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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Aston

Do you wish you could control your partner?

Updated: Mar 20

It might make you laugh, but it also might ring true. Sometimes we do want or even try to control our partners (and others). It’s not a problem to want to control someone or to want to have control. As it is not a problem to want to go on a shopping spree or to want to play video games all day. We can want what we want; we have to decide whether or not acting on our wants will be helpful or not for us (and to consider how it might impact others).

Controlling our partners might seem like a good idea. After all, if they would think and do as we do, that would make things a whole lot easier on us. It can be quite stressful and challenging having a partner, child, or co-worker who has a difference of opinion or has a different way of doing things than us.

Instances when we might try to control others:

  • If we are anxious about our kid having a successful career, we pressure our kid to pick a certain career path (instead of considering their wants and interests)

  • If we are worried that our partner won’t be faithful in the relationship, we might pressure them to report all their interactions with others

  • If we feel anxious about our partner or child cleaning the “the right way,” we might take over the task ourselves or micromanage everything that they clean

While these are ways of reducing our own anxiety, you can imagine that it can strain relationships and cause resentment. Again, there is nothing wrong with wanting things done our way. However, the immediate relief that we feel from controlling others is often short-lived and destructive to relationships.

While it is okay to have things our way at times, we can learn to better tolerate when we don’t have control.

Unhelpful ways of coping when we don’t have control:

  • Use distractions and numbing behaviors (T.V. watching, sleeping, substance use, fixating on food)

  • Controlling others (ie.through guilt, shame, judgment, money, pressure, etc.)

These behaviors don’t usually feel meaningful or helpful for most of us in the long-term.

Helpful ways of tolerating not having control (when it doesn’t hurt you or go against your values):

  • Be present, calm yourself down through deep breathing and noticing your environment

  • Let go of Judgment towards yourself and others

  • Recognize what you experience when you don’t have control (you might be triggered with thoughts, physical sensations, urges, and behaviors as a result of not having control).

o What do I experience when I feel like I don’t have control?

o What behaviors do I engage in?

o What behaviors are helpful or unhelpful for me when I don’t get things my way?

o What do I tell myself that I need to have control over?

o How can I better tolerate not having control?

  • Set healthy boundaries for yourself

Instead of manipulating, pressuring, or controlling others to make things less stressful for us, we can calm down our own emotions and set boundaries with others.

Client Vignette

I had a client who wanted to return to work when her kids were young. My client was frustrated that her husband had a difference of opinion than hers; he wanted her to stay home to raise their kids. She felt anxious and insecure that she and her husband had different views about her returning to work. She misinterpreted her husband's view to mean that she was wrong, that she was selfish, and that her husband didn't respect her. You can empathize with this woman for wanting her husband to agree with her because it would have felt more validating and reassuring to her. However, she chose to tolerate that she could not control his opinion. She came to recognize that her husband could both respect her and not think the same as her.

My client made the decision to return to work according to her own values and sense of integrity. Her husband could have tried to control her (by pressuring, guilting, or shaming her) to get her to stay home, but he accepted her decision. The couple collaborated together to find childcare for their kids. It wasn’t easy, but they both were able to move forward when they let go of needing to see things the same way.

People are not bad for wanting control. As you might have noticed, initially it can make us feel less anxious or frustrated when we have it. You and your relationships will benefit when you learn to let go of control (when appropriate and necessary) for building healthy relationships.

*If you are on the other side of the coin and you tend to follow or let others control you, look for my upcoming blog post that will address this issue.

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