How rethinking control can change your life and relationships
There’s been a lot of chaos around me lately, so I wanted to share one of my personal philosophies with you guys today: the key to happiness is learning to accept what we can’t control, and to better control what we can.
I watch a lot of random TV to unwind, and once watched an episode Blood, Sweat and Heels, a reality show about young professional New York women. It was one of the first episodes, and all of the women on the show got together for a power brunch. They started talking about their relationships, and all except one admitted that they searched through their partner’s phones, and felt justified in doing so.
The only one who disagreed was a blogger named Demetria
, who said that she didn’t want to be in a relationship with a man she didn’t trust. She said she never went through her man’s phone, and all the women ganged up on her for it. The whole thing sparked a debate on the Internet on whether it was healthy or ethical to snoop in your partner’s phone.
I have my opinions about that, but I want to talk about the bigger issue here, which is the wrong way that many people, including myself, often approach control. These women felt insecure and wanted to take control of their situation. But instead of trying to figure out how to feel less insecure and to try and avoid relationships with untrustworthy men, they allowed themselves to be consumed by their suspicions and tried to monitor everything their husbands and boyfriends did.
This thinking is common, and we’ve probably all been guilty of it, but it’s backwards.
First of all, forgetting that this behavior is probably NOT healthy or ethical, the approach doesn’t work. Many of their husbands and boyfriends still cheated on them. In fact, if anyone’s partner wants to cheat on them, he or she will probably find a way. Lesson #1: No matter how hard you try, you can never totally control anther person. In fact, the more you try to control someone, the more they will want to break free of your control.
Secondly, their attempts to feel more in control of their husbands and boyfriends did not make them happier people, in fact it made them nervous wrecks. They were always suspicious and on edge. They had to give up their self-respect by calling other women to fight over their men. And because they failed to address their own insecurities, they ended up staying with their cheating men anyway. Lesson #2: You may not be able to control another person, but you can at least try to have better control of your own behavior and emotions.
Some of us have never even gone to extremes like snooping in phones or e-mail. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to control the people around us instead of trying to control ourselves. If you’ve ever tried to make a grown person do something you want them to do or change the way they are–is he/she too lazy? irresponsible?–even for their own good, that’s controlling. If you’ve ever used your influence–psychological, financial or otherwise–to encourage or discourage someone from doing something, you have tried to control that person.
Attempts to control can range from the very small to the subtle to the very profound. If you’ve ever called someone several times in a row to force them to pick up the phone, that’s trying to control them. If you are the sole bread winner of the family and you use money to punish or reward your spouse for behavior your disapprove or approve of, that’s control. So is using sex as a method of getting what you want, if you happen to desire sex less than your partner does.
The result is almost always the same: your attempt to control that person eventually fails, and you end up mad, frustrated, heartbroken, or with high blood pressure. It’s not worth it.
This applies to many other scenarios. I’ll use myself as an example: I used to believe that problems should be resolved on the spot. So in each of my past relationships, there have been moments when I was arguing with my significant other, and they want to sleep or leave the room instead of continuing to argue with me. I couldn’t accept it, so I would continue arguing with them and force them into finishing the conversation. But almost every single time, the arguments either escalated out of control, or they left the house entirely. I learned, eventually, that my way of resolving arguments only worked if the other person agreed. If they didn’t agree, I couldn’t make them.
It also applies to much more than romantic relationships. I love and want the best for my brother, who’s much younger than me. But we disagree on lots of things, including things I consider to be common sense wisdom I’ve learned in my extra ten years of life experience. There used to be times when I resorted to yelling, screaming and threatening him in order to get my point across.
But here’s the thing: no matter how right I was about the point itself, I was wrong to try and force him to accept it. My brother is now a grown man who can, and WILL, believe whatever he wants to believe. I accomplish nothing by arguing with him about it, except for maybe ruining my own day.
Another bad outcome of attempting to control someone is that you could force them to lie to you. If you try to stop someone from doing what they want you to do, they may not fight you on it. They’ll just do it anyway, and try to hide it from you. I was once in a relationship with a man I was constantly catching in lies. At the time, I blamed him and called him a chronic liar. And though his lying was disrespectful, I reflected on that relationship later and realized that in many ways, I didn’t give him a choice–I tried to stop him from doing things he wanted to do, like go out to clubs too much, gamble, or hang out with people I didn’t like.
Instead, I should have either accepted and respected his desire to do what he wanted, or at least made it easier for him to talk to me about it–i.e. without the threat of a screaming fight, or crying. Or if the situation was really that serious and it bothered me enough, I could have chosen not to be in a relationship with him at all. Bottom line: I should have tried to control myself, not him.
There are of course situations where the “controlee” will actually respect your wishes, maybe to make you happy. But think about that–do you really want to be a person who oppresses the people they love, and makes it not okay for them to be open, or completely themselves with you?
I’ve grown over time and now handle my relationships very differently. I am cool with my boyfriends going out all night, if that’s what they want, or however it is they want to live their lives; and if a conflict ever arises I ask myself two simple questions:
1. Is this really a big deal to me? And if so, why? Am I REALLY unhappy about my man going out to have fun with his friends, or do I not trust that he is really just going out to have fun with his friends? If it’s the latter, and I do not trust this man or feel secure with him, I am probably not happy, and I probably shouldn’t be with this person.
2. If it’s just something I disagree with and there are no fundamental issues in question, is it something I am willing to lose him over? If not, then it’s not something worth fighting over, either, because fighting him on it would simply be trying to impose my will on him, which would make us both unhappy.
My friends often think I’m crazy for being this way, or that I’m allowing my boyfriends to get away with too much. But I don’t see it that way. Just as my boyfriends have the freedom to do what they want, I have the freedom to leave if I ever feel like I’m being steamrolled, or otherwise disrespected. I still have my moments and get into arguments, but this generally has made me a much happier person.
This would of course be different if I were married or had a child. Leaving isn’t always an option in those situations, in which case I would still choose my fights carefully. If your spouse is really messy, for example, is it worth fighting him/her every single day about it, or should you clean up after your spouse, learn to live with the mess, and/or bite the bullet and hire a maid? Sometimes being right, or having your way, no matter how important or righteous it seems to you in the moment, is not worth sacrificing peace, happiness and the health of your relationship for.