to share our thoughts or dreams with them. We are only looking for ways to flee the scene.

When we learn to deal with our daily insecurities and anxieties as an adult we have a wonderful opportunity to build intimacy and become incredibly close to our partners. It's called self-soothing. Every neurotic thought or anxiety does not need to be known. The next time you feel tempted to act crazy or irrational, like snoop or chastise him, think about how you would treat a close friend in the same situation. With a close friend, you would be more understanding and trusting. You'd be kind and friendly. You would allow them to be themselves and love them for it. He is your closest friend and you should treat him as such.

If you learn to quell your anxieties, and bring your best self to your relationship, you will have intimacy and closeness like you have never known.

Also, sometimes we act crazy and controlling because we don't know how to be close to a person. We don't feel worthy. Maybe you don't know what a real adult relationship is supposed to look like. Maybe your behavior is a form of self-sabotage. Think about your self-esteem and how you can improve it. Improving your self-esteem and knowing that you are lovable and worthy will do wonders for your personal relationships.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 9:09 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm in general agreeing with pazazygeek. You've got the distrust, but what is it you are looking for? I'd say 80% of your post is distrust, but then you include the dieting, the video games...

What is it that is making you unhappy? Are you feeling you aren't getting enough attention from him? I'm thinking there must be a deeper issue here.
posted by arniec at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2008

The thing is, on an intellectual level, I do trust him. I have so been there. The intellectual reality is something mundane, but the internal feeling is one of high drama, stress, and potential tragedy.

Look. You owe it to yourself and your relationship to get to the bottom of this. Is therapy an option? It can help you get to the root of why you feel insecure or anxious. For example, I grew up in an abusive household, so I learned to want to control my environment by predicting the behavior of people around me in a feeble attempt to "be safe." It's outdated now that I lead a normal life with good people, but the reaction and the impulse still comes more often than I'd like.

Other ways to deal: before you flip out and say or do something distrustful, find a ritual that snaps you back into the now. Maybe it's a matter of wearing a piece of jewelry that reminds you of who you are and what you deserve for yourself and your relationship. Maybe it's a prayer or mantra or song, or just a deep breath. I would use this to get yourself into the present moment where your fear is something unrealistic, your reality is something loving and normal, and to keep you rooted there.

Hope this is helpful. Please MeFi mail me if you want to talk more about this; I really identify.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:25 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]

First: yes, ask your husband to mention it to you when you're being controlling. If you do this in public, get a code word or phrase.

Second: it seems to be a more individual or familial style, wanting to know where your loved ones are and what they are up to -- my family, full of non-controlling people, always asks and informs about this -- and you might want to work out a compromise about this. Giving a "hey, I'm half an hour late leaving work" isn't hard (during a business dinner it's inappropriate), and if he were compromising a bit on this, you might be able to hold back more on phoning every time. Similarly, it's sort of annoying when someone keeps telling you they're totally going on an eat healthy kick and then has a pint of ice cream a day, and maybe you should find out why he's doing this, especially given it's driving you nuts. Things like videogame use -- well, if he's playing 5 hours a week vs 5 hours a day matters.

I think you're right to try to keep your anxieties and controlling behaviour to a minimum, and to figure out what's behind them both, but I wonder if you're just having trouble asking for what you need, so you're trying to nag him into offering it on his own. (I say this as kindly as I can, because I think it's very understandable.) You need to figure out a way to get your needs met while meeting his, too, and that's going to involve his making some changes to his interactions with you, too. It is mostly you needing to hold back from what you're doing, but he's your husband, and you deserve to have him helping you out on this.
posted by jeather at 9:42 AM on December 3, 2008

I think you need two things. First, you need to look at the action at the time you engage in it. I think we do these things because something else is bothering us. Find out what you were thinking about just before you started to engage in this obsessive behavior.

Seocnd, I think you need to get to the bottom of what is bothering you. I think we repeat behaviors because something happened in our past that we refuse to confront and we go through the motions again and again, hoping that this time it turns out right. But our single-minded (and unconscious, if that is possible) focus on these things makes them happen again.

