For a long time (okay, even now), when my now-husband would vocalize his opinion about something that he thought would be good for me, I recoiled. It felt almost invasive.
Not because of what he was saying, but because of what I have been through.
My now-husband is direct, expressing his thoughts and feelings overtly and directly (a trait I very consciously looked for the second time around). Sometime I chafe, but I love the fact that it’s all on the table. And even though it’s not always comfortable, I love that he challenges me to defend my decisions and actions because it serves to help make me better.
My former husband was covert, passive aggressive and manipulative in his approach. Unflinchingly supportive on the surface of any thought or action I undertook, while silently steering me in the direction he wanted. He never questioned me, never told me what to do (except to relax while he tackled some chore on his own). His control was subtle, which is exactly why it was so powerful. My defenses were never triggered until it was too late.
The following strategies are commonly used by people who are passively controlling. Those who, rather than overtly take over the wheel of your life, cunningly influence how you turn the wheel. All of these signs can have multiple meanings; on their own they do not indicate control. But when more than one show up along with a sense that boundaries are being crossed, it warrants a closer look.
The tears may be real, but the emotion is not. This trick is learned in infancy, as babies realize how tears can halt punishment and bring attention. Some never abandon this trick and persist in using tears to manipulate those around them. Look out for waterworks that only come when something is desired and seem to halt as soon as the goal is obtained.
Affection and attention are doled out as a distraction and a pacifier. This was my ex’s favored ploy. It sounds crazy to complain about an attentive husband, but when I look back, the affection was increasingly used whenever I came dangerously close to the truth. His great big bear hugs felt protective at the time, now they seem more like a martial arts-style submission.
Decisions are held back. Waiting to make and/or communicate a choice is a particularly crazy-making form of covert control. Everybody else is held in limbo, their own lives and decisions delayed. Doing nothing can carry with a great deal of power when others are depending upon you.
Money is used as a mode of communication. Sometimes finances are used in overt control, such as when one spouse makes all of the financial decisions and doles out an allowance to the other. But it can also be more indirect, such as when purchases are kept hidden or the partner with the higher income feels entitled to make decisions for everyone.
Judgement is passed. This can be direct, “You look like you’re trying too hard when you wear that skirt,” or indirect, pronouncing something unacceptable in someone else. My ex took it a step further and frequently renounced choices and behaviors in others that he was guilty of himself.
The favors and gifts are given with some sort of reciprocity in mind. The stereotypical idea of a wife using sex to get her husband to do things comes to mind here, but it’s by no means the only modality used. Handouts can be used with great efficacy to shape behaviors. After all, there’s a reason we train animals that way.
They accuse you of being controlling. Projection and gaslighting at its finest.
In a healthy relationship, each partner challenges the other and accepts influence from the other. It flows both ways, balanced.
When there is controlling behavior present, the interchange is not equal. One holds more power than the other.
And when there is a backseat driver, a more passive controller, this imbalance can be difficult to pinpoint.
Control thrives when you’re too close to it, too afraid to see it and unwilling to erect and maintain boundaries.
Take a step back, trust in yourself and practice making decisions by yourself and for yourself.