Identify Controlling

By Greg Baer M.D.

December 3, 2014

The subject of controlling is discussed in many Real Love blogs and books. Click HERE for one example.

Controlling is best characterized by expectations, which can be identified easily. How can you know whether you have expectations of another person—whether you are being controlling? A few indications:

1. When you make a request, you have a sense of urgency about it. You’re not peaceful when you “ask” for what you want.
2. If your request is denied, you become frustrated, sometimes annoyed.
3. You can’t take “no” for an answer, and if you are denied, you “explain” repeatedly why your request should be granted.
4. You feel like you have a right to receive what you request.

But there’s more to controlling, as illustrated when June called and said, “My husband, Don, says he never feels loved by me. I feel like a complete failure.”

“I doubt whether you’re a complete failure, but we could explore whether you’re loving. It might be true that YOU are not loving, OR perhaps HE is incapable of feeling loved, or there might be a combination of the two conditions. Have you asked him specifically WHY he doesn’t feel loved by you? In other words, what do you do—or what do you fail to do—that leads him to the conclusion that you don’t love him?”

“He says I’m controlling.”

“If that’s true—that you’re controlling—then he couldn’t possibly feel loved by you, because controlling is profoundly selfish. When we control people, we do it for ourselves, not for them.” I explained the criteria for expectations listed above, and she assured me that she was not having expectations.

“You might be right,” I said, “but there are other ways to control people. Give me a recent example of a request that you made of him, where he obviously didn’t like it—where he indicated that he felt controlled.”

“I said that I wished he would listen better and give me more feedback when I speak to him.”

“Does he naturally tend to listen to other people well and give them lots of feedback when they speak to him?”

“Not really, no.”

“So you’re asking him to be different from how he naturally is. That is called controlling.”

“But this is getting in the way of our marriage.”

“Yes, I believe that, but so is your controlling. You simply cannot ask him to be different from who he really is. If you do, there’s no way he could feel loved by you.”

“So what can I do?”

“Now that is a useful question. What you can do is to make requests for him to do a specific thing—or not do a specific thing—on a particular occasion, but you can’t ask him to change the patterns of his behavior that are a natural result of who he is.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“Let’s see how you can get more of what you want without controlling. You’d like more listening and feedback from Don, yes?”


“Fine, then you can do what I just suggested. You can ask for a specific thing on a particular occasion. So what would that look like, in real life? Tell me about some subject in your marriage where you’d like more feedback from Don.”

“I think I’m being less critical about the messes he makes around the house, but I don’t have any idea whether he has noticed my efforts. I’d like some feedback about that.”

“Perfect. Let’s suppose you’ve just said something to Don about how you’ve been trying to be less critical about cleaning up after himself, and he doesn’t say anything.”

“That’s exactly what he’d do. He’d say nothing.”

“So now you can say to him, ‘Don, I just said that I was trying to be less critical or demanding about your cleaning up after yourself. You didn’t respond, and you probably didn’t know that I needed you to. Would you be willing to tell me what you think about what I said? Do you agree with it? Or disagree? In this moment, I just need to know what you think. Have you noticed my attempts to be less critical? Have I deceived myself?”

“Don tends not to like it when I ask him to do ANYTHING, even once. Doesn’t like to be asked to pick something up off the floor, or to get something at the store on the way home. Nothing. If I ask, he says I’m controlling.”

“If it’s true that you can limit your requests to specific actions, and do it without expectations—meaning without disappointment, manipulation, and so on—and he STILL calls that controlling, then he may simply be profoundly selfish. He may be using the accusations of controlling to keep from having to do anything selfless. You’ll only figure that out by following the guidelines for requests.”

If you want something from your partner, you can always ask for what you want—a specific task or action in a given moment—but not for an overall change in behavior patterns. You might even be RIGHT that those behavior patterns NEED to change, but the message of such an expectation almost uniformly will be interpreted as unloving. Behavior patterns change with the loss of emptiness and fear, and that happens with loving.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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