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'Extremely Controling' Wife And Passive Husband

Question:

I have been married for 13 years. My wife is extremely controlling, has a bad temper, and is overly sensitive. I am the exact opposite — I am laid-back, happy and never get angry. This has made the marriage an unhappy place for me, but I feel that because we have 3 children, I am trapped. It all started back when we were dating. She is 3 years older than me, and so has always been at a different stage of life than I was. So, when she announced it was time for us to get engaged/married, naturally I balked at the idea because I did not expect to get married for another 4-5 years. She begged and cried and I caved in and we got engaged, as I thought this would keep her happy for a while. It didn’t. She immediately started planning the wedding for the following year. I expressed my feelings to her about not rushing things, but she ignored me and continued to finalize the plans. I felt I had to go thru with the wedding at that point because it seemed like there was no way out of it, but I fully expected it would only last about a year. However, one year turned into two, and before I knew it, she announced that her biological clock was ticking and that it was time for children. I told her financially we were not yet ready for kids, but again she ignored my feelings and again I gave in to her. However, I did not realize it, but each time she ignored my feelings and each time I gave in, resentment had been building inside me. Finally, after 11 years of putting up with things and letting her get her way because I was the easy-going one in the relationship, I finally felt like I had to do something. So, I actively sought out a high school sweetheart and rekindled the realtionship via the internet. I then paid a visit to this person and began a physical affair. My wife found out about it, and my life has gone from bad to much, much worse. I realize that I should not have gone about things in this way, but I felt that finding someone who actually cared about me and was unselfish was the answer. I justified it by telling myself that what my wife doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Unfortunately, I underestimated my wife and her abilities, and after some digging, she discovered the affair. I was not sorry about the affair itself, but I was sorry for hurting my wife. We have gone thru counselling and have managed to stay together, but she is even more in control of my every move now because whenever I try to excercise some independence, she brings up my affair and tells me she can’t trust me anymore so that’s why she has to keep me under her thumb. The irony is, she has always had me under her thumb. She also repeatedly comments that there are men out there who would be thrilled to have a “wonderful, attractive woman like her for a spouse”, but I believe that the true reason she wants the marriage to work now, is so that she does not have to re-enter the dating scene and/or face life as a single mom. My dilemma at this point is: do I stay for the sake of my young children, or do I go to ensure my life is happy from here on out? My wife is not the sort of ex who would remain friends after the break-up — she has stated on many occasions that if we ever broke up, she would move away so that I would not be able to see my children again. This comment always weighs heavily on my mind whenever I think about leaving. (Financially, it is also impossible for me to leave right now, as I would have no way to rent an apartment) While we are together I try hard to maintain a positive relationship with her for the benefit of the kids, but this too is hard as she is not an easy person to get along with. Any advice or guidance you can give would be greatly appeciated.

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Answer:

You may be blessed with a laid-back, happy personality, but your statement about never getting angry is clearly not accurate. Saying that you are resentful about your marriage is not the statement of a man who never gets angry. I can see why you might think you never get angry, however, as you strongly come across in your letter as a passive, rather than assertive or aggressive individual. Keeping the peace is very important to passive people, and they are willing to not own all kinds of feelings they may have which would cause problems for the general peace. Instead of expressing your anger directly to your wife, you expressed it passively (or passive-aggressively) by having an affair. I’m not not a big fan of affairs, myself, as they tend to cause a lot of emotional harm to families and to children especially. I think affairs are essentially cowardly behavior. Still, I can see why (from your perspective) you would feel so very needy of positive attention and affection. We’re all humans here. We have needs. The differences between us are how well we create situations for ourselves that allow us to satisfy those needs in positive ways.

Becoming assertive means to learn the middle ground between passivity and aggression. Aggression is when you make demands of others and hurt them when they don’t comply. Aggression is essentially about power and it doesn’t care about the needs of people who are subject to that power. Passivity, on the ohter hand is capitulation to power. Passivity means to take marching orders from a dictator, and to accept that dictator’s right to give commands, at least publically. Passive people may grumble about having to follow orders, but they don’t speak up much. They are too afraid of rocking the boat, or of getting hurt. If aggressive people don’t respect the needs of others, passive people don’t respect their own needs.

Assertion is the middle way between passivity and aggression. To be assertive means to find a way to defend yourself against others’ aggressive actions, while at the same time, not becoming aggressive against others yourself. People who are too passive for their own good often confuse aggression and assertion becuase they can’t distingish between defense and offence when it comes to anger. This is subtle stuff to learn for someone who doesn’t already know it, which is why it is a good idea to do more than just read about assertiveness, but rather work with a trainer or class instructor who can help to provide examples of assertive action, and opportunities for practice role-playing.

