Do you have possession of the remote? What about the finances? The calendar? I believe that in most healthy relationships, the control winds up balanced — decided by aptitude or by enthusiasm.
In my divorce mediation practice, it’s sometimes obvious within the first few moments that one party or the other is in control. It frustrates me when the controlling person attempts to steamroll the conversation, forcing me to step in and insist that the other party have an equal voice — at least in my office. Of course, I’m not going to judge a system that’s working, that’s for sure. But if they’re headed for divorce, the balance of power is most likely broken.
If you are aware that control is an issue in either your personal relationships or your professional ones, it might be beneficial for you to strive towards some degree of balance. Here are some suggestions:
Six Ways to Maintain Balanced Control
- Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive behavior. If you feel strongly about something, use your words. Start your sentence with “I feel strongly about . . . because . . .” Once you say “You need to . . .” out loud, you’ve likely flipped the switch from assertive to aggressive. It’s not a terribly successful tactic.
- Take a look in the mirror. If your need for control is based on your own insecurities (lack of trust and lack of confidence are two prime examples), do your best to recognize what is really going on, and then ask yourself whether the thing you’re insisting on controlling is actually the issue. Chances are, it’s more about your wife becoming Facebook friends with her ex-husband than about the breakfast cereal.
- Mind your manners. Our parents and grandparents weren’t wrong about this. Conveying your feelings in a respectful manner helps a lot.
- Acknowledge the source of your stress. How many of us take out our job stress on our kids? Saturday, the shoes left in the kitchen aren’t as dramatic a transgression as they will be on Tuesday. And once you’ve identified the source of your anxiety, instead of attempting to control someone or something outside the issue, turn your thoughts inward. Take some deep breaths. Do some yoga. Walk the dog.
- Turn your demands into suggestions. I cannot emphasize enough how the words we choose matter. Instead of demanding that your spouse hand over the debit card “until he/she can use it with restraint,” suggest that a quick text before whipping out the card would alleviate the need for control.
- Consider the concept of change as an opportunity. We all experience the fear of change from time to time, and we sometimes use control as the antidote for fear. It’s not. Though not always easy, adjusting to change is an effective way of attaining balance in control.
A final thought: balance doesn’t necessarily mean equal. It means that you’re on a teeter-totter. Sometimes the other person is moving it downward, and sometimes you are. Nobody needs to actually keep score.