Satisfying relationships among married couples are marked by balancing a profound sense of individuality while maintaining the distinct intimate connection that defines marriage. Many marriages, however, suffer severely when one or both partners are battling for control over the other. Self-esteem and differentiation are key elements in successful relationships and play important roles in the development of healthy, long-lasting unions while providing a way to keep a controlling partner within limits.
Control issues and controlling behavior.
Control issues are probably among the most common problems that adversely affect relationships. A couple marches headlong into a long-term relationship armed with their “shoulds”, “musts” and lofty expectation to begin the battle for power. “Good” and “right” value judgments proclaimed by one are not necessarily shared by the other and so the wars begin.
The one who is being controlled is going far beyond the normal accommodations expected to be made in a relationship. This person is in danger of losing their very identity, leading to greatly decreased or non-existent self-esteem. The controller will have their own set of extenuating problems as well. If they are relatively successful at controlling another person they will develop an unrealistic, over-generalized notion that they can control other people through their irrational behavior as they have their partner. If they are unsuccessful at gaining a satisfactory level of control, they will become frustrated by the act of constantly striving and failing.
Couples attempt to control each other with many different kinds of behavior.
- They can become helpless or demanding. Take, for instance, the housewife who is seemingly “sick” more often than not; or the husband who wants dinner on the table the minute he gets home “or else”!
-They control each other’s time. She makes him wait on her to get ready beyond what is a reasonable amount of time. He is intentionally late getting home when he knows that they have an event planned.
-They control each other through finances. Commonly, one partner will monitor how much is spent by the other and will have sole discretion over disbursement of funds without regard to the other’s opinion or preferences. Conversely, one will over spend on a regular basis in an effort to passively let the other one know that they are not in control.
-They withdraw or become clingy. Along with many other types of controlling behavior, this behavior is rooted in fear. It is the classic engulfment/abandonment scenario and it usually has the following characteristics: The tendency of one is to constantly pursue the affection of the other because of a deep seated fear of being abandoned. This behavior only reinforces the equally intense fear residing in the other partner of being smothered. This cycle creates a never ending game of cat and mouse resulting in neither partner’s needs being met.
Self-esteem is important for both partners.
Self-esteem, or high regard for oneself, is essential in a marriage relationship. Lack of self-esteem opens the door for abusive behavior by letting another person have control over things like how they talk to you or physically treat you. Because of the lack of self-esteem, many marriage partners begin to exhibit extremely controlling behavior over the other, disregarding their deficient mates in ways that tear down their confidence even further. Having a healthy level of self-esteem allows people to accept themselves even if their partners choose not to, thus enabling couples to either work on issues together or, in some cases, to make the tough choice to end the relationship.
Differentiation is essential.
Differentiation in relationships can be defined as maintaining and encouraging individuality while nurturing an intimate relationship with someone you love. Having individual thoughts, emotions and actions and pursuing personal interests are an important part of what two people become when forming a marriage. A marriage is like a child. Two unique parents each contribute to the gene pool and the child becomes a one-of-a-kind product of their parents’ union. A marriage is much the same. Ideally, a marriage has the attributes of both contributors and becomes an entity unto itself. Since control issues are largely fear based, a controlling partner will view differentiation in a dim light, associating the unique potentiality of their partners as a threat and a way of losing the coveted control position in the relationship.
While most marriages experience their share of normal power balancing episodes, controlling behavior taken to the extreme can almost always be classified as abusive. Healthy relationships that last have some key elements in common. Among them are self-esteem, which enables each partner to highly regard themselves apart from their mate; and differentiation, which encourages each partner to pursue individual interests while upholding the intimacy and integrity of their marriage. In addition, these relationship tools can help individuals deal with the common problem of overly controlling partners in an effective manner even if it means finding the courage to end the relationship. The goal of any relationship is to become happy, healthy and successful. Learning how to raise your self-esteem and differentiate in your relationship are some ways you can achieve your relationship goals.
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