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How to Navigate the Need to be in Control in a Relationship

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

A common yet often challenging dynamic to navigate in relationships is the need to be in control. We are desire-driven creatures, but we can't get everything we want all the time. It takes maturity to be able to navigate you and your partners needs to be in control in the relationship.

We have a natural desire to be in control. Therefore, it is important to address our need to be in control in a relationship. Problems arise when a person wants to be in control of everything all the time in the relationship. They want to control everything their partner does, and they want things to be done their way. If you realize that you are too controlling, the goal is to be less controlling and to stop telling people what to do.

Characteristics of Being too Controlling

1. Aggressive and Angry

You see one mistake, and you lose your temper. You are harsh with people. People see you as a little scary and not approachable. You are edgy and have frequent angry outbursts. It's one thing to correct gently, it's another when you are calling people names.

2. Dominating

Everything has to be your way. You direct everybody and dictate others. You make the decisions and the plans.

3. Manipulate

You think you are smarter than everyone else. You think you know how to handle any situation. You try to convince people to think and do things your way.

4. Selfish

You need to have things your way. You always have to be right.

5. Guarded

You will not open up. You do not introspect. You do not share. You do not let others ask questions about who you are.

6. Excessive Talking

You talk because you need to be in control. You don't filter, you challenge, critique, provide counter points, and put down what other people are saying. Other people may be talking, but you don't care to listen or understand. You rationalize, justify, make excuses, blame, convince, deny, argue, persuade, intellectualize, or over-spiritualize the conversation so you can be in control.

7. Lack empathy

You are unable to empathize with others. You don't care what other people are feeling or needing. You think emotions are weak and that their needs are not important.

8. Critical

You belittle people by criticizing them. You see yourself as better, smarter, more righteous. You feel justified to question people and make them doubt themselves. You are sarcastic, make jokes, tease, and it hurts people. When you are called out for your negativity, you laugh it off and call it humor and blame their over-sensitivity.

9. Invalidating

You challenge people. You try to tear people down. You are impatient when people share about themselves, their thoughts, ideas, preferences, opinions, needs, and wants.

How to Cope with a Controlling Person

1. Set Boundaries

Set time limits. Give yourself your own personal space. Set physical boundaries. Don't let them hit you. If they hurt you, draw the line and say, "Please stop hurting me." Make your own decisions.

2. Be confident in yourself.

Don't feel unworthy. Don't be a victim. Don't feel like you deserve to be treated poorly. Have self-worth. You are worthy. Your thoughts, feelings, preferences are worth being expressed. You deserve to be heard and understood. Stand up for yourself and speak up when you are put down. You don't have to do everything people tell you to do.

3. Have emotional control.

Emotional outbursts often reinforces the controlling person's desire to control people. Process your emotions in healthy ways and engage with a logical frame of mind.

4. Get a mediator.

You may never be able to show a controlling person how controlling they are. They are in denial and may never admit that they have a problem. Invite a third party to help address these issues.

Steps to be Less Controlling

Even if you don't identify yourself as being too controlling, these are helpful skills to practice to being a healthy human being.

1. Let go of your pride.

Take yourself down a notch. You are great, but so are others. You are not the best at everything. You are not always right.

2. Share.

Explain to people how you do things and ask them how they do it. Delegate a task you can give to someone else. See what it feels like to trust others. Appreciate other people's skills. People will have different perspectives and do things differently from you and that is okay.

3. Allow space for things you can't control.

Think about the things you can't control: the future, other people, the weather, situations. Practice letting go of the things you can't control.

4. Practice surrendering.

Make a conscious decision to give up control in one small area of your life. Maybe you'll let others decide what's for dinner. Maybe you'll go on vacation without planning a single activity. Maybe you'll just take a walk without knowing where you're going. Take a class, where you have to follow the instructor's agenda. Let the circumstances and people around you take the lead. Bite your tongue, filter your thoughts, sit back, and relax. Enjoy not having to be in control.

5. Train your brain.

Practice telling yourself:

- Listen to what people think, need, and say.

- Be completely open to alternative ways of doing things.

- Learn something new.

- It doesn’t always have to be efficient.

- Listen. Listen first. Listen more. Only after that, then I'll speak my mind or give my opinion.

- It’s not okay to be forceful.

- Relinquishing control can be as rewarding as taking control.

- I don't have to be in control.

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