control in your relationship?
∑ Do you get frustrated
because your partner avoids talking with you about things that you
∑ Or do you sometimes feel
overloaded by your partner?
∑ Do you get frustrated
because you frequently disagree, even over seemingly small (or not
so small) things?
∑ Or does one of you tend
to take charge, while the other is more prone to acquiesce?
∑ Do you have too much
difficulty getting your way about the things that are important
∑ Do you know couples who
have drifted apart, so that they donít have much in common anymore?
Each of these are common
signs of underlying conflict and control issues. All can be managed
-- IF you understand them. They won't go away on their own. Left
unattended, they can endanger otherwise strong relationships over
Consider all the areas of life where there are sure to be some conflicts
between even the most Ďcompatibleí partners: neatness vs. messiness,
caution and thrift vs. expansiveness and risk-taking, promptness
vs. tardiness, more vs. less sociability, different career demands,
to name just a few (without even getting into the big disageement
areas--sex, in-laws, kids, etc.). It isnít very surprising that
conflict and control can be one of the most puzzling and difficult
aspects of relationship facing many couples.
Since all couples--even those who have been happily married for
years--have five to seven areas of unresolvable difference, how
couples handle deciding whose approach will prevail is critical
to marriage success. Managing control issues is one of the principal
challenges of married life (and other committed relationships).
Skill-based programs (like MST) can help most couples to understand
control issues and to develop new communication and conflict resolution
strategies that can enable them to take a healthy, intentional and
constructive approach to conflict.
Failure to take a positive, proactive approach to conflict and control
can result in two general kinds of problems: Too much conflict will
drive up relationship negativity, on the one hand. Or, on the other,
conflict may be avoided though compliance or disengagement by one
or both partners, depriving the relationship of essential mutuality.
Each can put a relationship at risk over the long run.
This second problem contributes to the most common destructive pattern
in male-female relationships: the pursue-withdraw syndrome, where
one partner (usually the woman) keeps approaching the other about
an important need or problem, while the other becomes overloaded
and withdraws or superficially complies. The pursuing partner becomes
more and more frustrated leading her to increase the pressure, while
the withdrawer becomes more and more overwhelmed by it, resorting
to flight or fight to escape. Both partners feel caught in a terrible
script that just keeps replaying.
When these problems are chronic and entrenched--seem to always follow
the same repeating script--they can cause serious trouble. Partners
who enter marriage with a need to have their own way on most decisions
and, especially those who need to have their partnerís (at least
apparent) agreement on most things, can be headed for trouble. Partners
who manage conflict by always avoiding or giving-in are also putting
their relationship at risk.
When control is a problem, itís usually because one or both partners
have difficulty finding the middle ground: relinquishing some control
or asserting their own needs. Often these tendencies result from
early upbringing and are more or less automatic--not something we
necessarily understand very well about ourselves.
Compliant partners need to learn to stand up for their needs in
a relationship. Most often this means learning to tolerate their
own feelings about their partnerís reactions. A certain amount of
self-support and self-validation is required.
Of course, itís when you are disagreeing that you canít expect validation
to come from your partner. So if you donít have an alternate source
of support, youíre more likely to give in when you shouldnít.
Control-oriented partner(s) need to accept more influence from their
partner. Marriage research finds that accepting influence from your
partner is highly correlated with marriage success for men. For
women, moderating the ways that you seek to influence your partner
(to make them more positive) is the other side of this finding.
A chronic need to be in control and have your way on most things
is often related to underlying insecurities that sometimes have
origins deep in our early childhood experiences. Likewise, always
giving in can reflect a different response to similar issues.
Paradoxically, for the control-oriented person learning to give
up some control can be the key to getting more of what we want and
need in relationships. The paradox for the compliant is that becoming
more assertive can lead to more enduring relationships. If you have
difficulty modifying chronic compliant or controlling behavior,
you may find individual counseling helpful in exploring and resolving
Sometimes, one or both partners need to learn to tolerate differences
that cannot be resolved (at least for now). This means putting such
differences aside for a time, once efforts to arrive at a compromise
have been exhausted. Couples canít always agree on every issue.
Many theorists (notably David Schnarch) describe marriage as a people-growing
relationship because over time it forces all of us to Ďgrow upí
and come to more realistic terms with our needs. Marriage works
best for people who find ways to support themselves adequately when
they and their spouse canít agree. This means tolerating some of
your differences without an absolute need to change your partner.
Relationship experts (Paul and Paul) have identified four common
problem patterns that result from couplesí control issues:
pattern is present when one partner usually defers to the wishes
of the dominant partner, even if thatís what they wish to do. In
the long run, this strategy is unlikely to succeed for either partner.
Their happiness will be undermined ultimately by the lack of fulfillment
experienced by the compliant partner who will usually become depressed
and/or resentful as a result of not having their needs met over
the long term.
Even the Ďwinningí partner may sense that the vitality of the relationship
has been drained by this pattern and become disenchanted.
This doesnít mean that one partner should never give-in to the preferences
of the other. Far from it. Itís important to compromise and accommodate
the wishes of your partner on occasion. Each partner should do so
from time to time. Itís only a problem when itís always a particular
partner who is doing the giving-in or compromising without reciprocity.
Compromise, of course, means concessions from each partner. When
compliance becomes a one-sided approach (one partner always giving
in), though, itís not a successful strategy.
Itís worth noting that people commonly undervalue the frequency
and importance of their partnerís compromises. Naturally, they notice
their own sacrifices more than those of their partner.
In the control-control
(or power struggle) problem pattern, neither partner is willing
to give much ground. This is a particularly destructive approach
because it drives up the negativity in the relationship as partners
vie for control. This is a common pattern for couples with a hostile
engaged relationship style.
In the control-indifference
(and/or control-resistance) pattern, one partner has given up on
having much influence in the relationship. This pattern can be related
to the pursue-withdraw relationship pattern that can be such a problem
for many couples.
pattern is usually not seen until later in unsuccessful relationships.
It is associated with a hostile disengaged relationship style. Both
partners have given up on the relationship. They may stay together,
but are not fulfilled.
While these patterns show up in most relationships from time to
time, chronic reliance on one or more of these control syndromes
is a warning sign of a relationship on the wrong track. Corrective
action is needed to preserve the long-term vitality and even viability
of the relationship.
Consider skill-based marriage prep to help you steer clear of destructive
conflict and control problems.
Click here for info on private premarital prep packages and marriage / relationship consultations, including phone
Click here for info on premarital educaton seminars.
/ rescue seminar - Click here if you're married more than a year
2005, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article
for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this
copyright notice, author credit and stayhitched.com source citation