Dear Dr. Brian:
My partner and I have been together for 9 years and we have a problem with control in our relationship. My partner says that I’m too controlling and it’s gotten to the point where I feel like I have to watch everything I say for fear that he’ll think I’m trying to overpower him. He says that I try to control how he thinks and feels in most situations of his life. I’ve asked him to write down the areas of his life where he feels I’m controlling him, but he resists this. I’m not sure what to do and I’m getting to the point where I’m questioning whether this relationship is viable. Any advice?____________________________________________
I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’re having with your partner. It’s going to take the two of you working together as a team to be able to resolve the difficulties you’re having, and to view that as such so you’re not approaching your disagreements with a “you against me” attitude that will certainly end up in a stalemate.
I like how you’re trying to be proactive in your efforts to communicate and get a dialogue going with him by suggesting a non-threatening writing exercise to identify any grievances that exist, but he may even view this gesture as “controlling.” The truth is that there is nothing you will be able to do to get him to participate in a dialogue with you; we can’t “make” people do what we want them to do and only have control over our own actions. You can try the direct and assertive route or try and influence his behavior through changes in your own demeanor and actions.
In a relationship, it’s important to have both an individual and a couple identity. Too much individual identity makes a couple feel like roommates as they live parallel lives but share very little connection with each other. Too much couple identity can cause partners to feel suffocated, smothered, and controlled and their individual pursuits and needs can feel stunted. Often times “controlling behavior” can result from this imbalance in individual and couple identity and would be something important to discuss with your partner as a possible source for this perception.