Thursday Thought — When Control Becomes Abuse

Many people — perhaps most — have some “control issues.” Almost anytime you hear a woman talking about her partner, you are going to hear her describe times when he gets irritable if he doesn’t get his way, where he insists that things be done in a specific way, or where he turns rigid and unreasonable.

So you are faced with the question of which parts of his behavior are symptoms of life’s normal problems and which ones are signs that he is abusive. By exploring the following questions, you can sort out the difference:

  • When you tell him to stop controlling you, does his control grow even worse instead of lessening?
  • When you point out the problem, does he blame it on you instead of accepting that it’s his issue? Does he say that your objection to his control shows that something is wrong with you?
  • Does he retaliate against you for complaining about his controlling behaviors?
  • Does he justify his controlling behaviors by saying that he has to control you because of your faults? For example, does he say that if he didn’t tell you how to do things, you would mess everything up?

If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, your partner is crossing the line away from “control issues” and into abusive and domineering behavior. And that means that he won’t change — except for maybe a few days or a few weeks at a time — until he accepts that the problem is his, not yours.  [Emphasis original.]

(Entry from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Daily Wisdom For Why Does He Do That? [Affiliate link] p 143 – 144.)

***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.

[March 26, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 26, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 26, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 26, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 26, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


16 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — When Control Becomes Abuse”

  1. This is a really helpful clarification. Sometimes talking to my pastor I get a look when I’m describing things my husband does, like, “how is that abuse?” I can sometimes see his point. I get upset if I don’t get my way, too. But the parts about him trying to control you even harder or telling you that you are being controlled because of some fault you have is so true.

    For example, our finances were a constant issue for extreme control for my husband, and he would tell me that he was doing it for me and for our family, to take care of us, and to help me because I was such a spender and we wouldn’t have anything if I was left to myself. Yet since separating, even though I make less money than him per month, I’ve managed to save up a couple thousand dollars as a cushion, I’m signing for my own apartment today, I’m buying the dream bed we never bought in 3 years of marriage because “money doesn’t come easy”, and I’m generous with my money towards my parents who I’m staying with, my friends, and even towards my husband.

    He on the other hand has nothing, is borrowing thousands from his mom, has lost his job, and doesn’t know where the rent will come from next month. I keep catching myself feeling sorry for him, but then I think, where is his money going? Why isn’t he practicing the same savings principles he wielded over me? How could he have lost his job by not showing up? How come he bought this expensive $2,500 item shortly after I left, knowing that he just lost half the household income?

    It’s really hard watching my husband spiral out of control, financially and spiritually and mentally. I can only pray that God will bring him to the bottom and then reveal Himself to my husband.

  2. It’s easy to wonder if it’s me or maybe I’m blowing his behavior out of proportion. That is until I consider his reactions. And he always has a reaction. A reaction designed to condemn me and emphasize how put upon he is. It’s always about him and how I’m the selfish and mean one.

    He never can give a reasonable explanation for anything he does. When he took away my access to money he couldn’t — or should I say wouldn’t — give me an explanation — not even one I could disagree with so that we could discuss it. He responded in a nasty tone and loud volume to my asking about it by telling me he was the man and he was talking care of all the spending and then told me it was his money and I was selfish and lucky to have him take care of me. And if I didn’t like it I could leave. That’s basically his response to everything even the smallest of things — he’s doing it that way and if I don’t like I can leave.

    It’s funny but when we were newly married and I’d ask him why he was doing something a certain way he’d get mad and I thought he couldn’t explain — that he was too lazy to bother to think it through or that he had no real explanation other than “because” and that’s why he’d get mad. I wondered how is it that he just can’t tell me a reason. Many times I was just making conversation and not complaining and he would accuse me of starting a fight. I just couldn’t understand why he could never give me an answer.

    Now I see that it’s not that he couldn’t but that he won’t. It’s how he maintains control of his abuse of me. He is selfish with all information. Answering a simple question relinquishes a tiny price of information to me.

    Sure some people may get annoyed at you for asking a question or maybe one too many questions but every time over the smallest of inquiries? When someone has snapped at me for asking a question it’s usually followed by an apology or explanation (tough day, not feeling well, etc.). My husband always answers in a nasty way with no apology. I can only conclude that he thinks it’s ok to treat me that way. He will not allow any possibility of someone having a thought contrary to his so I can’t ask a question because that implies a different possibility exists. I can’t ask a question because he’s the keeper of all information.

