Are You Married To A Control Freak?

Is your partner controlling? Do they isolate you from family and friends? Never hear "I'm sorry?"


Back in 1973 an important incident happened in Stockholm, Sweden. It is now known as the “Stockholm Syndrome” and it helped people in my field understand why people who live with a controller stay with them (even if they are victimized) and even protect them. The incident began when robbers broke into a bank and strapped explosives on their captives’ backs. The captives began to worry about the bank robber’s safety. When the cops came to rescue the captives the captives became upset when the cops were “mean or insulted” the bank robbers. The captives tried to endear themselves to the bank robbers and talked sweet to them as a way of protecting themselves. In a controlling relationship that is the same thing the partner does in order to stay safe. What we didn’t understand about Stockholm was that, even after the explosives were removed, the captives talked nicely about the bank robbers. Mentioned how sweet they were and believed they were “misunderstood”. Do we do this when we live with a controlling person? You bet.


We all want to be loved and needed. No matter how smart or beautiful you are, when someone comes into your life and tells you how great you are, always wants to be around you, and is charming with your friends, you are seduced. The problem is many times controlling people are charming too, they may be the ones telling you that you can always count on them and they will always be there for you. It is almost impossible to see their motives at the beginning, but they chose you because they see your vulnerabilities and know they can take advantage of you. It happens slowly and before you know it, you are doing everything according to their schedule and their way. It is similar to a learned helplessness.


Most of my couples that are in this sort of relationship had no idea they had changed their deepest feelings and values in order to live with their controller. Their family and closest friends were usually very honest with them and would tell them that they didn’t like their spouse because of the way they were treated, but the spouse usually makes an excuse for them. This is most likely due to the fact that, many times, we think we can change someone. That concept usually is not effective and it certainly is not effective in the matter of living with a controller. What can you do to even the score with a controller?

Tips to stop the controller from controlling you

1. Confront the controller. They may make you feel like you are the crazy one or they may belittle you (they can do this with a look, with the silent treatment, with physical harm, or with the use of words). It is important for you to have someone who knows you are going to confront the controller as they can get mean and you may not be safe. If you aren’t married yet (good news) they may leave and never come back. If you are married you can expect a fight.

2. Find a counselor. The counselor can help validate your feelings and make you feel stronger. They also can guide you in regards to possible ways you can make the relationship work by teaching you assertive skills. Your partner won’t like it, but if they are at risk to lose their family then many times they will begrudgingly change.


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3. Work on your own self esteem. Controllers are actually terrified of failure so they usually never admit when something is their fault. Rarely do they say they are sorry. Therefore, you end up feeling like everything is your fault. It’s not. You are not the failure. If you can do the things that make you feel good about yourself, you can begin to be more assertive and less likely to be used as a doormat.

4. Decide on a plan to work out the relationship or leave. The most important thing about your plan is it has a limited time so you have control over it. If you are thinking of changing your controller forget it. The controller is the only one who can control themselves and their behavior. If a controller does not change their controlling behavior they usually worsen with time instead of growing more mellow.


Relationships take negotiation skills and the ability to be flexible. A controlling person lacks both of these very important skills. If they are able to see what they are doing to their spouse, they can make changes. However, for them to be able to evaluate and understand how it feels to be controlled is very difficult. Enter these relationships at your own risk and take control of your own needs if you have to get out. I am a marriage advocate, but living with a true “controller” is not something I advocate. –Mary Jo Rapini-

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