Here are some of the ways to know whether you are in a controlling relationship:
Does your spouse want you to themselves all of the time?
If you are newly married, then your relationship is fresh and exciting, both of you are into each other, and your spouse may be what is called “relationship-centered.” This means they value their relationships and will put all of their energy into making it a success, often forsaking other people (and sometimes work). There is nothing wrong with being relationship-centered, however, we enter into controlling when your spouse is not interested in your spending any time with your friends or having any time for yourself. If you do go out with others or spend time by yourself, your spouse will complain to the extent that you may feel guilty for leaving them alone. If you begin to feel like it is easier to just spend less time with friends and family, so your spouse won’t constantly complain, this may be an indication that their attempts at controlling you are working. You may also find family and friends saying things like, “Where have you disappeared to?” “I don’t see you anymore.” or “Did you drop off the face of the earth?”
Does your spouse complain to, or is he or she rude to your family and friends?
When you first started your relationship, was it fun and comfortable for the two of you to get together with family and friends? Another indication of a controlling spouse is when he or she begins to complain about the amount of time the two of you, together, are spending with these same family and friends. You may find that your spouse becomes rude and abrasive, and you become very uncomfortable. He or she may be trying to influence you to stop getting together with your friends and family, or they may be trying to make it so uncomfortable when all of you get together, that you start seeing your friends and family without your spouse.
Does your spouse try to give you suggestions on how to change yourself?
In the beginning of the relationship, you may have tried to make changes in certain aspects of your personality or way of being, to ensure that your spouse likes you. However, now you may find that your spouse is constantly “making suggestions” on how you should talk, act, what you should to wear and what you should to do. If your spouse is making these types of suggestions, this is also an indication that your spouse is controlling and trying to change you, versus just allowing you to be and loving you the way you are.
Do you have to repeat yourself several times before your spouse listens to you?
Some people are naturally more dominant than others. They are born leaders, like to be in charge, and are focused on completing task. However, they are not focused on people, but are solely interested in getting from point A to point B, tuning others out while they try to get a task completed. Because this style is successful in the workplace, they are not aware that they come across as controlling at home.
The difference between someone who is a natural leader and someone who is intentionally controlling, is that a leader will make an attempt to learn how to communicate and negotiate with their spouse, out of fairness. But a person who is controlling is not interested in learning communication or negotiation. They are only interested in doing what they want in the way they want to do it.
Does your spouse use controlling language like “you should,” or “I insist”?
Most people don’t realize that they can be unintentionally controlling. Almost all of us use certain language and phrases that in essence give orders to others. Whenever we use the phrase, “You should,” we are influencing others, since “you should,” is a directive statement. Other people may have been taught, often by society and their own upbringing, that they can control people by using guilt or social influence, saying things like, “What would your parents think if you didn’t give me ride?” or, “What would your friends think if you didn’t get them an expensive gift?” The difference between someone who is just using these words or terminology and someone who is intentionally trying to use these forms of influence is that every second sentence coming out of the controlling person is a controlling phrase. In addition, if your spouse is putting a lot of emotion into their controlling phrases and sentences, you may have someone who is too controlling in your life.
To achieve real and lasting love, each person needs to shift from direct control, and focus on altruistically fulfilling the other’s stated needs. In a healthy relationship, each side senses that control is never a solution, whereas mutual respect and recognition are the only way to live beyond the moment.
Finally, there are marriages where either spouse may find themselves in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. If abuse is present, one or both of the spouses needs to seek professional help.
As a first step, I suggest calling a domestic abuse hotline, like the Shalom Task Force hotline at 1-888-883-2323. As they specialize in dealing with abuse in our community they are sensitive to the needs of Orthodox Jews. Their confidential hotline offers a listening ear and referrals to key community agencies that can assist victims. Their website www.shalomtaskforce.org is filled with insightful articles and information about domestic abuse and what to do if you think you are being abused.
Next week, part 16, Domestic Abuse Checklist
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To order “First Aid For Jewish Marriages” go to www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.