It has become evident to me that my wife has a fear of being controlled. She experienced mild sexual abuse as a child and didn’t have very emotionally supportive parents. Her dad left when she was in elementary school. We love each other and are committed to each other. But I can only get so close to her emotionally. When it seems we are getting closer over time, she distances herself from me and becomes quite business-like. She has accused me of being controlling, and cites past situations when my intentions were very different than what she interpreted. I feel that I support her in all that she wants to do and give her the freedom she needs. I feel that she is afraid of being controlled, and as her husband, I pose the greatest risk of that happening if she engages in a deep emotional relationship with me. Almost like she feels it is a sign of weakness if she becomes deeply emotionally engaged with me and “loses” that control of herself. I simply want to know what a healthy way of being is in this type of relationship. I don’t want to change her, but I think if I knew how to approach the relationship from my perspective appropriately, she might become more comfortable with me and we could be so much happier. She doesn’t seem to trust my displays of affection as not having ulterior motives. We have been married for 15 years and have four children. I am not afraid of this relationship ending, just not progressing and remaining in this perpetual state of getting closer and then distancing, etc. Thanks for your help. (age 35, from Canada)How to Support My Wife Who Has a Fear of Being Controlled
How to Support My Wife Who Has a Fear of Being Controlled
A: Thanks for writing in with your question. It’s a nice change of pace to have a man asking for more emotional connection. We all need it, but not everyone is brave enough to ask for it. It sounds like you love your wife very much and hope to deepen the relationship you have, while being respectful of her needs. Bravo.
Unfortunately, it is rare to find a couple whose need for emotional connection, physical intimacy and overt affection match up. Many times, it becomes a balancing act and there is a constant need for compromise. One suggestion that I have is it may be more helpful for you to communicate how you are feeling and what you want in the relationship, rather than focusing on your wife’s fear of being controlled. I think it’s great that you are trying to understand where she may be coming from, but we all tend to get defensive when we feel someone is pointing out our weaknesses. We get further by expressing our own feelings and wants, rather than pointing out what we are not getting.
I would also think that you could benefit from couple’s therapy. It is so much more effective when the goal is to deepen the relationship rather than trying to fix a broken relationship. If for some reason that’s not an option, I would recommend books by Dr. John Gottman and by Dr. Gary Chapman, such as The 5 Love Languages.
All the best,
Dr. Holly Counts