Feeling Powerless in Your Marriage

Colleen Sheehy Orme

Bride and groom exchanging ringsPhoto by Flora Westbrook :

As a wife, it took a long time to communicate what I was feeling. The underlying core of why my marriage left me with a sense of desperation. As a journalist, who's spent more than a decade in counseling and research on the topic of relationships, I now can.

I always say, "No one should have the power in a relationship. But no one should be powerless either."

I was controlled to a point of exasperation. This was further complicated by a spouse who was passive-aggressively controlling. Unlike the overt controller, this is an individual who appears laid-back and easygoing. They aren't openly argumentative.

They don't need to be. Because a passive-aggressive personality typically won't engage. They maintain control through manipulation.

The article, Signs of Serious Relationship Problems in Psychology Today talks about numerous examples that indicate a problematic relationship. But the following excerpt spoke to me. As a relationship writer and a divorced woman, I encourage people to recognize the need for a romantic equilibrium. A focus on equality rather than roles in a marriage.

And to spot warning signs of controlling behavior.

"Other relationship problems are created by an imbalance of power, where one partner attempts to dominate the other through aggression, control, or emotional or verbal abuse. This is damaging to the relationship and the self-esteem of the other partner. It’s not uncommon in relationships with an addict or narcissist. One partner can control the other through neediness, demands for attention or validation, or playing the victim, with the expectation that the other person makes him or her happy."

I intentionally tried to avoid a controlling personality. Unfortunately, in my twenties, I didn't understand there were less obvious forms of control. Ironically, I gravitated towards my spouse because I was convinced he was incredibly easygoing.

It took only a few years of marriage to understand I had actually married an extremely difficult personality. That there were quiet controllers. Individuals who can make your world even more unpredictable than an overt controller.

The obvious controller announces their agenda. There's no guessing. No wondering when the other shoe will drop. They make it clear what they will or will not do. The covert controller agrees to do something but ultimately sabotages it if they disagree with it. It's a sneak attack.

Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT, author of the Psychology Today article goes on to say:

"The struggle for intimacy requires the courage to face unhealthy behavior and attitudes and be vulnerable. It entails overcoming defenses of denial, withdrawal, control, or placating to avoid a real connection. Don't ignore these problems or just argue about them, which deepens the divide between you and your partner."

When I came to terms with the unhealthy behavior in my marriage, I made the decision to leave. What I believed to be a step towards freedom only escalated my sense of powerlessness. The control was so severe it escalated into financial abuse and a five-year divorce.

A controlling person won't generally do anything they don't want to do. Especially, if you attempt to take your power back. Making the choice to dissolve my marriage unknowingly began a battle for control. I thought it was the unfortunate result of exhausting all of my options. I couldn't have been wrong.

The imbalance of power persisted.

Even while apart. Because money and children were used to exercise control since I was no longer personally willing to be controlled. The need for maintaining power was primal and the manipulation exceeded what I had endured during our marriage.

Control can be obvious or insidious.

I had no need to be in control but I couldn't take how another person made my life feel 'out of control.' In an attempt to ensure they continually got what they wanted.

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Colleen Sheehy Orme is a National Relationship Columnist, freelance journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, relationships, and self-restoration. She has spent more than a decade in research and counseling on the topics of divorce, relationships, and Narcissistic personality disorder.

Reston, VA

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