Control and criticism are often side effects of anxiety. They are like a set of earrings that match the necklace of anxiety. Alcohol and addictions can be the matching bracelet to this jewelry because that becomes a solution to tamp down the fears. When someone controls the labels alphabetically on their soup cans they feel more comfortable. Anxiety is about fear, worry and uncertainty. Uncertainty can be overwhelming and control is a logical reaction to create certainty. People who control a lot are also certain they are right. Imagine the comfort of being self-righteous. Unfortunately in a relationship, control can too often squash another point of view. A couple comes into therapy. The wife wants a new house. The husband is encouraged to be truthful and he disagrees. The couples never returns and I’m certain they purchase a new home. Therapy is about valuing two points of view because both have merit.
People with control issues do not value dialogue. They prefer monologue to campaign for one solution because it’s the only obvious answer – “What do you mean you’re going to give up Saturday morning basketball? You can’t do that.” Control means you strangle discussion and insist this is the right answer. A partner will beg, “Let me own this decision” which is ignored. Instead there will be an escalation, “If you don’t do Saturday AM basketball it means you don’t respect my work as a personal trainer. How could you do this to me? You know exercise is crucial to well-being.” The escalation turns the choice into an attack on the other person. The emotion of fear inspires the escalation which erases any possibility of dialogue or ever understanding a different point of view. There is an emotional demand that is completely unreasonable: “If you agree with me and meet my expectations then I’m not scared, I feel safe and comfortable. It’s too hard to think about this in any other way and if you love me, you’ll stop trying.” The danger is that catering to one person, means erasing the other person. There are many men and women who are too apologetic, too forgiving and they go along with becoming invisible. Relationships have to be about both people.
People with control issues are often very critical. They are harsh with themselves as well as others. They are so critical they can easily extinguish fun and/or pleasure. They push themselves and others towards perfectionism. Adolescents especially struggle with parents who can be too controlling and critical.
Next time there is an argument, write down what’s important to you and what’s important to the other person. Can you capture the other person’s point of view? Do you get it right? In a healthy relationship there may be temporary lopsidedness, but a consistent pattern of it is not going to last for the long haul. It’s basic to the infrastructure of any successful relationship to make sure there is room for respectful disagreement. It can take 50 to 100 conversations over time to deal with differences. Try to acknowledge your partner’s point of view. Don’t get stuck in thinking that your point of view is the only one that really matters. There are so many ways to look at and solve disagreements. Demanding adherence to one way is a mistake. Relationships are fraught with the work of how to accommodate differences. It’s the space in between two people who gives birth to the Us. It’s the Us that couples need to decide is more important than either one of you. Control, too often makes the other person invisible and then there is no Us. There will be no survival for the Us that works, without respect for both people’s differences.