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Advice – Is my husband being controlling?

I [26F] have been married to my husband [26M] for almost a year now (we live in the Midwest USA.) Before getting married we dated for 5 years, on and off , as he broke up with me 3 times during that span and begged me to take him back each time. Right before the wedding I found out my husband had a large amount of debt that he hadn’t disclosed to me until we got a joint bank account.

Anyway, I just started a new job and work as a part time massage therapist (18 hrs a week,) and make decent tips. My paycheck goes into our joint account as he says we cannot have separate accounts. When he found out how much I’m making in tips (about $100-200/wk on a good week) he demanded that I put that money in our joint account. I refused and said I’d like to save it to buy myself something nice or to save it for a vacation for the both of us. He blew up and told me it’s not “my money” that it’s “our money” and that it should be spent by the both of us and not by me. I told him that’s what my paycheck is for and that I’d like to keep my tip money because I earned it for doing a good job at work for my clients. He says that’s not fair because he doesn’t get tips at his job even though he makes much more than I do per year and he says he doesn’t like the idea of not knowing how much money I have or what I spend it on… He constantly asks me to tell him when I spend money, such as buying gas, groceries, and other things like that.

Aside from that, I spend a lot of time with my family. Such as going to have a beer with my brother after work, visiting my mom for an afternoon, and seeing my niece and nephew when I can. He’s told me before that he doesn’t like me not coming home right away after work even though he knows I’m spending time with my family. He also doesn’t come to many events my family invites him to. At the beginning of the summer I spent a week at my family cabin with my dad, who I don’t get to see often, and each day I was there my husband kept asking me when I was coming home and why I was staying so long. He never acted like this before we got married so I am not sure what has changed.

Is my husband being controlling or am I just being irrational about these things?

Anonymous, /r/relationship_advice.
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Dear Anonymous,

I’d like to start by telling y’all a story about my childhood experience.

I grew up in a poor apartment complex of a now-metropolitan city in South Korea called Suwon. I grew up surrounded by a very closely knit group of folks – almost like an extended, chosen family – who all collectively participated in raising all the kids in the block together. There were many instances where my family had neighborhood kids over for impromptu dinner, and many more where I was an unexpected guest at my neighbors’ dining tables. The apartment complex I lived in was older and aged. But as a little kid, I thought the four-floor apartments were towering titans, and the driveways between those apartments were incredibly wide roads. It wasn’t until I revisited Korea – this time as an adult – that I realized how small those apartments and narrow those driveways were. And it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to reflect on some of my and my neighbors’ family dynamics how dysfunctional and disconnected they all were. The true essence of dysfunction wasn’t ready for me when I was engaged in that world, but only visible once I had some distance to analyze and assess signs in order to determine a pattern. I just didn’t have enough data points back then to paint a fuller picture of what I was seeing.

I do think that your partner is not only incredibly controlling, but also engaging in very abusive behaviors.

There is a lot that you’ve outlined in your story as well as follow up comments that point to very troubling signs regarding your relationship and your spouse. In this post, I will point out four different instances in which your spouse has engaged in a controlling and abusive behavior so that you too may see the essence of dysfunction that lies beneath your relationship with your spouse.

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The Undisclosed Debt

I too am a Midwesterner. And most folks from the Midwest I’ve grown up with are inconspicuously proud and hearty people. We don’t really want to be extravagant in displays of our wealth, but appear as if we are comfortable in the way we live. There is a serious sense of shame among not being able to appear financially comfortable. In the same way, it could be possible that your partner felt deeply shameful about the debt he had to incur, and delayed communicating his true financial status with you out of shame and guilt. That is if we give him the benefit of the doubt that his undisclosed debt was out of good will.

Merging of finances is a major commitment some folks make in relationships. And like any other merging of liquid things, it is nearly impossible to unmerge them once they’ve been mixed and swirled. This is one of the reasons why more folks are opting in for prenuptial agreements these days and why some folks decided to keep their finances separate. I’ll touch more on this when we get to the My Money vs. Our Money section.

And while shame could definitely have played a part in his indecision to reveal his debt status, doing so opened you up to a level of financial risk that you did not initially consent to when you decided to merge your finances with his. In his indecision and your discovery, you could have also felt a sense of dishonesty (as in, how could he hide this from me for so long?) as well as a sense of betrayal and uncertainty (as in, if he could hide this for so long, what else could he be hiding?).

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Break Up Make Up

This 2013 study hypothesized that there are five different types of on-again off-again relationships.

  • First is the habitual type. Habitual relationships reconnected out of ease and convenience through the availability of each other, and tend to disconnect when one or both partners become interested in someone else.
  • Second is the mismatched type. Couples who are in a mismatched on-again off-again relationships have general incompatibility (i.e. personality, geography, sexual desires, goals) that contribute to their disconnects. And once the flames that arise from the reconnect burns out, the incompatibilities drive them to another breakup.
  • Third is the capitalized-on-transition type. This is the type of relationship that is heavily contingent on numerous transitions of a relationship based on personal or relational happenstance. Couples in this type of relationship use transitional phases to test the relationship, improve their situation, or improve the relationship.
  • Fourth is the gradual separation type. In gradual separation, the couple finds a sense of closure through exhausting all possible vectors of transition, and thus decide that the relationship is no longer worth being worked on.
  • The last type is the controlling partner type. This type of on-again off-again relationship is defined by one partner usually utilizing some variation of manipulation and control tactics to control the status of the relationship.

