Ask Sahaj: My husband’s constant micromanaging is wearing me down


Q: My husband and I are an older couple (it’s a second marriage for us both), and we love each other and get along very well most of the time. My problem is that he has an annoying tendency to micromanage things that I feel are inconsequential, like how to carry out daily routines, household chores, the laundry and grocery shopping. He often says things like: “Use this pan to make the soup – not that one,” “Squeeze the toothpaste tube this way – not that way,” and “Don’t leave the bathroom door open a crack – close it fully.”

I’ve tried to get him to understand the concept of choosing his battles, but he just keeps micromanaging things every day until I blow up after several weeks, and we end up in an argument! I don’t think that he’s a total control freak, because he doesn’t try to prevent me from things like driving into town to meet a friend for lunch (we live in the countryside) or occasionally attending activities that interest only me. However, he often micromanages me after the fact by admonishing me for the price of gas or how I parked the car in the garage when I returned.

Today’s micromanaging episode inspired me to write. He’s responsible for laundry and – once again – he complained that I threw a sweatshirt in the basket only one day after he finished a load of laundry. He complained about the cost of electricity, water and detergent, but most of all how annoying it is that he can’t enjoy having an empty laundry basket for at least a week. I do re-wear my clothes many times before wanting them washed, but if I stain something I don’t feel comfortable wearing it again and feeling dirty or looking like a pig! These small but daily digs wear down my self-esteem and self-worth.

How can I get him to stop picking at me through micromanaging me and our lives without it ending up in an argument? — Micro-Managed Wife

Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

A: It doesn’t sound like your husband is trying to control you but rather control how things are done. This is an important distinction because the former is a sign of something serious and deeply concerning, and is meant to strip you of your independence. Your husband has a very particular way of doing things, and he thinks you should be doing it his way, too. He is not treating you as an equal partner; he is infantilizing you.

It sounds like this is not new behavior, yet addressing it always ends in an argument. This may be because you bottle your feelings up until they are forced to be released. You want to be proactive, not reactive, when having a conversation about this. This means approaching the conversation when you feel calm enough to do so.

It’s possible that your husband is exerting control at home because something else in his life feels out of his control or is anxiety-inducing. Maybe he’s genuinely concerned about big things – like money – and assumes you aren’t. If there is an obsession with cleanliness or order, this might indicate a deeper mental health issue that needs a professional’s help. Or it could be that your husband genuinely thinks he is being helpful. Either way, his behavior is not kind nor respectful.

When your husband micromanages you, you can respond with curiosity. This may sound like: “I want to understand why this is so bothersome to you. Can you explain it to me?” This allows him to shed light on what he may be internally experiencing, or why he worries about certain behaviors. It also minimizes the chances of your husband getting defensive. Hearing his side of things can also inspire you to find compromises. You get to decide what you are willing (and unwilling) to do to ease his anxiety while staying true to what you need from him. This could sound like: “I am happy to have a designated place for our shoes. In return, I would like us to agree that when it’s my turn to make dinner, I can do so in whatever ways I want.”

How is your husband’s micromanaging affecting how you show up in the relationship? Are you walking on eggshells around him? Or, do you find that you’re more emotionally disconnected because of his comments? You want to use “I” language to explicitly share how your husband’s behavior is affecting you. This may sound like, “I love you, but every time you critique my behavior, I feel belittled and undervalued.”

Also consider what you do need from him that isn’t just “stop micromanaging me.” For example, do you need more appreciation for what you contribute? Do you wish he asked more about how your day went with friends rather than solely harping on gas or how you parked? Getting clarity on what you’re not getting can help you approach your husband with tangible feedback around your needs to deepen the conversation – and your relationship.

Ultimately, your husband has to be willing to receive feedback, engage meaningfully in this conversation and take accountability for his role in all of this. If he doesn’t, you have to decide how – and if – you can take care of yourself and your mental health while still being in this relationship.



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