Itâs so much easier to blame your partner than to look at yourselfâand this is especially true when relationship control issues are involved.
If youâre the more controlling partner, itâs tempting to blame your passive mate for waiting so long to speak up about her (or his) distress over the situation. If youâre the more passive partner, itâs 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 relationshipâeither too controlling or too passiveâhere 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 partâwhether itâs 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 youâre going to have a relationship that is a true partnership, youâll want to achieve more balance in decision-making and communication.
3. Avoid the victim trap. Whether you think youâre being falsely accused of being controlling or whether you see your partner as the person who has called most of the shotsâitâs 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 donât believe that you and your partner are capable of changing, then you wonât be able to hold the vision of a new kind of relationshipâit wonât 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 youâll 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 youâll be able to handle a stressful control situation in your relationship.
6. Donât discount your partnerâs opinion or perception, even if you disagree with it. If your partner thinks that youâre too controlling, even if you donât agree, then thereâs a problem in the relationship. Just taking the stance that your partner is off-base wonât 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 partnerâthose times when she (or he) feels that youâre too controlling. Or if youâre 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 âwrong,â then youâre missing the point. You want to understand your partnerâs 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 canât change overnight, but you can make small changes by taking one small step at a time. Otherwise, itâs 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 youâre 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. Itâs 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.