Self Mastery

Controlling Relationships

Dear Gary,

In a situation like the one I am going through (overcoming jealous and controlling behavior that is alienating my partner), how do you avoid overcorrecting too far the other way. You want to avoid being passive aggressive so you hold back on what you say and do. But you don’t want to become completely submissive to your partner. How do you balance the feeling that you are being controlling when you are attempting to stand up for yourself. It seems like a catch 22.

Thanks, A. L.

Gary’s Perspective, 

Go to this post for a perspective of emotionally controlling relationships.  I’ll answer his specific question below.

Here are some places to start looking.

First the feeling of being controlling comes from the belief in being controlling. It will take some discernment not to apply this belief to every action you take. Be aware that at some point down the road, when you no longer exhibit controlling behaviors, you will have to drop this belief as well. With it will go the last of the feeling and judgment about it.

Two places to look to help with the discernment of being controlling in the relationship.

The first area to be self aware is the emotions. When you are expressing what you want, what is the emotional quality? Is it with kindness, respect and love? Or is there an edge of frustration disdain, anger or fear etc?

What is the emotional reaction, if any, if you don’t get what you want? If it is toxic, then you probably have some of that filtering into the request. Fear of your own reaction, or her reaction, is enough to put an edge on statement to stand up for yourself.

Some times we are standing up for ourselves but we do it with such an edge of emotion that it is perceived as an attack or rebuke because of the emotion we communicate. This can facilitate a reaction from the other party. Listen to my podcasat on emotional reactions for more detail on this.

Second area to apply some self awareness: Does expressing what you want include what you want from your partner? If standing up for yourself includes expectations and requirements of your partner then we may be crossing the line into being controlling, or pressuring.

Expressing what you want for your self that doesn’t affect her isn’t generally controlling. However, since you are married things are very closely intertwined. The actions you take for your self affect other people in the house including children.

In this type of situation when you choose something for yourself you affect other people. In this way honoring your self can be passive way to control another.

Something else that makes this more complex is the perception other people have. You might ask for something just for your self, with no requirements from your partner. It might be done with complete kindness and respect. But she may have a different interpretation of what you are asking, or how it will affect her. She might interpret it with filters of past behaviors. Amplified by her judge and victim archetypes she might interpret that you are being controlling when you are not. You say it with love and respect, but she interprets it through a different emotional filter.

Different interpretations about the same expression are common.

My suggestion: Talk with your partner about what you are saying and how she is interpreting it. Both of you put your filters on the table for inspection. Discuss how the interpretations are corrupting communication and affecting emotions.

Even bring the your questions about the Catch 22 to the conversation and ask for her input. The more you share with her your process the more open the communication becomes. This builds transparency, and honesty, and that builds trust.

That’s my first cut at it based on limited information. No blame, no fault, no judgments. To see all the layers, and there are probably a few, requires an inventory of the core beliefs, stories, characters, and emotions.

I hope this helps, Good luck in love,

The path can be as narrow as a razors’ edge.

from “The Razor’s Edge” one of my favorite movies.


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