Monkeyships, part 2: The more you try to control somebody…

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

This is the second in a series on control and relationships.

Steve speaking:)

“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.


Want more?

Typically, the co-dependent person came from a dysfunctional home in which their emotional needs were not met. Their parents were not able to provide the attention, warmth and responsiveness which kids need in order to feel that their needs count….

The need to re-play the childhood drama and TRY, TRY, TRY to achieve a different ending is so intense, that it determines even the type of person the co-dependent is drawn to. A person who is kind, stable, reliable and interested would not be attractive, typically, to the co-dependent person…they would appear “boring.”

From Patty Simko’s article “Co-Dependency” at the Planet Psych website.

4 responses to “Monkeyships, part 2: The more you try to control somebody…

  • 6169

    I read this every day and try to understand how I am controlling and how out of control I am, so I try to meditate, pray, and ask for relief of the nausiating feeling of control issues,my life is spinning out of control and I have endless tools to help me but I am terrible at using them, my life has been all about patience this past year or so and I am starting to think I’m not going to make it past this spot so I am feeling like just giving up and surrendering to me being a out of control freek, but it just came to me when I typed the word surrender that maybe that’s just what I need to do in order to eel better!!! I don’t know how!!! PAINFULL

    • fritzfreud

      As you probably know, the first of the Twelve Steps is all about surrender. For control freaks, here’s how it sounds:

      “Admitted I couldn’t control my need for control, and that my life had become unmanageable.”

      And as with any genuine surrender — I mean the kind that occurs on the unconscious level — relief follows pretty quickly. Once you really grasp that you CAN’T control life, you stop TRYING to control life. You can just breathe, and rest, instead. Relief.

  • Monkeyships, part 5: Scratch a codependent « Monkeytraps

    […] first four were about how control warps relationships [Monkeyships], the Second Paradox of Control [The more you try to control somebody], how control blocks healthy communication  [Can we talk? […]

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