Learning How To Recognize Controlling Men

    controlling-men-have-traits-in-commonA wife wants to go to counseling and her husband doesn't. That's probably not that unusual, right? It's not. But what if it's more than just a difference of opinion on what the problem is and how to solve it? What if it's one of the signs of controlling men?

    Liz and James have been to Guy Stuff for marriage counseling before. She wants to return. He keeps using money as a reason why they can't. For more than four months now she's been requesting an appointment with us, and when we've offered them an opening he's turned it down saying they don't have the money. Ironically during this time they've somehow found the money to take several trips. Now since I know Liz and James pretty well already and what's wrong with their marriage, I also know that he can be a pretty controlling husband.


    It's common for partners to disagree about whether their relationship has issues and if they should go to counseling for help. Men in particular are not that inclined to ask for help from a counselor, which is why we offer a unique counseling approach that's more appealing to men. Yet this scenario is often where controlling behavior can also show itself.

    My husband refuses to take any of the kids to any appointments. Lately we have been fighting a lot. Issues vary from how to raise or son, how much money I have spent, to time to our selves and even time together. My husband can also be quite controlling and others have witnessed this in person. We aren't happy anymore and we both don't have the drive to fix this. But yet he won't do counseling cause he doesn't like talking about his problems and he doesn't think he needs to change. We both have constant attitude towards each other, me more than him, which I'm trying not too. I don't know what to do anymore. I want to separate from him but, I figured I'd give one last shot cause I truly do still love him..." -Aliesha

    What Controlling Men Look Like

    Are controlling men always raging lunatics who look out of control all the time? No. They can look like a man just like James who's trying to make the best and most responsible decisions for his family. But when you know more of his story that perspective can change.

    James and Liz are on the verge of divorce. Breaking up their family and spending tens of thousands of dollars they don't have fighting over a divorce is a real possibility for them. Facing this future how come James isn't willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars on marriage counseling? Wouldn't most people choose that over a costly divorce?


    Controlling men can look like concerned, responsible partners until you understand their real motive. James isn't just worried about their finances – he doesn't want to have to change. Since he's been to Guy Stuff before he knows he's going to be challenged about his choices and making needed changes. He also knows counseling gives Liz a voice and validates some of her complaints. And he doesn't want to face accountability from another guy.

    We have grown apart for several reasons. Fight and argue a lot. He needs to be right, I am wrong. Is their help? He's never wrong. You never do... You always do... he has no gray area. Critical to me, adult sons, and people at work. He is the guy that helps everyone, and will give the battery out of our vehicle to another to get them home. Generally a good person. We love each other, but don't like each other. Can we rebuild this marriage? Our communication is awful. He tells me what I said and what it meant. I walk on eggshells and try to not react. Is it worth saving? Can people want to change? He's controlling, he says no, micro manages. I use to do a lot more in our life, he slowly took tasks from me, etc. now thinks I can't be trusted to do tasks, can't depend on me. Never late on a bill, never cheated, white lies, took care of our personal business, our small company, my mom, taxes, kids, vehicles, insurance, etc... I'm not stupid. My question is how do two people see each other so differently or perceive that person is that way change? Example, he says I pulled away from marriage, my perception is he pushed me a way by cruel remarks, negative remarks, controlling me, no hugs, no kiss, and on." -Lydia

    Warning Signs Of Controlling Men

    While they can be hard to see sometimes, especially if you’re in a relationship with him, there are signs that a man is controlling. Here are some common areas where controlling behavior arises more so than others:

    • Communication
    • Money
    • Parenting
    • Friends
    • Independence

    Here’s another real-life example of some of the signs of a controlling man:

    I love my husband very much, he is sweet thoughtful and kind, but very controlling. He is a proud man and honorable, but his mood is killing me emotionally. I am struggling with the idea of divorce. My husband is an emotionally controlling individual. He will often do what I call shark behavior. If the kids goof up, he will lecture them, then he comes back and "chews again and again and again". He often has extremely high expectations and barks at the children. I agree I am a softy and tend to "talk" more to the children. I go with a more therapeutic approach. So we are polar opposites in parenting. My husband does not "allow me" to do things, Like carry in the groceries. It 's not that I am handicapped, but he will tell the children that if I carry in groceries, they are grounded. It is stupid things like this that cause resentment. He is being kind in his mind, but causing turmoil and frustration in other ways. He often says things need to get done my way and only my way and barks if the children (teenagers) and I "learn" how to do things on our own - because he "has to fix our goof-ups because it is not done his way." This behavior often leads to him doing every fix it repair - and then complaining because he can't get everything done, nor will he hire out - because no one can do things right besides him. Which we have major things that need to be done. He jokes about he has 3 emotions, anger, anger and more anger. When he talks, he sounds like he is complaining and nit picking. It has gotten to the point that he sounds like that all the time, and I cannot take it. I have gotten moody miserable and hate coming home. He refuses to go to counseling. I know that there are a boat load of stressors. I am ready to crack under this pressure and cannot get him to see that counseling would be a good idea. I am frustrated. I cannot get him to see that he is "caging a bird". It is not protecting me, it is frustrating me and that I am defensive by his continuous barking at the children, most of the time it is unwarranted. I know he means well and he lives what he learned. He thinks he is loving and nurturing... but I can 't take much more... HELP!" -Rachel

    Part of this could just be a difference is parenting styles. But when you start to see a pattern of controlling-like behavior in numerous situations like this it becomes much more.


    The line between showing care and concern for loved ones, like your kids or partner, and being controlling can sometimes get blurred. Since the outward behavior often looks the same at first glance, deciphering the difference comes down to motivation.