The fact that you are concentrated on betrayal tells me that you were betrayed at one time or another in the past and that you haven't allowed yourself to fully accept and deal with it. I'd suggest looking there.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:59 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

A sign of a healthy relationship is openess. You will have to go to him to solve this issue, not here. As your significant other, you should feel comfortable bringing up these fears and working through them....right now you need his re-assurance. Just don't flat out say that you don't trust him, rather approach it in a way that shows that you have feelings of mistrust that seem unfounded.

Good luck to both of you!
posted by samsara at 10:37 AM on December 3, 2008

The fact that you have recognized that you do this gives you a tremendous head start. Be proud of that first.

You have two situations here -- you have the "what you do", and you have the "why you do it." Perhaps having a talk with him about how he can support you in stopping the "what" -- maybe you come up with some kind of code word he can say when you're starting to cross the line a little, something non-threatening so you don't then turn around and get defensive. In other words, if he were to say "honey, you're doing it again" that would give you an out to try and argue that no you're not, this is different, blah blah blah, but using a code word may make you focus more on your own behavior because you can't argue with it ("Hon? Linguini, remember?")

While you're having that talk, encourage him to tell you how it feels to be treated thus - sometimes knowing how someone else feels has stopped me from a lot of bad habits I've had ("...holy shit, I'm making them feel terrible. God, I don't want to do that.")

"Why you're doing this" is a trickier question, and one only you can answer -- and it could take you a while to answer that. Therapy could help, but in my experience, noticing the patterns about what triggers you will help as well ("huh, I seem to flip out about this a lot when I'm feeling insecure about work...I wonder if there's a connection there?").

But the fact that you recognize that there is a problem is a big advantage you have.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2008

Nip it in the bud, because this is the type of behavior that prompts SO's to re-evaluate and look elsewhere.

I had a girlfriend - whom I never strayed frrom - who used to check my cell phone and look at my calling records online. She would always call me to see if I was heading straight home from work, if I went out after work with co-workers (because she was worried I was cavorting with the female TV reporters and anchors) ..


Relationship insecurity tends to be become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The sad thing is that it's usually the jealous person who unwittingly initiates the breakup.
posted by Zambrano at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe it is some kind of unevenness in the relationship? Sometimes one partner is more affectionate, while the other partner is busier with their life... Do you have your own projects and career stuff to focus on, while your husband is off on his business dinners, or does he become the centerpoint of your world, while he has multiple strands to keep him occupied? That could cause a situation that subconsciously creates a sense of need in you, even though he is not actually doing anything wrong.

But the fairytale version of love is generally one where the couple swears to be with just one another forever and ever. If you are still standing there staring into his eyes, and he is standing there, but also checking his blackberry and nodding to the secretary etc, it might bother you on some level, if you don't have your own blackberry equivalent (whatever equivalent you want to put there - oil painting, taking care of kids, refurbishing cars, whatever, as long as you are into it).

I don't know if this applies to you, but you may find your need to control him diminishes if your interests beyond him increase. Then you become equals again, each bringing parts of the world back to each other, and enriching one another's perspectives, instead of all the focus being shifted onto one half of the relationship.
posted by mdn at 12:13 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Don't let me walk all over you. I don't want to be like my mom."

I just had to point to this statement as being completely counter productive.
posted by 517 at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2008

I realize this sounds easier than it is and I don't mean to oversimplify but...refocus your energy. Instead of attempting to control him, which you will never ever succeed at, work on controlling yourself, which you actually are capable of.
posted by kattyann at 1:58 PM on December 3, 2008

Constantly seeking external reassurance is a behavior that makes us feel like we're doing something positive, at the time we do it, but it can actually undermine your confidence by becoming a compulsion.

I can't recommend the book The Worry Cure by Robert Leahy highly enough for helping you learn to identify and deal with the root causes of anxiety on your own. Cognitive behavioral therapy is another option, since this is about your thought patterns and choices, but the book would be a very good first step if counseling seems scary or like too much of a commitment to jump into right away.

