This is an interpersonal version of the First Paradox (“The more control you need, the less control you have”).
And what does it look like in action?
Heather wants to marry Ian, who’s scared of commitment. So she pressures him to propose. This 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,” Janet complains about Kenny, who grew up in a family where no one talked about anything. The more she begs him to talk, the more anxious and inadequate Kenny feels. The more anxious and inadequate he feels, the more silent he becomes. Which angers Janet, which makes her beg harder. And so on.
Liz, a people pleaser, 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 – finds he can keep Liz 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.
Patty and Ron both 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.
See the pattern?
This paradox grows out of two facts of human nature: Everyone wants control, and no one wants to be controlled by others.
That’s what is being played out above. Each of these ten partners tries desperately (if unconsciously) to transform the other into the partner they want. And each resists transformation as hard as they can.
Even people who seem to comply with their partner’s (or parent’s) demands are doing it out of a need to control the other’s behavior.
This creates not love, not intimacy, not healthy connection, but monkeyship — relationship bent out of shape by control issues.
Some of this goes on in all our relationships. At some point we all turn monkeyish. We all try to make our partner into the person we want them to be.
It has little to do with how much we love that partner.
It has everything to do with how much control we think we need to feel safe.
And it continues until we learn alternatives to monkeyish behavior.