Is It Controlling to Ask Someone to Stop Hurtful Behavior?

unhappy couple talking (3)






Morning friends,

I hope you have been watching the new videos I’ve been posting each week on my home page. Are there any thoughts? Please leave your comments or questions on the YouTube response form. We’d love to hear whether they’re helpful and what topics you’d like to see me address in this format in the future.

In this week’s video, I’m talking about the importance of freedom for a healthy relationship to flourish. The freedom to be yourself, the freedom to choose what’s important to you, your values, what you will devote your time and energy to, and the freedom to be at ease with who you are in an intimate relationship. When someone tries to regularly limit another person’s choices, expressions, behaviors or thoughts, the relationship becomes unhealthy and often controlling.

This leads me to address in today’s blog a common accusation that women often hear from their husband’s when they start asking for changes, implementing consequences or setting boundaries on destructive attitudes and actions. Their husband turns things around and starts accusing them of being controlling. Let’s see how we can tackle this common twist.

Today’s Question: This is my second marriage. We have had a difficult marriage to say the least. We have separated three times and divorced this past separation, and then we remarried a year ago.

My husband has had three affairs, and they each about killed me. He promises to do certain things to change, but always has a reason why he does not follow through. We have had counseling, and I am currently in counseling for myself. My husband gets angry when I try to talk about the issues in our marriage. When I ask him not to cuss at me or talk sarcastically, he says I'm trying to control how he talks, and I get very confused. Am I controlling? Is it wrong to ask someone to stop doing something that hurts you?

Sadly, we are in the same place we were before when we divorced, only now it’s worse. I have implemented boundaries around his drinking. I am trying not to “fight back” but am not always successful. Another issue is his job. It often requires him to work 70 hours a week. When we remarried, we agreed he would get a different job that didn’t require him to work so many hours so that we could work on our marriage. He still has not even looked. I am forty and much stronger in my walk with God. I want to please God most of all. Am I being controlling?

Answer: Whenever you have two imperfect people who commit their lives together, there will always be differences that need to be discussed, negotiated and worked through. You will have problems that need to be solved, changes that need to be made, and hurts that need to be repaired and forgiven for the relationship to survive. This is not the exception but the standard hard work required for all marriages to thrive.

When these things don’t happen, the marriage may stay a legal entity, but the relationship between a husband and wife deteriorates. You asked, “Is it wrong to ask someone to stop doing something that hurts you?” The answer is no, not usually. In a healthy relationship, once you tell someone that something bothers you or hurts you, it generally elicits a response like, “Gee, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that. Of course I’ll stop.”

For example, if your husband allows his parents to walk into your marital home without knocking and you tell him it bothers you, you hope that he will let his parents know not to do that in the future.”

Or, if he tells you that when you roll your eyes at him during an argument it feels disrespectful and asks you to stop, I hope you will listen to that feedback and stop.

Couples have many of these kinds of discussions throughout the course of their marriage and together grow and change to adapt to one another’s differences and needs. The problem of manipulation and control surfaces when the person does not want to stop certain behaviors even if they’ve promised otherwise or they repeatedly use this phrase “I want you to stop doing this because it hurts me” to get the other person to do what they want them to do. (See this week’s video for examples of that kind of controlling manipulation.)

In your particular situation, your husband has had 3 affairs, curses at you, talks sarcastically, drinks heavily and will not make the effort to find new employment that enables him to work less. You’ve asked him to stop doing these things that are hurting you, and he now accuses you of being controlling.

Part of what confuses you is that he’s implied or previously promised that he WOULD change these things. We all know that talk is easy, change is hard, and so far he’s not willing to put in the hard work to change. As you grow, you’re reminding him of his promises to change, and he’s getting angry. Now he accuses you of trying to control him.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Get clear: The only person you can work on changing is you. Accept you cannot change him. Only he can submit himself to God for change.

2. Get firm: Decide what you are willing to peacefully and graciously live with and what you are not willing to live with. For example, perhaps you can live with his long work hours but you can’t live with anymore affairs, drunkenness, and/or the cursing and sarcasm. No one can tell you what you can live with or must live with. Only you can make that choice, but you must decide if you want to get out of this circular dance.

