Dear Shmuley,
What is the best way to respond to a partner's controlling nature? My fiancé is 20 years older than me and has a very dominant personality. I feel it would be more enjoyable for me and my teenage sons if he "mellowed out" a bit. His attempts to control have almost broken the relationship at times. He has many wonderful qualities but I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with this one downer.
--Not Controlling

Hi NC,

At the risk of stating the obvious, let me tell you that people are controlling because they are insecure. Your fiancé needs to micromanage your relationship because he feels inadequate in other areas of life. Taking complete charge gives him a false sense of security.

There are two things you must do immediately if you are to salvage the relationship and keep him from grating on you. First, sit him down and reassure him that you love him and you're not going anywhere. Boost his confidence. Assuage his insecurities. Tell him that you're completely devoted to him. Make him understand that you consider him to be unique and special.

Next, tell him that he doesn't have to control every detail of your life. You need him to treat you as his equal and his partner, but not his charge. Don't be derogatory or defensive. Simply be firm. And don't link the two statements. Your belief that he is special is independent of your need to breathe. Just tell him, with thorough conviction, that you need to be treated like an adult who is capable of taking responsibility and making decisions. Don't say things like, "I need my space," because that will just provoke his insecurities and heighten his fears of abandonment.

Asserting yourself firmly, after having bolstered his fragile ego, should give you some room for maneuver, at least for a time. It's likely, however, that his controlling nature will return, and he'll close in on you again. Then it will be time for another firm talk, and you'll have to repeat the two steps above.

Whatever you do, don't back down, and don't put him down. If you lift him up, he won't pull you down. It can get tiring, I admit, to have to lift a fallen ego, but I truly believe that as trust builds in your relationship, his issues of control will minimize with time. If they don't, you may need to see a counselor together. But don't blow a good relationship just because of this one character defect, unless he absolutely refuses to make any accommodation for you.

G-d bless you in your life together,
Rabbi Shmuley

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