My mission statement is: “I create environments of truth, grace and blessing to facilitate deep connection and healing.” As a part of my mission, my wife and I have helped thousands of couples in our experiential retreats and taught hundreds of pastors and counselors how to work better with couples in distress. More than four hundred couples have met with me for a full day marriage intensive, one couple on the brink of divorce at a time.
I frequently hear wives share how they feel like they have no voice in their marriage, feel like their husband controls them and feel like they are verbally and emotionally abused. It is also rare that their husbands see the situations the same way. Many husbands are shocked that their wives feel this way about their marriage.
Control in Relationships
For many years I have used the Duluth Model “Power and Control Wheel” as a way to share how some spouses attempt to control. Here are key controlling actions based on the model.
- Isolation – What she does is controlled, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions.
- Minimizing, Denying and Blaming – Making light of her concerns about feeling controlled or abused. Not taking her relationship concerns seriously. Denying you actually said or did hurtful things. Shifting responsibility for the problems and saying she caused it.
- Male Privilege – Treating her like a servant. Making all of the big decisions. Acting like the “Master of the Castle”. Being the one to define men’s and women’s roles.
- Economic Abuse – Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money, giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.
- Intimidation – Making her afraid by using looks or gestures. Smashing or throwing things. Destroying property important to her. Abusing pets or displaying weapons in her presence to intimidate her.
- Coercion and Threats – Making and or carrying out threats to hurt her or people important to her. Threatening to leave her or commit suicide. Threatening to report her to welfare or making her drop charges against you. Making her do illegal things. Coercing, threatening or forcing sexual activity
- Emotional Abuse – Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she is crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating her. Making her feel guilty. Making her solely responsible for the health of the relationship.
- Using Children – Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away.
What Drives Control
During a Marriage Intensive, both spouses end up doing individual soul work in front of each other. Inevitably most of the husbands with wives who complain about feeling controlled or abused do work around a wounded part within them that wants to badly to be loved, appreciated, affirmed, valued, respected, etc.
What drives husband’s controlling behaviors is fear.
Most often, the controlling husband is blind to the damage he is doing when he tries to control. He is unaware because all he can see is his own fear and the overwhelming need to alleviate it.
He believes — at some level — that if he does not take the actions that their wives feel is controlling and abusive, he will never get their internal little boy’s needs met. Or, he believes that if he does not engage in controlling actions, his wife will emotionally hurt him.
Letting Go of Control
Your wife is starving for you to let go of control. She is waiting to see a man who listens to her voice on decisions in the family and collaboratively makes decisions. She’s hoping for a man whose words will bless her and who will honor her even when she is not around. She wants to trust and be open to you, but God built her responsively. And as long as her husband is not fully open to her, her trust and openness are elusive.
Letting go of control means continuing to do your own soul work around your little boys’ needs. It means not asking your spouse to meet the need of a wound created long before you ever met her. It means stepping into vulnerability – deeply connecting as equals – and taking a risk to be hurt.
As you become a consistently safe, non-controlling husband, your wife will respond. Your connection and the health of your marriage will grow into one God is waiting to bless.
By Roy Wooten
Roy completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2009 and has been the longtime leader of The Crucible Project community in Houston. Roy and his wife Devra have led over 175 of their Life Together Forever Couples Weekends and are the authors of The Secret to Lifetime Love: Speaking and Hearing Truth. He also authored Full Throttle Into Fatherhood and is the Executive Director of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers in Houston, Texas. Follow Roy at LifeTogetherForever.com.
Photo courtesy of Roy Wooten.