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Control Games in Marriage

Updated on April 23, 2013
There are many form of control in marriage. Each of these seek to put limits on behavior or motivate behavior.
There are many form of control in marriage. Each of these seek to put limits on behavior or motivate behavior.

How to Motivate Your Spouse: "Do I use love or control?"

Marriage like many other relationships has its own form of give and take. The give and take involved the many ways that actions are motivated. The give and take that occurs in marriage can be motivated by many things, although love and control are two predominate ways of motivating action.


When love is the main motivator, you may find yourself doing things for your spouse without any kind of coercion. Frequently love is replaced by control as the chief way of motivating action. Many couple often confuse love and control, since they may have loving intentions, yet resort to manipulative controls. This mixing of loving intentions with controlling methods often contributes to conflicts and fights.


Control in a marriage takes many forms. On a physical level, there are the various forms of physical control. These include both verbal and non-verbal control. In the area of verbal control, there is name calling, making fun of them and ridicule. These verbal control methods often attack the person. The attacks may be directed at your spouse, at your spouse’s family, or their religion. When the name calling and ridicule no longer work, you often find non-verbal control methods being used. These can be either active or passive. The passive non-verbal control includes ignoring and withdrawing.


The verbal attacks may also be a matter of disturbing the peace of the home through yelling, nagging or lecturing. In previous generations, it was a serious matter to ‘disturb the peace’. The disturbing of the peace creates a tense environment in your home. In the give and take of control games, the home is often made tense by one person who reacts and reciprocates with another control game. This often leads to a cycle of escalating violence with a series of action and reactions by each of the spouses.


There are also the verbal control methods involving the creation of guilt. These can be used to create guilt on an emotional level or on a spiritual level. Guilt is a very powerful motivator of human behavior. Guilt inducing controls are typically done after some undesirable act in order to discourage the behavior from happening again.


Verbal control also includes interrupting your spouse or speaking for them. Such controls often leave them feeling devalued and silenced. Talking over them is another form of interrupting them. When the interruptions are done in a condescending manner, they often have the impact of a put-down, leaving the person who was talked over feeling demeaned.


Some homes have unwritten rules about cursing, derogatory terms and name calling. Violating those unwritten rules is often used as a form of control. The violation of the rules often gives a sense of power and control to the violator. They often use such verbal outbursts as a way to regain a feeling of control over their environment and to rebel against he unwritten rules. When the home does not have such unwritten rules, the power of cursing and derogatory names diminishes.


Active non-verbal control games initially use threats of violence. In such cases, you are using fear as a way to motivate your spouse to act. The initial threats of violence may include raising your hand or holding an object or weapon in a threatening position. There may also be threats directed at the objects valued by your spouse. You may threaten to damage objects that are valuable to them or their economic security. The threat to objects can escalate to the point where one spouse will threaten to leave, file for divorce or have an affair.


The threats can be directed at your spouse or what is important to them. Direct attacks are often viewed as more threatening than the indirect ones. Since they are less threatening, the indirect attacks are often used by couples, since it reduces the amount of guilt from the attacks by giving them a way out by saying “I did nothing to you”.


The indirect attacks may also include cutting your spouse off from sex, access to the car, freedom to leave the home, limiting access to the phone/internet, limiting access to your children, or reductions in supplies of food or alcohol. These indirect attacks do not hit your spouse, yet often create the tension which is needed to motivate action.


The forms of control that occur in a marriage are limited only by the creativity of the couple. Each couple often develops unique exchanges in their response to the control games exhibited by their spouse. Like a chess game, there are many moves and counter moves that each spouse uses to keep their partner within some type of limits. The control games are often used to reinforce limits or motivate action. When your spouse is unresponsive to the request for action, you may resort to using some type or form of control as a way to ‘make things happen’ or to make things happen when you want them to occur. So the control may involve the timing of the desired action as well.

Where do these control games come from?

Some couples engage in control games that they are familiar with in their family of origin. Since they are used to such games, they often engage in them without thinking about it. To them, that is just the way that spouses interact with each other. When the spouses come from a similar background, they will know how to deal with such games. When spouses come from differing backgrounds, the control games often become points of conflict and contention.


Some control games are learned in the churches or religious establishments. Religions often have many ways of exerting and maintaining control over their adherents. Some spouse uses religious teachings as a way to reinforce their controlling of their spouse and the methods used to control them. The forms of control condoned by religion vary from using beatings to threats of excommunication or secret names to maintain leverage and control over their spouse. Since such methods are taken from the religion, they are given special status. The special status of the religious origin often makes them beyond question in the home. Spouses are often not allowed to question those control methods under threat of physical violence or spiritual alienation.


When couples come from dysfunctional homes, the variety of control methods and games is often greater than spouses from functional homes. One reason for this is that within dysfunctional homes, manipulation and control are the ways used to motivate people rather than using love and compassion as a way to get things done.


Control games can also be learned in schools and business settings. These settings often employ techniques of control that are used on their people. When you or your spouse have been trained in such environments, you learn methods of controlling and motivating others. These methods are often brought into the homes. Whether through the use of magic circles, the Delphi method of forcing consensus or other small group training, spouses use these at home as well. Since you or your spouse have been trained by ‘experts’ , you assume that these are good tools to use. Since schools and businesses train people to follow the experts without question, using the control methods are not questioned either. You may find yourself doing it due to your training without giving it a second thought. It is common for police officers and the military to use techniques employed on the streets in dealing with people within their own homes. They often do not realize that these are control tools that they are using on their spouse and family. They assume that it is ‘just their training’ and what they have been trained to do.


What couples fail to realize is that control methods designed for groups often create problems in the home environment. They are designed to control groups of people, not for the creation of a functional home with healthy marriage relationships. Some of the control methods are designed to squelch differences of opinion, take charge and motivate actions through guilt, not to foster a healthy home.


Before you use any control technique, it helps to consider that there will likely be a reaction to the control by your spouse. They may react intentionally or unconsciously to the control. Since humans do not like control, there are often reactions or counter control methods that you use without thinking about them. Using control techniques often have a price tag. The more you use control games and manipulation to motivate your spouse, the less room there will be for love and compassion as the main motivator for actions in your marriage.

Overcoming the Delphi Technique

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