The other day I was engaging in one of my favorite sessions; Professional gossip. This is a session where I get to brainstorm about someone’s behavior from a professional angle. I am always intrigued by that moment. Trying to drill down into what influences a certain behavior. It gives me a chance to attach meaning to a behavior instead of just blaming the person and the consequences of their behavior.

In this specific moment, we were trying to help out a mutual friend. In her words the partner is immature. In psychology or life coaching that word can mean many things. We hence requested her to explain it further. Better still give us a scenario. “Last night I made a meal for the two of us” She explained. “I was however not hungry. I requested him to take what he could and leave the rest. I intended to take my portion in the morning. I prefer a taking heavy breakfast than taking dinner. Actually this has been my habit for a while. The kids can attest to it since they are always home. This however agitated him to the core. He got very angry and verbally abusive. In his words we are wasteful.”

For a person with more than enough resources, this was uncalled for. We knew he was not just having bad day. In our friend’s words he picks a fight out of the little things. Considering his economic and education background we could not explain his behavior. We were tempted to question our friend. Could she have been triggering his actions? However, on further analysis he fits the description of a controlling spouse;

  • Insisting on having things done his way.
  • Refusing to accept blame – Controllers do not question if they are the problem the problem is always someone else.
  • Need to be the center of attention.
  • Being unpredictable – swing between telling you how great you are and sulking because you don’t do what they want.
  • Want to be in charge of everything
  • Lying – about their behavior or yours to control how others see you.
  • Dictating where you can go.

We noted that these behaviors have always been there. The only difference is that they were masquerading as love or care. For example, every time she went out with friends she would have to explain in details where she was going. She would however still get silent treatment once she got home. Her employer has had to write letters on several occasions if she needed to travel for work. On days when she opted to stay home she got warm hugs and gifts at the end of the day. It has taken her a decade in marriage for her to realize that this is not love.

Through the many thoughts my colleague asked, how is your partner’s dad like. In her words “he is a dictator, in our Kenyan words “he coughs and my mother in law responds.” That was our Aha moment. His childhood has caught up with him in adulthood. Some people were raised as if they were in the army. Too much control and rules that could not be violated. They are likely to apply the same in adulthood. If you were brought up in a flexible environment where trust mattered more than rules you will never understand their behaviors.

Living or relating with a control freak can be nerve wrecking. You feel scared and worried even with the thought that if you end up saying something, or doing something, you would result in another fight. Or that if you express your disagreement, it may upset him or her in a big way, which would again lead to unnecessary arguments! The fear of the consequences can lead to a submissive nature resulting in an unhappy relationship and an unhappy life. But instead of focusing on, why all this is happening to you, try focusing on why the person is doing this to you, or anyone else in his or her life;

  1. A difficult childhood – People tend to develop controlling behaviors if they were controlled in the past. If your parents were controlling, you might think that being controlling is the right thing to do.
  2. A loss/hurt in the past – Having a bad experience that led to significant loss or hurt. This tend to lead to development of a control mindset. That they will not let anything or anyone else hurt them. They then choose to control everything and everyone.
  3. Insecurities and low self-esteem – Some people are too controlling and demanding to shadow their own insecurities and low self-esteem. It could be possible that these people can’t bear the fact that they have no control over your life and just to come out of that frustration, they tend to become dominant and aggressive over you. May be they were never paid attention to in the past and now they want to do each and everything possible to make your life revolve around them.
  4. Ego and Pride – These people feel that they should have an upper hand on the relationship so that you can’t crush their ego and pride. They want you to get accustomed to their expectations and way of living rather than them to adjust according to you. There can be a bad experience of a controlled relationship in the past, or they may do it just for the fun of it. Their overinflated ego tells them they are smarter and know better than you do.

Irrespective of the underlying issue remember that your giving in will actually encourage the behavior. You need to take a stance and make it clear that although you love the person their controlling nature is unacceptable.

You may not be able to control someone’s negative behavior but you can control how long you participate in it.

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