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How to Manage Living With a Micromanager

Updated: May 24, 2021

A different perspective on a challenging dynamic.

I asked a recently married friend of mine how his marriage was going. He looked at me with a simper and said: “Great! I never realized how many things I did wrong until I got married.” Of course, my compadre was being sarcastic because he then went on to say that he was getting private lessons from his new wife in everything from folding towels to putting the cereal away to doing the laundry.

You might argue that men are more controlling of the typically masculine chores such as changing the oil in the car, and women take over typically feminine chores such as those related to running the home. But I have treated men that were hell-bent on decorating their homes, and women who believed that they had a better way to invest money, cut the grass, or fix the garage door. And then there are those gray areas like raising the children. My experience is that women tend to think they should have the upper hand on this one, but there are men who fight them on this even if they have daughters.

Do not get me wrong, my belief is that the person that does the better job—regardless of gender—should be allowed to do it. It is for the good of the team. If the male has a great artistic eye, he should have a say in decorating, and if the woman is mechanically inclined, she should take on those responsibilities. Let the best person prevail.

In a perfect world, each partner of a couple should admit their strengths and weaknesses. They may learn from one another and even more importantly, avoid control struggles which can eventually deteriorate their relationship. But there are some people that believe they know best…and they offer little compromise. Too often these people mysteriously partner with people who cannot stand to be told what to do even if it is good for them. A male client complained that his wife was a “royal pain.” Apparently, the man suffered from high blood pressure and his wife constantly nagged him to take his medication. She set his pills out for him every morning and kept count to keep him on track. She even took responsibility for his refills. While granted her nagging was unpleasant, she felt compelled to take over to save her husband’s life. The husband seemed to consider his wife’s nagging worse than a potential heart attack or stroke. He also contributed to his wife’s nagging by resisting to follow his doctor’s orders. Like the pursuer-distancer dynamic the more he distanced the more she pursued.

Now back to my friend. He did not feel emasculated by his wife’s control. She was a successful businesswoman who he fully supported, and even bragged about at times. He was, however, tired of being told what to do, especially in areas that he felt competent enough to make his own decisions. In all fairness to his wife, my friend was an easily aggravated kind of guy. His mother nagged his father, mostly about money, and he grew up with a certain prejudice towards women who had opinions of their own. It was not hard for any woman to irritate him. But rather than get too bogged down in my friend’s marital dynamics the main purpose of this article is to help those who feel that they are living with a micromanager, male or female, cope with this behavior. They are as follows:

  1. Before reacting to your partner’s control, take a few seconds to consider whether he/she is offering good advice. Too often people explode simply because they do not like to be told they are doing something wrong or less efficient. If your partner has a good idea do not be stubborn—use it.

  2. Consider that your partner may be somewhat obsessive-compulsive. If so, do not take their behavior personally; they are more interested in perfection than pointing out your shortcomings. But if your partner becomes unbearable, professional treatment, including medication, may be merited.

  3. Was your partner was a caretaker in his/her family of origin? In this case, have a little empathy for them. They were trained to be a helper and have little idea they are being irritating or intrusive.

  4. Set boundaries with your partner. Divide up chores and responsibilities and follow through. Remember if you do not do your job you will only enable your partner to come after you.

  5. Different timetables can cause a problem. For example, a controller may want something done and done fast. You may be willing to complete the task but not see the need to do it on your partner’s timetable. Be careful with this one. If you need time to do the project at least tell your partner you promise to get to it, and when. If you unnecessarily procrastinate it will demonstrate that you really do not care about your partner’s feelings and only serve to increase his/her anxiety.

  6. Give your partner credit for being on top of things and having a desire to do them the right way. Wouldn’t you rather have a partner that was finicky about paying the bills early rather than late?

  7. Accept the fact that “you” picked a micromanager. Therefore, there was something attractive about your partner’s tendency to control. Do not delude yourself into thinking that your partner suddenly became controlling after marriage. Nobody changes that much, especially in that short a time.

  8. Look into your past to determine, like my friend, if you have a prejudice against people who micromanage. Perhaps your sensitivity is skewing your perspective and your partner is not nearly as micromanaging as you may think.

  9. If you are growing increasingly annoyed with your partner’s behavior, give them a clear warning that it may be pushing you away. Too many people hold their feelings in and then explode. In this case, it is often too late to save the relationship.

  10. Last, if you simply cannot stand your partner’s behavior and do not wish to put the work in to help your relationship, consider leaving. This dynamic in extreme cases can lead to domestic violence.

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