    I’ve noticed though that if a woman complains that her husband is controlling the reaction is usually to blame the woman. I mean women just like to complain, right? It’s really her that has the problem. I even heard a therapist on the radio tell a woman that she needed to look at her own behavior because more than likely it was she that was trying to change and control her husband. The therapist didn’t buy into the idea that there are all these controlling men out there.

    Well, I heard that on the radio while I was still in the fog and I spent weeks trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Now I know that his control issues are abuse because of his reactions.

    1. Hi, Annie,
      Very well explained. Thank you. Makes me think through a lot of things here too. Processing some right now while I can.

      Same exact thing went on and still does with abuser XH any chance he gets. He loves to withhold info and flip whatever his label or trait is on to me. Like he treats me like I’m the criminal or dangerous when in fact he has won those labels for himself. He accuses me of “slander” (for getting help by telling the church, family and police) yet he is the one that actually slanders the innocent party — me.

      One day he said out loud to another guy that I complain all the time. I heard it and said “did you really just say that? Is that what you really think?” And he said yes. This coming from a guy who gets everything he wants with a wife who isn’t even allowed to complain! I was very upset at this b / c I don’t complain. I tried to follow and submit to his leading and make the best of so many situations especially while traveling. I often did everything he wanted to do at the expense of myself and I was dying day by day. He hated me more day by day. In effect he was saying “do what I want all the time and think it will make our lives better but I’ll never be happy with you and so you’ll try harder and no matter what I’ll hate you more every day anyway and by the way you can’t leave — God hates divorce and I’ll have sex with someone else again if you do.” He then went on to try to schmooze me sexually in front of the kids and tell me that the friend was bashing his own wife and he was sick of hearing it. Ahh. So that’s why he threw me under the bus. It was for the good of mankind. Hmmm why not say “hey stop trashing your wife. It’s wrong. I won’t continue to talk with you until you stop.”

      No instead he was showing his belief that in general all women complain all the time. Ridiculous. Hateful. Not close to true. All women don’t do this.

      Same thing about “dumb blondes”.
      Someone made the comment yesterday. Truth — blondes are not bimbos or dumb. Are people forgetful or scatter-brained at times? Yes everyone has been at times. But this stupid label I’ve seen perpetuated even in kids cartoons! Good guys versus bad guys and a female dressed in some tight “nothing” while whining like [a] 2 year old to get what she wants and the old dirty man doing whatever the woman wants to keep her happy (and objectified sexually). These shows are like kid pornos! Another kid movie from the library mentioned “a fling” casually. Unnecessary. Disgusting.

      A woman in our family actually complains all the time but she’s controlling and manipulative also. It goes hand-in-hand with abusive people. They either complain in cold silence or out loud but one can be sure they are never happy with their target although they may pretend they are happy with their target to get something they want (sex, convince them, to play an act in front of others, etc.). She’s demanding and selfish also. She was mad about something her young nephew did and cruelly ignored him all day even while he called out for her. She was “watching” him for a family member that day. IMO that’s abusive. “Women” don’t do this. Abusive controlling manipulative people do this. Are some women that way? Yes.

      I’ve “stopped the cycle” meaning I call abuse what it is and refuse to stay in relationships of any sort that are abusive. And guess what? I don’t have any doubts about my character or intentions anymore. Huh how about that? I know who I am. How about that? Not confused and feeling evil and hopeless and in danger of God striking me dead and going to hell anymore. How about that? I believe I am born again because I see fruits in my life and I’m not choked out by evil in my own home and life. I have integrity, dignity, respect, and do the right thing. I’m healthy and I don’t get pressured to do things that are wrong. I boldly call good, good and evil, evil. I’m not ashamed to do what is right and stand up to abusers even if it means saying “no” and walking or running the other direction. That’s strength IMO — to see evil for what it is and flee.

      I think back and see that while having contact with people like that in my life it caused me to react in similar ways to what they were doing. I believe it was resistance. I believe it was reactive. I always knew it was a form of standing up to what the abuser did. Because I hated what they were I just could never call it wrong because they create a world where no one dare say that or they’re “out”. I didn’t know that goes on with those people. Also they use God’s grace as a license to sin b / c if you judge a brother then you’re acting like God. So they say “be quiet and let the Holy Spirit do the work. You just sit and wait. Don’t bring it up b / c that’s nagging and it’s no wonder he abuses you for that.”

      How maddening!

      Non-abusive, born again believers, healthy people honor your thoughts, opinions and boundaries. And they stay the same at the basic level of who they are. They don’t change into a different person and they are not unpredictable. You know what you’re getting and you can bet that you’re not walking on eggshells. With a non-abusive person you are free. Not manipulated. Thank you.

