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Kevin Leman: Who's Controlling Whom?

By Kevin Leman -

Controllers and Pleasers Often Marry

As I mentioned, the two life-styles I counsel most are controllers and pleasers, and there is a simple reason for this. Controllers often marry pleasers (the old opposites attract influence) and then the controllers, more often than not, give the pleasers a bad time. Typically, the husband is the controller and the wife is the pleaser, but there are some cases where the reverse is true. There are nine pleaser males in the continental United States. However, we're not releasing their names or addresses!

It's hard to get a controlling husband into my office for counseling because he is sure that his wife is the one with the problem; there's nothing wrong with him. But when the controller finally agrees to come in and talk with me, he lets his true colors show in a hurry. I hear statements that add up to life themes like these: "I only count when I'm in chargewhen what I say goeswhen I'm running things."

To help my clients recognize when the person they are dating or married to is a controller, I've developed the following quiz. Because most controllers are male, the following statements use the masculine pronoun.

Telltale Signs of a Controller

Read each statement and score 4 for always, 3 for often, 2 for sometimes, and 1 for seldom.

____1. He tends to be critical--a faultfinding perfectionist with a high standard of excellence for himself and others.

____2. He finds it difficult to laugh at himself, particularly when he may have done or said something awkward or wrong.

____3. He puts down or degrades others with subtle or not-so-subtle humor.

____4. He has a weak (or even poor) relationship with his mother ( or other women who have been, or still are, part of his life, such as a sister or a supervisor).

____5. He complains about authority figures who "don't know what they are doing" (employers, teachers, pastors, or the president).

____6. He is a real competitor who always has to win at sports or table games.

____7. He gets his way, subtly or not so subtly, about where the two of you will go or what you will do.

____8. He prefers to run the show rather than be a team player--on the job, in committees, or in situations involving family or friends.

____9. He has a hard time saying "I was wrong" or makes excuses that will make him look good in the face of adversity.

___10. He loses his temper (raises his voice, screams, curses).

___11. He can get physical--shoving or hitting you or smashing things.

___12. He makes you account for every penny you spend but he spends rather freely.

___13. Sex is something the two of you engage in for his pleasure and at his convenience.

___14. When he drinks alcohol, even in modest quantities, he starts to become a different person.

___15. He makes excuses for excessive drinking.

Kevin Leman and Terry MeeuwsenNo quiz like this can be absolute proof of anything but it can give you some clues that may help you analyze your relationship to your spouse. If the ratings you gave your spouse add up to between 50 and 60, he is a super controller--whose only hope is a professional counselor--if he'll listen. If you are engaged and your fianc scored between 50 and 60, my advice is to give back the ring and run.

If you scored your husband or fianc somewhere between 40 and 49, he is a typical controller, who is probably open to being confronted and asked to change his behavior.

If you scored your husband or fianc between 30 and 39, he should be a fairly balanced person who can be in control at times but flexible at others.

If you scored your husband or fianc at 29 or less, first recheck your figures. If you haven't made a scoring error, you may have one of the few pleaser males in captivity. But take a second look to see if he scored higher than a 2 on any of the following questions: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. All of these suggest a high degree of need to control, even dominate, with violence and abuse.

Telltale Signs of a Pleaser

The following statements use the feminine pronoun because most pleasers are female. Score 4 for always, 3 for often, 2 for sometimes, and 1 for seldom.

____1. She walks on eggshells to keep everyone happy.

____2. She wonders why she can't do things right.

____3. She feels insecure, lacking confidence.

____4. Her father was or is authoritarian.

____5. She avoids confronting others because it "just isn't worth it."

____6. She's often heard saying, "I should have" or "I ought to"

____7. She feels overpowered by her spouse and even her children.

____8. She gets little affection from others.

____9. She feels like hiding or running away from life's hassles.

___10. Her spouse and children know which buttons to push to make her feel guilty.

___11. She feigns agreement or approval when she feels just the opposite on the inside.

___12. She is easily persuaded by others and will go along with whoever talked to her last.

___13. She is afraid to try new things or take new risks.

___14. It embarrasses her to stand up for her rights or take the initiative.

___15. She gets little respect from her spouse or her children.

The spouse scoring between 50 and 60 would be considered a super-suffering pleaser, who could easily be in the hands of a misogynist (a woman hater who needs a professional counselor).

Anyone scoring 40 to 49 is a discouraged or depressed pleaser for whom there is hope if she is willing to take action and confront her husband.

Anyone scoring 30 to 39 is a mildly discouraged pleaser. Her positives in life outweigh her negatives, but she still would like a little more respect, particularly from her family.

Those scoring 29 or below fall into the "positive pleaser" category. They are able to balance their very giving nature with being able to receive the love, support, and respect they want and need.

Counsel for the Controller/Pleaser Couple

My suggestions to a couple suffering controller/pleaser problems include:

  1. If you are married to a controller, realize you are not going to change your spouse. I tell husbands and wives: "Don't try to use a Brillo pad on the leopard's spots. You'll only make the leopard angry." In other words, you can only change your own behavior and way of interacting and then allow your spouse to decide to change.

  2. Try being positive, but refuse to play your spouse's controlling games. Pleasantly but firmly refuse to be controlled. If you can force the controller's hand, he must act differently, because the payoff is no longer there. The key is to let the controller know that if he wants to control himself, he is welcome. But when he tries to control everyone else in the family, something has to give.

  3. If you are a particularly loud and blustery controller, try getting alone and ventilating feelings to yourself aloud. People who have a hard time talking to others can really do much better by talking to themselves and learning to articulate their feelings in an acceptable way. Later they can try to communicate with their spouse in the same way. (Note: If your controllerism has reached any level of verbal or physical abusiveness, run, don't walk, to the nearest competent professional therapist and get some help.)

  4. If perfection is your goal, you'll always feel a void in your life. You'll never get there. It is a hopeless, fruitless quest. You must have the courage to accept yourself and your spouse as you both are--imperfect people, still learning, growing, changing.

  5. My final counsel to controllers is that it is futile to try to control everyone and everything. It simply doesn't work. In marriage it all comes back to what I said earlier about two being one: When two are one, both are in control, both are free to do their thing.

Excerpt from "Chapter Twelve: I Only Count When--Taking a Look at Your Life-Style" in The New Birth Order Book. Copyright 1998 Kevin Leman. Published by Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reprinted with permission.

Best-selling author, psychologist, humorist, and radio and television personality Kevin Leman believes your personality tendencies, your business savvy, your perspective on parenting, and your choice in a marriage partner are largely determined by birth order -- by whether you are the oldest, only, middle or youngest child. Get the book and learn more about this often overlooked relational factor.

Buy the book by clicking here.

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