Thursday Thought — Which Kind of Controller Is He?

Almost everyone gets a little controlling sometimes.  We all can get caught up in wanting things done in a particular way: here’s how to fold a towel, here’s when to shift the gears.  We want to say, “What are you doing? Here, do it like this.”

So when does controlling behavior become a problem?  There are people whose control is a bad habit (“annoying controllers”) and people whose control is a style they are committed to (“coercive controllers” or “bullies”).  How do you know which category your partner fits into?

The key difference is that the annoying controller doesn’t retaliate against you when you tell him to stop controlling you.  The coercive controller, on the other hand, is angry when you resist his control, acts entitled about it, and gets you back for standing up to him.  And if you continue to refuse to give in, he gets nastier and nastier about it, saying that your resistance shows all kinds of things that are wrong with you.

Some of the most common ways in which a coercive controller retaliates include:

  • Putting you down for not wanting to do it his way (e.g. “That’s ridiculous, that’s stupid, you don’t know what you’re doing” and so forth)
  • Being cold, distant, and irritable after you resist his control
  • Blaming you later (“Well, if you’d done what I told you to do, this wouldn’t have happened.”)
  • Turning mean or scary because you won’t do what he tells you to do

In short: If you ask yourself, “I wonder whether I should just give in, because I know he’s going to make my day h*** for me if I don’t,” then you are involved with a coercive controller.

(excerpt from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom for Why Does He Do That? [Affiliate link] pp 118-9)

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the “healing retreats” Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his “Peak Living Network”. See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

20 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — Which Kind of Controller Is He?”

    1. A typical abuser will make a promise with his mouth not his heart.
      An item he bought for you
      On a special day gets put in his name only. Red flag
      You ask if that item you drive could be put in both names
      He states
      Sure. When it’s paid in full.
      Another red flag
      You trust his word ..and wait
      He leaves and graciously let’s you have all costs on the vehicle.
      Court document
      You ask again if he would abide by the promise
      Kindly. I ask for a meeting at the proper place to transfer the registration.
      He makes an excuse
      You wait
      Cry some
      Ask again
      He meets you there.
      He appears mad and prideful.
      You ask if he could pay for the fee.
      And, kindly state I will pay you back.
      He says NO. making a scene. He’s a big guy. Bully. 😳
      You pay it
      Thank God I had the money.

  1. Oh, how I remember those days with a churning in my stomach. He used all four of those tactics but “turning mean and scary” was the tactic that kept me most in line. I’m feisty so I could handle the iciness and the ridicule and the blaming, but I was scared to death of him and he knew that, and he loved that. He could give a look that sent a shudder down your spine and he kept a list of subtle and not so subtle threats hanging in the air like a thick poisonous gas – “If you choose to leave me, I know all the judges in town and they’ll believe me over you.” “If you are foolishness enough to leave, I’ll use my expertise (as a result of his occupation) to convince the judge that you are unstable.” “Remember the time you threw the remote control across the room? You are ALWAYS throwing things and breaking things.” “You are a rageaholic and belligerent. You have a mental health history (anxiety). I am a trained licensed professional. Who do you think the judge will believe?”

    And there were the financial threats. “You will get stuck with half of the debt.” (He racked up thousands of dollars in debt without my knowledge). “You and those kids will live in poverty for the rest of your lives and it’s your own damn fault because you don’t give a damn about them.” “You want a divorce? I have my TEAM ready, so go for it.” He made it seem like he had a slew of lawyers and experts ready to rip my kids from my arms and he knew that scared the hell out of me.

    The kids tell me often that they are afraid to talk to him or to confide in him. I ask them why (I know but I want them to be free to form and voice their own opinion) and they tell me in their child like way that he scares them and that they better say what he wants them to say and that he gives them a scary look if he doesn’t like what they say. I so understand and I feel so sorry for them because they have no choice – they have to have a relationship with him until they turn 18.

    [Eds. note: Comment slightly edited to protect identify of commenter.]

    1. Fiftyandfree, I can so relate to how you see the abuse affecting your children.
      My children are also fearful to challenge their father, for he can inflict painful punishment for anyone daring to stand up to him.
      So they insted become part of his dysfunctional world to avoid conflict and retaliation.

  2. TWBTC, this is excellent. Spent my whole life just giving in to all the controllers in my life but now that you all have educated me I am NO LONGER like that. Thanks be to God!!!!!! I have to say that many of them don’t know how to deal with the NEW me. The peace of knowing that I am NOT crazy is beyond compare. Thanks to all of you for the valuable ministry of ACFJ.