      1. Free, I hope you don’t mind that I copy this portion of your comment, as it rings true for me as well, although I wondered back then — if I would ever get “my dignity back” after being treated so bad by my abuser for so many years.

        It’s amazing how things fall in to place with the abuser out of the picture isn’t it? Your comment:

        I’ve “stopped the cycle” meaning I call abuse what it is and refuse to stay in relationships of any sort that are abusive. And guess what? I don’t have any doubts about my character or intentions anymore. Huh how about that? I know who I am. How about that? Not confused and feeling evil and hopeless and in danger of God striking me dead and going to hell anymore. How about that? I believe I am born again because I see fruits in my life and I’m not choked out by evil in my own home and life. I have integrity, dignity, respect, and do the right thing. I’m healthy and I don’t get pressured to do things that are wrong. I boldly call good, good and evil, evil. I’m not ashamed to do what is right and stand up to abusers even if it means saying “no” and walking or running the other direction. That’s strength IMO — to see evil for what it is and flee.

        And as I continued separation from my abuser, my thoughts became even more clear and focused, and I realized more and more that I was not the problem. My abuser used to take anything I said or did that “was good” and deliberately manufacture problems from it, trying to gaslight me into thinking I had some blame in the bad outcome, to try to keep me not believing in myself. But after reading the books recommended here, I saw what through what he was doing. Once I started separating myself from the abusers manipulation and distortion of truth, it became clear that I was not the blame.

  3. The first instances of control / abuse the first year of our marriage manifested itself in a couple of consistent ways. First, any time I had a complaint towards our relationship or questioned something that bothered me, my husband’s first response was always “I don’t want to argue with you.” Of course, I just wanted a response to my complaint / question. So again, I would try to explain myself and again, I would get the same response that he doesn’t want to argue with me. If I continued, his next level or response would be “So do you want a divorce??” At that, I’d shut my mouth and walk away feeling like an argumentative, immature, unlovable person. Second, if I did or said something that bothered him, I’d get the cold shoulder, silent treatment for days. Early on, I’d beg him to tell me what was wrong and his response would be “nothing”. After a day or two, the planets would align and he’d be back to normal and I’d be left with a bitter taste in my mouth and lots of self-doubt.

    It took me years and many sources of help to realize that these are forms of control and abuse. In looking back, this manipulation really torques [slang for torqued-off [Internet Archive link]1] me!

    1[March 28, 2023: We added the link to a page with a definition for the slang term “torqued-off”. The Internet Archive link is a copy of that page. Editors.]

    1. Crazy Is Catching — I have / had the same situation! Whenever I’d ask about something I’d get the “I don’t want to argue with you.” Of course, I did what you did and tried to explain myself thinking he either didn’t understand what I was saying or that I’d done something wrong in how I’d said it. Over time I came to realize how he was defining the attempted conversations by saying “I don’t want to argue” — and thus implying I was trying to argue! Or the other thing he’d say is in response to a question from me is “why are you starting a fight?” and he’d never answer the original question because I was left trying to prove I’m not wanting a fight.

      Though I didn’t know it at the time eventually I came to see how he controlled a conversation by initially defining it in some negative way attributable to me. He’s gotten so bad that he will misuse words or mispronounce them just to control the conversation as the listener is trying to figure out what’s happening.

      Oh, he thinks he’s so clever! He’d think up some answer that made me feel I had to defend myself and it worked because I’d be left spinning my wheels trying to figure out how to say something “right” and at the same time I felt guilty for defending myself! He’d use the same response for months until I’d come up with a more clever answer.

      And like you I really came to dislike the manipulation! Now I refuse to participate either by going “gray rock” or just ignoring his accusation and persisting in getting an answer (“I’m not arguing. Would you please tell me why…?” He doesn’t often answer but it’s not left with him accusing me of arguing either.).

      And now that he can’t bait me into an argument about arguing he’s changed his accusations to how he’s been warning me about my behavior (lol) and he sees no change.

      In our last “argument” he did all the yelling and I said very little. Oh, he didn’t like that. He kept trying to bait me into answering and to bring me down to his level. I said nothing. Then as he left the house for work he says “if you want to talk you can call me!” I may have been that stupid at one time but not anymore! He actually thought I’d call?

      He also seems to operate with the thought that he can’t just ask me to do something — he has to manipulate my behavior in order to get what he wants. The only way he sees to control everything is to control the perimeters [parameters?] in which I operate. Many times it would be things I’d be happy to do for him but he seems to enjoy manipulating me into doing it. Since I caught onto that I’ve gotten pretty dumb and sometimes I just don’t understand what he wants! LOL. 😉

      My husband’s controlling behavior encompasses the signs above plus manipulation.

