You can’t love someone and control them. You have to decide between the two.
Most folks aren’t controlling in the early, magical stages of a relationship. If they are, run! People generally keep a lid on their neurotic bullshit at least long enough to establish sexual ties and some emotional investment. Then they turn up the crazy in small increments so the frog never suspects it is being boiled.
Then one day, you wake up and realize your partner has somehow pruned away all the parts of you they found inconvenient or displeasing to them. Qualities you love about yourself, things you love to say and do, certain music, food, friends, etc.
WTF just happened???
Well, there are two parts to this disappearing act.
Control and Compliance
Both control and compliance are maladaptive coping strategies that can emerge from very similar childhood experiences.
Some children decide that, to protect themselves and get their needs met, they must become “better than.” They become doers, achievers, perfectionists, gold-star addicts. They control, manipulate, and arrange the world so they can feel safe in it. These qualities are often characteristic of people with an avoidant attachment style.
Other children decide that, to protect themselves, it may be safer to forfeit their needs. They become “less than.” They shrink, hide, silence themselves, become wantless and needless. Don’t rock the boat. Go along to get along. Be a people-pleaser and a peace-maker. Be compliant. These tend to be folks with an anxious attachment style.
These two types of people attract each other like honey to a bee.
Two avoidants usually don’t pair up – there isn’t much to hold their relationship together. And anxious people don’t often seek each other out because they need someone to chase.
So the world is proliferated with anxious-avoidant couples. Compliers and controllers. Low self-esteemers and narcissists. One-downers and one-uppers.
So What’s Wrong With Controlling Your Partner?
If you need to change your partner to love them, you don’t love them – you love the idea of them.
Perhaps they are just a human-shaped movie screen for you to project your fantasies onto. A living placeholder of sorts that you have cajoled into hosting all the things you think will make you feel ok.
Humans are certainty-seeking missiles. We like our shit exactly the way we want our shit – including people.
Attempts to control your partner could mean you’re avoiding authenticity, intimacy, vulnerability, compromise, or the challenging work required of a healthy relationship. Perhaps you are unwilling to see your partner for who they are, as they are. Maybe you are being driven by selfish, self-seeking, and self-centered fears that you’re unable to identify, look at, or communicate to the alleged closest person in your life.
Control is a way to not actually show up in a relationship.
What’s The Matter With Being Compliant?
As it turns out, compliance is just the other side of the same dysfunctional-ass coin. Control and compliance are both forms of control, but one is aggressive and the other passive.
Compliance, too, is a way of not showing up in a relationship.
Not expressing yourself – your wants, needs, preferences, and opinions – is a fundamentally dishonest way of living. It reflects the same lack of intimacy of the controlling partner. Only it has the added benefit of perpetuating the helplessness of victimhood.
If you always do what one partner wants to do, that’s not a healthy adult relationship. That’s more like a parent-child relationship or a hostage crisis.
The Good News and The Bad News
The good news is that control and compliance are commonplace in many relationships.
You are not terminally unique. You are not broken. Your relationship is not doomed to failure. There is no need to despair. You can heal this and grow closer together with your partner in the process.
The bad news is that control and compliance are commonplace in many relationships.
This unhealthy dynamic is rather normalized in our society. People like to identify who “wears the pants” in a relationship. It’s expected and encouraged – if not by society or our family, by our very own childhood wounds that crave either submissiveness or dominance.
What To Do About It?
My first suggestion will always be to get help. Figuring this kind of stuff out on your own is brutal. Find a relationship coach, therapist, counselor, or support group. Read some books or blogs and find other online resources. There are many.
Next, you need to explicitly confirm that you have two willing participants in the healing process. If one partner can’t or won’t be vulnerable enough to participate in personal growth, this is gonna be real fucking hard.
Then, healthy communication habits need to be established.
Use I-statements to talk about how you feel, not you-statements to talk about how they’re doing it wrong. You-statements are presumptuous, ineffective, and controlling. Stay in your lane.
I-statement: “When you told me (actual thing they said), I felt incompetent, judged, and less than. I felt sad.”
You-statement: “You always say (thing they may have said a couple times). You make me feel like I don’t matter.”
Global qualifiers like always and never usually indicate an emotional reaction that is factually untrue and often based on childhood trauma. Pay attention to when you and your partner use these words. Practice replacing them with something more accurate.
Also, the phrase “you make me feel” is patently false. No one makes you feel. They are not responsible for your feelings. You are. That expression blames the other person, establishes victimhood, and renounces any personal responsibility in the matter. It demonstrates a lack of emotional boundaries. Eliminate it from your vocabulary immediately.
For more information on how to stop communicating like you want to destroy your relationship, look into nonviolent communication theory.
Sit down with your partner and identify controlling and compliant patterns in your relationship. If you don’t know how, identify situations that trigger emotional reactions – anger, resentment, shame, defensiveness. Then investigate those together.
What is the fear or unmet need lurking beneath the surface?
We are all simply doing our best to get our needs met. Conflict occurs when our strategies for meeting these needs don’t jive.
If you and your partner are willing to use your grown-up words to negotiate a win-win solution for getting your needs met in a mutually satisfying way, you can live happily ever after.
If you aren’t… you won’t.