3. Based on your decisions, now you’re ready to have a discussion or write a letter (if he won’t listen or participate in a discussion) to your husband. In it you might want to say something like this:

“When we decided to get remarried, I understood you to promise me that you would (insert what he said he’d do or change that he’s not doing). I do not want to be controlling, and you are absolutely free to be the man you want to be. If drinking, cursing, sarcasm and carousing (or whatever it is that you’ve asked him to stop) are the things that are important to you and you don’t want to change, then I will accept that even if I don’t like it. However, that means I cannot live (or stay in the same room) with you when you’re like that. It’s too painful to me.”

Before you conclude your discussion or letter, you will need to be specific. Decide if it means you have to separate for the time’s he’s acting out– for example if he’s on a weekend binge do you need to go somewhere else for the weekend–or do you need to separate more permanently?

Giving someone their freedom to be who they want to be causes them to press pause and think about who they really want to be. Most men I know, even those who have been really bad husbands, are not proud of themselves when they act in demeaning or disrespectful ways. Unfortunately for most of them, it is only through painful consequences that they are willing to take a hard look and do the work of change.

I’d encourage you not to shorten the pain part by believing empty words. We can make all kinds of promises to ourselves, God and others when we’re feeling the pain of our poor choices, but when the pressures off, we usually revert to our old ways unless we’ve really reached a point of understanding the folly and destructiveness of sin.

All of life is a set of choices and consequences. Your husband has choices to make and he ought to be free to make them, but so do you. When someone believes or lives like they can continue to act sinfully, irresponsibly, destructively, indifferently, deceitfully or abusively with no consequences, they are not living in the truth. That is not healthy for them or for you.





  1. Dora on July 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Hi Leslie,
    I like what you said about – “I’d encourage you not to shorten the pain part by believing empty words.”

    I think when you want something to work, or you love the person or are fearful of loss, you can easily fall into denial and keep thinking things will get better. I’ve heard the phrase “when someone shows you who they are.. believe them.”

    I think if someone is impacting your identity in a negative way (i.e. hurting you, not showing you’re valuable or accepted or protected), it’s time to rethink how to do the relationship.

    I’ve had relationships in family where I could just say that’s the way so n so is, I’m not taking it to heart, but it still eroded my identity. I had a “friend” who was indifferent and cold to me and I had to walk away from it because it became a problem for me being wounded over and over and she wouldn’t talk to me about it.

    That’s just my experiences in general. Very sorry that the person asking the question is going through this.

    oh one other thought, isn’t it defensively trying to shift the focus off yourself when you point back to the person that is trying to communicate to you their needs? Just a thought.

  2. Brenda B on July 30, 2013 at 11:13 am

    I’m not sure how it could ever be controling to ask someone to stop doing something that is hurting you. I think it is showing disrespect and control on the part of the person who will not stop or doesn’t see what they are doing to you. When they continue after knowing your feelings it is “button pressing”. There was a visiting minister I heard very recently and his sermon was based around people and things that press your buttons. When someone know that something is harmful or disturbs you and continues on with it anyways they are “button pressing”. They willingly harm you. They could choose to change that and show you respect and love. They don’t want to. I told that story to my estranged spouse via email. What did he do? You guessed it. Immediately brought up a hurtful situation that was destined to distress me and taunted me with it. After several hours of this on and off, he said lets stop now, I was only joking. To say the very least–Not amusing. At most, it shows he does not love but desires to be abusive. I have set a new boundary, I will not answer anymore emails. Satan get thee behind me.

    • Leslie Vernick on August 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      It might be hard to imagine someone using the “I’m hurt” by your behavior to be manipulative and controlling but let me give you an example. A woman client of mine has a husband who is very threatened by her doing anything without her. He’s “hurt” that she wants to go to dinner with her girlfriends. He’s “hurt” that she won’t stay home with him instead of going to prison ministry. He’s “hurt” she wont’ co-sign on a bank loan to pay off debt he’s accumulated foolishly. He uses this card regularly to try to get her to feel guilty or selfish for not giving into his every whim.

      With another situation, an adult mother feels “hurt” when her adult daughter won’t come home for Christmas because this year it’s her husband’s family’s turn. She’s “hurt” when she can’t come and stay for a month even through their house is small and can’t accommodate guests for long period of time without everyone getting stressed. When her daughter shows compassion for her hurt but still won’t give in to her, sulks and broods and won’t talk.

      That’s what I mean by using the “hurt” card to be manipulative. In most situations we should be compassionate when someone feels hurt yet still know that we cannot always accommodate them.

