It’s so much easier to blame your partner than to look at yourself—and this is especially true when relationship control issues are involved.
If you’re the more controlling partner, it’s tempting to blame your passive mate for waiting so long to speak up about her (or his) distress over the situation. If you’re the more passive partner, it’s tempting to blame your controlling partner for not respecting your feelings or insisting that you always do things his (or her) way.
Whatever your role in the relationship—either too controlling or too passive—here are ten steps that you can take to start improving your relationship and addressing the control issues:
1. Focus on becoming more self-aware of your own behavior. Notice when you are overly invested in having your own way or when you hesitate to speak up and share your honest feelings with your partner. Pay attention to the frequency and intensity of your behavior. Do you fail to disclose your true feelings only occasionally or is this a routine occurrence? Do you feel strongly about having your own way once a month, or does this happen every day?
2. Take full responsibility for your part—whether it’s being too controlling or being too passive. Each type of behavior has been learned, and at one time, it may have served a useful purpose. But if you’re going to have a relationship that is a true partnership, you’ll want to achieve more balance in decision-making and communication.
3. Avoid the victim trap. Whether you think you’re being falsely accused of being controlling or whether you see your partner as the person who has called most of the shots—it’s tempting to blame him or her, but that will only distract you from the real issues at hand and will disempower you.
4. Believe that change is possible for both you and your partner. If you don’t believe that you and your partner are capable of changing, then you won’t be able to hold the vision of a new kind of relationship—it won’t seem believable to you. You have to have belief and positive expectations to be able to create a new and different type of communication-pattern and relationship.
5. Educate yourself about control issues so that you’ll understand them better. Be proactive about improving your relationship. Be on the lookout for information that can help you understand the dynamics in your relationship. The more skills you acquire, the better you’ll be able to handle a stressful control situation in your relationship.
6. Don’t discount your partner’s opinion or perception, even if you disagree with it. If your partner thinks that you’re too controlling, even if you don’t agree, then there’s a problem in the relationship. Just taking the stance that your partner is off-base won’t solve anything and will just ensure that the problem will surface again later when it has grown even bigger.
7. Start talking with your partner about control issues and how they play out in your relationship. Spend time exploring the situations that lead to anger and resentment in your interactions with your partner—those times when she (or he) feels that you’re too controlling. Or if you’re the passive partner, start opening up about what makes it so hard to speak out.
8. Listen more than you talk, and learn what your partner thinks the major issues are and why. If you get so wrapped up in trying to defend yourself and convince your partner that she (or he) is “wrong,” then you’re missing the point. You want to understand your partner’s feelings and perceptions better and to learn what actions on your part trigger the feelings of being controlled or make it hard to verbally disagree with you.
9. Start taking small steps to change your behavior. Changing long-standing behavior is a process that takes time. You can’t change overnight, but you can make small changes by taking one small step at a time. Otherwise, it’s too easy to become overwhelmed with all the changes you need to make and then to get discouraged and unable to move forward.
10. Consider going for couples counseling if discussing the issues is too emotional or you feel you’re stuck. Some couples are able to discuss emotionally-charged subjects without damaging the relationship, but for many couples, it just leads to more hurt feelings. It’s easy to reach a stalemate and not know what to do next. An experienced counselor can help you to get unstuck and start moving forward.
Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-creator of Overcome Control Conflict with Your Spouse or Partner, available at www.ControllingSpouse.com. She is also co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" which is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, as well as a free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine . Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples who want to overcome relationship problems and create a rewarding, loving partnership.