      1. Hi, Annie,

        I think we might be married to the same person. 🙂

        Yep, like yours, my H will not ask me to do something directly. He’ll say something like “that [chore A] needs to be done” or “I’ll do the [chore A] once I finish mowing the grass”. My replies are now “yes” or “ok”. Before, I would have jumped on it right away even if I was busy with something else.

        There was one week in particular that makes me chuckle. One night he said to himself as he was laying out his clothes for the next day “Boy my underwear is all worn out. I guess I’ll go to [shop X] tomorrow and get some cheap ones.” He likes brand name P or Q which are not found at [shop X]. So, I said “ok”. The next time, he said again “I need some new underwear. I guess I’ll pick some up at [shop X].” I said “ok”. This went on for FOUR nights!!! After the fourth night, I got sick of it and went and bought him some stupid underwear from [shop Y]!

        Now, why the heck couldn’t he have said, “I need new underwear. Can you please pick me up some next time you’re out?” Or better yet, go get it himself!! I buy my own underwear, why can’t he do the same? Pure manipulation. I don’t think it’s the evil kind, just the helpless, stupid sort of manipulation.

        I could keep going, but I’ll stop. Gotta save some for the next thread. 😉

    2. Crazy Is Catching – yes same here. You explained it as it is.

      Standsfortruth – being here is real healing for me too. Glad you were validated. Hearing that validates me as well b / c it tells me again that what I went through is real. You’re not talking at me and teaching me. You’re telling what in fact happened to you. And it’s the same thing. There’s NOTHING like that validation. ESPECIALLY in a world that pretends at all costs that abuse doesn’t exist. The world acts as if it doesn’t even have time to address it b / c it’s not real.

      To everyone – IMO, we are all in dire need of heavy doses (a lifetime) of validation and IMO that comes through sharing our horrific testimonies and through those willing to openly call abuse what it is and stand for the truth and through sharing resources that do all that as well. This blog is tangible and “live” as we can communicate with other fighters and hear back. What a safe and crucial outlet for us.

      I am a survivor because the truth is fought for in this blog community and I heard it.

      Barb and Jeff, I’ve given this site address and recommendations of “Unholy Charade”, “Why Does He DO That?”, “When Dad Hurts Mom”, and “Not Under Bondage” to counselors, survivors and the domestic violence agency here. It won’t stop there. I fight for the truth and these are clean resources (as in not filled with mixed messages) and therefore very accurate resources IMO.

      A counselor purchased “Unholy Charade” and said their theology is now completely shaken.

      Thank you for the shaking you’ve caused by telling the truth. I believe God will shake everything until the walls come down and every stone is turned over. The truth of abuse sheds a revealing, blaring, and blazing light on the evil — the blazing eyes of Lord Jesus IMO.

      This all makes me see Jesus as fierce and helps me to know Him for who He was here on earth and who He is as coming Savior. He IS the way, the truth, and the life. He IS good and He came to save those who would repent from evil and for those who refused He serves them justice in Hell. Right?!

      And in my life now with the evil of abuse exposed and boldly fought and protected against by having the truth — I KNOW the way (to live, to follow), (I am armed and protected with) the truth and (I have) life. Coincidence? Hmmm I think NOT.

      Thank you.

  4. I appreciate this. It’s a nice buffer against taking every blind spot as a sign of an abuser (which, let’s be honest, a person could do after reading some of the materials on this website and not taking things as a whole). In my case my husband had the idea he got to pull rank. Because of my mistaken beliefs about submission, I spent years doing just that, being his “yes” girl. It enabled him. One day he made a particularly unreasonable request out of his own baggage and for the first time ever I said “no”. Yes, he tantrumed, threatened to leave, etc., etc., but here’s the thing: he learned that it’s not ok to make unreasonable demands and pull rank. Our marriage is actually working for the first time. Some people might have called him an abuser (actually some did) but defining questions to ask is very important.

  5. I had friends who were leaders in the church — deacon, SS teachers, mentors. They told me that they felt they had to shield people from the truth because most people can’t handle truth. When the wife told me she was shielding ME from the truth, I firmly told her not to ever shield me from the truth. By this time I was already freeing myself from Narcissistic abuse and I firmly told her that the Bible never says that we need to be protected from truth. It says that the truth will set us free. I may struggle sometimes in my life, but the last I checked, she (and her husband) were not God, and it was not up to them to determine what was best for me. I value truth too much to be shielded from it.

