Tired Control Freak
Q: I have been married going on seven years, but we have been together for twelve (I'm 30). We have a very rocky relationship. This has a lot to do with the fact that I am a control freak. My husband has no control in the relationship and seems to prefer it this way. He makes all the money, but I pay all the bills, and he doesn't even know what bills we have. It's frustrating, like I have three kids, when in reality I should only have two. He never makes any decisions, and if he does, he is very insecure about those decisions. How do I get him to take some responsibility in this marriage, and be more of the man I need him to be, without hurting his feelings? Sometimes I feel like we'd both be better off apart. -- Colleen
Dr. Susan: The two of you have a very neat, very common sort of marital system, one that is hard to change and easy to fret about. When one partner over-functions, the other under-functions. In other words, the more you do, the less your husband does. But let's try to break out of this way of perceiving your relationship. You could instead focus on how well it works. He makes the money, you're in charge of the bill-paying. Why should he bother himself about the details of your tasks any more than you get involved in his working life?
Let's say, though, that you are losing your respect for him because you can't tell the difference between him and your kids. You need him to be "more of a man." You're going to have to risk hurting his feelings, because of course hurting his feelings is far better than considering divorce. First think deeply about what it would take for him to seem like "more of a man" to you. Then ask for it. Don't be vague about your desires.
He's insecure about making decisions because, when you're with a control freak, anything you do is likely to be criticized. Clearly, you want things your way. So what chance does he have to "guess" what would please you? Each time the partner of a control freak tiptoes into a decision, Ms. Controller says, "That's not right," or "How could you not know that this is how it's supposed to be done?" Eventually, the more easy-going or passive person simply gives up and lets the controlling partner do her thing. If you genuinely want him to do more, you have to do less, and you have to continue doing less for a long enough time for the effects to show and for him to understand that you've given up a particular sets of responsibilities and they're his job now. Most control freaks can't let go of their control, and the system stays exactly the same. You have a choice: either you change, or you realize you've got an okay situation overall and be grateful your husband isn't fighting you all the time for control.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.