Why Controlling Women Kill Relationships

The long-term effect of trying to control others

Have you ever been called a controlling woman? Probably not to your face. That’s certainly not a flattering way to be described, but let’s be honest—most of us have the tendency to control at least some things in life. Much of our existence feels out of control, so why wouldn’t we want to have a say in what seems to be within our power to manage?

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting a neat Tupperware cupboard or being known as someone who gets the job done, controlling tendencies can become a serious liability to your most important relationships. Efforts to control can build a wall to intimacy with your friends, your children, and your husband.

Control by a Different Name

Most controlling people won’t classify themselves as “control freaks.” They have a handful of other labels that feel more acceptable—they’re “organized,” “neat,” “I know my own mind,” “strong-willed,” or “opinionated.”

The best way to disguise control is through the art of manipulation. When we are manipulative, the people around us may not be aware that they are being controlled. In fact, we might not even realize ourselves that our behaviors are controlling. Instead of demanding our way, we use emotions, veiled threats, and unfair arguments to get what we want, all the while insisting that the other person is free to make his own decision.

As the saying goes, “It takes one to know one.” I think I came out of the womb manipulating. Because I have a non-threatening personality and I’m more of an introvert, few people would describe me as controlling. Add a couple psychology degrees on top of my natural ability to manipulate and my husband didn’t know what hit him. It took Mike a few years to get the gist of what I was doing when I subtly swayed him to my way of thinking. He began to describe my manipulation tactics as “Jedi mind tricks.” While this was funny in the moment, it also convicted me. Through manipulation, I was using my influence to make my husband feel like I didn’t trust his judgment or decisions.

You will either let go of your desire to control or you will spend your life in conflict with the people you love the most.

Why Is Control Such a Problem?

Every one of us has a free will. We’ve been granted the opportunity by our Creator to make choices about our own lives. God gives us the freedom to even make harmful or sinful choices. Beginning in the toddler years, we have a strong desire to assert our free will. If you’ve had a 2- or 3-year-old, even the most compliant among them will begin expressing opinions.

The essence of control is overtly or subtly limiting the free will of the people around you. Your “control issues” may not even be related to people, but they inevitably affect the people you love. Let me give you an example.

One area that I like to control is being on time. I hate to be late. It causes me stress and makes me feel like I’ve offended whoever is waiting for me. My desire to always be on time (or even 10 minutes early) worked very well for me until I got married. Why is it that God always pairs an early bird with someone who is constantly running late? Well, that’s certainly what he did with me. My husband likes to squeeze every minute out of the day and thinks it’s a waste of time to get somewhere early. Early in our marriage, Mike faced a choice: either be on time or face a cold shoulder.

The people in your life will inevitably refuse to follow your life rules. They won’t spend money the way they want you to, they won’t keep the house clean, and they won’t work as hard as you think they should. You will either let go of your desire to control or you will spend your life in conflict with the people you love the most.

Letting Go of Control

Maybe you are an “altruistic” controlling person. You control because you only want the best for your children, marriage, coworkers, or friends. You know that if they __________ (fill in the blank: accept Christ, exercise, get a job, or stop drinking, and so on) life will be so much better.

Here’s the irony: trying to control actually makes you less likely to be a positive influence in people’s lives. Whenever you grasp for control, you inevitably let go of influence. Why is that? Because of free will. None of us like to feel forced into a decision, even if we acknowledge that it’s best for us. If you try to force or manipulate your husband into losing weight, he will be even less likely to oblige. His autonomy demands that he won’t lose weight until it’s his idea. The same goes for parenting. Teenagers rebel against a controlling parent while they often seek the advice or approval of a mom who allows them some independence.

You can let go of control when you truly grasp this: the most effective thing you can do to influence those you love is to pray for them and demonstrate a genuine trust in God’s work in your own life. Chances are that the most influential people in your life did exactly that. They never forced or manipulated you into decisions but encouraged, loved, and modeled the behaviors they believed in.

I doubt that reading a short blog post can convince you to let go of lifelong tendencies to control, but maybe it’s caused you to reconsider the effectiveness of your strategy. God has made you an influential woman. Don’t let the temptation to control compromise that influence!

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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