This post is an excerpt from LoveSmart: Transforming the Emotional Patterns that Sabotage Relationships, by my late wife, Sandra Michaelson. The excerpt is taken from the section of her book that deals with control issues. People can be highly sensitive to feeling controlled even when their partner is not interested in being (or trying to be) controlling. We can feel annoyance or anger simply in imagining that someone is trying to control us.
It’s the inner passivity we carry in our psyche that makes us so sensitive to feeling controlled. The more insight we have into this aspect of our psychological nature, the sooner we can clear away this emotional sensitivity.
As you’re reading the following excerpt, try to understand how the inappropriateness of the behaviors described below relate back to one’s own emotional readiness to feel controlled. Feeling controlled is one of the eight first hurts of early childhood. As adults, these hurts can linger in our psyche as emotional attachments. If we want to liberate ourselves from needless suffering, we need to recognize our readiness to keep replaying and recycling these hurts.
Excerpt from LoveSmart: Transforming the Emotional Patterns that Sabotage Relationships:
We can easily feel controlled by our partners because we unconsciously re-enact with them the emotional memories of our parent-child dynamic. As children, didn’t we feel we had to serve our parents, give up what we wanted, and go along with their rules? The goal as adults is to understand our unconscious attachment to feeling dominated and to observe both how we control our partner and the ways we passively allow him or her to dominate us.
Controlling behaviors can be subtle, with the controlling element well-hidden or disguised. They can range from mild and occasional to abusive and frequent. In fact, control-and-power issues are often at the root of domestic violence. For instance, as inhibitions fall away under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people become more controlling and abusive, or more passive and submissive, starkly revealing their negative attitude toward themselves, which are projected on to those around them.
The TV remote-control is a symbol of power in relationships. Men, in particular, seem to need to control this “clicker,” which symbolizes, on an emotional level, control of their domain. Should a wife or girlfriend try to take possession of it, a man is apt to react like a baby whose bottle has just been yanked from his mouth. Once again, as in childhood, he feels himself at the mercy of the mother-female. Female possession of the remote-control compares emotionally to mother’s possession and control of the breast or bottle. He feels powerless, forced to accept whatever TV program his wife desires. He’s no longer King of the Couch.
Those who battle over this instrument may want to reflect on the following questions: “How does it feel when I’m in possession of it? How does it feel when my partner is in possession of it?” If you feel stripped of power without it, perhaps you may be applying this emotional interpretation to other areas of your life.
The following is a list of common controlling behaviors I’ve seen in relationships. As you read each one, consider how you may express these behaviors, keeping in mind that it is easier to see these behaviors in someone other than yourself.
* You assume responsibility for everything because you feel your partner won’t. You can’t trust him or her to do things the way you want. This belief justifies your desire to take over and control the relationship.
* Taking over the conversation and interrupting your partner. Not listening to him. Feeling he has nothing important to say. Only talking about subjects you are interested in.
* Making it known to your partner that you are not pleased to hear disagreement or critical feedback. If she does criticize you, switching the focus and hammering at her for her past and present flaws. Making it her fault that you are not functioning well. Telling her she’s too sensitive and takes things too personally.
* Being center stage, craving the attention. Controlling the conversation by bringing up subjects you want to talk about and not letting him make his contribution.
* Winning at all costs. Insisting that your facts or feelings are right. Making her agree with your version of reality. If she insists on her version, you insist in turn that her interpretation is wrong. Bringing out a list of facts and statistics to support your view.
* Arguing over minor things—he’s five minutes late, his sock has a hole, the mustard is lost in the refrigerator—so you can assert your dominance and prove you are right.
* Being unpredictable. One minute praising your partner for how wonderful she is, the next scolding her for being lazy and unreliable. Your partner never knows what to expect, which keeps her off balance and in your control.
* Creating the impression that you have no problems. Acting like an authority. Feeling you are better than your partner. Acting as though you do not need anything from anyone. Problems are his fault. He needs help, not you.
* Making success the most important thing in your life. Nothing else in life, including your spouse, kids, or vacations, comes close. Using your competence as a weapon and a way to exercise power over your partner. Never letting down your guard or showing vulnerability.
* Making your partner feel guilty by accusing her of pressuring you and making you comply with her wishes. Making her feel selfish for asserting herself. Accusing her of making you feel awful and ruining your day when she expresses her independent views or desires. Laying on the ultimate guilt trip: “After all the great things I’ve done for you, you rarely do anything for me. You don’t care about my feelings or needs.” Reciting all the wonderful things you’ve done for her over the years.
* Talking in a loud voice with an angry edge when you want your way or when you want him to do something for you. Or drilling him incessantly with your “brilliant” arguments and hammering at him so he will wear down and submit. Badgering him relentlessly until he becomes exhausted. If that doesn’t work, yelling, screaming, and calling him horrible names. Blowing things out of proportion and scaring the wits out of your partner.
* Organizing and accounting for every minute. Everything has to be done perfectly, in the right order, in the right place, as determined by you. Planning other people’s lives to the wire and insisting that everything go according to plan. If the plan fails, throwing a scary temper tantrum.
* Preaching at your partner with a paternalistic attitude. Regarding your spouse and children as emotionally handicapped. Rescuing your partner from his bad habits. Being confrontational: “Why didn’t you do this the way I told you to!” Making sure she accounts for her behavior. Giving suggestions to improve her choices or behaviors. Making sly jests or puns poking at her inadequacies.
* Spying on your partner. Going through his personal correspondence and writings. Daily scrutinizing your partner and his behaviors. Asking questions such as, “Who did you just talk to? What were you talking about? Why do you want to be with that person?” You believe these questions are for his own good.
* Holding the purse strings. Giving her money or rescuing her financially so you have even more leverage to control her: “Look, I’m supporting you and giving you everything you need. Now, what about some respect and consideration for what I want!”
* Using sexuality to assert your dominance. Resorting to sexual power and excitement to subdue your partner. This fulfills temporarily your need for potency and power.
* Complaining incessantly about how bad you have it and how the world is deteriorating. Scowling and snarling when you express how you feel. The message: do not come close or you will get bitten.
* Ignoring your partner and giving him the cold-shoulder for days. Punishing him with silence.
* Indicating directly or through insinuation what clothes you want him to wear, how to style his hair, how to act when out with others, what to say in certain contexts, and so on. Giving him ongoing instructions on how you want him to be or how he should behave. Putting down any independent action as wrong or inappropriate: “That shirt you bought is just plain ugly.”
* Invalidating her feelings by saying, “You really don’t mean that. I know it’s just because you’re upset or your hormones are acting up.”
* No matter what you do wrong, blaming it on your partner. No matter what the mistake, making someone else responsible. For instance, if you break a glass, say, “Who put that glass there in the first place?”
* Threatening divorce, having an affair, or cutting him out of your will every time he acts independently. Unreasonable or coercive demands are more likely to create opposition in your partner, causing him to rebel and resist you.
The behaviors listed above not only ensure your partner’s resistance and resentment but also sabotage intimacy, respect, and love. Your partner may give in but at the cost of losing respect and love for you. He may comply but only to keep you from becoming more belligerent. This is not a true exchange of love.
LoveSmart is available as a paperback or e-book here.