Exposing the Need to Control Other People and Breaking Free

Hello, my name is Sevin Philips. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m here to talk about feeling controlled and being controlling in a relationship.
There are two sides to that. Many of us have been one or the other or both. I think you know when you’re on the side of you feel controlled. Somebody is not happy with you and happy with your behavior. They’re disappointed in you, they want you to be something or do something different than you’re doing. You know about it and they let you know about it in some either in subtle or direct way. It doesn’t feel good.

Most of the time, you want to avoid that conversation, you want to avoid that person. Or maybe in a worst case, you change or view, your outlook, or your behavior for somebody else, which temporarily maybe you can do, but it never really lasts, because if you don’t want to do something that’s not actually good for you, it just isn’t sustainable. Then the other person gets to feel good about your change and then is constantly disappointed.

There’s this element of being really, really honest that’s connected to this controlling dynamic that one has to be really, really honest with oneself: “No, I don’t want to do this. You know what, I can try and I can do it a little bit, but I may not do it in a way that you want it to be. It’s not because I don’t love you, it’s because when I get home from work, I’m too tired to clean the house even though it makes you feel good.” It’s that kind of level of honesty that I strive and I want everyone to strive for.

On the controlling side, it’s interesting that sometimes it’s very loving. Someone doesn’t even know they’re being controlling, especially if they want you to change because they care about you. There’s something that they don’t like about what you’re doing in your life that makes them sad, makes them scared for you. Many times parents do this to their adult children. There’s an element of love to it.

But what happens is if you continue to do that, the person is just going to pull away and not feel close to you. In some element, we have to let somebody live their life and we have to let them find their own way if they’re truly going to recover, move in a certain direction. Or you might be amazed that what we thought was good for somebody else might not actually be what they need.

On a more mundane level, I feel like for those that want somebody to change, especially with a cleaning the house kind of thing, you could ask somebody. You have the right to ask for what you want. That’s healthy. But what you don’t have the right to do is once you’ve asked once or twice, maybe three times, and someone continues to not change, they made a decision whether it’s conscious or not. You don’t have the right to push them into something different. You don’t want to, because if you do it and they do it for you, it’s not going to work.

What I want everyone to do is to examine their lives and examine their relationships, and notice if you feel if someone wants you to be different than you are. That’s a great sign that there could be a controlling element in that relationship. On the other hand, notice if you’ve asked somebody or want somebody to change for a long period of time. Maybe you’re resentful about it or maybe you bring it up often.

That’s a good sign that you’re holding on to something very firmly and you need to find an alternative. An alternative can be taken care of yourself, finding another way, accepting the person, being happy with some in-between instead of asking for what you want continually. It could be ending a relationship, which is often why sometimes people continue to nag, to push, to direct somebody, because they feel like they can’t live with something but yet they can’t live without the person either. They’re kind of in a rock in the hard place. But truly, you’re not truly stuck. You can leave somebody if you’re that unhappy. It’s either that or accept. Acceptance is always the best thing if it’s possible, even though it isn’t always.

I hope this is helpful. I wanted to share a little bit about the dynamic, a little bit of the awareness of what’s behind it for both people, and for you to examine your life to see if it’s happening in your life. And if it is, bring that conversation up with that person and try to find a better, healthier dynamic for both of you. Thanks.