Pete wonders how he ended up here– in this job, this house and with this life. He loves his wife and appreciates how organized and together she is. She arranged for him to work at her family’s business; she decided which house would be best for them and she often tells Pete which tie to wear. He only wishes she’d let him make his own decisions some of the time. If so, maybe he wouldn’t feel so angry and resentful.
Ellen feels isolated and alone. Her boyfriend gets angry and jealous when she spends time with other people so Ellen has just stopped. She hasn’t visited her parents in months. Her sister sneaks calls to her when Ellen is at work. Her friends have disappeared because they grew tired of Ellen always saying “no” to invitations out.
Pete’s and Ellen’s experiences illustrate a couple of different ways that controlling happens in a love relationship or marriage. It can be subtle and in the guise of being “helpful” or “making suggestions” and it can also be far more obvious and even abusive.
Your partner might not even be aware that his or her actions feel dominating or oppressive to you. It could be that your love truly believes that this is what’s “best” for you or the situation.
Nevertheless, it is miserable to feel controlled and like you aren’t allowed to make your own decisions. Even if you agree that what your partner told you to do was a good idea, the way that the idea was laid down and dictated felt offensive and triggered strong feelings in you.
Most people react to feeling controlled in one of these ways:
1) They resist and push back.
2) They give in.
Meeting your partner’s controlling behavior with an aggressive reaction is only going to make the tension in your relationship more intense and may cause your partner to amp up the control efforts as well.
When you become a victim and let yourself be controlled by sacrificing your desires and your own needs you’re also only going to make things worse. People who give in are often those who dislike conflict and who struggle with self esteem. When you give in to your partner’s demands you send the message that it’s okay for this behavior to continue.
The best way to handle anything unwanted in your relationship is to communicate honestly and kindly about it. Set boundaries so that your partner knows that this is NOT okay with you.
When setting a boundary, it’s all in how you say what you need to say. Steer clear of ultimatums like, “Either you stop controlling me or I’ll leave,” unless you’re really going to follow through. Avoid generalizing statements, name calling or accusations too.
Do remember these things when setting boundaries…
#1: Be clear.
Before you communicate with your partner, take the time to identify exactly which words and behaviors feel controlling to you. Make sure that you are not misinterpreting what your partner said or feeling overly sensitive about a situation because of bad experiences in your past.
Be clear and specific. Instead making a general statement like, “Please stop controlling me…” say, “Please talk with me first before making weekend plans.” Talk about observable behaviors and words to help your partner understand exactly what you want to change.
#2: Don’t apologize or justify.
If you’ve got low self esteem or feel nervous talking about this, practice. Your partner is probably not going to respect your boundary (or you) if you sound uncertain, wishy washy or you apologize as you communicate. When you’re alone, look in the mirror and speak your boundary out loud.
Be firm and kind. Skip phrases like, “I’m sorry to bring this up but…” and instead say, “It is important to me that you hear my words. I want you to stop checking my phone without my permission.”
#3: Know when it’s unhealthy for you to stay.
As difficult as it’s been to feel controlled by your partner, maybe you’ve stayed in the relationship because you don’t want to lose the love and companionship you two have together. Make an honest assessment of your relationship and ask yourself if it’s in your best interests to stay.
- Is this a healthy situation?
- Is your partner abusing you in some way?
- If you’ve set a boundary or made a request, has your partner listened and made changes?
Questions like these can help you make the decision about whether or not to stay in your relationship. Questions like these can help you affirm to yourself that you ARE worthy of respect, kindness and consideration.
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