When you look at a couple, do you assume who is in charge? Do you know couples where they are always fighting for control? Is that your relationship? Control is a weird thing. When we are kids, we believe that we can control our environment and we push limits to see how far this control goes. When we are teens, we believe we ‘got this’ and our parents just want control of us. When we are young adults and set off into the world, this idea of control becomes very real and we may lose it a little by drinking and partying too much. When reality sets in, we use control to try to create safety because the big bad world is scary. In relationship, that does not change. Control is an illusion of security and fairness is a playground game.
When I worked with couples, the problems usually stemmed from deep rooted trauma from their childhood that they were still playing out in their adulthood. Most of it usually resulted in exerting control over the other in whatever way possible. For some, withholding sex or the silent treatment was their weapon of choice. For others, intimidation, violence and threats were the only ways they knew to keep that elusive idea of control. Whatever the method, the couple would battle it out in these bizarre passive-aggressive, aggressive-aggressive games that resulted in deep hurts and damaged psyches. When I would suggest that they stop playing the games, I was usually met with laughs. You see, this was what these people though marriage was all about.
They were wrong. Someone I love very much would tell me that I was being naïve to think that marriage did not require someone to be in control and that these games were natural. Just because this is how lots of people do it does not mean that it is right. We know many behaviors that are perpetuated in society that are sick but they continue. Being statistically normal is not necessarily healthy.
Control is an illusion that we were taught is the only means by which to feel safe. We are taught throughout our lives that taking control of something is the same as taking care of something. We also learn from the trials and tribulations of our development that when someone tries to tell us what to do it is not always in our best interest. This idea that we need to be in control is exhausting. It is a basic lack of trust that, when whittled down to the root cause, comes back to a lack of self-trust. How can you trust your spouse when you can’t trust yourself?
When we feel out of control, we start to look for the culprit of these scary feelings. It could be that we were told that we are sick. It could be that we lost our job and are having financial woes. It could be that life is happening and the outside world is needing us to make changes. Whatever the cause, the end result is a need to regain control. We do this by demanding control or by controlling things around us like our spouse or children or employees. We plan. We tuck in the corners of our sheets. We pretend that that has created control in our environment- but it doesn’t.
Couples who are battling for control will also start keeping score and are not afraid to tell people who is winning in this bizarre Blood Sport. In the end, all they have done is create an uncontrollable mess were neither of them feels safe or secure in their marriage or themselves.