Editor's note: This is the final installment of a 3-part series on controlling and dominating spouses. Today's article discusses how a controlling spouse might change, and what to do if he or she does not. To read part 1 (how to identify such a spouse) click here. To read part 2 (how the actions of a such a spouse affect the family) click here.

“You are worth standing up for! Your partner will not learn to respect you until you learn to respect yourself! If you find yourself constantly having to defend your husband to friends and family, or if you often feel scared in your own home, please admit that there is a problem and seek help!”

A 29-year-old woman wrote those words of advice to anyone living in a situation of control or domination.

She was one of several people who responded to an online survey about controlling or dominating spouses. I presented their responses to several questions in the two previous articles on this subject. In part one, we examined ways that one spouse dominates or controls the other. In part two we shared responses from spouses that revealed how being dominated or controlled affected them personally.

In this last article of the series, we discuss how to deal with a controlling or dominating spouse. However, before going further I must stress that if your spouse is physically violent, or if you have any fear for your safety, you should skip this article and call the Domestic Abuse Hotline for information about how to be safe. 1-888-7HELPLINE (US & Canada). Do not attempt to change your spouse’s behaviors, or confront him or her in any way, unless you know you are completely safe to do so.

You Change Yourself, Not the Other Person

At the outset, please understand that you cannot change your spouse. While changing yourself may lead to changes in your spouse, it will not make your spouse change.

A respondent said it succinctly, “Don't allow anyone treat you badly. The only one that can make changes is you, so do it.” Since I began working with marriages in 1994, I stress this message. Your spouse will do what you allow him or her to do. Rather than focusing on changing him or her, work on yourself. Start with the commitment to yourself that you will not tolerate bad, selfish, demeaning, or destructive behavior from either of you. Then begin your own growth. (I suggest you read about the PIES in my book The Art of Falling in Love.)

One woman finally came to understand this. “Even after the divorce, I kept hoping and praying that something would change…but I know you can't change another person.”

Stop taking responsibility for your spouse’s behavior and concentrate on your own.

The survey we placed online sought responses from men and women alike. However, only women responded in the brief time of survey availability. Though the words below are all from women, we know that women can be just as controlling as men can.

In the survey, we asked the following question: 

If Your Spouse Ceased Dominating or Controlling, What Changed?

Responses fell into the following categories.

Believed in Myself and Stood Up For Myself