      • Brenda B on August 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm

        Ah, yes, I see what you’re saying. Using “I’m hurt” and really saying “poor me, do what I want so I will be happy even though I am going to make you and everyone else miserable.”

  3. Loretta P on July 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    My comment would be “why go back to him BEFORE you saw real change in him?” Promises are only that, to get you back. If you want real change you would need to give him time to work on his stuff and change, THEN take him back.

    It’s amazing how we want to belive someone will change and stick our head in the sand not looking at reality. I’ve been there, so I’m not condeming. But if you want change and you are seperated or divorced, wait till the changes ocure, then get back together. If he says he’ll change jobs so you can be together, wait till he does! Then when he’s made positive changes start the relationship slowly and see if it’e for real and lasts, then get back together.

    If he doesn’t want to change then there’s nothing to do but pray for him and decide how you want to live. Is his behavior acceptable, if not you may need distance UNTIL he’s made the changes, then reconcile. I’m not against marriage, but letting him off the hook on only promises, is not working, has not worked in the past…so why believe it will work now. I’ve had friends that seperated until they saw change, then slowly started to rebuild the relationship with the help of a Godly counselor and build a good marraige.

    Only a though! I’m sorry for her pain, it’s truly a difficult place to be in, wanting a good marraige with a husband who doesn’t seem to share that goal, wanting to change him, not being able to.

    • one on a journey on August 1, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Loretta , thank you for your honesty. If you had said why did you take him back last year , I might have gotten sad. But our awesome God has taken me on this journey to find the answer to this question. I went through a period of saddness and beating myself up for taking him back again. I thought God would punish me for not waiting and seeking his answer. Its part of the abuse how a person is almost forced to acomidate one who has wronged them . He came on so strong i guess I felt I didnt have a choice. I had much healing to do to realize what was going on. I see things differantly now and am starting to see all the paterns. How I was so blind for so long I havent a clue. I guess God still has work to do in me. I have set boundries and realize if I dont rock the boat its at least quiet. Im not sure how this works in a marriage and know I feel differant than before. I WILL wait and seek God this time for sure. Even in the midst of this, im starting to feel alive

      • loretta on August 1, 2013 at 10:51 pm

        When we are abused we loose power. It is helpful to have a person…counselor, friend, pastor, etc to walk through change with you! I’ve been there. Sometime I’ll share my story. I would not have seen the abuse end without the help of a counselor.
        DON’T beat yourself up!!! We grow in baby steps. I hope others here might be able to.have another perspective from what we share…I wish someone would have told me I had choices when I was in the middle of the abuse. Keep Jesus he’ll getnyou through and he loves you justnas you are!!! He is fullnpf grace and forgives our mistakes and hr make good evennfrom our mess ups.

        Sending you a ((hug)) cause we need them when our spirit is wounded by abuse.

  4. Dot on July 31, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Concerning the part 4 video and this week’s question. I think it was not wrong for the Amy’s husband to ask her to stop what to him was “hurtful behavior” by asking her to dress more modestly. There is a certain amount of “how to please the husband/wife” concerns in a marriage. Perhaps the husband was being somewhat protective rather than controlling. Maybe a good response would have been for her to request lots of patience and finances on his part for her to gradually try a few pleasing outfits, so she doesn’t feel “frumpy”, but she moves into feeling beautifully loved and appreciated. Yet the husband needs the freedom to ask and gently lead, and know his ideas are respected, too. I’m thinking it’s part of each spouse’s body belonging to the other, with love and respect.

    • Brenda B on August 1, 2013 at 11:43 am

      I’m not so sure it was the outfit that was displeasing or the accusation that men were looking at her, which could very possibly be his insecurity. My stepfather used to want my mothers dresses hemmed shorter, but then accuse her of wanting other men to look at her as if she were flaunting herself. He knew who she was and how she dressed when he married her. It could very well be his own insecurity that wants to make these changes. I’m thinking that she has given him no reason to feel this way and if another man did look her way perhaps he should be thankful that he will be the one she will be going home with.

      I have watched this type of thing happen to my mother and lived through it myself. Once a man starts changing his wife in these ways, it only gets worse. First it is your clothes, then you want other men, then you can’t go away with friends because they are a bad influence. It doesn’t stop and has nothing to do with pleasing your spouse and everything to do with control. You are no longer a partner but a possession. I for one do not want to be a robot and was given freedom in Christ. This spouse was really saying that it was her fault that someone else would look at her and is the beginning of an unhealthy abusive relationship.

