How Do You Know if Your Spouse is Controlling?

What are some warning signs you can and should learn to pick up on early in the relationship, signs that the person you are with is a controlling partner?

As a general indicator, a huge warning sign that you’re involved with a controlling partner is your own emotional response to partner interactions. No one wants to disappoint their spouse, but if you feel very nervous about making your spouse upset or angry, you need to think about your relationship. Part of a controlling spouse’s technique is to make you afraid of their anger. If you find yourself walking on eggshells in your own house, chances are you are in a controlling relationship.

Also, all people want to be accepted for who they truly are. If you feel you need to put on a facade to please your partner, or be the person he’d like you to be–that’s another serious sign right there.


Other questions to ask yourself:

1. Does my spouse have a set of rules that are abnormally rigid, and to which strict adherence is required? Henry demanded such strict adherence to his own quirky rules that when Henrietta left a print magazine on top of the wood credenza, as he’d asked her repeatedly not to do before, he declared it “a declaration of war.” In another controlling move, Henry wanted eight roses for their 8-year-old’s birthday, and sent Henrietta out at the last moment to purchase some. Being near the end of the day, the flower store was out of nearly all roses, but Henrietta felt herself lucky that there was a full selection of 8 lovely, pale-yellow roses. When she returned with the bouquet, Henry was furious. “You know this family hates yellow! We only like red flowers! I won’t grace these with a vase.”

As a sub-sign: If I do not follow my spouse’s rules, or do as s/he wishes, am I ‘punished,’ perhaps through withdrawal of sexual favors,  via restrictions on financial expenditures–or, as per Henry’s modus operandi, a declaration of war?

2. Is my spouse chronically angry? Does my spouse have rages about small things–losing a parking space, my being late, a child interrupting their TV program? Is there a huge display of temper during bill-paying time?

3. Is my spouse particularly insistent upon his/her honor? Am I–and the children–required to pay homage to my spouse, perhaps by through serving him/her hand and foot or  maybe by making sure his/her wishes become our commands, as they say?

4. Does my partner control me–and others–with how bad his or her mood is? Is it not worth asserting myself or doing something that would please me because it will just make me more miserable? And do I even prevent my children from full free self-epression in order not to make my spouse mad?

5. Does my spouse want to completely control the finances? Does my spouse want to completely abdicate control of the finances to the point where they refuse to manage or even know about any piece of our financial situation?

6. Does my spouse not want me to be with my friends or my family? Am I forbidden to be with them or to take my kids to them, either constantly, or when they get upset with me?

7. Does my spouse demand to decide every activity in household—when people get to eat, when to have company, when people should go to sleep. . .? I worked with one quite musical family where the husband asserted that he always picked the songs and tunes for what would be sung–or hummed–in the house.

8. Is my spouse controlling of my whereabouts? Do they call frequently, ask me repeatedly where I am or was, and demand to know why activities took so long?

9. Is my spouse completely un-nurturing to me when I am sick?

10. Is my spouse almost willfully naive about how to take care of business, so I must take care of almost everything related to our lives myself?

11. Is my spouse highly critical of me–my looks, behavior, performance in the marriage?

12. Does my spouse make threats that I’m particularly afraid of—crashing my car, taking our children, committing suicide, embarrassing me if I have my parents over, making a scene in public?

13. Can I say no to sex without being afraid of repercussions?

14. Do I feel forced to say “I love you” to my spouse, even if I’m not currently feeling that emotion, simply as a way to avoid suffering and achieve peace?

15. If a task is in ‘my domain,’ do I feel comfortable asking my spouse to help me out if I’m in a pinch? One female patient of mine was, not so uncommonly even today for women, in charge of the food prep. She should have felt comfortable saying she just couldn’t swing it on a certain day; there would be no home-cooked meal. However, she was anxious about it and sure enough her husband was cold and critical. That night he ate out at a restaurant–as he did every night for the next five nights, refusing to eat her food to ‘punish’ her.

For some more helpful signs for how to know if you are involved with a controlling person, look at these checklists, or look over a quiz you might want to take at http://lovegoodbadugly.com/good-bad-or-ugly/.



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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