    • Is their behavior driven by your needs or theirs?
    • Are they seeking what’s in your best interest or theirs?

    These factors along with a consistent pattern of control seeking behavior are signs of an abusive relationship. Abusive partners are seeking power, and so controlling men are ultimately after power, not showing care and concern for you. While this man probably cares about his kids, his deepest motivation is about wanting to be in control more than helping his kids learn.

    Why Men Are Controlling

    As Lydia says above, “He…thinks I can't be trusted to do tasks, can't depend on me.” One reason why men can be controlling is because they can’t trust others, even their partner. However, just because someone struggles with trusting others doesn’t mean they’ll be controlling.

    Some of us, myself included, have suffered significant pain in our past and as a result have some issues trusting others. Yet this doesn’t have to mean we’ll respond by being controlling. The reasons men become controlling go much deeper than just distrust, although controlling behavior is often easily be blamed and justified with this explanation.

    In the end what’s at the root of controlling behavior in men is poor self-esteem. Men who are controlling do so because they feel uncertain about themselves, their environment and lives, so they compensate by trying to control everything around them. We all can feel uncomfortable and even unsafe when the future is unknown and not within our control. Most people learn to deal with this reality in reasonably healthy ways, others not so much, such as by abusing alcohol or drugs. Controlling men on the other hand fight these uncomfortable feelings by exercising power and control.


    When a person’s self-esteem is extremely negative and warped narcissism can result as a way to counter this self-perception. Fear can also be a driver for narcissism, such as the discomfort of feeling everything is out of your control. Thus, another reason a man can be controlling is because he is either a narcissist or has narcissistic tendencies. However, it’s important to note that not all controlling men are narcissists, they may just show some of the characteristics of narcissism.

    As you can see in this section the reasons men are controlling are really about them and not you. You may get blamed for it and have their behavior justified by things you do or don’t do –

    If you would just _____, then I wouldn’t have to _____.”

    But while you may influence their behavior, you’re not responsible for it.

    How To Change Your Controlling Husband

    Unfortunately, you ultimately cannot change your husband’s controlling behavior. Just as none of us can change anyone’s behavior but our own. You can, however, greatly influence it.

    By the time a wife finally recognizes and is ready to do something about her husband’s control there are typically longstanding expectations and routines already well in established. So challenging those is the first step toward changing controlling behavior. Here are a few ways to get started:

    • Stop accepting his excuses, justifications or blaming you for his being controlling. How do you do this? Go to the next step.
    • Don’t be silent about how his behavior impacts you. Tell him how it makes you feel and how it affects you. Such as, “When you talk to me that way, I feel like you don’t love me, so I pull away.” Or, “One of the reasons I smoke pot every night is because I’m so on edge from walking on eggshells around you.” Don’t expect a positive response back, just stay consistent with this approach as it can have an affect you cannot see.
    • Set boundaries. Do this by setting and communicating limits around how you will accept being treated. This isn’t going to bring an immediate change either, but stay with it as you’re laying the groundwork for changing your relationship.
    • Get professional counseling help. Having support in delivering these messages can be crucial to their being heard. In counseling meetings I often hear this from partners, “The only time I feel safe to say how I really feel is when we’re talking with you.”

    In a marriage counseling session this past week a husband justified his controlling behavior over the couple’s finances because of his wife’s cheating 10 years ago. She hasn’t stepped out of the marriage since, works and contributes to the family finances, but he still insists she can’t be trusted. While he blames it on her past behavior this is really about his own need to control than it is any risk she poses.


    What does he do? He controls their money to the point that she has to ask him to transfer money into her checking account so she can go grocery shopping. So she calls him the morning she is going to the store and asks and he says he will. She even calls to remind him again before she gets in line to checkout. What’s happened? Numerous times she’s tried to pay and her card has been declined. Embarrassed and ashamed she has to leave the store with no food. It’s no surprise that she’s ready to leave him, but hasn’t yet.

    This next story isn’t the same guy, but it could be.

    My wife wants to move out she says I never let her breathe over the years 16 together. I have been too controlling and never let her be her own person, which I admit fully. I never been the one for change. I've always thought and been scared of it and have to be pushed. She says she don't love me anymore. I've chipped away at that. She resents me so much and probably hates me. We haven't been intimate for 6 months. I really do love her with all my heart and would love the chance again to show her she can do what she wants. I've asked for us to see a councilor but she says no. But think I need to go alone because last weekend I wanted go to the woods and end it all I felt so broken. She hasn't moved out yet. When I am work I text her telling her I love her and I am thinking of her, I'm sorry I've been controlling but can't help it. She won't drop the resentment for me. I tell her we can't move on when you have resentment for me. Please help. I know I probably deserve it but I am not in a great place." -Cole

    Cole says, “I've been controlling but can't help it.” It isn’t true that he can’t help it – he can help it but doesn’t know how. If you’re a man (or woman) like Cole you need to learn how to change. If you don’t you’ll very likely end up being alone as no one wants to be around a controlling man. Besides, controlling people are really deep-down unhappy people so learning how to be happier should be another reason.

    Can you see your partner anywhere in these descriptions of controlling men? If so, try sharing a piece of one of these stories with him. It’s easier to see bad behavior in other people than it is ourselves. Maybe he’ll see something wrong with another guy’s behavior that you can use to start a conversation about your own relationship. Give it a try – that’s how change starts.

    Do you know a controlling man? We'd really like to hear about your experience, so please share it with us in a comment below.


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