  3. For me to resist his control of me in EVERY aspect would send him in to a rage. Even if I had a different opinion / viewpoint from a Bible passage and if I would express my view (he would ask) he would slam his fists on the table and shout obscenities at me,..calling me stupid and non-submissive and leave the room slamming doors behind him! Then it might go days before he would speak to me.

  4. I’d add that my husband’s controlling behavior stems from wanting complete obedience to him no matter what. He takes it personally if I have a different opinion. The way he sees it is my different opinion is really saying he’s wrong. And he’s never wrong.

    I’ve known other controllers who correct the way you do something like moving the napkins on the table for the church dinner or rehanging the banner in the church after I’ve already done it. They operated on the premise that the way they did it was better and would say they were just “helping”. Yes, it was annoying but never mean or threatening. No matter how insignificant the matter my husband wants his way. And if he senses reluctance from me or the kids he goes immediately into full-blown anger. One time he got mad because I happened to say I didn’t care for the same home décor item he liked.

    In the early years I battled him because I mistakenly believed he needed to be told how misguided he was and the damage he was doing to the family. Now I mostly ignore him and often do a lot without telling him. Funny thing he’s so lazy that if I do something he doesn’t like he rarely changes it. He might say something but it never results in an argument at that time. Because to change it he’d have to do something and he’s too lazy. Yes, he’ll use those instances in future arguments of examples of me not listening to him. But you know if it wasn’t that it’d be something else.

    On the other hand, if he asks me to do something I HAVE to do it his way. No questions. It’s ridiculous how he’ll talk to me like I’m 8 years old giving me exact instructions for minor tasks. Here’s how I cope: I ignore him and do it my way anyway, I smile and say that’s nice but I have my way and then leave the room or I avoid being available for requests (I have an errand to run, for example, and I always have errands I need to run). Not being available works well and actually has gotten him to ask less. I also tend to forget what he’s said because most of the time I try to tune him out or his instructions are so detailed I can’t remember them so when he asks why I didn’t do it as I was told I can say truthfully I didn’t recall what he’d said.

    Another aspect of my husband’s controlling behavior is controlling when he will respond to me or the kids. So if we have no choice but to seek his help we could be waiting days, weeks and yes, even years before he’ll do something about the problem. Some of these situations have been quite serious but nothing seems to move him. He relishes the control and he’s not about to let us think we have any say in the situation.

    I used to think he was just extremely lazy (oh, and he is) but I’ve come to see in the last few months that his need to control extends to not doing things for us or around the house as a method of control. Examples: in the past we’ve lived with malfunctioning plumbing for nearly two years (blamed me–turns out it wasn’t my fault–no apology–told me to get over it), broken electronic devices so we had to borrow from family or friends if we needed one (he always replaces his), damage to the house that isn’t repaired for months or years, basic home maintenance not done. If I mention it I’m told I’m a nag (yet if I don’t he gets mad I didn’t!), tells me he going to do it or he just yells at me for saying anything. The only time he is motivated to do something about a problem is when it hampers him or he thinks someone outside the family might notice.

    Sad thing is he has no real control. If he did his life wouldn’t look like it does.

    And I have way more control than he thinks I do.

    1. Annie, yup, as far as household things go, we are married to the same man. As you went down your list of things not done, how you are treated if you say anything about the broken down or not maintained household things … I was like … yes, me too, yes, that too, etc. etc.

      We have one bathroom …its been many, many months since we had a working shower. He takes baths so it doesn’t matter to him … I have a new kitchen floor sitting in boxes we bump into every day … for well over a year. (The floor was the first “honeymoon gift” after I confronted him about the emotional / verbal abuse for the first time.) I look around our home and see the things never fixed, maintained or projects half done or not finished … for a year, two, five, ten and more. It’s heartbreaking.

      Recently, as another “honeymoon period” gift, he decided to make our limited kitchen cabinet space more efficient to use because he saw me looking wistfully at a custom made cabinet pull out in a home improvement store one day. Spent much time and money to rip out the one shelf in the cabinet, buy supplies and half put in something he designed that doesn’t really work well, is only half finished and he stopped working on a month ago. So now when I want to cook or bake, I have to go into another room to grab pots, pans or bowls out of a plastic tote they’re all squeezed into.

      If I say anything, I get the … “I’m busy, I work hard, I don’t have time, stop being so selfish, look how much I do for you and how little you do for me …” mantra.

