Ask Fiona: My husband's controlling behaviour is making me doubt myself

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers guidance to a woman whose husband is controlling and belittling her

Your husband's controlling behaviour is not acceptable and you need to tell him it

MY husband has always been very controlling. He likes me to do things his way and gets upset when I try to do things differently.

He always 'knows best' no matter what I do or how successful I am, unless I've done what he says, I could always have done it better – and he's like that about everything.

I wouldn't mind so much if he suggested things (I don't know, perhaps I would if he did it constantly) but he doesn't.

He just tells me, every time, that I'm doing it wrong and that I should be doing it his way.

We've been married for five years now and while at first I was amused by it, now it's driving me mad and I'm getting really resentful.

What's more, I was always a confident person, able to do my job well and cope with things, but this constant carping is undermining me.

I find I'm doubting myself more and more and that's not good in my job – I'm a driving instructor.


FIONA SAYS: It doesn't surprise me one bit that you find yourself resenting your husband's behaviour, but what does surprise me is that you've put up with it for so long!

Five years is a long time to take this sort of criticism and, as you've found, constant criticism like this undermines your confidence and makes you doubt yourself.

Your husband is a bully and it's time you stood up to him and told him so.

The way he's behaving towards you is tantamount to abuse – which doesn't have to be physical, as I'm sure you know.

First, be sure you're not inviting any of the criticism.

Do you, for example ask his opinion about what you're doing in such a way as to encourage him to give a negative answer – for example: 'Do you think I'm doing this right?

Do you make assumptions about what he thinks – such as, 'I know you think it would be better if I did this another way.'

If you do invite his opinions, please stop because it will only make you feel worse about yourself as he's got used to telling you what he thinks.

Rather than accepting his criticism or reacting to it negatively, take time out and wait.

You can thank him for his feedback and carry on with what you're doing, but consider whether his way has merit.

If it doesn't, carry on doing things in your own way but, if it does, consider doing it his way.

When you've finished the task, thank him again and either say, 'I tried your idea but found I got a better result doing it my way, or else, ,I tried your idea and it worked well, thank you.'

If you change your response to his criticisms, then they may decrease.

Then again, you may not be inviting this at all, and a new approach may not work, in which case you need to talk to him and explain how the way he responds to you makes you feel.

Don't use criticism of him in return to make a point - however much you feel tempted to do so.

Use phrases that focus on you such as, 'I feel demoralised when you tell me I've done something wrong' or, 'I would like it if you praised me more when I've been successful.'

Explaining how you feel and asking him to be more positive about you and the things you do might be all the wakeup call he needs.

As this has been going on for so long, though, I rather think it's going to take more to make him realise he must change, but, if he loves you, he should be prepared to consider doing so.

However, that may be what's at the root of the problem; a dissatisfaction with your relationship as it is.

Talking to one another could bring this to a head and you might need to consider where you go from here.

If you do still care for one another, the obvious root would be counselling, and I'd urge you to contact Relate ( to see if you can get things back on track.


I have struggled to get a job since I left college and as a result, I still live with my parents.

My boyfriend of the last three months is kind, but I feel like he controls what we do as he pays for it.

I hate being dependent on him and on my parents – so much so that my GP has put me on tranquillisers and referred me to a psychologist.

I want to get better but everything's slipping away from me.


FIONA SAYS: I am very concerned by your email as you sound deeply depressed.

Perhaps the tablets the doctor has given you haven't started to work yet or perhaps they aren't the right ones for you, but I would urge you to go back and talk to your doctor again.

Learning to cope with deep insecurities like this takes time and you'll only do yourself an injustice if you expect too much too quickly.

Where your relationships are concerned, there are things you can do that might make you feel more positive.

You still live with your parents, so while it may not be much, make sure you give them a portion of your income and help in practical ways around the home.

As for your boyfriend, you can suggest things to do together that are free, such as a walk in the countryside – getting in touch with nature would be positive for your mental health as well.

Alternatively, there are plenty of free galleries and museums to visit.

Suggesting things you can do together would make you feel like you have a greater control over your relationship.

Please don't put off talking to your doctor again though and I hope you start to feel better soon.


My friend has had a terrible time over the past couple of years with one problem after another, most of which have been beyond her control.

Every time she has a problem, she comes to me for advice and I've done what I can to help, but I'm afraid even my patience is wearing a bit thin.

Currently she's upset because her ex-boyfriend has reappeared on the scene and is threatening to tell her new husband about their time together.

My husband thinks I should distance myself a bit as he says she's a disaster waiting to happen, but how can I just walk away from a friend who needs me?


FIONA SAYS: Some people do seem to attract more than their fair share of problems, and your friend appears to be one of them.

I am sure she isn't looking for problems, but could she be getting too used to using them to create interest in her life so she can rely on you for support?

She is lucky to have a friend like you, but she needs to understand that if all she brings to the relationship are problems, sooner or later such a one-sided relationship will flounder.

You may have to weather this present storm with her, but once the immediate crisis is over it could be time to have a chat with her.

Explain that you value her friendship but that it would be nice to see her occasionally when she's happy and not weighed down by a problem.

Hopefully she'll take the hint.


My son is 12 years old and lives with his mum.

She and I were never married, nor did we ever live together, and she's brought up our son without any input from me.

However, having now settled down with a child of my own, I realise how much I've missed.

I would like a relationship with my son and wonder if I could get joint custody.

His mum is now married and has other children so he's being brought up in a family, but it really matters to me that I should see my son and build a relationship with him.


FIONA SAYS: Have you approached your son's mother to see how she feels about this?

It could be that she'd be delighted for you to start building a relationship with your son.

It could also be that she'd be horrified that, after 12 years, you are thinking about what you want and not about what this boy needs.

Any of the family courts you'd need to go through to apply for joint custody will decide based on what is best for your son – not what is best for you.

I suspect, given that he is now part of a larger family and that he's been with his mum since the beginning, any court will decide that this is where he should remain.

Access, though, is a very different thing to custody, and it may well be that this would be agreed.

It would be traumatic for him, though, if he doesn't even know of your existence, so, for your son's sake, please be prepared to take things slowly.

At 12 years old, he will have strong views of his own and may decide he doesn't want to see you – in which case, however much you may dislike the fact, you would have to accept this.

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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