Because we live in a fallen world, we will face controlling people. Having a ready response to these ensnaring interchanges can greatly mitigate your own suffering in the midst of these unthoughtful interchanges.
To handle a manipulative/controlling person, you must learn to set boundaries.
What is setting personal boundaries all about?
Because you cannot change another person, all you can do is live your own good example and set boundaries. That means that if the other person behaves in ways that are ungodly, rooted in sin, and selfishness, you tell them that when they propose to do a rash thing, you will be responding with your own better agenda (boundaries). In other words, let's suppose your spouse is bent on some ungodliness and says, "I'm going to drink until three in the morning!" Then you can reply, "Well, if you choose that, and it IS a choice, I will not be picking you up in the car in the middle of the night. I will be sleeping."
Or if a spouse says that he will be watching an R-rated movie, you respond with "Well, when you do, the children and I will be at the park." If the other person grows upset with you for having established your personal boundary in the relationship, you will have now exposed self-centered behavior in them. You have now validated it.
Setting boundaries formally acknowledges and exposes divisions in relationships that already exist (flying undercover—or hit and run dynamics) but that now must be managed. The false guilt (foisted on you by the other person) will diminish as you continue to set boundaries.
How can I get started, setting boundaries in a relationship with a controlling person?
- Controlling behavior is whatever violates the righteous wishes and well-being of another person. If you routinely comply with a controlling person's demands (because he or she is making you feel falsely guilty; you are not experiencing guilt from God for any ungodliness on your part) this will become increasingly inconvenient, painful and costly to you. Weakness on your part will not make the problem go away.
- God does not make you take responsibility for the ugly or angry feelings that the other person often exhibits because you have set boundaries. Remind yourself that their feelings are their choice. They could just as easily learn to accept your boundary, and grow compliant and respectful of your good desires and of your stated boundaries.
- Recognize even subtle controlling behavior. For instance, a passive aggressive person will routinely dump their problem upon you to solve, attempting to shift the anxiety of their problem upon you, so that you end up carrying a burden for something that you did not initiate.
Be servant-hearted, kind and loving in as many areas and incidents of life with everyone that you can. But when someone is sinning, you simply must shift gears to respond to their poor choices with firmness and composure. They will not mature and you will not mature if you don't. (See the full booklet for more strategies and insight).
For a full discussion of this complex issue see our book (by the same title, How to Relate with Love to a Controlling Person—available as a Kindle -formatted or pdf eBook). In it, we have described a host of invaluable tools that will help you handle this problem while personally maintaining steady composure.