Wednesday, May 02, 2007

“Control” in Romantic Adult Loving Relationships

A rather informative Internet article entitled Power Control and Individuality Issues in Relationships poignantly states, “Power and control are two of the most significant issues in any relationship. The more trouble the relationship is facing, the more these power and control issues will come to the surface. The better the relationship is working the less power and control issues will be a problem.” Likewise, an article on addresses the question inherent in is title, Who’s in Control in Your Relationship? And, interestingly, Anthony Cape takes a relatively strong stand in his article, Maintain Power in Your Relationship, when he says, “Who has the upper hand in relationships, men or women? It seems that just about everyone has control issues, and wants to be the dominant figure and call the shots.” Finally, a Website article on entitled, Violence and Abuse in Relationships, says, “Any good relationship should be based on equality and respect between partners,” and then warns, “When one partner uses tactics to control the other partner, it can be very damaging. This control or power imbalance can take many forms, including threats, ‘stalking’ behavior, and physical abuse.”

Based on my personal as well as professional experience (as a licensed psychologist for over three decades), “control” is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, in one of the two companion self-help books I currently am writing, Our Adult Loving Relationship, I discuss the difference between functional controls and dysfunctional controls. Below is what I say:

Functional and Dysfunctional Controls

When Steve and Cathy first came to see me, they had been married for approximately two years and “had some difficulties in their relationship that needed to be straightened out.” One of the helpful things that we did was to take a look at the controls in their relationship. An important discovery for them was that some of the controls in their relationship were functional, and some of the controls in their relationship were dysfunctional. For example, Cathy said, “Since Steve is very good in handling money and balancing our checkbook, we have agreed that Steve is in charge of, and in control of, our checkbook. This is a good example of a functional control in our relationship.” As they looked at each other with big grins, Cathy continued “Believe me, Dr. Emener, whenever I get my hands on our checkbook, all kinds of bad things happen!”

After some brief, light-hearted laughter, Steve said, “We have realized that Cathy always felt a duty or an obligation to check things out with me before making any plans with her girlfriends during the week. We decided that for us this was a dysfunctional control because she felt that it was an infringement on her freedom and I felt that it was an added responsibility for me.”

It indeed appears to be important for individuals in adult loving relationships to discuss, negotiate and set into place relationship controls that are functional – that is, relationship controls that enhance, enrich and contribute to the quality of the relationship. If, however, a relationship control is not discussed or negotiated, or if it is undesirable, uncomfortable or constrictive for either individual, chances are that it will be a dysfunctional control. The more functional controls that two individuals have in their relationship, the better, more meaningful and more loving their relationship will tend to be.

Question: What have your experiences been with “functional controls” and/or “dysfunctional controls” in your relationship(s)?


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