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In today’s video, I’m responding to a viewer who’s struggling to let go of the urge to control her partner. I’m going to suggest some alternative ways to look at the situation instead.
So: how to let go of the desire to control your partner?
Zachary Stockill: Have you ever felt the urge to control other people? If you’re struggling with something like retroactive jealousy or obsessive jealousy, unfortunately, the answer is yes. Most of us have felt this urge this impulse at one time or another.
An interesting question came in from a viewer on this channel. And she writes…
How do we give up trying to control our partner/partners freedom? It feels like that would bring so much peace. But my deep fear makes it feel impossible to release the compulsion to control even though it’s an illusion?
This is a question that I encounter quite frequently with clients, particularly struggling with more sort of contemporary-based jealousy. We have to address both the rational side of the problem, as well as the emotional side of the problem.
So the rational aspect of this problem, this need to control our partner, external events, or the world. If we get more in touch with the rational side of this equation, the more we’ll be able to let it go.
The rational side of this problem is very simple. If we’re trying to control our partner or anyone else, that is what Stoic philosophers call “outside of our sphere of influence”. If we’re trying to control anything external, we will drive ourselves crazy. It doesn’t work, at least over the long term.
How will you deal with the desire to control your partner?
On this channel, I’m primarily focused on long-term solutions. Trying to control your partner or other people. from a purely practical standpoint, it doesn’t work over the long term.
I’m a student of history. And if you study history, you realize how incredibly deep the human need for freedom is.
The Soviet Union eventually collapsed. The French and American revolutions happened. There are endless examples from history that represent this fundamental human thirst for freedom and modern humans aren’t much different.
We might be going through a bit of an authoritarian moment in parts of the West and parts of the world. I do believe this thirst for freedom is at the core of just about every human heart. And in general, human beings don’t react very well to being stripped of their freedom to feeling controlled.
I’ll give you a perfect example. I was on a coaching call recently with someone who’s obsessively jealous, whose attempt or desire to control their partner resulted in the dissolution of their relationships. They broke up because my client’s partner could not stand feeling controlled.
I’ve met a lot of people who felt the need to control people, and it resulted in a breakup. This is very common. If you take an inventory of your own friends and your own experiences, you probably have an example or two people whose jealousy cost them their relationship.
It’s a lousy practical solution over the long term.
The second part, the emotional aspect, here’s my suggestion. Let’s say for the sake of argument, you can control people, your partner, and the world, you can keep them under your thumb. Try to imagine how a relationship like that would feel over the long term.
Think about this from a purely emotional sort of standpoint. How would that feel going to bed every night, knowing your partner is primarily with you because they have no power over their own destiny. They have no freedom and control over their own life.
Unfortunately, there are many couples around the world in situations like this. I would hear stories about couples, women who lived in a constant state of fear, who were with their partner for a while, these marriages and relationships always ended up dissolving invariably.
These women were with very abusive scumbag men because they felt like they had no control. They felt like they had no options.
A relationship that is based on control is a relationship based on fear.
The person being controlled lives in a constant state of fear, anxiety and insecurity. If you’re with someone, because you’re afraid of the consequences and you feel like it’s your only option, that’s not love.
One of the main things that make relationships so thrilling, is the feeling that this mysterious, beautiful, wonderful person across the table from me, is totally free. They could be out doing anything they want, right now. And, they could be dating someone else, they could be living in another part of the world, they can do whatever they want.
They have freedom, individual liberty, autonomy, but they’re choosing me. In spite of everything, they’re choosing me.
How are you going to handle the desire to control your partner?
Think about wedding ceremonies and marriage. You’ve got two people who have the world at their fingertips. They could be making radically different choices. And they’re saying that of every human being on the planet, I’m choosing you.
That’s what makes life, relationships marriage so exciting, this inherent aspect of freedom of individual liberty.
And would you really want it any other way? From a purely emotional standpoint, would you want a relationship based on anything other than complete individual freedom? If you ponder this question over a long period of time, if you check in with yourself, I think the answer will still be no.
If you make an attempt to control your partner or someone else over a long period of time, this will produce some extremely negative consequences. It’s just a matter of time.
Perfect example, I have a friend of mine who had a pretty serious problem with alcoholism in his early 20s. We could all have a few drinks and he would be binge drinking every night and blacking out. One of the reasons he was acting like this is because when he lived in his parents’ house, alcohol was totally taboo. You can’t drink, or even mention alcohol. If you come home smelling like alcohol, he’ll get some kind of punishment. His freedom, in so many ways, was completely restricted. And once he got even just a hint of freedom, all of a sudden he started abusing alcohol. He started in some ways abusing his freedom. Again, an extreme example.
The same kind of behavior can apply to relationships. If you make something forbidden by trying to control other people, eventually, those people will react strongly against those attempts to control.
Trying to control your partner is a lousy long-term solution. It does not work from a rational angle.
And from a purely selfish emotional standpoint, it doesn’t feel good. Even if you could do it, it would not feel good. It goes against the nature of human beings, love and relationships.
It takes away the fun and excitement.
One more recommendation, if you’re looking for some reading material along these lines, I strongly encourage you to take a look at a book by one of my all-time favorite authors/public speakers. The late Alan Watts. The book is called The Wisdom of Insecurity.