Dealing With Controlling Relationships

Controlling relationships can stifle not only an individual's growth but also the relationship's evolution. Feeling trapped in a situation where you feel confined can lead to resentment, depression, low self-esteem and isolation. If you think you're in a controlling relationship, you can work with your partner to change this pattern, as well as rebuild your self-esteem and individuality. And, if your partner is inflexible, then you need to move on as soon as possible.

How Controlling Is the Relationship?
Before you can even begin dealing with a controlling relationship, you first need to know the situation. Is it the sort of relationship where only a few matters are highly controlled (as in, who chooses the date's destination or who pays for things), or is it the sort where you never see your friends anymore because your loved one is insecure about your spending time with anyone else?

Take a week, and write down everything you and your loved one do together, including who makes the big decisions, how you feel when certain things happen and how frequent your partner's controlling behavior is. This list may give you the chance to see how this behavior is affecting you and your relationship, and it will give you concrete, specific examples to reference when trying to change things.

Then start evaluating your own feelings. Are you always apologizing to your loved one or waiting to do or say something until you have his or her input? Do you feel as if you'll be in "trouble" if you deviate from routine? Do you feel comfortable going out with friends, or do you feel as though you have to ask your partner?

Take a Stand
Once you can see how much your partner controls you and in what ways, you can take steps to end this pattern. If you always watch what your partner wants to watch on television, either take control of the remote, or do something other than watch television. If you and your partner rarely go out, make plans with some old friends or with your family. The key is to take control of your life so that you can then negotiate what it is you want out of your relationship. If you always bow down to your partner's behavior, this will only make things worse.

Check your partner's reaction when you make this move. Perhaps your partner never realized that you wanted to watch something else until you spoke up and will be more considerate next time. However, if your partner overreacts-it's just a TV show or a night out, after all-or becomes violent, your thoughts need to change from how to fix it to how soon you can end the relationship. There's a big difference between a homebody, a couch potato or a picky eater and an abuser.

Talk to Your Partner
If the controlling behavior is minor and your partner isn't emotionally or physically abusive, then you need to talk things out. Be prepared to give your loved one specific examples of their behavior, and explain how it makes you feel. For example, if you say that you feel isolated because your partner never wants to go out and gets upset if you go out with friends, explain why this affects you and what you'd like to change.

When you explain how you feel, be sure to accept some blame, too: It takes two to be in a relationship, and, if you've never stood up for yourself before this point, your partner might not know what you want. Explain how you will help to work this out too and ask if there's anything he or she needs from you. However, don't be too quick to take all the blame on yourself, especially if your partner has a pattern of saying that problems in your relationship are your fault.

Use this time to talk about your relationship's dynamics, and, if you can't talk to your partner about the relationship or are afraid to discuss it, then it's a sign that the relationship is not a stable one. The only way to have good communication in a relationship is to work on it, even when you have to have difficult conversations.

Seek Outside Help
Ask friends and family members for their input about your relationship. You may need another viewpoint when it comes to your relationship, one that isn't as biased. Ask for advice about what you should do and say. Your friends and family members care about you, and they may have some valuable advice.

If you don't think you and your partner can work this out alone or if the two of you don't know where to begin, consider consulting a therapist. Having a mediator may make talking about the issues that much easier. Additionally, the therapist might have some useful observations or suggestions about how to break controlling patterns in your relationship.

Also, you may need some individual counseling to help you get your independence back. Think of this as time where you can be uncensored about how the relationship took this turn and how you can begin to dig yourself out of this hole.

Evaluate the Situation
A controlling relationship can be destructive not only to your self-esteem but also to the relationship itself. Make sure your partner wants to work through things and improve the relationship. If he or she doesn't see the problems, it may be time to call it quits before it gets worse. Take time to think about the pros and cons of this relationship and whether or not you see it getting better. If you can't see this, it may be time to say goodbye. And, if the relationship has crossed the line from controlling to abusive-run, don't walk.

Spend Time on Yourself
Controlling relationships cause people to lose their self-esteem, and now's the time to earn it back. Do nice things for yourself: Go shopping, take a walk just because and treat yourself to some luxuries at least once or twice a week. No matter how your relationship ends, you need to reclaim your freedom. Start making plans again with friends and try to pick up some old and new hobbies. In short, it's time to live your life again.

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