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The Controlling Wife

The Controlling Wife

Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to

When it comes to issues of control, we most often think about men being the controllers and women being the victims of that control. While I believe that men are often guilty of being controlling, I receive many emails from men who feel controlled by their mates.

Are these isolated examples of controlling women, or are there more cases than we might want to admit? It’s a topic that is understandably uncomfortable because it flies in the face of our gender stereotypes—men being more dominant and women being more passive.

While I’m not prepared to offer any generalizations on the topic, I do want to respond to some of the emails I receive from men who feel their mate has issues with control. I’ve received many responses from my book, Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, where I outline traits of Control Freaks.

Let’s review some of the traits of the Control Freak:

  • Black and white thinking
  • Control of conversation
  • Must be “right”
  • Attempt to prove you wrong
  • Rewrite history to make their point
  • Use of intimidation
  • Rigid
  • Coercion and forced agreements
  • Shaming

Control Freaks are not only domineering, but tenacious as well. They are like a bulldog with a bone—there is absolutely no way you will dissuade them from their point of view. Any attempt to do so will only lead to frustration on your part. They are relentless, narrowly focused and doggedly determined.

We might expect a man to have these characteristics. But, what if these traits fit a woman? Consider this email message from one woman:

Dr. David,

I read your article about the Control Freak and I noticed that a lot of what you wrote was me!  Now I am worried that I have caused my husband to shut down when it comes to his feelings and point-of-view. When trying to figure out where this destructive behavior stems from, it seems that I grew up in an environment with the same type of behavior.  How can I reverse this, so that my husband can feel comfortable and open with me?

-- Recovering Control Freak

Dear Recovering,

I am impressed that you are taking responsibility for behaviors that are destructive to both you and your marriage. You notice, appropriately, that your controlling behavior has probably caused your husband to shut down emotionally. In fact, controlling behavior and attitudes will do just that—cause others to feel unsafe in our presence. They will hold back from sharing their feelings and opinions because those feelings and opinions will not be safe from judgment, and no one wants to be judged.

What can you do now?

You have taken a huge first step by acknowledging the behavior. While it may be important to understand where you learned such behaviors, it’s more important that you practice reversing thse patterns—what I call pattern interruption.

Practice the opposite of controlling behavior, which is accepting attitudes and behavior. Share your sincere apology with your husband and let him know you are endeavoring to be more accepting, tolerant and filled with grace. Encourage him to tell you when you step across his boundaries, and create a space in your relationship for forgiveness and growth.

Are there other women who believe they have been controlling? What have you done to rectify the situation? Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center and my Marriage Intensives on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.comand’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.                

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and When Pleasing Others is Hurting You. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities. You can also find Dr. Hawkins on Facebook and Twitter.