Have you ever had to deal with a control freak? They need to be right all the time. That means you can’t be—right?
I had a cousin whose husband told her what she could and couldn’t wear. He wouldn’t let her shop without him. He had to be there to choose what he liked. After all, it was his money. She was a stay-at-home mom. She looked after him, their kids and a huge house. “It’s his way of showing his love,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have all this.”
Funny how easily we can explain things away.
He chose where they would vacation and what car she would drive. He constantly interrupted to correct her, and even called her ‘stupid.’ Imagine—a highly educated and capable woman stuck in a toxic situation, using all her brain power to convince herself things were fine when they weren’t.
One day in frustration he put his hands on her. For a split second she was afraid—then angry. Finally, something cracked in her. The anger completely took over her fear. She saw red flags everywhere. How could she have missed them? Her teenage son spoke to his girlfriend in the same condescending tone as his father. It wasn’t the first time, but she hadn’t registered it before. She thought she’d raised him to respect women. What about her little daughter? Would she allow herself to be treated like this one day?
Horrified, she realized things had to change. Her children were going to learn the value of respect—starting with self-respect! But there was no point in just telling them. That didn’t work, obviously. She had to show them. She would be a better role model now.
She changed the way she responded to her husband. Instead of explaining away his behavior she quietly spoke up. The intimidating tricks and manipulations he’d relied on for so long lost their power. She began to trust herself. Her confidence grew. When the kids finally noticed and started to ask questions, she knew she’d reached them. They began talking about their father’s actions and her responses. Their tensions began to ease. None of them had realized just how much they were hanging onto until they started sharing their feelings, feeling heard.
At first he was as disrespectful as ever—but no longer scared her. She spoke up more and more. Sometimes she exploded—she couldn’t help it—but mostly she was polite and unwavering. She even made an effort to understand where he was coming from. What was he afraid of? Could she help? This confused him at first and he got angry, but in time he couldn’t deny the value of what she was doing.
The atmosphere in the house changed. He was touched by her. She’d cracked his wall! If there was ever going to be a turning point, this was it.
The more she took responsibility for herself, the less afraid she was. She realized the price she’d paid for her compliance. She also realized that he wasn’t her responsibility. His behavior was his choice—not hers. He could either continue on his destructive path and she’d act accordingly, or he could appreciate the growth and newfound strength his wife was bringing into their marriage—and ask for help.
If this post resonates with you, you might want to join me Saturday May 25 at 1:30 pm for my talk, Communicate with Confidence. Details at www.courey.com