You mentioned that throughout the five-year course of your relationship, you and your spouse broke up three times, with him begging each time you two made up. Based on what you have shared, it could be that you are more aligned with the first type of connection with your partner while your partner is more closely aligned with the fifth type of on-again off-again relationships.

What I will say is that not all on-again off-again relationships are unhealthy. In this article, the author states that the health of on-again off-again relationships depend greatly on the improvements that were facilitated by the transitions. So it is important for you to consider and think about what changed each time your spouse broke up with you. What did you do different every time he ended his relationship with you? What did he do differently?

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My Money vs. Our Money

This is a very clear case of financial abuse.

When your spouse unilaterally dictated that you are not allowed to have separate accounts, that is another manipulation and control tactic that aims to take away your sense of agency; in this case, he is taking your financial independence away.

That is not his decision to make on your behalf. You are an adult of sound mind able to make your own decision about where your money goes and how it is spent. The base point of your financial relationship with your spouse is not a joint account. The decision to join your finances is a mutually and consensual endeavor that you both opt into. This why his decision to withhold (or indecision to reveal in timely manner) his debt status is all the more insidious in nature.

What is even more troubling was your follow up comment. You mentioned that your spouse is very “adamant” on paying off your loans first. I get the sense that this could be another control tactic he is using in order to “trap” you into staying in this relationship with him out of sense of guilt and gratitude.

Lundy Bancroft wrote about his experience working with abusive men as a therapist. And in his book Why Does He Do That, he outlines ten different types of abusive men archetypes. When your spouse exploded at you about how you spend your tips, he was very much the Demand Man, the highly entitled man whose relational contribution caters entirely to his own needs above his partner’s or the overall good of the relationship. When he says that your decision to keep the tips is unfair to him, he was very much the Water Torturer, the covert psychological abuser who calmly manipulates his partner into submission. And all of this is bracketed under his absolute certainty as the Mr. Right, who find little of value in your input and defines his reality as the reality. This type of behavior is reflected in his disregard for how you spend your money. In asserting that it is “your and his” collective money, he really means that it is at his own discretion on how that is spent.

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“He doesn’t like me not coming home right away.”

One of the most obvious facets of any abusive relationship is isolation. Chronic abusers often isolate their targets so that the narratives of his abuse is shielded from any outside judgment and assert greater control over the relationship. Break the Cycle goes into more detail about the warning signs of isolation. And one of the signs is in insisting that you check in with them so that they know where you are at at all times. which is what he did when you went away to your father’s cabin for a week.

He isn’t exactly barring you from seeing your family and friends. Instead, he is erecting personal boundaries and making it difficult for you to maintain those connections by constantly messaging you to come back home and making you feel guilty about being away from home. Instead of taking ownership of his own discomfort, he is making you feel responsible for satiating his loneliness. Remember what I said about the Demand Man? That also fits here too, as he is demanding that you revolve your life entirely around his needs.

Like your money, your body too is yours to say as you wish. Your partner does not get to dictate where you are for whatever reason.

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Why is this happening now?

You mentioned that your spouse wasn’t like this before you two got married. And instead, you are worrying whether or not you are being irrational about your reality.

Marriage, like combining of your finances, is a major legal and emotional commitment. For some abusers, the abusive signs show up decades into the relationship. For some, they show up at points to up the ante. He got your buy-in at what this relationship means to you through the marriage ceremony. So he has subsequently elevated his abusive habits to meet the level of buy-in you’ve committed in your relationship. And if he is bold enough to show is abusive patterns just one year into your marriage, I fear to think the levels of abuse he will employ further down the line as he gets more and more empowered in his control over his relationship with you.

And I know it is easy to get trapped in the label of “abuser.” And I am not speaking from a clinical perspective, and I’m certainly not his therapist who’ve had a first-person experience with his abusive habits. But two points make a line. And with enough lines, you can draw a pretty accurate picture of a person. There are only four points of abusive habits that align with a traditionally abusive pattern. If you are looking for other possible examples of abuse, I strongly urge you to read Lundy’s book, Why Does He Do That, as it goes into further detail about abuse in relationships.

As for what you can do now, I strongly urge you to connect with your family and friends to ensure that you have the appropriate support network in case you need to exit this relationship. Another good thing to consider is to start saving up money for yourself. Even if you don’t decide to end this relationship, declaring your own financial independence where your paychecks go to an account only you can claim ownership over might be necessary as your spouse has not displayed good and mindful judgment in regard to your personal and collective financial jurisdiction.

In the meantime, it is time to gather more data points. If you have a journal, keep writing contemporaneous notes on what your experience has been like. If you aren’t yet seeing a therapist, consult with one who can help ground you in your own reality that isn’t immediately superseded by his.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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1 reply

  1. Great advice here. Yeah, this guy is being very controlling. I’m a big believer that married couples should never merge finances. There’s just no reason to. I’ve been married 10 years. Just split the bills like roommates.

    Liked by 1 person

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