10/07/2014 09:34 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

Are You Controlling in Your Relationships?

JackF via Getty Images

Are you aware of how you might be trying to control others?

All of us are controlling in one way or another in our relationships, yet many of us are not aware of what it is we are trying to control and how we try to control. There are two major areas in which we may try to control others:
  • Behaviors
  • Feelings

Sometimes we try to control what people do, and other times we may try to control how they feel about us and react to us. Frequently, people who do not often try to control others' behavior do not see themselves as controlling people, because they do not realize that they are trying to control how others feel about them and respond to them.

Let's take the example of Justin and Cindy. Justin tends to focus on what Cindy does -- how she spends her time and who she spends it with, how much money she spends, how well she keeps the house, and how she looks. When Cindy doesn't behave in the way Justin thinks she "should," he becomes angry, judgmental, and withdrawn. In Justin's mind, he will feel loved and safe when Cindy behaves the way he wants her to behave, and he feels justified in attempting to control her when she is out of line. Love for Justin means someone doing what he wants, and he wants control over this.

Cindy, on the other hand, tends to focus on Justin's reactions to her. Cindy wants control over Justin being warm, accepting and understanding. When Justin is judgmental and withdrawn, Cindy feels unsafe and tries to control Justin with her niceness and care-taking, Cindy gives herself up and tries to do what Justin wants her to do in order to control his feelings about her and his reactions toward her. Eventually, when Justin does not give her the acceptance she desires, she gets angry, but niceness and care-taking are her first lines of control. Love for Cindy means someone being accepting of her and she wants control over this.

It's easy to see Justin's controlling behavior. His anger, judgmentalness and withdrawal are quite obvious. It's harder to see that Cindy is actually just as controlling as Justin -- not about what he does, but about how he reacts to her.

Since most people hate being controlled, many people will covertly resist whatever it is the other person is wanting. For example, Cindy may consistently be late because she knows it really bugs Justin. It becomes her way of not being completely controlled by him and her way of punishing him for trying to control her. Justin may act accepting, yet his energy is anything but accepting. Not wanting to be controlled by Cindy, he may refuse to give her the acceptance she is seeking. It can become a crazy making interaction when Justin acts like he is giving Cindy what she wants, yet energetically Cindy still feels judged.

Relationship problems can seem to be quite tangled and hopeless when the intent is to control each other's behavior or feelings while resisting being controlled. Yet the moment loving oneself and one's partner becomes more important than controlling and resisting control, the relationship problems magically dissolve.

It took me a long time to recognize my own controlling behavior, because I've never been controlling of what people do. I've always given my family and friends great latitude to be themselves and do whatever they want regarding what makes them happy. Eventually I realized that my control was always focused on how people feel and respond. I wanted people to be open, caring, and compassionate with me so that I would not have to feel lonely with them and disconnected from them.

It was a huge awakening for me when I realized how many controlling things I did to try to get others to be loving with me. Accepting my lack of control over how others choose to treat me has been extremely freeing. Now, if someone is unloving to me, I no longer act nice or compliant in an effort to get them to be loving. Now I open to learning with my higher self to find out how to take care of myself in the face of their unloving behavior -- accepting that I have no control over how they to be.

Accepting that I can't control others' feelings or behavior has freed me to take loving care of myself.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, and join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

Join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Relationships Course: "Loving Relationships: A 30-Day at-Home Experience with Dr. Margaret Paul - For partnered individuals & couples, & people who want to be partnered."

Connect with Margaret on Facebook: Inner Bonding, and Facebook: SelfQuest.