Help! My Spouse Gets Controlling When We Disagree

Does this scenario sound familiar? Most of the time, you and your spouse tend to have a peaceful relationship…until you get into a disagreement. And during those times, you feel like you barely recognize them.

So what is going on? It’s possible that your spouse actually has a control problem–maybe even one they keep well-hidden until their buttons get pushed. But how is that possible?

Control freaks aren’t always controllers in every scenario. Sometimes, the controlling qualities come out in certain circumstances. Having a fight can bring out the worst in anyone, but it tends to ignite the control freak in many of us.

Let’s say you suspect your spouse is a controller–especially when you disagree. What are some major red flags to look for?

A dogmatic, inflexible point of view.

Some of us cling to our views, opinions, and talking points as if they’re religious dogma. Many people are inflexible, for whatever reason, and don’t want to consider alternative points of view. If your spouse becomes close-minded when you disagree, it’s likely they struggle with the desire to control.

What to do: If you’re compelled to look into your spouse’s point of view to understand why they feel so strongly about it, ask them for a little time to learn. You can use that time to research or pray about their stance. The time to step away from your disagreement can also give both of you breathing room while you consider how you’d like to respond. Remember, no matter how strongly your spouse feels, you don’t have to adopt their stance on their demands alone.

Refusal to hear your side of the argument.

Inflexibility goes hand-in-hand with a refusal to listen. If you can’t seem to get a word in edgewise with your spouse, this is another indicator of controlling behavior. Alternatively, if your argument is met only with criticism and you’re feeling a bit stonewalled, this is another way your spouse may try to control the conversation.

What to do: Lovingly and patiently ask your spouse to hear you out. If they will not, allow yourself to step away from the argument. Seek help from your marriage mentors or counselor for alternative ways to approach your spouse. Writing them a letter may get the message through more clearly, especially if your spouse gets caught up in their own thoughts during conversations. While the two of you don’t necessarily have to agree on everything, it isn’t healthy to refuse to listen to one another.

Obsession with getting you to change your stance.

Beyond simply wanting you to adopt a specific point of view–and refusing to listen to your perspective–a controller may go a step further. They may become obsessed with convincing you that they’re right and you’re wrong. This is a destructive dynamic in any relationship, but especially in a marriage.

What to do: Controllers tend to be tenacious, invasive, and demanding in their quest to bring you over to their side. While your spouse may not mean any harm, these behaviors are certainly harmful and intrusive to your agency as an individual. Firmly let your spouse know that they are crossing a boundary with you. If necessary, seek professional counseling to help you sort it out.

Additional help for navigating a controlling spouse

Need help navigating a difficult relationship or challenging conflict? Take a look at the following resources:

  • The Control Freak, a book written especially to help individuals navigate and repair relationships with controllers
  • The Good Fight, for couples to learn how to fight in a healthier, more effective way
  • Better Love Assessment, a couples’ assessment to help you get to know one another better and create a healthier dynamic in your marriage

In addition, we recommend that couples experiencing a high level of stress in their relationships seek help from marriage mentors or a licensed counselor. Professional help can lift you both up as you walk through a difficult season together.

Does your spouse get controlling when you fight? Do you? How do you fight fair? Let us know in the comments below.


  • Wes & Ann Van De Water says:

    Morning- would it be possible to be added to the Western NY list of certified facilitators. We have been certified since the end of last year(2019). We have taken couples thru the assessment and have had great responses from those couples.

  • Sarah Brown says:

    My husband and I are having trouble with communication. A lot of times I feel that he shuts me down when we get into an argument. He cuts me off when I am trying to speak. I do get to talk eventually but it can be a struggle depending on what we are talking about.

    • JLL says:

      I can relate to Sarah Brown.
      We are 60 and 65; he recently retired as a captain with a major airline. And before that retired as a fighter pilot with the USAF. I think control has been ingrained in him so much that he doesn’t give it any thought. Maybe I sound alike a pessimist but I truly doubt any amount of words from me or anyone else would change this characteristic. So….I decided I would figure out how to live with it. It is the second marriage for both of us, will celebrate our 19th anniversary this Fall. We were both controlling in our first marriages. I have been doing some self-work to change my controlling behaviors as I do not want this 2nd marriage to end up badly, or both of us be miserable. Seems the more I work on being a better person, the more irritated he gets with me. This really makes me sad. But like i said, i intend to figure out how to live my best life with the man God has given me. We are both strong Christians so that common ground is good. He makes a good leader in different ministries and volunteer work in our community, seems to be well-loved by others. Although I find people either love him or hate him! Reminding myself of the blessings i have helps a lot. The thing that bothers me most is that I know we could be a better US if we could communicate and have emotional intimacy. I think it is very hard for controlling people to be emotionally intimate. They can’t afford the risk of being vulnerable.

      • Nse says:

        Thanks for sharing JLL. I am just 5 years in marriage and its amazing to see that the issues of communication and emotional intimacy with a spouce is not just something you deal with in the beginning of the marriage but can still be an issue years down the line whether young or old. I am encouraged by your decision to work things out irrespective of the fact that its your second marriages and are both individually very much experienced in life. May God give you the strength to do the right thing and help us on this journey.

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