The advice I have for you is that it would be a very good idea for you to take some assertiveness classes, read some assertiveness books (the classic book is called “Your Perfect Right”, by Alberti and Emmons, but there are many other good ones too these days), and probably visit with a therapist who can help you work on becoming more assertive. If you don’t do this, your essentially passive mindset will lead you to recreate the same “hell” you’ve chosen for yourself currently with the next woman you meet. If you don’t do this (e.g., learn to be more assertive), I don’t believe you’ll find happiness with anyone.

The nice thing about becoming more assertive is that you will perhaps learn how to deal with your wife in a more assertive way, and in so doing, perhaps be able to come feel better about yourself and about her. Part of the problem now is that you are probably not very good at making your own wishes known. It may be that she is just insensitive or self-absorbed, but lets give her the benefit of the doubt and say that while she may have some of those qualities, she may also be saddled with a husband who doesn’t understand how to clearly state what he needs from her and so doesn’t appreciate those needs or take them into account. By becoming more assertive you can learn how to help her to know what you need in a strong but also kind way. This will allow you both (hopefully) to dialog and come to compromises that will work for both of you. As you grow as a person in this assertive regard, maybe your marriage can grow with you to become something that is more pleasant for you both. And, if not, you can still leave the marriage at a later time.

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Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    I have been searching this wide spread problem of women or wives who are control freaks. I see that I am not alone. Thank you for the advice about being assertive. I far too often have kept my mouth shut to keep the peace or when I did speak up, I would give in to the crying and tears. My wife pushed to get this relationship going from the very start. I did not even ask for her phone number when we met. She gave it to me. I am so glad that we did not have children. I also had a controling wife before this one but she was not nearly as controling. Part of it is my fault for not being assertive and putting my foot down. Many people, both men and women, will pretend to be what you are looking for to get you hooked and gain access to your paycheck, check book and credit cards. I have also started doing research on the "spirit of Ahab and the sprit of Jezzebel." A passive King and a controling manipulating wife. These people can be found in one of the books of Kings in the Bible. I was warned by no less than 6 people not to marry this woman. I sought counseling from the start and I was advised by my psychologist to break off the relationship as soon as the controling started, way before we got married. I have to plan the process of ending this now because I am miserable every single day as I was told that I would be by people who were older and more exprienced.

  • Tessa

    My husband says that I am controlling, but after feeling guilty and miserable about myself for too long, I finally realized that it was his own passivity that was making me seem like "the bad guy" all the time. I'll give you some examples. Our daughter's bedtime is at 8:00. I am always the one who has to tell her that it's time for bed. One time I was very tired and went to sleep around 7:00, then woke up at 10:00 to find her watching television because my husband had never put her to bed. I had to tell her it was way past her bedtime, and I, as usual, became the rule enforcer. Another example: if I leave my husband home when I run errands, he "forgets" to feed the children. Often I will come home and they are very upset because they are so hungry. Then they will blame me for not being there to feed them. They are too young to understand that their father can be responsible for feeding them as well. Then, of course, I will get angry and yell at him for not feeding the children, and the children then feel guilty for somehow being the cause of the argument. Almost all of the time, my husband "forgets" to do something or "hasn't gotten around to it yet" which means I have to do it. I get resentful and angry about it. My husband will say things like "well I didn't bother because you wouldn't have liked the way I did it anyway" putting the blame back on me for his lack of action. One time I prepared an elaborate luncheon for his family who were coming to visit. He "forgot" to tell them I was serving lunch, and they showed up at the house with Burger King bags in their hands, having just eaten. Oh how they laughed....isn't he so silly and forgetful.... He will never change. I'm sure he loves having someone who will take care of literally everything in the home while he is "getting around to it". I would be better off out of the marriage, but I can't bear to dramatically change my kids' lives (we would have to move) and also to have them blame me for it, since it would be my doing, and he would spin it that way as well.

