Winning Small Victories Against a Controlling Spouse

We left off with the story of Lou, the poorly behaved terrior, who got whipped into shape in the last post with a little bit of tough love. That story has a couple of lessons about control that are crucial when you’re ready to re-assert yourself.

Near top on the list of how to regain control is to:

Pick and win small battles. Chances are you got into your controlling or emotionally abusive relationship little by little. Well, that’s how we’re going to get you out. So pick something small, and make it clear to your spouse–gently, not at all in a confrontative manner– that you have, indeed, won.

Remember back to Diane and Don. Although quite financially comfortable, Diane liked to do all the spending, and preferred that Don support her expenditures–and make almost none of his own. So she cancelled his delivery of Field and Stream.

Now Don had been beaten down by Diane for years, so when I encouraged him to not go down without a fight on this one, as it was a small, easily won battle, his first response was that he would re-order his magazine and have it delivered to work.

I gave this a D+. Because the deal is that you need to assert your control and let your spouse see that you have. It’s true that then Don would have his paper–but he would have given in one more time to Diane’s controlling ways. The answer was simple, really. He just re-ordered the delivery of the paper, and it came once again to his driveway. Yes, we were taking the chance that Diane would stop the delivery again, but my bet was that it seemed unlikely, as she really didn’t want to take Don on in a fair confrontation like this. Her response was rage–as Don had feared–and she said, “You’re acting weird, do you know that? You’re acting really weird. I hardly know you anymore. I bet it’s all that time you spend with Candida.”

Don was afraid of Diane’s rage, as he’d been for years, and didn’t know how to respond to her epithet of choice, ‘weird.’ But I encouraged Don to do two things: First, recognize that he had chosen a small battle and won. Yes, Diane was enraged, but the paper delivery remained in place.

Second, do not engage in a fight. We brainstormed that Don could walk away, go to another room, or even leave the house. Yelling and screaming demeans both of you, will not get you anywhere, and will often leave you intimidated and back in the inferior position.

But Don wanted to respond to the constant criticism, ‘you’re weird.’ I suggested, if he felt up to it, he might answer, ‘You know, you’re right, Diane, this is weird for me. And it’s just going to get a lot weirder from here on out.’

Don smiled when I proposed it. “I like it, Candida, I really like it.”

Sometime, of course, the anger makes it impossible to go forward in the marriage.  That’s when mediation is the ticket. In lieu of mediation, the angry spouses simply use their lawyers to bully ech other.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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