What Is a Controlling Husband? 21 Signs and Red Flags

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If you have a controlling husband, you need to know the signs so that you can fix the power imbalance and reclaim control over your life.

Here’s what a controlling husband’s behavior looks like:

  • He uses emotional manipulation or threats to get what he wants
  • He attempts to cut you off from your loved ones and become the greatest influence in your life
  • His love is conditional
  • You have no voice or power to make your own decisions
  • Gaslighting you and making you question your reality
  • He monitors you and your communications
  • He tells you how to dress and how to behave

What Is a Controlling Husband?

Short answer: A controlling husband is one who tries to claim and maintain power over you.

He may attempt to exert power over your life, dictating your decisions and limiting your freedom.

This behavior can manifest in different ways, such as monitoring your activities, limiting your social interactions or making critical comments about your choices.

Controlling husbands may attempt to manipulate your emotions to create a sense of dependency on them for validation and support.

But controlling tendencies can be subtle—as is often the case with emotional manipulation and jealousy issues—making them difficult to recognize.

Read Next: When Is Enough Enough in a Marriage?

Is My Husband Controlling or Caring?

Sometimes, a wife may question whether her husband is crossing the line into being controlling, or if he’s simply overly caring and concerned.

Chances are, if you’re asking this question about your husband, he’s displaying control issues.

A caring husband does not make his wife feel powerless, scared, judged or incompetent without him.

Caring husbands do the following:

  • Listen to and give credence to their wives’ thoughts, feelings and ideas
  • Act and speak with kindness
  • Apologize sincerely and take responsibility
  • Forgive their wives for their mistakes and do not try to get back at them
  • Offer trust, compassion and understanding
  • Love their wives unconditionally

If you think you’re dealing with a controlling husband, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you feel like you hold no real power over yourself and your decisions in your relationship?
  • Does your husband make you feel guilty, feel scared or like you can’t do anything right?
  • Are there rules your husband sets and expects you to follow, but does not follow himself?
  • Does everyone else think you have the perfect family, when you know deep down that your husband is not as he seems?
  • Do you feel like you have no real voice in your marriage?

If you answered “yes” to questions above, you are likely dealing with a controlling husband.

Signs of a Controlling Husband

1. Isolation from family and friends

A controlling husband may attempt to isolate you from loved ones either overtly or covertly.

This can include physically distancing you from friends or family, limiting your opportunities to spend time with others and trying to convince you that they don’t have your best interest at heart.

2. Financial control

Controlling your access to finances is another warning sign.

This might involve monitoring your spending, restricting access to shared accounts or your own money, or making financial decisions without consulting you.

3. Emotional manipulation

Using emotions to manipulate you, such as guilt or fear, is another form of control.

This can result in you feeling responsible for his happiness or for avoiding conflicts.

4. Constant criticism of you

Constantly criticizing you can be another one of the common signs of a controlling husband.

We’re not just talking about a grumpy husband, but rather criticism that is relentless and aimed at making you feel like you’re not intelligent, capable, attractive, valid, etc.

This type of behavior aims to lower your self-esteem, making you feel like you need him more.

5. Criticism of your friends and family

A controlling partner might spend extra effort to put down your friends or family and those you trust.

He might say they’re not a good influence on you or claim that they treat him poorly in order to change your view of them and put himself in a position of greater influence.

6. Conditional love

A controlling partner’s love may feel conditional, making you feel like you must constantly work harder to earn their affection and approval.

If your partner makes you feel like you’re not doing enough for them or like they only love certain things about you or that you do for them, that’s an unhealthy way to be in a relationship.

Related Reading: What to Do When Your Husband Doesn’t Value You

7. Mean teasing and cutting you down

Playful teasing shouldn’t leave you in tears.

Taking jokes too far or consistently making hurtful comments, disguised as teasing, is another way a controlling husband might attempt to undermine your self-esteem.

Someone whose teasing is excessive and cruel might be attempting to exert power over you through a negative influence—which is emotional abuse.

