Imagine this scenario with me if you will. A young couple comes in for therapy due to some major problems in communication. Many times, they have arguments over the same issues over and over again. It often results in the two of them getting into a nasty shouting match that ends up with the two of them not speaking for days. Upon having more conversations with them, one of them speaks up and says, “If you would just listen and do what I say, then we wouldn’t have this issue!”
How many times have we heard something like that, or simply repeated the same phrase in our minds? Too many to count! Now you all may be wondering, “Why is she getting all up in arms over this one statement?” There’s a reason for it. We get into too many scraps over this one phrase, and it all involves that one word: control. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, I tend to have a very dim view on this word, control. The reason for that is that all too often we often take our need for it and turn it outward onto other people trying to get them to do what we feel is best or what we think is right. Now that may not seem like it’s a bad thing at first, but it leads to a huge number of problems in our relationships overall. How so? It can cause problems with how people tend to relate to each other. Additionally, it can create this false sense of responsibility when it comes to our interactions with others. But how do we give up this false idea that we need to control other people? How do we take a step back and stay in our own proverbial lane?
1. We recognize that we don’t have the responsibility of trying to get someone to change if they don’t want to change. This is a hard pill to swallow, I know. However, it is a necessary concept for us to understand. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve worked with people who are continually ruminating and analyzing one situation after another in order to try and change the circumstances. Let me be the first to tell you that this method doesn’t work at all. On the contrary, it tends to take us down a never-ending rabbit hole of anger and resentment, which can end up poisoning us. To avoid this, we need to be able to let go of the idea that we need to force compliance from an individual and focus on setting a boundary instead. That may mean that if our loved one chooses to make a choice that is not healthy for us, we may need to say something to the effect of,“You may make that choice, but I will not be joining you or participating with you in this matter.”
2. We understand that every person, our loved ones included, can make their own choices. This seems like such an elementary concept that we should be able to understand and get right away. Sadly, this is not the case. We may say that we agree with everyone making a choice, but our actions tend to say that others can make a choice as long as they agree with us. This does not respect our family members’ rights as individuals or even encourage intimacy between us. In order to counteract this, we may need to take a step back and evaluate our own reasons for wanting someone to do things our way, and even ask ourselves the question if those reasons are healthy or right. Additionally, we need to be willing to look at this situation and not always assume that our loved ones are doing things wrong. That may be looking at the situation in a way that you or I haven’t considered and that could change things entirely.
3. We don’t go into arguments or conflict with the idea of winning in mind. Now for many of you, this previous statement may have you all asking the question of, “What’s the point of a having a fight if you’re not going to win?” First, conflict is a healthy part of a any relationship because we are dealing with people who are different in nature. I like to put an emphasis on the word conflict. Conflict is not the same as a fight. A fight is where there must be a winner. A conflict is something that involves individuals working together to resolve an issue and there are no official “winners” that are designated. Second, we have to be willing to not always focus on being right and getting our way. Relationships are really all about compromise. Now there are many things that we should never compromise on, but there are many times when we have to in order to keep a healthy relationship. But before we even engage in a conflict, we need to know what our limits are, what we can provide and what we can provide as a solution, and how we will present this to our loved one.
4. We don’t guilt or shame our loved one into compliance if they refuse to do things our way. One of the most damaging habits that I see in family relationships is rehashing a family members previous mistake over and over again for the sole purpose of making sure they don’t do something again or letting them know that we are still remembering that issue. Shame is a powerful tool that we can use in order to get someone to comply. But there is also a cost to using that tool. That cost is resentment and anger towards the person who is using it. It also does not allow room for forgiveness and reconciliation to be encouraged. So how do we prevent this from happening? We let go of past offenses and once they have been resolved, we don’t bring them up again. That may seem easy or self-explanatory but letting go can be difficult because it involves yet again us not getting our way or being offended. Setting clear boundaries can reduce the risk of being offended or people pushing the envelope with their actions or with their words.
5. We mutually respect each other’s “no.” I know that the word “no” leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many individuals in our culture today. Our society prides itself now on pushing the limits and tearing down rules. Sadly, there is a high price to pay for doing that. We tend to not respect the simple fact that everyone has a limit in all areas of life. These limits protect us from overextending ourselves and getting into a situation that could compromise us badly. Respecting our family member’s “no” is essential to create an atmosphere of safety and trust within the relationship. “No” also helps us with understanding the difference between what our responsibility is versus what is the responsibility of the other party. Once we know where the line is, we know how far we can go with our own sense of control.
6. We must be willing to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and look at things from their perspective. One of the most dangerous aspects of a controlling nature is the idea that other people around us aren’t as capable or competent of carrying out their responsibilities. We also tend to have a puffed up noting that we are the only ones that can do anything right at all. Sadly, when we act this way, we tend to push people away because we aren’t willing to listen to their ideas and treat them as if they have no value to add or give. In order to counteract this mentality, we have to be willing to look at our loved ones as if they already have value by being people. This means that what they say and how they look at things has some kind of value overall and we can use it in many different situations.
Giving up control over someone that we know, and love can be scary at times, but it is essential we are going to have healthy and productive relationships. If we are constantly trying to make other people comply with what we want, then we cut off the chances to have healthy relationships with them overall. Remember our goal is to have a healthy relationship with others instead of trying to control them.