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Who's Controlling Who? - 1/22/2008

  Jennifer was adamant.  “I’ve been controlled from the first time I met Ross and I’m sick to death of it.  I’m ready to grow up and greet life on my own.  Don’t get me wrong.  He’s not a bad person.  He gives me almost anything I want, but there’s always a hitch.  When I wanted a new car, I got it, only he picked it out.  So, when it appeared in our driveway, all I felt was resentment.  But, I didn’t complain.  I just played the role of the appreciative housewife with a generous husband.  The worst part is that when I tell people  how I feel, they think I’m crazy.  Just once, I’d like to do things my way without him sticking his nose into it.”

      Ross couldn’t understand his wife’s attitude.  He said, “I’m happy.  I don’t know why she isn’t.  She always complains.  She says I’m controlling, but I give Jen anything she wants.  She wanted a new car, she got it.  No, it wasn’t black and it wasn’t a sedan, but tell me,  how could she drive car pool in a large black sedan with kids’ fingerprints all over it?  So I got her an SUV, but she wasn’t happy .  Nothing is ever right or enough.  Now, I ask you, Doc, who’s controlling who?”   

      That’s the picture I was confronted with.  What’s your opinion?  Then, again, this may not be a case of who’s right but, instead, who’s wrong.  My thought is both of them.  In almost every instance, when there is conflict over control, people perceive the conflict as though it exists between two people.  They prefer to think they’re victims, trapped in a bad relationship they can’t leave because of kids, finances or  religious beliefs, etc..  But they’re not victims, they’re volunteers, who react to each other as though they’re controlled, when control isn’t the issue.  For example, a wife says, “It’s garbage day.  Don’t forget to take out the trash”, or a husband reminds his wife to “Call the Smiths about Saturday night.”  In  many instances, these benign remarks contribute to the start of WW IIII, because deep inside, each individual feels out of control.  Not of their partner, but of themself.  As a result, they’re frequently incapable of delineating between whether they’re taking out the garbage or making that call  because they want to, or because they’ve been told to.  In either case, the problem doesn’t lie between the two of them.  It’s inside each of them.  Neither one has set boundaries or limits they can trust.

      Let me give you an example involving a problem that surfaces in a myriad of homes: how to control spending.  Arguments over this issue often disrupt and destroy what could otherwise be wonderful relationships.  But, believe it or not, the issue really isn’t one of money.  People with or without  financial problems can have the same reactions.  Let's look at the problem in terms of emotions instead of facts.  Hypothetically, a husband complains, “I can’t stop my wife from spending.  She goes behind my back, charges things we can’t afford and I have to come up with the money.”   

      Because I exaggerate for illustrative purposes, I’m not suggesting you follow my advice to the letter.  At the same time, I do want  to provide some guidelines for dealing with the problem. If there is genuine financial concern and you’ve discussed it with your spouse, but to no avail, you need to take action.  Cut off the charge accounts.  Cancel the credit cards.  Return the purchases.  All of which is likely to raise your spouse’s ire.  In fact, you probably didn’t do it initially because you knew that.  You thought, “She’ll be furious.  She’ll argue, threaten divorce and reject me.”  Listen to those thoughts, then answer this question:  Who has the problem?  Her?  She hasn’t said a word.  All those fears arose inside you.  The problems are yours  You feel intimidated and are probably so afraid of not being loved that you capitulate, stay angry and express your resentments  in passive-aggressive ways.    

      Let me give you another example.  You don’t know what to buy your spouse for a special occasion.  Inside, you’re angry at him because he often acts as though what you’ve bought isn’t good enough or sufficiently expensive.  As a result, you compensate by spending more than you intended to.  Are you angry at your spouse, or resentful because of the anxiety you experienced?  If it’s the anxiety, the problem isn’t an interpersonal one.  It’s an intrapersonal conflict that exists between the logical part of you that knows what you want to do and the emotional part of you that lacks the courage to act on it.                                                                                                                                                                                                        

      I could provide other examples, but in the end, they all lead to the same conclusion: you must take control of you and have the courage to voice and behave in accordance with what you believe, think, feel and desire.  You need to see that, when you feel trapped,  having to comply with the wishes and demands of others, it’s because of your own sense of insecurity that was there long before you met your spouse.  I know you’d prefer to think, “He/she has beat me down to the point that I’m nothing.”  But that isn’t the case.  If you had truly felt adequate, when the “controlling”behavior first started, you would have stood up to it then.  

      Fortunately, it’s never too late to stand up, in spite of your fears and recognize that you possess as many attributes as you do shortcomings.   The consequence will be an elevated sense of self-worth, which will enable you to set limits and boundaries for both yourself and others.  As a result, you will feel less angry and less the victim.  The reason is that when you’re in control of you,  you don’t  worry about being controlled by others.  You honestly know why you’re taking out the garbage or making phone calls and will experience the joy associated with being free to be you.

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