One of the most common dynamics I see in couple’s therapy is when one partner fails to consider that they may not always be right.
The contexts may vary: sex, money, or children, to name a few. And the specific decisions to be made may range from minor (the right time to walk the dog) to major ones (where to live).
Some controlling partners may choose which context to control while others exert pervasive control. Many find it difficult to lose an argument on any topic.
The controlling partner plays the parent/teacher to their counterpart’s child/student, ordering them to follow their rules and punishing them if they resist. The punishments may come in a variety of forms: withholding affection or sex, verbal insults, or even divorce. Oftentimes the childlike counterpart feeds or inflames the dynamic by openly rebelling, resisting, or behaving passive-aggressively.
Instead of that approach, here are eight ways to handle a partner who refuses to negotiate the power in a relationship:
- Express Empathy: Most controlling people experience anxiety when losing control. They may or may not be conscious of this, but rather than simply resist their control, consider acknowledging their anxiety and offer to negotiate. Your resistance will only increase their need for control not lessen it.
- Provide Evidence: If you feel you are in the right, provide your partner with data to support your position. If the context is financial for example, offer the appropriate numbers to prove your point. Providing evidence may lessen the anxiety that accompanies seeing things your way.
- Use Your Credibility: If you have proved in the past to be right about a similar or related issue that is currently being debated, present it to your partner.
- Control Your Emotions: The more upset or emotional you get with a controller the more irrational they may see you. Offer your point of view calmly and rationally.
- Pick Your Battles: Do not get hung up in a parent/child process. Pick your battles rather than resist for the sake of resisting.
- Be Objective: Admit that there are some areas your partner has proved to be more competent than you. In these areas, they should be allowed more control.
- Focus on the Positive: Not all control is bad, especially if it protects you from chaos. Offer positive reinforcement when your partner’s control has spared the relationship chaos.
- Increase Insight: In acknowledging your partner’s anxiety, you may want to provide them with an explanation for their behavior. For example, controllers may have suffered severe losses in childhood or were forced to cope with incompetent parents. Gently discussing these historical experiences and linking them to a current need for control may lessen this need.
A word of warning: Trying to negotiate with a very controlling individual will not be easy. If you feel that nothing has worked, you still have options, albeit unpleasant: First, you may elect to preserve your relationship and succumb to the control. Some people are simply unwilling to put their relationship at risk—the trauma of a separation is not worth it to them. And second, you may choose to opt out of your relationship. It is your decision to make.
Of course, seeking professional help is an option, but extremely controlling individuals do not like to give up control to anyone — including a therapist.