Best wishes to you. Identifying the problem in the first place is already one gigantic leap forward.
posted by trunk muffins at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2008

What you're doing is pretty awful, and I'm not going to congratulate you for admitting it.

I think you should consider joining a spousal abuse program, but at the very least try to diagnose and cure the attachment issues or emotional damage that's causing this. Journaling might be a viable way because it allows you private focused personal insight into your motives, allows you to see patterns, and puts things into perspective, which in turn helps you see what you're doing outside of your typical colorings.
posted by luckypozzo at 5:27 PM on December 3, 2008

This is a pretty core thing of what Al-anon teaches, fwiw. MeMail me if you want more info on it. Basically it tries to teach people to MYOB, even with spouses, kids, etc, and then gives you tools to figure out what's your business and what isn't.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:02 PM on December 3, 2008

Are your parents divorced? If so, you might have abandonment issues.

I probably will get griped at for saying this, but that "my other half" talk in relationships is codependent, unhealthy bullshit. He should not be the sole focus of your life. What you are doing is showing him you're insecure without his constant presence and attention to validate you as a human being.

Marital love by its very nature is conditional because it's a choice. Unconditional love is irrational (every love song and poem in history be damned!).

True love is about acceptance and trust and your relationship has been reduced to obsession and insecurity.

I really think therapy and/or couples counseling is your best option. There may be other factors driving you to behave this way; finding the root of the problem and addressing it now will keep you from repeating this pattern later.

If you cannot afford counseling or your husband refuses to go, gradual behavior modification techniques MIGHT work. Again, I really believe you need professional help.

Small goals (like telling yourself you will only call him twice a day and setting your browser to clear the cache each time it's closed so you CANNOT see what he's done) are a good start. Behavioral modification is difficult; when you find yourself doing something controlling, apologize and give yourself a physical cue to stop (such as snapping a rubber band on your wrist or writing it down in a log so you can see visually how much time you're devoting to it).

Work on building up your self-esteem, too, with activities that are rewarding that do not involve him. A pedicure, for example. They'll also serve as a distraction. All people need personal time and space, including you; embrace it.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:14 PM on December 3, 2008

I grew up in a home where there were no boundaries. No one ended or began...we were one amorphous father at the center, with tentacles wrapped around us all and interconnecting us to one another.

I can't tell you HOW to do this, but I have gradually become an individual....Able to stop others from infringing on me and to stop myself from infringing on others' individual persons. This has been difficult and I still catch myself trying to insert myseld into my children's, husband's and other's lives, managing and controlling them, and even their interactions w/ one another, on occasion...but it feels inappropriate now...and it feels wrong if others do the same to me.

Actually I think drawing boundaries for my family (of origin's) incursions into my life gradually helped me to begin to see myself as an individual and hence to treat others as their own persons, too. I don't know if this will resonate for you at all, and if not, just ignore it. For me it didn't have to do with trust of my husband and others, but with my personal sense of myself as an individual...whole, complete, self-sustaining.
posted by mumstheword at 12:41 AM on December 4, 2008 [5 favorites]

It might help to read about the difference between assertive behavior and aggressive behavior. I ran out of time to find it, but I saw a really great page once that talked about passive vs. assertive vs. aggressive ways to talk. (Here's something, here's a search, here's a google search.) It might give you helpful guidelines about appropriate and inappropriate ways to ask for what you want.
posted by salvia at 12:55 AM on December 4, 2008

I'm sure the people up there recommend therapy and that's a good idea, but also

GET YOUR OWN LIFE! Really. If you have all this time to "stalk" your husband it's because you don't have enough going on in your own life. Make new friends, start new hobbies, find a job that interests and challenges you.
posted by bananafish at 12:49 PM on December 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

When I've felt like this, it was because my fears were well founded. I've found that to be true with most of my friends as well. Hell, when I came home from drinks with my best friend last night, the boy was all jealous and asking what boys had been there. I'm not interested in anyone, but had been talking to a man.

Maybe you just know something.

Or maybe you need to stop being controlling - it is hard to tell which it is, I find, seeing as how you are basing your truth on someone else's.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2008

« Older Naptime in Chicago   |   What snacks to eat or work? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.