  • Anonymous-2

    Like Tessa I am someone who likes to be in control. My husband is someone who at first seems to want me to initiate things, make major decisions, etc. but then resents me for it. He almost never steps up to the plate with pushing and prodding, always tends to "forget" to do things he says he'll take care of, is generally two steps behind rather than one step ahead, and virtually never anticipates my needs. Am I at fault here as well? Absolutely because I am frequently relentless in advancing my position, am often anxious about the outcome of what I'm working on and therfore don't easily relax (I guess you could say I'm uptight) and come on strong. But I'm tied of him acting as though the only problem is that I'm too pushy or demanding when I think the other 50% of the problem is that he gives himself a "pass" too easily rather than nipping problems in the bud with a direct, straightforward approach. When I try to discuss feelings or problems in the relationship he just looks at me blankly and sighs. No exchange of ideas, no telling me what he's thinking or feeling- just sighs. When I try to make plans typically my suggestions are met with "we'll see" rather than a definite answer one way or the other. I think my husband likes to think of himself as more relaxed and laid back but actually I think there is a fair amount of seething just beneath the surface and virtually all of it is directed at me (he probably feels it towards others but will only allow himself to express it to me). When we fight he can get really nasty- saying vile things to me that makes it clear he harbors a lot of resentment toward me. I can accept that some of that resentment might be justified but what I can't accept is his refusal to take a hard look at the situation and see how his passivity is contributing to the problem., I actually think that to a greater or lesser degree our situation is not all that atypical in situations where the woman in the relationship has a demanding career and is comfortably with decision-making and being in charge. I think there is almost an epidemic of passivity among males. Perhaps it sounds like a terribly sexist comment but just because women are now able to think and act in ways that had historically been regarded as "masculine" why does that mean that men are allowing themselves to stop being men- to not take charge, to be wishy-washy (is this the Charlie Brown generation?), and to not present their thoughts and ideas in a direct, assertive way? I hope others respond because I'm trying to understand the dynamic of my relationship with my husband rather than just feeling frustrated most of the time.

  • Jd lonely

    I'm here at my office at 10:22 PM reading up on how I can work out the same problems, it seems several people are going thru. I will admit I am passive, as a result of childhood, mental and some pysical abuse that continues even today. My parents divorced when I was eight after years of the same issues we are discussing today, regardless who is passive or agressive it just doesnt work. So here we are the chidrlen of broken homes living in a hostile world of lies and decit intrduced to us at very young age by our parrents in ability to get along, and nourish us to normal well adjusted functioning adults. I don't think people today put the same values on raising their children as our ancestors long past. I am the son of a baby boomer who was beaten till he, I can't even type it let alone say it... and the cycle continues. I don't hope for any ones pitty I just want to understand how I can stop it. I have such a singular mission to end this cycle of violence that I find that I am the passive person just trying to get along and live peacefully. So in turn I am very attracted to strong women who will stick up for themselves espically to my parents (both sets, as my father has remarried a, controling woman) and in my wife I see strength I cant bring to the surface in myself. I'm not sure why I cant express my self to others including her, the woman I love but the words just arent there when I need them. So here I am stuck in a relationship with the one person in this world that I really trust and I can express that to her. So in turn she doesn't trust me in that she feel like, I dont stick up for her, or myself to my dad or his bitch wife who happens to sign my paychecks. It's not that I have or have ever cheated or given her reason to think so, but yet she checks my cell phone when I get home to see who I've called that day Ect. OH but wait it gets better due to all the insecurity created by my father abanoning us at the drop of a hat and the issues at home. I grew introverted at a young age and felt as though no one gives a shit about me just about what i can do for them. you have to understand that I'm one of those apparently blessed people who can just build, or repair, or fabricate anything you need with very little effort, and still to this day in the back of my own mind dont belive it when someone shows me affection. Now I dont know if this is common or if I'm a freak, but hope you can you see the irony here. A some what gifted (so i've been told) person can repair himself or his family. Wait it gets worse, eight years addicted to drugs was hell, but that pails in comparison to the fact that I am sober for three years, and now the father of an 18 mo. old son. The expectations of my employer parents are apperently that i'm superman and the battel continues between the wife and the job and myselfesteem and the desire to not progress the cycle of maddness and screwed up values that are my life onto that of my son. So I guess my question is how do we heal ourselves and our loved ones without hurting someone in the process. I find it very easy to see my own faults and I aginize over them everyday, but how do you get others to see their own without ruining your marriage or breaking off from your family?

  • Billy

    Tessa, wish that I could talk to you. You and I have a lot in common. I do not label myself as controlling. It looks that way since my passive husband does not have any balls to stand up for anything. I hear you and understand exactly where you are at and with what you are dealing with. I had been so unhappy with my relationship for so long and thought that it had to be my problem since I was obviously the only one feeling that something was way wrong. I too have children and have determined over the past year that this is definitely not the life I imagined as a married person. I feel that my passive husband has totally not held up his end of the marriage by continuing to remain passive even after I shared what I had been feeling and even after seeing a marriage counselor. I am taking steps to become free as I do not want my children to think that this is what a normal relationship looks like or have them ending up in one of these themselves.