8. You walk on eggshells

Do you find yourself trying to avoid conflicts or please your husband to maintain the peace?

If his behavior is notoriously unpredictable and anything could set him off at any moment, that’s often a symptom of emotional instability in a controlling person.

9. Jealousy and possessiveness

Controlling spouses often exhibit extreme jealousy and possessiveness, making unreasonable demands regarding your social life.

They may act jealous when you see your friends and family, talk to strangers, work with colleagues or do almost anything with anyone else.

10. Gaslighting

A controlling husband may engage in gaslighting, making you question your own reality, doubt your feelings or believe that you are the problem.

Gaslighting can be pretty subtle—for instance, telling you you’re too sensitive or the way you remember something is not how it happened.

While many people experience various forms of gaslighting, it’s still a commonly misunderstood phenomenon, despite the fact that it can be very damaging to one’s mental health.

If the way your husband is treating you is making you feel like you’re crazy, he may be gaslighting you.

11. Making your decisions for you

Put simply, if your husband controls all the decision-making between you, that could be problematic.

Control issues can manifest as your husband not consulting you before a decision is made or talking you out of making your own choices because he “knows better.”

12. Boundary pushing

A controlling spouse may consistently push your boundaries, disregarding your limits and preferences regardless of how it makes you feel.

Boundaries are extremely important for all individuals to function inside of healthy relationships, so don’t ignore this warning sign.

13. Telling you how you should feel

If your partner tells you how you feel, or should feel, contrary to what you’re actually feeling?

Denying you your own feelings and emotional expressions invalidates your experiences and is actually a form of gaslighting.

14. He monitors your texts and calls

Monitoring your communications with others, like reading your texts or screening your phone calls or emails, is invasive.

Controlling partners may monitor your communications under the guise of protecting you, or making you prove your trustworthiness.

15. He tells you how to dress

A controlling husband might try to dictate how you should dress, enforcing his preferences over your personal style choices.

Telling you what to wear because he’s jealous of how other men look at you or because he thinks you would just look better in something he chooses counts as controlling behavior.

16. Everyone else believes he’s the perfect husband

This is one of the less obvious signs of a controlling husband, but sometimes a marriage may seem perfect from the outside, when in reality the relationship is deeply troubled.

Sometimes, a controlling spouse will go out of their way to manufacture an image to the world that they are a good spouse and nothing is wrong.

One of the biggest issues with this is that it can make it harder to seek help or gain support.

17. He tells you how to behave

Similar to telling you what to wear, if your husband tells you how to behave and limits your personality, that’s another key sign of a controlling spouse.

18. He speaks for you

A controlling husband may take over conversations or speak on your behalf without your consent.

If he does the talking for you around other men, that is not simple jealousy—it’s an expression of “ownership” of you.

19. Using your kids against you

One thing some controlling husbands will do is use their kids against their spouse.

They may try to turn the children against their partner, undermine the other parent by changing rules and saying “yes” when the other parent said “no,” or threatening to take the kids if they leave.

These are just a few examples, but any tactics that dangle your children’s love, safety or well-being to keep you in line demonstrate that your partner is looking for a surefire way to keep you under their thumb.

20. He uses threats to control you

Using threats or ultimatums to gain compliance is a definite red flag in a controlling relationship.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a threat toward you or a threat to hurt himself.

Threats are often part of an abusive relationship and should be treated with extreme seriousness.

If you feel threatened and need to leave your relationship but don’t know how, calling a hotline with professional counselors trained to handle these situations can help you make a plan for a safe exit.

21. Signs of abuse

Any type of abuse, whether it’s emotional, physical abuse or verbal abuse, is controlling, dangerous and unacceptable behavior.

If your husband is abusive, you can get immediate help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

What Causes a Controlling Husband?

