Reasserting Independence from a Controlling Partner

So we’ve gone through some crucial control-reassertion moves, talked about how to deal with change-back moves, addressed what your fears might be–and quoted my son not once but twice. Not bad for a day’s work.

But there are still a few ideas I’d like to get across before I close the topic of controlling spouses.

Have some way in which your finances are separate from your spouse’s. I did talk about bringing your own money when you go out or on a vacation, but if you are involved with a controlling spouse, you need some financial independence, both to keep you from being completely under your spouse’s thumb, and to facilitate a breakaway move, should the time come.

Most of the couples I’ve worked with have had this idea nixed by the controlling spouse. They’re too controlling of their partner to want them to have much independence at all, let alone financial independence and all that that could bring. This brings up a problem. Overall I want the hiding of re-assertion moves to end. When you as the controlled spouse do something to assert  your power and control, I want the other spouse to see it, as in the case of Don’s re-ordering his newspaper. So ideally I’d like the controlled spouse to set up their own checking account–which the controller can’t access–and allow their partner to know they’ve done so.

However, if this transparency can’t be accomplished for whatever reason, some level of financial independence is a must in relationships like these. Remember the wife who left after her husband become violent with her child, but left without driver’s license, cash or credit cards? Well, her husband was adamant that all checking accounts be shared, and he doled out a small allowance to her each week. He also scrutinized her credit card expenditures. There was no way he was allowing his wife a separate checking account.

So she and I worked through a plan where, between borrowed money from a friend and her own wages that she could siphon off without her husband knowing, she was able to open a checking account at another bank from the one she and her husband used. Now, because her husband went through her things and would have found–and been enraged about–the checkbook, her close friend (one she told after her first run-away fiasco) held the checkbook. To date the wife hasn’t used it, but she knows that if she needs to leave again, she literally has ‘money in the bank’ to make this a smoother getaway than her last one.:

If your spouse threatens suicide if you leave, that is a terrorist tactic; don’t be held captive by it. If you’re really concerned, call 911.

Tali, if you’ll remember from Part III of this series, was not an aggressive controller and abuser in the nasty way that, say, that Kyle, or Diane, was. But she was nonetheless a complete controller, and had Tim trapped under her thumb with her threats of leaving with the children or committing suicide if the couple fought, or if Tim would bring up leaving. So Tim and I worked through his own feelings about leaving Tali, by asking several questions:

  • If my partner threatens to kill herself when she’s displeased with me or if I talk about leaving–is that a marriage I want to stay in?
  • Can I truly be held responsible for someone else staying alive? The answer we arrived at here, was no. Tali herself was in charge of her own choice to stay alive–Tim wasn’t making it for her by leaving.
  • Isn’t it suspicious if my partner is only suicidal when I’m ‘winning’ an argument, so to speak
  •  Just as you need a safety plan if you are going to leave, one that protects you, so you’ll need a safety plan for your partner if s/he is mentally unstable or is threatening suicide. You have a number of choices: you can call a good friend to come before you actually leave, or his/her psychologist or psychiatrist.  If your spouse has neither of the above and you’re really concerned,  call the police as you’re walking out the door, leaving it in their experienced hands..

The point is that you have multiple choices in this case, as you do in every case.

By following the steps I’ve elucidated, in an order that makes sense for you, you can take back control and re-assert yourself in your marriage, which benefits both you, and as I mentioned in my previous post, your spouse, too. You can crawl out from under the thumb of your partner–and feel how astonishingly tall you can stand.


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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