      Yes, fix if it hampers him … sure wish more hampered him!!! or if it might cast a bad light on him with church folk or visitors to our home.

      So … (((HUGS))) to you, I know exactly how you feel and what you are going through. Sigh. Hang in there …

  5. This is a tough one. I do like to do things a certain way, and am more open about it. But then I am accused of being the controlling one, who won’t let him be head. I would ask what he wanted, but he always slipped out of answering, saying I’d do what I wanted anyways. I so desired to know his thoughts, and be able to talk about things. He always came across as poor him, forever a victim at work and at home. It took a long time to start to see how subtle was his control. If we did talk about something, pretty much because we had to, like a new business idea, if I had any concerns about it, I was called critical, and he went ahead and did it anyways.

    I slowly began to see how he controlled by using his so-called victim status, and how often he actually got his way. It definitely got worse as the years went by, and he became more cold and distant, but blamed me for being that way, and started really using the Bible to pound into my head how wrong I was in all my ways. It is so hard to describe the subtleness of it all. But by the end, the door slamming, anger, etc. became more common, and I was able to start making sense of things. When I learned about projecting, I started to see a lot better who he was. It is amazing how they project onto the spouse everything that they are. I don’t even have to try and figure it out!

    I do still struggle at times with the question, am I also too controlling? But I learn a lot from my children, who help me balance wanting things my way and letting them be who they are. That’s because they are willing to talk, and I tell them, please, talk to me, something I could never get stbx to do. I can’t believe how hard it is to put this into words. Now that we are in support and visitation negotiations, the accusations just keep piling up. Why he ever stayed with such an awful person is beyond me, but I am thankful my kids have learned how to love me anyways.

  6. Moving Forward-when I read “why he ever stayed with such and awful person is beyond me” I think the truth is you’re NOT an awful person and he won’t give you credit for all you’ve done right. I’m happy that you’re getting free and that your children recognize that you’re better than what he says about you. It’s sad when children are brainwashed into siding with the abuser, but it sounds like yours aren’t. It’s wonderful that they feel safe sharing their feelings with you. My inner child thanks you.

    TWBTC-I think that this post would be a good addition to any explanation of what abuse is because I’ve often contemplated the fact that I know a lot of people who are somewhat controlling, but not as bad as the abusers mentioned in the comments on this blog. I’ve thought about how to define them-“half abusers”? “almost abusers”? I can think of moments in my past where I was controlling, but not to the extent of being without conscience. Does that make me a “temporary abuser”? There’s a lot of people who aren’t completely in the box of “abuse” and aren’t completely in the box of “empathy” and I’m trying to make sense of that. I’m glad you wrote this post to start to make sense of it.

    1. I can think of moments in my past where I was controlling, but not to the extent of being without conscience. Does that make me a “temporary abuser”?

      Of course, it depends how one defines ‘abuser’ but in my definition of abuse that doesn’t make you a temporary abuser. For me, and for Lundy, one key distinction between an abuser and a person who is sometimes rude or overbearing, is that an abuser retaliates when you set boundaries, whereas the other types don’t retaliate.

      I can think of instances in my life where I have been overbearing, or have attempted to exert heavy-handed control over someone else (I’m thinking particularly of my interactions with children, and I can also recall times I’ve been, to my shame, rude to shop assistants and call-centre workers). But I didn’t retaliate and “up the ante” if the person I was unjustly rude to objected to how I was treating them. Rather, I pulled my head in and realised they were right in telling me off. And I look back with shame and mortification on those instances. Unlike an abuser, I don’t try to maintain that I was totally in the right and the other person was totally in the wrong. I don’t have a chronic pattern of fighting back against fair criticism of my character and conduct.

      However; I can recall many times when I overtly resisted and objected to the abuse someone was dishing out to me. The abuser would fight back against my objection to their behaviour, and sometimes I would continue to stand up to them because I knew I was in the right and they were in the wrong. In those instances, the abuser typically would cast my continuing resistance to them as “retaliation”. But it wasn’t. It was taking a right and reasonable stance for justice, to defend and perserve my personal integrity.

      Abusers want to convince us that when we object to being abused, we are engaging in wicked retaliation; but that is not so. They almost always accuse of of what they do.

      1. Barbara…Thank you for this thorough and honest response and guidance to discern the difference. Since often when one spouse goes for help dealing with an abuser, the labeling of both as abusers because one is standing up against the cruelty. It seems this would be a helpful response to share with counselors / pastors to demonstrate the difference…. a response from a third party to shine some light on the ‘miry bog.’ Thank you!!

