How to Control Your Spouse–Beware

Before you read on I want to make it extremely clear that the control I am discussing in these posts does NOT deal with patriarchal abuse or violence. I use ‘patriarchal violence’ as a term to describe violence in which the man is systemically violent, cruelly beating his partner to the point of harm or death.

Rather, the situations I encounter, and which this blog addresses, deal more with control issues–at times even crossing, perhaps, into the realm of emotional abuse- and in my practice I have-more commonly than you might expect–dealt with intimate partner violence, which, while less than acceptable, inplies more of a fair fight. If you are a victim of patriarchal violence, you are in an emergency situation and could get killed. You need to get yourself to a safe place as fast as possible and enlist emergency aid.

Having left off with some ideas of what to look out for in controlling relationships, I suggest you think about what are warning signs in the following controllers’ behaviors.

Connie can spend money like no one’s business. It was a lucky day for her, her parents, and the economy in general when she married Carl, a prominent and highly successful radiologist. However, there are some unpleasantnesses surrounding the issue of the money flow.

For example, Connie loves to shop–and Carl, she insists, must go with her. As if it weren’t bad enough already, he thinks, Connie likes to shop–but loves to return, so all errands are done twice, with Carl in tow, who might, at any given moment, have something else to do. In fact, between not enjoying the activity itself, and watching the hemorrhaging of money, Carl is often not in the best of spirits on these couple expeditions–which makes Connie furious. She berates Carl for not enjoying the shopping enough.

Carl tries to turn a blind eye to Connie’s expenditures, but when new heights of cash outflow are reached, he is obligated to comment. He felt his eldest daughter’s wedding was, in the hands of Connie, a financial fiasco, but when he saw the bill for the second sister’s bridesmaid dress, he did bring the topic up.

Connie was incensed, offended, and pronounced herself, as was her wont in these interactions, totally humiliated and degraded by being put on a financial leash. Carl had been down this road before and regretted ever saying a word. Such humiliation on Connie’s part leads to increased spending to retaliate against Carl’s miserliness, and to demonstrate Connie’s independence and self-worth.

The backlash wasn’t long in coming this time either, Carl realized, as he watched Connie prepare for a post-wedding get-together for the couple’s friends who hadn’t made it to the wedding. He eventually shut himself down emotionally as he watched another $300,000 march out of his planned portfolio.

Don and Diane are quite comfortable financially, as well, although Diane chronically complains that Don doesn’t make enough money. Don works hard as a partner in litigation law, and the couple does have access to the ‘finer things’–a large, lovely, well-decorated home, fancy vacations, a highly-sought-after personal trainer for Diane, as well as a Jaguar, full-paid college tuitions at private schools for the children–but Diane spends enough to keep pace with his salary.

Come December one year Diane found that she had spent enough on holiday gifts that she was worried about Don’s reaction during bill-paying time. So she did the best she could think of in terms of bill-tightening–she cancelled Don’s Field & Stream delivery. “You could get it at the store for less; why do we need to pay to have it put on our driveway?” she argued. “Plus you don’t have to tip the carrier in two weeks, since we no longer have a delivery.”

Don struggled with a bad back, and there were times he literally couldn’t make it to the office. Nurturing was not in Diane’s temperament. Oftentimes it was easier for Don to get up and drag himself downstairs to prepare a meal for himself than to request yet one more thing from Diane, who wouldn’t think to offer her assistance. Worse, she was critical of Don when he was ill. “Are you really going to take off another day of work?” she would ask, skeptical that he could drag out such malingering. “Are you really going to just lie there in bed the whole day?” She’d march out of the room, muttering to herself about those who had all day to just laze around while others had much to take care of–and she was off to the shopping races again.


So what do we see in the behaviors of Carol and Diane that are symptoms of controlling spouses?

  • They’re often controlling about money, and can use money as a means of retaliation. Although we more often think of this as the monied spouse withholding funds from the unemployed or under-employed spouse, Connie’s refusal to stick to any reasonable budget, and then her punitive spending if asked to rein it in are examples of the less-monied spouse still controlling the financial life of the family. Add to this Diane’s cancelling of Don’s newspaper delivery and her refusal to tip the delivery man, and you can get a picture of how even spouses who don’t make the money can still be in control.
  • Often the spouse is often extremely un-nurturing and un-loving, which particularly becomes apparent when the other spouse is sick. One client of mine, an elderly man, tends to pick up whatever bug the grandchildren are carrying around at the time, and it leads right into a nasty chest cold, with coughing and trouble breathing. His spouse’s response is, “I can’t stand it with all that hacking in this house! How am I supposed to go about my business with all that racket?” That, I would say, is a bad sign if you’re looking to avoid a controlling spouse.


Are you getting some ideas of what to look out for? But, you might say, these situations are obvious. Who would get involved with such people? Let me assure you that there are plenty controlling people around there–and plenty of people looking for their love. Also, it’s important to realize that it’s the more rare–although not totally uncommon–controlling spouse who demonstrates the more unpleasant side of their interactions to the public. Connie is extremely popular in her church group and at the country club, and has numerous long-standing friends. She has a wonderful personality–and is extremely generous, of course. Controllers often know better than to try to control the world; they’re happy to keep it right at home. You might be surprised to realize that a couple or two that you thought had a perfectly reasonable relationship live through their own small hell in private.

And what of those who aren’t as aggressive and punitive? If you have a spouse who is gentle and soft-spoken, you couldn’t really fall into the trap of being controlled, could you? Let’s think about these questions as we look at the stories of Norah and Tali, in the next post.


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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