    How arrogant leaders can be.

  6. Does he lie, deceive, and / or cheat to bring about his agenda?

    And, ditto to the ladies above. I have never been able to ask my husband anything.

    1. Thank you, ladies, for writing details about how you have been manipulated. I have derived comfort from your testimonies. Like many, I had thought the circular, illogical conversations my extremely intelligent and manipulative husband engaged in, were unique to our marriage. It is refreshing to learn that his techniques are actually typical.

      I too have developed various strategies to endure and survive his outbursts and quiet, cunning manipulative actions. I appreciate the insights into abusiveness, as that these conversations rarely, if ever return in any admission or accountability on his part and are therefore, abusive. What occurs is that conversations (more like monologues or interrogations) frequently take twists and turns which are used to probe my mind, judge my motives, and result ultimately, in finding some fault in my perceived thinking.

      I am noticing an increase in frequency of this dysfunctional, manipulative style of communication. It gets dumped on me the moment I open my eyes in the morning. Yesterday was an 100% day, every single interaction the entire day was just cause to discuss my motivations, analyze the words I used and to place judgement on my actions. It is mentally exhausting.

      Me: “Hi, honey are you up?” I heard the door to the bathroom open and wondered if it was him.

      Him: “That’s not a way to greet someone in the morning.”

      Me: “Oh, I heard a noise and I didn’t know what it was.”

      Him: “That’s what you do? Ask me a question first thing in the morning? That’s hardly a greeting.”

      You get the drift. Little by little, day by day, round and round it goes. A question doesn’t get answered. I am educated about how I could / should respond and then a long lecture ensues in which I nod, point my head in his direction and pretend I am listening. Eventually, he stops talking. My problem is that sometimes I forget that I cannot complain, ask a questions or have a comment about a person or subject he disagrees with and speak up. It is like being invisible, because anything I say is dismissed or corrected and then switched back to his favorite subject, himself.

      Can I get an AMEN, sister?

      1. AMEN!

        And have you read The Verbally Abusive Relationship? [Affiliate link] (by Patricia Evans). It lit up lots of lightbulbs for me. I read it before Lundy Bancroft’s book had even been published. I’m sure if I’d read Lundy’s book first, it would have lit up even more lightbulbs, but The Verbally Abusive Relationship was powerful in lifting a lot of the fog when there was little else around….

  7. Crazy Is Catching commented:

    It took me years and many sources of help to realize that these are forms of control and abuse.

    ….then came the untangling, realizing I am not an abuser.

    From the original post:

    Many people — perhaps most —- have some “control issues”….

    ….then came the realization my “control issues” were my abusers blame-shifting to me.

    The burden of false blame is weighty, draining, tiring.

    ….and not mine to carry.

      1. Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you. [1 Peter 5:7, Anderson’s New Testament]

        This verse comes to mind. Matthew chapter 11 also comes to mind.
        It’s so hard to give our burdens over or to put the blame back onto a perpetrator. So often in confusion and the “fog” we can get so buried in our desperate situation, and the weight that as you rightly say is so draining and tiring etc. takes us over.

        May I encourage myself and you with a little study I did years ago on this verse and the word cast.

        In the the English word “cast” we do not get the full extent of the Greek meaning.
        In the Greek the word refers to three terms.
        1) hurl – it refers to a sporting term and that we are to pass on with force (as in rugby or American football) it denotes a forceful action into another, not just a mere passing lightly. With determination.

        2) cast – it comes from a fishing term.
        To cast your nets or fish line out as far as possible. Getting it out far will help bury it into deeper waters. It denotes again a force but with intention of getting it away furtherest from you. Not letting it stay anywhere near you.

        3) thrust – it derives from a military term to hurl or give yourself fully into battle. It denotes no half-heartedness but giving of everything we have got.

        Apply these into what we do with burdens false guilt and a host of things that could so easily weigh us down.

        Interesting little study that could give more expansion to your thoughts as you ponder His word in your hearts.

        May the Lord encourage you and bless you.

        Once we cast our care or our burden into him we can take His yoke upon ourselves. It is easy and light —

        Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 [NMB])

        ….note it still is a yoke but not one of weight. It denotes life still has to be worked at, it still takes a lot in our part to trust God and move forward. It’s not always plain sailing but it’s way different to all we often think we need to carry on ourselves.

        This is not to decry full blame on the abuser by no means but just some little thoughts that just might help someone in their hour of need.

        (Proverbs 12:25) Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

        (1 Peter 5:7 [NIV]) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

        (Philippians 4:6) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

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