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It is so common, and I hear it all the time, “my partner has control issues”. What is this about, how does it impact our relationships, and how can we change it?

Have you ever noticed that issues of control mainly only arise in our most intimate relationships? Why is that? Because that is where we are most vulnerable. That is the person who has the ability to hurt us the most. If we allow ourselves to take the risk to be intimate with another human being, we take the risk of getting hurt. Intimate relationships require us to be our most vulnerable selves if they are going to reach a truly deep level of intimacy. To be that vulnerable can be extraordinarily scary. Especially if we have been hurt in the past. So where does the issue of control come in? When we want to feel safe. We want the benefits of falling in love (companionship, affection, fun, comfort), but we don’t want the risks that come with falling in love (loss, pain, discomfort), so in order to feel “safe” we attempt to control our partner so that we don’t get hurt. Isn’t that what we all want in relationships, to feel safe? To know that this person will be there for us always and never hurt us? Is this a reasonable expectation? Can we ever really know that this person will always be here? Unfortunately the answer is no. We cannot always know. And even though we logically know this fact, and we logically know that we cannot control another person, on another level we attempt to control anyway, for safety, for survival.

How does this impact our relationships? In an attempt to control to feel safe, we may ultimately create what we are most afraid of; distance. Controlling behavior tends to push our partner away. It can be smothering and demanding. It deprives our partner of feeling a sense of freedom and independence within the relationship. And in the end, it may end up pushing that person out of the relationship.

So what can you do? The very first step in change is understanding. You must first have an awareness of this behavior, then understand what is underneath the behavior, and further understand how this behavior impacts your partner and your relationship. Once you have an understanding, you can then communicate at a deeper level with your partner, possibly bringing you closer together and then you can begin to make changes. You can ask for things from your partner that would allow you to feel more safe without being demanding and controlling.

First; ask yourself some questions. How is my behavior controlling? What is it that I am trying to control? Why don’t I feel safe in this relationship? After you answer these questions for yourself, ask how it impacts your partner and your relationship. Talk to your partner about it. Let your partner know that you are aware that your behavior is having a negative effect on the relationship and you want to make some changes. Acknowledge how they might feel on the receiving end. Talk about safety and what makes you feel safe in a relationship. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Ask your partner, as well, what he/she needs to also feel safe in this relationship. The next step; during times when you feel threatened, rather than getting defensive and resorting to controlling behaviors, share with you partner that you are feeling vulnerable and unsafe, and ask for the reassurance you need.

For the partner on the end of the controlling behavior, try to see this from your partners perspective. Try to understand that this is not about you, but it is about your partners need to feel safe. If you can look at this from a compassionate and empathetic standpoint, it will be easier for you be helpful toward your partner in making these changes. There are important questions that you may ask yourself as well: is there any thing you are doing to contribute to this problem? Are there any behaviors that you are displaying that may be contributing to your partner feeling “unsafe”?

Both of you can ask yourselves the question: what kind of partner do I want to be and what kind of relationship do I want to have? Once you define this, you can then begin to make changes to move toward that goal. Often times persons with controlling behavior don’t realize that the behavior leads to results they don’t want rather than results they are trying to achieve. By changing some basic thoughts and behaviors, you can begin to move toward having a healthy and fulfilling relationship.