      If he wants his bride to wear something that he would like to see her in, perhaps he should buy her an outfit and not try to change her style completely.

  5. Julia on August 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm


    Whenever I told my husband something bothered me, he would do it anyway. After his indiscretion I wanted to be called by my name bc I figured out that he had started calling me sweetheart or love ,etc. while he was cheating on me! We have been separated a year and I have seen no change in his walk. He talks a good game, only wants things to go back to the hurtful, unhealthy way they were. He is trying to buy me off by offering me money and has started calling me sweetie again.

    Is it controlling to ask your husband to call you by your real name? I asked him not to buy me a Christmas present and he did anyway. Why do I keep hoping my marriage will turn the corner and improve?

    • Brenda B on August 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm

      There is nothing wrong with wanting to be called by your name. My husbands ex is also named Brenda. I guess that way he can’t get the name wrong. I hate it when he calls me Bren, but when he finds out that something annoys me he does it more. This morning I was told I am the Devil hiding behind the Bible so noone would see who I really am. I wasn’t fond of that.
      My soon to be ex also gave me a Christmas gift after my saying no to the gift thing. He has now turned everything around so that he cannot say anything without me getting angry. Wow! I don’t have any hope of my marriage succeeding. It will be all I can do to keep up with my new job as Satan.
      I need all of the support I can get. It is sad though that there are so many of us in the same sinking boat.

  6. Shannon on August 10, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    I am new to this Blog and Leslie. I had dinner with a long time friend and she told me about Leslie and I am thankful that God put it on her heart to share this with me. I have been in this marriage for over 26 years and it has been very destructive. I grew up with a verbally abusive father and alot of my close friends have told me that they would not put up with how my husband talks to me. I have been in denial and have not really believed that how he talks to me is wrong and I am still questioning it. What Leslie said about the characteristics of the emotional abuse the withholding of affection, time, resources, rolling the eyes, the not taking responsibility for his family and marriage, and the finances has been a long time pattern. I went to our pastor and talked about biblical separation and he told me that the emotional abuse was a gray area and that if it was physical there would be grounds for separation. There is so much to say but I cannot say. thanks

    • Leslie Vernick on August 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks Shannon for joining us. You will find great support as well as good discussion here.

  7. one on a journey on August 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Since I posted this question I have disconeccted emotionally from my husband. I am praying every day that I honor God in this and still show kindness to my husband. He is very upset , sulking and saying I am not being kind. He is saying Im cheating because im detached,and can not seem to get it. I am not doing this in a mean tantrum way, it is simply how I feel. I feel dead inside to this marriage. But I am confident I am following the right path. He is getting angrier it seems…like something will explode…… My stomach starts shaking then and my whole body when we start conversing. This cannot be healthy. My church friends do not seem to get it and I think they might think im being cold. If only they new and understood.. I believe when we know that we Know ,what we have to do in the end of the day, we only have to be close to God and know we are walking with himhHim.Im reading to stop this cycle and am working hard at sticking with my resolve. I am also hoping my husband will get help and find his center of peace and get healing also. I will not allow myself to be mistreated anymore, but understand he needs to want to heal and he is free to choose.

Leave a Comment

Ask Your Question

Have a blog question you'd like to submit?

Read More

How do I Find A Safe Church

Morning friends, Wow, we have had quite a week. We’ve had a lively and productive discussion on spiritual abuse in marriage on this blog. Last Sunday I heard a very interesting sermon on the third commandment about not taking the Lord’s name in vain which tied very closely to the whole topic of spiritual abuse. To…


Topic: Honoring dysfunctional parents when there is no reconciliation

Good morning dear friends, It’s been a great week. I just returned from speaking at a Morning Star Friends Church women’s retreat this weekend. Our topic was humility and we together we learned how freeing humility can truly be. So many of us are afraid to think about humility because we associate it with humiliation…


Am I Wrong for Not Wanting Reconciliation?

Morning friend,  I had a wonderful time in Istanbul and Greece on my cruise. It was two years of waiting, but worth it. I especially enjoyed seeing Ephesus and Mars Hill, where the apostle Paul was, and visiting the place he preached in Acts 16. It’s hard to get back on track, especially with the…