      2. Thank you Barbara. I’m sorting through this type of thing right now. I doubt my perception of how things are and have been in the past when we are in the good side of the cycle. I almost get convinced that I misunderstood everything and that its all ancient history and I’m just holding grudges.

        But when I see the cycle begin to move to the next phase then I remember again. But it seems too late, like if it was really a problem I would have done something about it. But in the throes of the bad side its hard to get free and when its good it seems pointless. The cycle is a long one. Long enough that its enough for him to lay up brownie points to show how great he is and how ungrateful I am.

        I’ve kept this next phase from shifting fully for three months. In some ways it’s not that bad, but its bad enough that I end up at least with suicidal thoughts if it runs through fully.

        Is there any information on the really long cycle of abuse?

  7. Yes, Barbara, thanks for your descriptive response. Sooo many times my husband has accused me of abuse when I was only standing up for myself. Yet by the time he was done with me I would question my own motives!

    Anne, you’ll be in my thoughts each day as we both try to work around the “inconveniences” our husbands have created for us.

  8. Barbara- thanks, that makes sense!

    Remedy- I agree that there is a difference between abuse and self-defense that isn’t obvious to everyone. Self-defense responds to attacks but doesn’t initiate and abuse initiates. Some people honestly don’t know who initiated and others don’t care. Since abusers like control it makes sense that most would chose a non controlling spouse and therefore not be a case of 2 abusers married to each other. I do know of a case where I think there are 2 abusers married to each other, but I think that because both spouses have separately attacked different victims, which wouldn’t happen by self-defense. That situation needs prayer because there is a child in the abusive home and there are good relatives who have reported it and are hoping the state will do something to protect the kid and protect those who reported.

  9. I suspect my spouse falls under both of these categories.

    As far as annoying control, he expects his schedule to take precedence over anybody else’s. For example, he sleeps late, so he expects us to do things later in the day, or he won’t go t our child’s sporting event because it’s “too early in the morning.”

    As far as coercive control, he exhibits most of those methods of maintaining control. He doesn’t get loud and scary, but his body language, slamming doors, walking “hard”, and clipped tones can be somewhat intimidating. I once explained to a counselor that there are certain things that set him off and there’ll be “hell to pay later” if I don’t comply. The counselor told me that I was being a bit dramatic. I didn’t return. He also wanted me to spend more time with my spouse, so that I could expose myself more to what intimidates me. Really strange.

    An example of coercive control. I joined a certain denomination that he doesn’t approve of (this is coming from a man that hasn’t set foot in a church in 15+ years). I’ve never seen him so angry. When I asked him why he didn’t approve, he said that he doesn’t want his wife to be ” X denomination or Y denomination or…” I joined anyway because I wanted to belong to a church family. I’ve since left that church and gone back to my evangelical roots and haven’t even told him. I guess I feel justified in withholding that information from him (don’t know if this is considered counter abuse on my part…)

    [other example of control removed from comment, as it might have been too identifying — Eds]

    Early in our marriage, he told me that I was the only person that’s ever made him mad. Didn’t realize I had such powers 🙂

    I just don’t get it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m looking for things to justify getting out of this?

    I’m so happy that I’ve found this website! I’ve also discovered Pastor Crippen’s audio sermons on abuse.

    1. I guess I feel justified in withholding that information from him (don’t know if this is considered counter abuse on my part…)

      It was not counter abuse on your part. That term ‘counter abuse’ is a furphy anyway, it’s part of the (wrongful) discourse of victim-blaming and mutualizing of the problem.
      And yes, you were fully justified in withholding that info from him. He had demonstrated that he escalates his abuse when you change churches, so why tell him that you’ve changed churches again? He would likely escalate again, so why wuld you risk that? No sensible person would. A sensible person — like you have done — would withhold that info to protect yourself from the risk of harm.

      Our enemies are not entitled to know everything about us. They would only use that knowlege to skewer us more accurately.

    2. The nineteenth century theologian John Dick said

      Every man has not a right to hear the truth when he demands it. We are not bound to answer every question which may be proposed to us. In such cases we may be silent, or we may give as much information as we please and suppress the rest. If the person afterward discovers that the information was partial, he has no title to complain, because he had not a right even to what he obtained; and we are not guilty of a falsehood unless we made him believe, by something which we said, that the information was complete. We are at liberty to put off with an evasive answer the man who attempts to draw from us what we ought to conceal.

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