My husband is a very kind, protective person but, once in a while, he flips and becomes unbearably bossy. He gets on his high horse and starts to comment on my life and how I should live it. It could be as stupid as telling me how to organize my kitchen while I’m cooking, or how to load my fork so the food won’t fall off it when I’m eating. It’s kind of cute. Until he goes as far as to tell me how to be a better parent to my kids (who are not his) or gives me all kinds of unsolicited advice on my choices with friends, colleagues, family or money. He starts out sweet and caring but, if I tell him I did not ask for his advice, it escalates and becomes chaotic very quickly. He can get so worked up that he ends up giving me these patronizing lectures that sound almost angry. If I continue to push back or (God forbid) cry because I feel like a scolded child, he tells me I can’t take criticism and accuses me of taking things too personally.
I tell him his way of talking hurts me, and have tried asking him to talk about himself and his feelings instead of criticizing me and mine (to use I-statements as you have suggested), but he says I am playing the victim, or the therapist, and that he should not have to use special words or phrases to express his opinion. He says I am being controlling! But I feel like he is the one trying to control me. The conversation goes round and round. It’s crazy-making…
He has ADD and OCD. Sometimes he uses cocaine. Maybe there is a connection? Or maybe he is a just a hopeless control freak.
He is the one being controlling! I do not think that is your husband’s intention and, yes, there is probably a link to his ADD and OCD, and cocaine; we’ll get to that later…
One of the reasons I-statements are so important is it puts the emphasis on the speaker and his opinions and feelings rather than on you and yours. Relying on you-statements puts the listener on the defensive as your husband is doing to you, “the accused”! He is pointing the finger instead of talking about himself. If you feel criticized it is because you are being criticized. No wonder you push back!
Lovers and parents can both get into this “high horse” mode when they are worried about their loved ones. One of my good friends told me that when he was a boy his sisters would berate him when they worried about him. If he cried they’d just dig in deeper, trying to get him to man up, like your husband is doing to you now. They probably cared. They just had a helluva way of showing it.
As a parent I have surely fallen into the same trap when my kids have done things that upset me, like forgotten their homework. “How many times do I have to remind you to double-check your agenda?” If my son or daughter would push back on me, “I don’t have time”, or say, “Stop telling me what to do!” I would just get more exasperated and respond with something like, “Well you should make time!” or “I’ll stop telling you what to do when you start doing it by yourself!” I wanted to inspire and encourage them but it always came out angry!!
This is definitely a learned thing. My parents did it to me and theirs to them and so on and so on… We learned to express concern by sermonizing but to our loved ones it just feels like strong-arming them into submission.
As for ADD and OCD, you’re right, it would make it even worse. ADD is an impulse control problem, and OCD resolves anxious feelings by trying to do something about them! So if someone has both ADD and OCD tendencies, when they worry about their loved ones, their impulse is to say or do something to get them or the situation under control, quick! It is more than an impulse. It is a compulsion that bypasses thoughtful action because of an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Add cocaine to the mix and, well, you have someone who is going to be even more emotionally labile, even though he may be using coke to help get his emotions under control. It’s a vicious circle because of course it is not just avoiding the problem, it’s making it worse.
Your husband needs to understand the triggers for his impulse control issues (always going back to childhood) then develop a plan of action for dealing with his feelings other than by avoiding them with drugs or acting on them by controlling you. He will have to practice the plan, putting it into action until it becomes second nature. He can do it! And you can help him. But he needs to own his part, stay planted in his feelings and reach out to you rather than tell you what to do.
Finally, in terms of being a “control freak”… I am not very fond of that term or in agreement with claims that people who are controlling relish power over others. That is a rare perversion of the human spirit. I think it is more accurate to say that controlling people feel easily controlled and, when they feel helpless, deeply and genuinely want to do something about it. They just haven’t learned how.