This is the second in a series on control and relationships.
“All happy families,” wrote Tolstoy, “are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Not in my experience.
In my experience, unhappy families — unhappy marriages, especially — are remarkably similar.
~ Heather wants to marry Ian, who’s scared of commitment. So she pressures him to propose, which scares him, so he backs away. This scares her, so she steps up the pressure (“Why won’t you marry me?”). Which makes him back away further and faster. And so on.
~ “He never talks to me,” is Jane’s main complaint about Kevin, who grew up in a family where no one talked to anyone about anything. The more she begs him to talk, the more inadequate Kevin feels. The more inadequate he feels, the more silent he becomes. Which angers Jane, which makes her beg harder. And so on.
~ Lisa is a people pleaser who gets anxious when Mark is unhappy. So she knocks herself out putting his feelings, needs and preferences ahead of her own. Mark — who enjoys this and doesn’t want it to stop — finds he can keep Lisa motivated by remaining unhappy. The unhappier he becomes, the harder she tries. The harder she tries, the unhappier he becomes. And so on.
~ Nancy: “If you didn’t drink, I wouldn’t nag you.” Oscar: “If you didn’t nag me, I wouldn’t drink.” Rinse and repeat.
~ Both Patty and Ron grew up in families that didn’t acknowledge or respect feelings. Hungry for emotional validation, they now seek it from each other. Unfortunately each takes the position, “I’ll validate you after you validate me.” Since neither validates first, no one gets validated. Ever. So their childhood deprivation continues. Indefinitely.
Notice a pattern?
All these examples (and the variations are infinite) illustrate what I call the Second Paradox of Control:
The more you try to control somebody, the more you force them to control you back.
This is the interpersonal version of the First Paradox of Control, which we explained here several weeks ago: “The more control you need, the less control you have.”
This Second Paradox grows out of a fairly obvious fact of human nature:
We all want control, and we all resent being controlled by others.
That’s just what is being played out in these examples. Each of the ten partners is trying desperately (if often unconsciously) to transform the other into the partner they want. And each of the ten is resisting the transformation as hard as they can.
You might call it control addiction a deux.
Or you could use the catchy term explained here last time: monkeyships, relationships bent out of shape by control issues.
Some of this goes on in all our relationships, because at some point every relationships turns monkeyish.
It has nothing to do with how much we love our partner.
It has everything to do with how much control we think we need.
And we can expect it to continue unless we learn alternatives to monkeyish behavior.