Are you controlling? Have control/power issues been a big part of your history—either with you feeling controlled by others or by others accusing you of being controlling?

You may not realize that your need for power is why previous intimate partner’s have left you in the past—or why one is resisting you in the present. If that statement fits, your intimate partner likely feels (and has communicated) that s/he feels forced into submitting to your will—and has therefore pulled away from you.

Many people are initially attracted to take-charge types who radiate a sense of self-confidence. A new partner may willingly accept a passive role in such circumstances because they feel taken care of, and because they may enjoy surrendering to an exciting new love relationship. A partner who plays the role of the captured-and-cared-for one is likely to offer little resistance in the initial conflicts between the two of you, but that same partner will eventually demand a more equal relationship, and will wind up rebelling, resisting or downright refusing to give in to you the way s/he once did.

If you are a person whom others initially defer to but eventually leave, you may have been unable to let go of your power position when your intimate partner wanted more authority, say-so and decision making in your relationship. What was once a consensual power structure deteriorates over time into an angry chess match, pitting one person’s desire for power and control against the other person’s refusal to play by those rules.

If this pattern sounds familiar to you, you very likely grew up where one person in your family was the supreme authority. When a child sees such power and control, s/he often concludes that people fall into one of two positions in life: those who call the shots and those that follow. Not wanting to follow someone else’s rules, it was only natural for you to decide that the only good position would be to become the dominant partner—thus treating your intimate partner’s in a manner similar to the way you were once treated long ago.

You may also fear that you won’t get what you need if you don’t control the resources; that you will be controlled by another if you don’t take charge; that you’ll be held responsible if others don’t do the right thing, and of course you may simply enjoy taking charge and managing others.

If this issue is a problem in your relationship, look carefully at whether you expect others to live by the same rules and expectations as you live by—or whether you have different standards for yourself than you do for your intimate partner. Some examples are:

Rules I Live By

  • Do my best at all times
  • Accept my responsibilities
  • Bear pain with dignity
  • Don’t ask for help unless absolutely necessary
  • Take charge if you are the best to lead
  • Never quit
  • Keep things under control so that nothing goes wrong
  • Money should be spent the way I think is best
  • Don’t challenge me or my choices

Rules For Your Partner

  • Do what I say unless you can convince me that your idea is better
  • Make sure you understand before you challenge my decisions
  • If I am taking care of you, don’t complain about how I do it
  • Don’t argue with the consequences if you mess up
  • As long as you’re with me, I make the rules
  • You can tell me what you want, but I make the final decision
  • The ways you spend money are frivolous and wasteful
  • Don’t fight me. You’re going to lose.

Your rules may differ from these, but hopefully you get the idea that you may have different rules for your partner than you do for yourself.

Create a list of what both you and others have liked about your controlling behavior. Some ideas are: responsible, vigilant, capable, powerful, effective, attentive, caring. Then make a second list of what you or others don’t like about your controlling behavior. Some examples: bullying, dominating, dictatorial, manipulative, pushy, condescending, cold, selfish, insensitive. Needless to say, the qualities on the first list are largely considered positive and desirable, and the qualities on the second list will destroy most intimate relationships.

Now make a third list—of a cooperative person who is comfortable with sharing power and decision making authority. This person has qualities associated with harmony in a relationship, such as: receptiveness, mutuality, unity, support, reciprocity, cooperation, support, reasonableness, interest, kindness and generosity.

The opposite of control isn’t submission. It’s a combination of the qualities on the first and third lists. When you wonder if your take charge behavior is likely to alienate your intimate partner, look carefully at whether your behavior is likely to be considered cooperative, reciprocal, kind and caring, or whether it will be perceived as selfish, dictatorial or insensitive. In this way you may be able to transmute controlling and alienating behavior into something far more friendly and relational.

Source: Relationship Saboteurs by Randi Gunther (New Harbinger Publications)

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