It is the weakest not the strongest partner who controls a relationship. Do not confuse domineering and bullying behaviour, or emotional over-reaction and manipulation, as strength. It is, more often than not, the compliant, compromising, or silently-suffering partner who is the strongest – because they are trying to handle things without intending to exert control. Strength is not about muscle-flexing, intimidation (be it emotional or physical), or the shutting down of others. That stuff comes from a place of low self-worth, and a disinterest in self-awareness and self-analysis.
Some couples are reasonably evenly matched, engaging in only occasional power-plays that are not too insidious or damaging. However, it is not uncommon for one partner in a relationship to develop a way of consistently pacifying the other, for the sake of peace – and there is always a price to be paid. It is not always immediately obvious which of the two is the controlling partner, and which is the one being controlled. Just because someone is ranting on social media about being let down and mistreated does not necessarily mean that they are entirely innocent. I am not saying that this is true in every single case (of course not) that the most vocal one is the most guilty – but in my experience, the most vocal one usually has something to answer to.
The partner who…
The partner who regularly gets into a huff at the drop of a hat is attempting to assert control.
The partner whose emotional needs always have to be taken into account is attempting to assert control.
The partner whose ‘issues’ require others to work around them is attempting to assert control.
The partner whose past hangs like a dark cloud over the relationship, whilst refusing to seek help, is attempting to assert control.
The partner who quickly shuts the other down, refusing to communicate, is attempting to assert control.
The partner who, following a difference of opinion, sulks and ignores the other for days on end, is attempting to assert control.
The partner who is consistently insecure is attempting to assert control.
The partner who refuses to compromise is attempting to assert control.
The partner whose public face is a much nicer version of their private face is attempting to assert control.
The partner who automatically reverts to the role of ‘victim’ every time they are challenged is attempting to assert control.
The partner who has their say, before shutting the other person down or walking away, is attempting to assert control.
The partner who always responds defensively is attempting to assert control.
The partner who regularly reacts aggressively to any form of communication is attempting to assert control.
Controlling tendencies are not always immediately obvious, but usually become so with the passing of time – when the couple have developed a life together. There may be enough good times to convince the one who is being emotionally manipulated or controlled that things aren’t so bad, and they find ways of responding that don’t elicit a negative reaction – at least some of the time. The controlling partner is much more likely to scream at the other to “stop f*****g controlling me!” because it is an oddity of controlling behaviour, to also be the accuser. And the blamer. It is incredibly difficult – impossible, even – to reason or negotiate with a seasoned controller, unless they recognise and acknowledge their own behaviour, and choose to seek help.
If you suspect or recognise that you are in a controlling relationship, and you are sure that you are not the main perpetrator, you need to consider how you intend to proceed. Some will choose to keep their head down and put-up and shut-up, but that isn’t the only way forward. Dependent upon the degree of controlling behaviour, you may not want to immediately extricate yourself, but to give it a chance to improve and heal. The only way you can do that is to change. Not because you are wrong and your partner is right, but because controlling behaviour is always motivated by a sense of inadequacy, powerlessness, and weakness… and it is only strength that can create change – which is why you need to be strong. Not defensive or self-protective – but consistently, persistently firm. And if that doesn’t work, then the only answer is to leave – because an ardent, unrelenting controller will reduce your lifeforce to dust, will crush every ounce of hope and enthusiasm you possess – will not quit until you are completely compliant. And then he or she will despise you for your weakness, and treat you as if you are less than the dirt on their shoes. And they still won’t be happy.
All relationships will involve some degree of power-play, and this is something we can genuinely learn from; we grow more through our association with other human beings than we do from any other area of life. Different decades bring their own struggles; those in their twenties are going to perceive and experience life very differently from those in their fifties and sixties. Our individual struggles will be at least partially connected to where we are currently at, and we all have to go through the process. But that doesn’t mean we have to allow someone who is supposed to love us to systematically destroy our sense of self-worth and value… because they are screwed up. People are always going on about love that is clearly not love, but more likely co-dependence, habit, or fear of being alone. Sometimes two individuals should not be together, because, unified, they are an emotionally destructive force – and they screw each other up. But many others can create a new balance in a relationship that was formerly based on control and compliance, by calmly, firmly, and consistently refusing to be squashed, ignored, talked down to, or ridden rough-shod over. A manipulator who, deep down inside, doesn’t really want to be a manipulator, will eventually respond productively to the one who lovingly refuses to be manipulated. But, as I said, if you do your best and are patient, and your controlling partner continues to make it clear that he or she has no intention of changing – because they don’t want to and don’t see why they should – be brave and liberate yourself, for the sake of your happier future, and the loving partner you are yet to meet.