Why do couples try to control eachother?

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As we sat at Pier 39 with our newfound friends last night, the conversations took many twists and turns (thanks to fruity drinks, no doubt), and eventually landed on the topic of relationships. Shocking, I know….

One of our new friends was sharing how he has found that women feel the need to control men that they are in a relationship with, have a need to know exactly where they are and with whom at all times, eventually stifling the very qualities they were attracted to in the first place. Now, I have to give this guy a lot of kudos for broaching this subject and taking such a bold position in the company of 3 women. Needless to say, we promptly put him in his place.

But it got me thinking… There is no doubt that there are women AND men out there who fit this description to varying degrees. But why do they feel the need to do this and how much (if at all) is a healthy part of a relationship?

I have always imagined a relationship in which I am completely accepted as I am, while simultaneously being challenged to continue to grow as an individual. Where spending time with my friends and doing the things I love is encouraged rather than stifled. Where there is complete trust. This is what I strive for in all my relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Various studies on relationships are aligned with my thinking, indicating that the most significant predictor of success in marriage is the ability to maintain your individuality while building a partnership based on mutual understanding, respect and support. Where it’s truly safe to be yourself because you know you are completely accepted for who you are.

But we all know that relationships like this are difficult to come by as we all enter the relationship with our own scars and “baggage” if you will. I believe that these scars unconsciously lead to the need for control in certain situations.

For example, someone who was physically or emotionally abandoned by their parents at some point in their life may fear being abandoned by their partner. This may manifest in their relationship through a desire to know where their partner is at all times, feelings of jealousy when others are getting their partner’s attention and the need for constant reassurance. In this case, they are not trying to be controlling to be hurtful, but are unconsciously trying to protect themselves from feeling the same hurt they felt when they were abandoned by their parents.

However, if you are in a relationship with this type of individual, you have to remember that knowing where it stems from, doesn’t make it right, or healthy. It’s not your job to heal their wounds. That’s something only they can do and it may require some commitment to therapy. All you can do is help them see what they are doing in a gentle way and support them as they start their journey of healing. And take the time to know what your boundaries are – what you are willing to tolerate and for how long – and communicate that to them.

And if you’re the one experiencing these feelings, know that they are perfectly normal. It’s how you act on them that matters. It’s neither good to transfer these feelings to your partner nor to hold them inside for a long time. So learn about what is making you feel that way and think about what you need to do for yourself to grow and heal so that those feelings are not controlling YOU anymore. You will be a much more complete and self assured person at the end of that journey.

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