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January 21, 2017 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Controlling behavior or not?

Question:

My husband and I have been married for 5 years. We each have 4 children from previous relationships. He was widowed and I was divorced. We currently have 5 kids (ages 10-17) still at home, 3 are away at college. We are both college-educated professionals.

I am currently taking Effexor for depression and anxiety. When we met, my husband claimed that he loved everything about me. Now he claims I am "controlling" to the point that he is considering leaving. I don't feel that the issues he feels are "controlling behavior", but rather, normal spousal issues. For example, if he signs up to do laundry for the week (we have a chore chart and everyone is assigned chores for the week) and it's already Friday and he has done none, is it controlling for me to ask him or remind him that he is supposed to do the laundry? If we set up a budget and agree to each have spending money of $400 per month, yet he consistently overspends that amount, is it controlling to comment on the excessive spending? When there is something broken around the house that needs to be fixed and he procrastinates about doing it (and would rather spend time on the computer or watching movies), is it controlling for me to ask him when he's going to fix it? These are just a few examples of how he thinks I am controlling.

My husband tells me that he is an adult and can do whatever he wants even if we've made an agreement ahead of time. I feel he is being irresponsible and he feels "nagged". When I "nag" him he eventually explodes, bringing up issues that happened in the past to remind me of how "controlling", "self centered" I am. He starts by yelling about the issue at hand, no matter how big or small. Then he brings up negative comments that his family has said about me, along with examples of how he felt I was controlling or selfish in the past (even 5 to 7 years ago). He calls me names, leaves me feeling worthless, slams the door, walks out, and then apologizes the next day, telling me he couldn't live without me.

Am I being abusive or is he? He claims he wouldn't explode if I didn't provoke him.

Barb, 39-year-old woman

Answer:

Dear Barb, This sounds like a classic chicken or the egg problem. Which came first? As a clinician and psychotherapist I always look at the interaction of a problem rather than who is at fault. I have never found an issue where I haven't been able to see two people that are having a difficulty in a marriage relationship.

My belief is that two people fall in love on several levels. There is always a measure of lust/love that is chemical. It draws people together. There is also a component of conscious adult attraction between two people. This is usually the healthiest part of the relationship. It is why we think we connect with another.

Underneath that we pick people because we have one or several issues out of childhood that are unresolved and we try and resolve it with our partner. We pick people who are like one or both of our parents and this brings up the unresolved issue so we have another chance to work it through. It is usually the qualities we most love in the other when we first get to know them. What we loved most in the other at first often becomes what we are most bugged about later. I would need to know more about both of you to be sure, but I am going to take a shot at a hypothesis.

My guess is that what he loved most about you in the beginning is that you were practical, organized, and got things done effectively. You probably seemed strong and he could rely on that. He probably also loved your nurturing and your taking care of him. You probably loved most his spontaneity and playfulness and liked the idea of him not being boring or too practical.

Whether that is accurate or not what seems apparent is that both of you are locked into a power struggle that is reminiscent of a parent/child interaction. Whenever this occurs it is self-reinforcing. The more he acts as a child the more you will respond as a critical parent. The more you act as a parent the more he will act as a spoiled child. It is important for both of you to realize this and take responsibility for your sides of it. The only way this will change is if you both stop trying to change each other and change yourself.

I think you are right. He is acting childlike by not doing common responsible things and by acting abusively towards you when you call him on it. But he is probably right in that you micromanage things. One question I would have is if there are any chemicals involved in this. Does he drink excessively? It would certainly complicate things. The fights sound reminiscent of an alcoholic/co-dependent fight. Whether drinking is a part of this or not what I would recommend is to start to bond with him more on an adult level. Remind him of what you still find loveable in him and let him know that this is both of you not just one. Offer to go to marriage counseling with him on an equal basis. I am sure that both of you would really rather get on well together. Work for a common goal not against each other.

Jef Gazley, M.S. www.asktheinternettherapist.com

This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.

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