Why Do You (or does she) Want Control?

September 24, 2013

in Seeing Clearly, Series, YOU4HER

I think a desire for safety is a primary reason we seek control. We think being in control will keep us from being hurt. The more we were hurt as a child, the more likely we are to try to be in control as an adult.

The problem is being in control requires us controlling other people. If you want to ensure your wife doesn’t do something you dislike, you seek to control what she does. Thing is, most people don’t like being controlled, and this can set up a huge tug-of-war. The more you try to control her, the more she resists, which increases your fear and causes you to work even harder to control her.

Ball and chain of control © Alanpoulson | Dreamstime.com

Of course, the same thing happens the other way around, with the wife being the one driven by fear and her past. She tries to control her husband, he resists, and it escalates. 

A great question to ask in these situations is “What do you think would happen if your spouse were “allowed” to do what s/he wants?” Putting the fear into words may be difficult, particularity if the real issue is something from when the person was six years old. Alternatively, maybe the fear is well understood, but so improbable or insulting speaking it is difficult. 

We seek control to protect ourselves, but our attempts to be in control can easily limit, harm, or destroy our marriages. Understanding why we seek control is a good start to letting go.

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Lori and I had a great conversation about this recently and your post was right on target FOR US. I realize everyone has different experiences and their history will color their perception of the information presented. But for us, this was spot on! Wounds from the past have caused controlling behavior. Identifying these wounds have helped with the controlling behavior. And understanding until healing comes.


I love when one of your posts/series really gets me thinking!  (I apologize in advance for the long comment - so many thoughts about this topic... Kind of the flip-side of the coin.)

* * *

"We think being in control will keep us from being hurt."

Hmmmm, I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

As I understand it (taken from Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend's book "Boundaries"), it's very appropriate and healthy to set boundaries to "keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside..." According to Cloud and Townsend, gate-keeping is actually a good thing. "Our fences need gates in them...to be able to open up our boundaries to let the good in and the bad out." The purpose is to take responsibility for, and control of, our own lives (which helps us to be healthy in every way.)

* * *

You mentioned the other day in your post Gate-keeping is Self Destructive"gate-keeping happens in many areas, and it is always harmful to both the one being limited and to the one who is doing the limiting. Gate-keeping sends all kinds of messages, none of which are loving or encouraging.  Gate-keeping creates a power struggle, with each spouse fighting for control or feeling wronged for having control taken from them."

I don't think I agree that gate-keeping is always harmful to both parties involved and that none of the messages it sends are loving or encouraging.  Seems it all boils down to motive and method.  Is it done in love?

Many times it's beneficial and even necessary to gate-keep in order to establish, regain, or even maintain a healthy relationship with other people and also with God.  I see gate-keeping as one tool in the toolbox of holding each other accountable, to "limit" hurtful (including negligent) behavior.  Of course, no one likes to be told "no" - that they can't have whatever they want or do whatever they want whenever they want - but that doesn't mean it isn't appropriate to tell someone "no".

In the area of sexual intimacy which you specifically mentioned the other day (as it seems to be one of the primary areas of gate-keeping in marriage), I would agree that flat out refusal is wrong - saying "not interested, end-of-story" is unbiblical.  I would even consider it to be immature, selfish, and mean-spirited.

BUT a "Yes, if..." or "Yes, when..." - the motive not being self-interest but in the best interest of the relationship - can be a really good and healthy thing.  Gate-keeping and boundaries are appropriate if both parties understand the purpose for the boundaries and clearly understand what the boundaries are = exactly what is being asked of each of them.  In a loving relationship, both spouses will agree that it's in the best interest of the relationship to have everyone's needs met.  That is the mark of maturity!  And, with both husband's and wife's needs being met, both become very willing participants.  :)

* * *

"Thing is, most people do not like being controlled, and this can set up a huge tug-of-war."

I think a "huge tug-of-war" is an indication of an immature relationship... an indication of only self-interest.

If each spouse has a heart to love, there won't be stubbornness, but willingness to do whatever it takes to communicate love.

Again, it's all about motive.  Controlling and gate-keeping that is done in a loving, healthy, beneficial manner is never done in a punitive way.  And it's never to be done as a form of rejection, although it's possible it may feel like it at times.  Never rejection of the person, although rejection of hurtful or negligent behavior sometimes still hurts.  Gate-keeping is about accountability and helping each other and encouraging each other be healthy - mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Anyway, I'm still pondering all of this myself... and now you have something to ponder.  Hope I made sense - I may have been rambling.  :)

I would love to see a discussion here of "control" and/or "gate-keeping" along with (or vs.) setting appropriate "boundaries".  Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.


I am watching this series of articles with a knee sense of interest. I love my wife whole heartedly and as I have mentioned on here previously I have a great long lasting marriage. one issue that does come between us however is control. My wife is very controlling of not only me but many situations she is placed in. it has become kind of a running joke with her friends and family in that if you drive with her in the car she will continually give you directions, slow down, speed up, turn here.

I've never quite understood what was behind it and for the most part it is not really affected our marriage adversely although it does become tedious at times. My wife had a very difficult childhood that include her parents going for a messy divorce. I never thought that this might be the route cause of her issues. Thanks again for constantly reminding us what might actually be behind some of our issues in life.

TheGenerousHusband moderator

@NathanCCI Understanding has a way of bringing healing. It also helps the other spouse to give a bit more grace.

TheGenerousHusband moderator

@cej I think your motive comment is the root of the issue. I think the trouble is usually when we try to control others, as opposed to setting boundaries to protect ourselves. I also see a difference between protecting myself and punishing my spouse!

I'm saying something about boundaries tonight, but not in response to what you said here. I will say more about gatekeeping to in the next couple of days, and why I think it is always a problem, or an indication of a problem.

Thanks for all the feedback!

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