How to manage control issues

Written by    Last updated: June 8, 2007

Do you find that you lose your temper if things don’t go your way? Or constantly complain to your friends that your partner is being ‘difficult’ because he or she won’t do everything you say?

relationship control issues

Wanting to have some measure of control on what happens in our lives is understandable, but when it starts extending to controlling the people around us, it could lead to some serious power struggles or unspoken resistance. Issues of control in a marriage can cause a great deal of resentment over time. Find out the source of this behaviour and what you can do to manage it.

Does any of the following sound familiar?

  • At the start of a relationship you think that you can ‘fix’ or change the things you don’t like about your partner.
  • You need to know where your partner is at all times.
  • A great deal of your time and energy is spent in planning every detail of your life together.
  • When things don’t go your way you feel angry.
  • You are constantly telling your friends that your partner ‘won’t change’ or is being  ‘difficult’.
  • You feel jealous or resentful if your partner chooses to do something he or she likes, such as a sport, hobby or spending time with friends or work colleagues.
  • Your siblings, friends and co‐workers are likely to say that you are bossy in your relationship with them.
  • You may have chosen a partner who you think is ‘controllable’, but after a while you begin to see the person as being weak and rather boring.
  • You have chosen a partner who has a similar controlling nature as yourself but you find that the power struggles are getting more and more intense.

Where does it come from?

Usually there is a feeling of anxiety and insecurity underlying the need to control others, which could have its roots in issues from your past, such as:

  • Having a parent with obsessive behaviour that you picked up as a child.
  • Childhood experiences that consisted of a great deal of instability and change which were not dealt with in a positive manner. This could lead to an unconscious craving for stability and a desire to control the environment around you.
  • An unhappy emotional experience, such as a past romantic relationship, that led to a determination to prevent it from ever happening again.
  • A natural predisposition towards obsessive behaviour that probably extends to other areas, such as being a workaholic or being extremely rigid about housework.

What you can do about it

  • Acknowledge that you have control issues and that they probably extend to other areas of your life.
  • Look at family and relationship experiences from the past to understand how the source of the fear is to do with situations that were beyond your control. Make a decision to let go of past insecurities and unhappy memories.
  • Learn to recognise signs in your behaviour where you are about to go into a ‘controlling mode’ of behaviour and make a conscious effort to break the habit. An exercise you could use is to visualise a time in your life when you were perfectly relaxed. Immerse yourself in that moment in time and let go of your current feelings of anxiety.
  • Make a list of things that are absolutely essential and cannot be avoided, such as paying bills and make a second list of things that you would like to do but are less important. Then simply tear the second list and throw it away.
  • Learn to be spontaneous and ‘in the moment’ rather than sticking to a planned or controlled routine. Try to recreate a sense of adventure and a willingness to try different ways of doing things.
  • Find activities that you can enjoy either on your own or with your friends, instead of obsessing about controlling every minute of your partner’s life.
  • Look at control as something positive by applying it to your own self rather than to the entire relationship.

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