Several factors may contribute to a husband becoming controlling, such as:

  • Traumatic experiences, such as abuse or abandonment during childhood, leading to a need for control as a way to feel secure and protect himself.
  • Certain mental health issues involving, for example, personality disorders, depression or anxiety—although this is not to say that depressed or anxious individuals end up becoming controlling. However, especially when coupled with past experiences, some individuals may attempt to regulate their environment by controlling their spouse’s actions.
  • Narcissists are masters of manipulation to get what they want.
  • Insecurities and low self-esteem can lead to controlling behaviors. A husband who feels insecure may try to compensate by controlling his spouse’s actions and decisions.
  • Some men may feel pressure to assert themselves as the dominant force within a relationship due to social influences.

Tips for Handling a Controlling Relationship

If you’re in a controlling relationship, following some basic guidelines can help you improve things.

However, each circumstance is unique, and there are some that require more resources—such as professional help—to devise an appropriate plan, as in cases of extreme control or abuse.

If you feel you’re not in any danger, you may try implementing the steps below to get more equal footing in your relationship.

Set boundaries with controlling husbands

Begin by setting clear boundaries to protect your autonomy.

Make a list of your non-negotiables and communicate them calmly and assertively to your husband.

This might include respecting your privacy, maintaining individual interests and not tolerating aggressive behavior.

Explain the importance of these boundaries and the consequences if they are not respected.

Once you’ve established these limits, don’t hesitate to revisit them to ensure they remain in place.


Talking to your husband about the situation and how it makes you feel can be helpful particularly if the control issues are recent and seem to be coming out of nowhere.

Instead of responding with anger to your husband’s controlling tendencies, try to stay calm and maintain a neutral tone.

Utilize active listening techniques and validate your husband’s feelings in addition to sharing your own.

He may not realize that he’s being controlling, or how his actions have been affecting you.

If you can, try to talk through why your husband thinks this is an issue for him.

Understanding where they’re coming from can lead to breakthroughs that help you resolve control issues.

However, if conversations devolve into personal attacks, resistance and denial, you might need to enlist additional help from professional sources.

Seeking professional help

Couples therapy or individual counseling can offer valuable guidance and support in dealing with a controlling husband.

Therapists can provide coping strategies, help explore the root causes of control issues and assist in implementing lasting change within the dynamic of your relationship.

Remember, a healthy marriage is based on mutual respect, trust and support.

Remind yourself of your own autonomy and self-worth

When dealing with a controlling husband, it can be easy to forget that you are an autonomous human being with your own power and the right to control your life.

Do not question this.

It’s also important to try to build enough emotional resilience that your spouse’s criticisms don’t change your self image or self confidence.

Giving yourself plenty of me-time and self-care will help you remain centered while you’re working with your husband through control issues.

Keep your support network

Reach out to friends, family and others you can talk to and who will support you.

Maintaining your network is crucial in a situation where your husband is controlling, and especially so if he’s attempting to isolate you.

Additionally, friends, family and support groups for people going through similar experiences can give you much-needed perspective and strength.

Know when to leave

If you’ve set boundaries, tried honest communication and nothing has changed (or it’s only gotten worse), you have to consider if it might be time to leave.

Hopefully, you can lean on your support system to help you.

If you feel like things are getting dangerous for you or your family and you don’t know how to leave, you can speak to trained professionals who will assist you.


What is a toxic husband?

A toxic husband is a partner who engages in behaviors that harm you emotionally, physically or psychologically.

He may exhibit patterns of manipulation and control, making you feel insecure, isolated and trapped in the relationship.

A toxic spouse will create an unhealthy environment that negatively impacts your well-being, self-esteem and overall happiness.

What are the examples of controlling behavior?

Controlling behavior can manifest in various ways, but some common examples include:

  • Gaslighting
  • Isolating you from your support network
  • Using emotional manipulation to coerce you into doing what they want
  • Criticizing you endlessly
  • Criticizing your loved ones, claiming they’re a bad influence on you
  • Jealousy and possessiveness

Marlene Davis is an experienced blogger with a focus on interpersonal relationships. Her dream is to help improve people's lives and relationships through sharing of practical knowledge and evidence-based practices.