Our society has a nasty phrase for women who like to feel in control of their lives and their relationships – “control freak.” I think that this is somewhat unfair. Men who don’t like surprises and who like to ensure quality and safety are called “careful” or “astute.” But women who have the same qualities are called controlling. This phrase often applies to mothers and wives. It has become a catch phrase in our society. And it is not embraced. Men whose wives are thought to be controlling are pitied – whether his wife deserves this title or not. And eventually, this perception might become so intense that the same man might decide that he is better off alone.
This can leave the wife (who probably only thought she was being helpful) at a loss. Many of these women don’t find themselves overly controlling. And when their husband insists that they are, it can feel like a real slap in the face. Many wonder if they are even capable of changing their behavior, but they want to try for the sake of their marriage.
Someone might describe this situation: “My husband has been staying at a hotel by his office for about ten days. Last night, he told me that he doesn’t plan to come home any time soon. He says that the reason for this is that he is unhappy being married to me because I am simply too controlling. He says he feels like a child who never grew up being married to me. He says that I attempt to control everything about him – how he dresses, what he eats, how he relates to his friends, his job, and our marriage. He says that I have almost taken away his free will and he doesn’t even feel at peace in his own home. At first, I was angry at his words. I felt as if he were insulting me. Then, I talked to my mom about this and she very gently told me that she can see why my husband feels the way that he does. She says that I can be a control freak. She says that sometimes, this is to my benefit. But when I am dealing with other people, it is not. I see what she is saying and I would like to change. I am not sure how effective it will be because this is just honestly part of my personality and it always has been. But I am willing to try anything. The problem is that my husband isn’t really receptive because he doesn’t believe that I will even make the attempt, much less be successful. How can I get him to give me that chance?”
I’ll answer that question in a bit. But before I do, I want to discuss why you might be a little controlling and why you need to stop. I think that this may help you to understand your mind set and motivations. And please know that I say this with all sorts of love because I am absolutely a control freak. But I had to tone it down because it was seriously damaging my marriage.
Your Motivations When You Are Too Controlling: Here is what is so very unfortunate. People perceive that you are controlling because you are mean, self-centered, or abrasive. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth. I can only speak for myself, but my own inclination to control is motivated by love and a wish to protect.
I can honestly say that my biggest fear is anything happening to those I love. My life’s goal is to keep those who are important to me out of harm’s way. To that end, I worry as much as I attempt to control. And I think that, to a certain extent, the wish to control is an attempt to quiet the worry. We think that if we have some ability to control those we love, we can keep them out of harm’s way, we can ensure that they have a better life, and we can help them to avoid mistakes that might be painful. It is all done in love. We are not doing it to punish them. We truly think that we are doing it to help them.
How The People That We Love Perceive This And How It Actually Hurts Them: Although we know that our attempt to control is really intended to be loving, our loved – ones may not always understand this. The adults in our lives will think that we don’t respect them enough to believe that they can take care of their own lives. Or they will feel that we are a sort of bully or micro-manager. They may feel that we don’t see them as competent enough to handle their own issues. And they may mourn that lack of freedom.
What We Need To Accept: Here is the bottom line that I came to learn. Controlling doesn’t keep those that we love from pain. Worry doesn’t insulate any of us from life’s hardships. It just means that we can’t fully enjoy the moment. We can not control what happens, no matter how much we might like to. We can make reasonable and loving efforts to keep our family safe, happy, and mistake-free. But beyond that, we just have to love them and hope for the best. And we have to believe that they are good, smart, and sensible people who can take care of themselves. Because if we don’t allow them that right, they will resent us. And our hand-holding will almost cripple them. And because of this, we may get the very thing we’ve been trying to avoid all along – the destruction of our family.
How To Convince Him That You Can Change: This is probably the trickiest part of the whole thing. Because if you try and change his mind by insisting that you will change, then you’re being controlling again – you are taking away his free will. Ironically, I believe that you almost have to step back from this situation. Because otherwise, how does he begin to believe in your sincerity?
I think you may try a response like: “I respect what you are saying. I hear you. I accept that this is something that I need to work on and change. However, I can’t expect for you to believe that I am going to change just because I tell you that I am. I would love the opportunity to show you, but you have to be the one to make that decision. I can promise that if you did, you would not regret it. I was sincerely acting out of love, but I now realize that it was too much and it came off as disrespectful. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. All I can do is hope you give me a chance to show you that I am sincere and I respect that you can handle things yourself.”
Then, in the coming days and weeks, you have to continue to exhibit this accepting behavior. You have to back up what you say. This is difficult. Old habits are hard to break. But you have to watch your behaviors and when you are tempted to control, ask yourself if your husband, an adult, is capable of making this decision on his own. The vast majority of the time, the answer is yes. You married this man because you found him intelligent and more than capable, right? So you have to live that. You have to accept that he is capable of managing his own life and your marriage. And you have to show him this through your actions.