Michele O'Mara

Controlling partners

Filed By Michele O'Mara | July 23, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay advice, gay relationships, partner, relationship advice

I try to micro-manage everything in my girlfriends life. I realize this. She doesn't feel like she can go do things without me because I'll get mad. How do I get over controlling her?? I don't know how to let go and let her be an individual, too.

Miss Micro Manager

Dear Miss-Micro-Manager,

I commend you on recognizing and accepting that you have some controlling tendencies. As with any issue that we may have, admitting our issue is an enormous first step.

The need for control, and the need to control, may be an indication that you:

  1. feel unsafe
  2. have trouble trusting
  3. and/or you have trouble staying in the now - your mind is on fast-forward, anticipating and worrying about the next thing before it has even happened, or before enough data is even in to suggest it WILL happen

Controlling behavior gets a mighty bad rap, and when you are on the receiving end of controlling behavior it's obvious why this is. However, controlling behavior at it's core is simply an effort to create order and predictability in your external world so that you can feel at peace and comfortable in your inner world. The trick, then, is to figure out the origins of your lack of trust, the insecurity you feel about your safety (emotional or otherwise) in this world, or the difficulty you have staying present to each moment.

Some of the more "controlling" people I have known or worked with, are actually very anxious people who appear to be "in charge" and "very aggressive," when in fact, they are quite scared, and feel very out of control most of the time. There is a tremendous amount of worry and anxiety that tends to precede controlling behavior. When you go through life feeling unsettled on the inside - it is common to then feel the need to create order on the outside - which in turn is viewed by most people as "controlling."

Miss MM, I suggest you spend a little time getting in touch with what you are REALLY feeling. Some of the things you may be experiencing might include: insecurity that your partner will leave you, or fears that you are not good enough for her, or anxiety that you will be betrayed or somehow harmed by her actions if you don't stay in charge of everything - and then start dealing with those feelings.

Your goal to reduce your actual controlling behavior is very good - though trying to address just the controlling behaviors and not the cause, is like trying to teach an upset baby to lower her voice when she wails, rather than figuring out what's causing the baby to scream in the first place. Don't tempt yourself with this short cut - address the cause AND the behaviors.

To bring this full-circle, it's important for your girlfriend to understand what you feel, and what motivates you to behave the way you do. She's likely to be far more understanding and compassionate about your behavior IF she understands that it's about your anxiety or concerns, and not so much about her behavior and character.


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The trick, then, is to figure out the origins of your lack of trust, the insecurity you feel about your safety (emotional or otherwise) in this world, or the difficulty you have staying present to each moment.

That's the hardest part. Anyone can do behavior modification, but true change can only happen via reflection.

Don't tempt yourself with this short cut - address the cause AND the behaviors.

To that extent, I have a few things to mention about the behavior. Miss Micro Manager says that her partner "doesn't feel like she can go do things without me because I'll get mad." To me that is a big red flag that the behavior might be causing damage and is potentially abusive or at least headed in that direction.

Addressing the causes will be important, but she will also want to be careful not to present them in a way that will guilt trip her partner into staying with her while she works on her issues. I would suggest that they have a long conversation about everything involved. That includes whatever causes are involved as well as how the controlling behavior is impacting her partner.

I had a partner who was being very controlling of me. It got to the point where I'd call it abusive. When I confronted hir about it, ze started a self examination process and started noticing all kinds of abusive behavior in other relationships as well and began working on ending them. But I also made the decision to stay out of that relationship for several months. I don't think I could have handled any slip ups at that point, and having me around might have had hir slip into old patterns more easily. We have now gotten back together and are still working on things.

I wanted to share that to show two things. First, that it is possible to work together on something like this -- even when it causes a lot of pain. And secondly, that any partner in this situation needs to take a long look at their own needs. If you stay or if you leave needs to be determined based on how safe it is for you and how capable you feel of dealing with the situation -- not out of any kind of obligation you feel to your partner. And to make that determination, leaving has to be a real option -- for me that was probably the scariest part.

I was thinking the same thing, Tobi, that this behavior may have gotten abusive and the letter writer just doesn't want to admit it.

I've been on the receiving end of controlling behavior, but it wasn't for the same reasons... it was more that this gentleman hated life, hated me, and wanted to make me hate life as well. Good times, good times.

Penny Fisher | October 17, 2008 12:50 PM

I too was in a relationship where my partner tried to control every aspect of our lives. At first I didn't really notice, but as time passed it grew worse.
Eventually it became emotionally and then physically abusive and that is when I left.
I think my ex had issues of guilt and other things from way back in her childhood that caused her to be emotionally unavailable.
I also know that she was never faithful to any of her former partners...I'm not even sure about me, but that doesn't matter any more.
This is why I took 6 years to mourn and heal before I felt ready to meet someone. I think because of my experiences I became a better, stronger person...my ex is still locked into her own world, which I failed to mention, involves her former ex and the issues that remain between them.
Long story short, while I feel I am a very accepting, open-minded person, I am very leery of anyone who appears to be too controlling.
If this person is in an abusive relationship, I urge her to leave. This is not love. It is a sickness, but you can heal.
I wish you peace in the days ahead. Peace and strength.
Like Tobi Hill-Meyer said, "...leaving is the scariest part." but by leaving you begin taking steps towards wellness and happiness. You will rediscover yourself and I hope like what you find.