  • REX

    It seems to me that we have forgotten about the passive person,and the pressure that he/she has on the relationship. Withholding and passive people, are really abusive, and play a big part in the relationship.

    Their passive behavior as a "pull" on us, that draws out our directive sides. Not that it is needed, but it pulls out our frustrations, and anger and our need to have an impact on others. Withholding and passive people are just as hurtful, as those of us whom speak out, and confront problems, straight forwardly.

    Dr Phil says that withholding and passive resistive behavior is just as hurtful as more direct hostility. In fact, it is more so, because the passive withholders are dening they are doing anything wrong. AND, are blaming the other person, as totally to blame and responsible.

    They claim, "I"m never angry or upset, and she/he is always critical." Sorry, MR/Ms Withholder passive resistive person, you have a major part to play, and contribute to the problem.

    The sooner both sides hold themselves accountable, and allow their partner to hold them accountable, the sooner therelationship canmove forward to a more happy, healthy and productive situation.

  • jane

    yes the children are most important:

    !st how are the children dealing with this, if it is effecting them bad, maybe you should leave.

    let the court deal with visitation rights because you can have your children at times

    Because when youare unhappy the children can tell !!!!

  • Anonymous-3

    im in the same place as this other man. there is no excuse for demanding controll.your telling this man he has to give in more to make his controllng wife happy ...i dont think so...then she takes him for all hes worth.lve told my wife exactly what i want ..no bones.she does not care.its do as i say or ill get it anyway.anne your a woman who sees a bad man and he has to work on it .well hello he has been!!!! for hes not a coward.hes sick of feeling alone/on edge/trying to please /praying things would be at least comfortable.you should be telling her to lighten on him make him feel alive instead of a slave to her.thats just what you askked him to do...theres much more ,the bottom line thats pis poor advise for man or woman!!!

  • Me

    I guess I am also one of those controlling wives. Those men who are claiming their wives forced them to marry or even begin dating them are really extreme. Almost unbelievable how far passive individuals can take things. My husband is also passive (though I doubt he'd ever think something that crazy) and it pisses me off how the same dynamics play in our household. He also forgets things and spends all his time on unimportant things like games and TV while "getting around to" his responsibilities. We've missed very important deadlines because of this behavior. And if I dare mention anything to him, or even remind him of something in a nice way, I am contributing to the problem by making him feel unappreciated or irresponsible (according to relationship books) or according to him I am demanding and pushy.

    I have been married for over 10 years to this type of person and while we still want to be with each other (and he wants to be here, I've confirmed with him that nobody is MAKING him stay) its been hard to deal with this. My only solution has been to put less pressure on me by obsolving myself of any responsibilities that fall on him and putting more "natural" pressure on him that doesn't come from me. For example I have put certain bills in his name and these are the ones I could care less if they are late or go into default and this makes him scramble to get them paid on time (even though he is constrantly paying late fees he's wasting his own money). I also have my own savings account and while he doesn't want to save money, I spend my own savings on making myself happy and taking myself out while he can pay for his own stuff. He has issues with this too, but he at least cannot complain about it to me and this helps him realize that he's the one that controls his future and not me. I never wash the dishes unless I need a particular dish, so no more nagging about that. He gets them done not when i want him to but now everyday or every other day cause he needs them to cook. I try to be just as lazy as him sometimes, and he really can't stand this when it comes to dinnertime especially. This is what wives need to do to get them motivated to stop being so passive.

  • Andries

    13 yrs is a long time. if small things left unchecked they eventually kill a relationship that was great in the beginning. So i will think maybe look for a pastor/church leader to help. they tend to have a different perspective. However, you will need to take your wife with so she does not feel isolated or rejected by you. I do think the marriage can recover but after a hard work walking with friends who are married as well. Or you can find an old couple that has been married for more than 20 years. do all you can to get help. Spend money if thats what it needs to be. Have talking time alone as husband and wife at a coffee shop or something like that. This helps because you give time to each other. Insecurities do develop when we sense the other party is drawing away. The kids might have sensed something is wrong. Depending ontheir age it might be wise to explain to them what is happening so they dont hear things from the streets. all the best and remember forgiveness is the way forward fro both sides.

