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How Can I Stay In A Marriage With A Controlling Spouse?

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The topic of marriage and how spouses treat each other is addressed in many places in the Bible. I've been married for almost 30 years and have walked with many wise married couples in that time. I can't say that I have all the answers, but I think I have some good advice.

I've seen cases in which controlling men take advantage of the charge to women to submit to their husbands (Colossians 3:18, Ephesians 5:22), but I've also seen controlling women take advantage of the charge to men to lay down their lives for their wives (Eph 5:25-27). Neither case is ideal for a satisfying, fruitful marriage.

Marriage As A Partnership

I want to point out first of all that a spouse acting in genuine love is not likely to try to manipulate or control the other. The scriptures clearly paint marriage as a picture of partnership, not that of a slave and master. Many people will take the few verses directing a woman to submit to her husband and build a case for a type of relationship that makes the man into a slave master, but in my opinion, this was never God's intended outcome for those verses.

In fact, I would assert that God's charge to men in Ephesians is much more burdensome: The command to the husband is to lay down his life as Christ gave His life for the church. A man who truly demonstrates this kind of love to his wife is rarely going to be one who takes advantage of his privilege to play the “submission trump card.”

Answers From Scripture

I think the best place to look for advice when it comes to the question of a controlling spouse is in the “Love Chapter.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

In this passage we find advice from both vantage points, that of the one who is inclined to control and that of the one who is the victim of a controlling spouse. First of all, these verses spell out grace, mercy, seeing things from the perspective of the other, gentleness rather than harshness, and an attitude of seeking oneness rather than division. These are the earmarks of a spouse who is working toward unity and cooperation in a marriage.
To the spouse who is inclined to control, I would say this: Look at these verses and do some self-evaluation. Measure yourself against Christ, not against your spouse or others. Be willing to exercise the grace, love, concession and understanding commanded in this passage.

To the spouse being controlled, I would say this: Exercise love, compassion and grace to your spouse, but seek help if needed from a marriage counselor. Sometimes a controlling spouse has no idea what s/he is doing without outside help from people who can offer godly input and guidance. If your spouse refuses help, seek it anyway. That's an even bigger red flag that your marriage needs some input.

I hope this helps.

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