Is Your Insecurity Making You a Controlling and Disconnected Spouse?
A woman who I will call Kristin told me that her husband Dan seemed to be slowly slipping away—but as she explained the situation, it was clear that there was far more going on than just a bit of distance in the relationship.
For a few years, she and Dan had been juggling a lot of work and family obligations and always going in opposite directions. Most of their conversations began centering around logistics—who was going to get which kid where, how the SUV was going to get to the dealership for servicing, who was going to pick up dinner. Way too often, patience ran low and tensions ran high.
But those tensions were complicated by a few issues at work. Kristin knew Dan loved her, but he also loved his job and was highly respected and well-liked there. When things were off at home, she knew he felt appreciated at the office. In fact, she had been wondering if a female co-worker of his who seemed just a little too friendly might be interested in him.
Dan worked with this woman only occasionally, and deep down Kristin knew he would never do anything inappropriate. But she couldn’t help feeling like he was at a point in life where the pressures of home and family could make outside interests more appealing. So she started checking up on him to find out where he was, what he was doing, and who he was talking to. If he was having to work late, she asked who he was working late with. And in the rare instances that it was this female colleague, she would ask him to relay everything they had talked about.
By the time she told me about the situation, it was clear that her marriage was starting to have the life squeezed out of it. She knew a lot of the reason was probably because of her controlling behavior, but she didn’t know how to change.
Have you ever been where Kristin is? Feeling insecure in your marriage not because of anything inappropriate your spouse has done (that is an entirely different situation that will need to be covered in a different article), but because life is drawing you apart and you have resorted to hurtful behavior as you try to hold on? Unfortunately, that attempt to control everything can end up pushing away those we love most. It’s a vicious and maddening cycle, but you can get out of it.
If you see yourself in Kristin’s example, here are five key ways to do that.
Solution #1: Seek counseling to help stop a dangerous trend
Depending on your level of insecurity, and the behavior it’s triggering, you might need advice and help from a qualified counselor. And that means help for you, not just your marriage. To some degree, feelings of insecurity are understandable . . . but you may be at a point where you are bringing about the very problems you fear.
If that is the case, it is essential to seek qualified help to work through that insecurity, so you don’t allow it to drive you further into unhealthy worries and actions. I told Kristin that a counselor could also be an objective voice to figure out whether the situation with the female colleague was or wasn’t an issue worth being concerned about. In Kristin’s case, she eventually acknowledged, the worry was all in her head. Her husband had done nothing to cause a red flag and was always transparent—and yet it didn’t put Kristin’s mind at rest. She was going deeper and deeper into controlling behavior that was itself causing real marriage issues.
She needed a counselor to help her arrest that cycle. And if you, too, realize that there is no external reason for your insecurity and you need to make a change, a counselor can help you with that.
Like Kristin, perhaps you are letting your thoughts run away with you for no reason. If so, it is essential to learn the skill of taking your thoughts captive. As the Bible puts it, a huge part of confronting problems in this broken world means that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (You can find that in 2 Corinthians 10:5.)
A good counselor can help you do all of that.
Solution #2: Make spending time together a high priority
Couples that find themselves drifting apart need to solve their lack of togetherness.
When you have kids, work, and crazy schedules, it’s just too easy to lead separate lives, become distant, and find your friendship with each other weakening. And when friendship and closeness wanes, so does trust and indulgence for each other’s foibles. Resentment can grow—and so can the desire to be close with someone, whether that means the kids, church friends, or workout buddies. But the more you spend time with the kids or other friends and less time with your spouse, the less you’ll simply like each other.
So as I detailed in another article, if you are finding yourself distant from your spouse, it is crucial to spend time together just hanging out and rebuilding your friendship. I would strongly suggest that you read that piece, as we’ve seen in our studies that that one factor is highly protective and important.
Solution #3: Choose to believe the best of your spouse’s intentions
In my research, the happiest couples clearly made a deliberate decision to believe the best about each other’s intentions. Do you believe your spouse cares for you? If so, make sure you’re acting like it.
If you’re like Kristin, an unusual level of control and effort to keep tabs on your man (especially if you truly have no reason to suspect him) is a signal to him (and you) that you believe the worst of him, not the best.
Allowing insecurity to run away with us also makes us blind to or dissatisfied with the positive things our spouse does for us. Maybe your husband tries to do things to show his love for you, but you convey rejection because he doesn’t do exactly what you’d like him to do, exactly when you’d like him to do it. A person can only be rejected so many times before the effort starts to seem like a waste. So the more you send the message that his best isn’t good enough, the less he’s likely to give of himself. The less you trust him, the more you’re going to suspect that his every move is nefarious. The more often you reject him, the less he’s going to stick his neck out for you. Again, it’s a vicious cycle—but you can break it!
Solution #4: Understand your spouse’s own inner insecurities
There are a few absolutely crucial things about your man’s inner needs that you may not understand and need to learn. Perhaps most important, in For Women Only I explain just how much men want to be a good husband, but doubt themselves.
This means that your controlling behavior is actually sending a far more dangerous message, emotionally, than just signaling that his effort is going to waste. It is also telling him that he’s incompetent and inadequate, which are probably his most painful feelings by far.
Although it certainly isn’t healthy, it is understandable that a man might want to escape those painful feelings in favor of interactions with people who do think he’s adequate.
So instead of letting your own insecurity trigger his own, focus on doing the reverse: create a home that your husband would never want to escape! Men light up when they think people admire, appreciate, trust, and respect them. If you want to make your marriage thrive, show your husband that you are his biggest admirer.
Solution #5: Take practical steps to deal with your insecurities—and enjoy the rewards of a happy marriage
What practical steps would make a difference for you? For example, if you find yourself “checking up,” how can you change that to “checking in” in a way that will build the relationship with your spouse instead of tearing it down?
In Kristin’s case, she started touching base with Dan periodically during the workday without an ulterior motive or logistical need—to just say hi or share some encouragement. They also agreed that they needed to spend more time together just connecting, so they placed a cut-off on discussing family logistics after 9 p.m. They prioritized putting some fun activities for just the two of them on their shared calendar, with no kids invited.
With more quality connecting time, Kristin found her attitude changing and her emotions settling. With that and the help of counseling to deal with the underlying insecurity, the vicious cycle gradually lost its grip.
So what steps would break the power of an unhealthy cycle of insecurity for you? Negative habits aren’t always easy to break, but it can be done—and it is so worth it! And as you deal with your insecurities—both the emotions you experience and any harmful behaviors they may be triggering—you are far more likely to truly build and enjoy a healthy, happy marriage.
This article was also published at Patheos.
Check out our online resource for Shaunti’s research and teachings: SurprisingHope.com.
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