  • Tee

    I am a woman that is married to a very passive man. So many people say that the controlling people are the selfish ones, I disagree. The passive one is the one that does what they want when they want and how they want. They do not seem to care about other peoples feelings. They just go through life acting like nothing really matters. Well it does matter if the house is presentable or not, it does matter if the kids are fed or not, it does matter if the homework is done or not. I am so tired of being the one that has to be the heavy all the time. Guess what? Its not just your job to be the easy going fun guy!!! It is very hard to respect a man that won't even stand-up for his own family. How should i relate to a man that seems to get younger with age? If i ask him nicely to do something it never gets done so days later i do it myself. If i tell him to do something, it gets done but then i am the controlling B! So how should i handle things. Either way i am the bad person as far as he is concerned. And either way i see him as immature and or lazy. So we are stuck in our own personal crap hole with eachother. We are still here, but i am not to sure about how much longer.

  • Anonymous-4

    I think a few people seem not to understand what the controller here really is (including Anne??!!)

    look up domestic violence and you will find a controilling personality is part of it.

    if a man behaves like this, then he is labelled as nasty, aggressive and possibly violent. if your children were to be as passive as you all describe would you behave the same way??- then you would be labeled as child abusers. if you want your partner to be more assertive and less passive then learn to let go instead of tutting and rolling your eyes. the next step from a controlling personality is more abuse including in the end violence.

    i wonder about this website sometimes, its seems to be a bit male bashing here.

  • RagingShrew

    I have read a perfect description of both myself and my husband on another forum dealing with passive men and their controlling wives. Again the question gets asked, who's at fault? how does it start? Well, I have learned that I have very negative tendencies that have been brought out in full graphic relief over the last 22 years of marriage being married to, not just a passive man, but a passive-aggressive man.

    Our home lives set the stage, and we met each other, and that funny familiar feeling, sometimes described as "home" came about and we called it "love." I was immediately the aggressor, the pursuer, the controller, the demanding b**** ... My H was the escaper, the evader and the liar. His way of dealing with situations was 1) do nothing, 2) leave, 3) lie. We were hooked on each other in the most unhealthy way. I see now that we are both very insecure and that we both have serious problems. But I'll tell you, it's not just me. In any relationship you often have a stronger one and a "weaker" one. At work or in friendship or in marriage, you have personalities playing off each other. Stronger types are subconsciously drawn to more passive, agreeable types and vice versa.

    The key here as far as I'm concerned is two-fold. One, being female means that I am supposed, by nature, to be naturally more reticient, agreeable, gentle and loving. By being male, my H's tendency should be greater for protecting, leading and providing. The fact that I am repulsed at this point by my H's "Mr. Nice Guy" act is a serious problem in our marriage. I told him once that was a "paper tiger" all talk and no action .. and that is TRUE. (And I'm a raging shrew, it goes both ways....it's SO fun to be the bad guy that everyone despises! ~note: sarcasm ~)

    The second thing is that it's not good for either of us to play out the negative aspects of our personalities. We are not growing because we are just acting out of our insecurities and staying stuck. And we're hurting each other and our family. Plus it's plain old out of balance. No one is "all good" or "all bad." And yet, in this dynamic, "Mr. Nice Guy" and "Mrs. Bad Guy" are the characters we play .... and it is not only incorrect, it's totally UNFAIR!

    For us controlling types (I grew with two deeply depressed parents, a drug addicted father and enough shame and misery to last a lifetime) - the hardest part is "letting go." Let the other one run things. If a controller steps back and lets things go ..even to potential wrack and ruin ... well, eventually, Mr. Let it Slide, will have to pick up the pace, or live in a trailer on someone else's property, picking up cans for food money.

    But I have to stop adding to this situation or I will either go mad, or I will end up alone, with Mr Happy Go Lucky having run away to the land of milk and honey and simpering ex high school girlfriends where all is soft and cushy and pleasant all the time....and left me alone in some dingy duplex ...

  • owning my 50% of the problem

    I'm really appreciative about all of these posts. Even though they sadden me quite a bit, there a few that are very encouraging and have given me insight into my marriage. I am perceived as controlling because I have a passive husband. The truth is that I'm one of the biggest people pleasers that you'll ever meet, and I'm typically the one that bends over backwards for people to make them happy. However, I fell in love with a very passive peace-making man, and someone had to step up to the plate. Since I'm successful at work, I agressively sought out my current career, and when I put my mind to something, it happens. I've stepped into the role of a controlling wife, and it's a heavy burden. It's depressing. And my in-laws (who aren't exactly mentally balanced) absolutely hate me. My passive husband is also one of the worlds biggest enablers I've ever known. And I had to put a stop to it for my own sanity. You can see where I'm going with all of this. Needless to say, relationships are give and take. I've considered ending my marriage several times because his passivity causes me so much pain. Does he even care at all? Does he care about anything? Passive people are percieved as laid back, easy going and go with the flow. However, I find that passive people can be quite selfish, hurtful and mean.

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