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Trying to control your relationship?
Kanchana Banerjee
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February 22, 2007

My husband doesn't want a baby. But I want one. How do I make him change his mind?' 'How do I get my wife to quit working so she can take care of the house and kids better?' 'If only I could make my hubby listen to me instead of his mother.' All of these concerns translate into the same question -- How can I get my partner to do what I want?

The answer is the same: You can't!

In fact, the questions indicate something about you -- that you trying to control your mate and get him or her to agree with your point of view. In other words, you are trying to control the relationship and your partner. We actually believe we will be happier if we are in control of all our loved ones, especially our romantic partners. In fact, trying to control a relationship is the quickest way to kill it. 

Respect each other's dreams

Picture this. You place a nice potted plant in a dark closet and don't bother to water it or give it sunlight. At frequent intervals, you open the closet and say, "Honey, I love you." Your potted plant may last a week, maybe two. The way to love a plant isn't merely to possess it, but to make sure it has the conditions it needs to thrive. The same goes for people and relationships.
 
Anita, a 27-year old Jaipur-based interior designer, is married to Jai, a businessman. She says, "He loves to socialise and party, while I am a natural homebody. I hate leaving my children with the maid while I party all night long. For years, we waged a perpetual tug-of-war over this issue. I felt abandoned when he went off to parties and he felt frustrated that I rarely accompanied him.
We were locked in this power struggle and our marriage was nearing a breakdown. A counsellor suggested we give each other a new gift -- unconditional support."

Anita and Jai decided to meet halfway. Jai cut down on socialising and she began accompanying him on some occasions. "I stopped nagging him and he stopped complaining. We set each other free and ended up getting the results we wanted -- a happy marriage," she says.

This works in any relationship -- when partners stop defining love as the desire to possess each other, and think instead in terms of supporting each other's true selves, the bond between them becomes virtually indestructible.

Kavita, a 24-year old art teacher, married Jeet, 27 years, a chartered accountant. They have little in common except for their love for each other. Their tastes in movies, foods and leisure pursuits are different. Kavita loves art, books and poetry, while Jeet loves business, trading in shares and football. Their relationship was stormy, until a counsellor suggested they established a tradition of 'trading days.' Every odd-numbered day, Jeet got to choose what they would have for dinner, which television programs they would watch, what they would do for fun. On even-numbered days, Kavita called the shots.

"We rarely fight anymore," says Kavita. "Knowing I'll have a chance to choose on 'my' day allows me to relax and enjoy watching Jeet have fun doing the things he chooses. I'm actually beginning to enjoy football." Jeet reciprocates by saying, "Poetry isn't so bad."
 
In an age when marriage seems increasingly uncertain, this kind of support glues relationships together -- not by force, but by choice. Given the freedom to choose our lives, we almost invariably choose the partner who sets us free.

There are many ways we resort to in an attempt to control our partners. And though they may not seem overtly controlling, they are. Read on�

The doormat

You do absolutely everything your partner wants you to do. In fact, you aren't even aware of any desires that may contradict his. This is an attempt to control your mate by making absolutely sure he will always love and accept you -- at the price of your true self. We are surrounded by this type. Most women take on their husband's preferences only to please them. While this sounds like a perfect recipe for a successful relationship, you are bound to feel disgruntled at some stage.

The martyr

They control by creating guilt in other people. Instead of stating your desires or asking for what you need, you take on huge tasks, sacrifice yourself for negligible rewards, and then lapse into sulky outrage if your loved one doesn't notice and dash gallantly to your rescue. Shekhar, 28, always does whatever his wife and kids want, even if he is dead tired. And when they don't comply to his wishes, he lashes out saying, "I always do what you want me to. Even if I am tired, I bend backwards to make you happy, so why can't you do what I want?" Who asked him to be such a sacrificing soul in the first place? Be human and expect the same.

The rage machine

If you can just shout louder, stomp harder, and threaten more convincingly than your husband, you feel you've accomplished your goal. You control by letting him know that if he doesn't do things your way, you'll pitch a horrendous fit. Seema, 24 years, a freelance qualitative researcher, always gets her way. Her partner, Sujoy, says, "She gets into a terrible temper if I disagree with her demands. She wants her way all the time and I give in because I hate such outbursts."

The passive aggressor

These folk control by taking unspoken revenge on their partners. You don't want to go to your wife's parents' house for dinner but you don't express this directly. Instead, you attend the party in all your charming glory -- but you work late and come home past midnight for three days to express your annoyance. Many wives resort to this when in-laws extend their visit. Says a frantic husband, "My wife refuses to have sex with me if my mother stays for more than a month. She is charming to my mother but makes it very clear that if I don't send her packing off in a month, I am going to be punished."

It sounds bizarre, but control freaks would do just about anything to get their way. Relationship counsellor Harish Shetty, who has been practising in Mumbai for over a decade says, "Although they appear very different on the surface, they are all based on fear -- fear of clearly, calmly expressing your true needs and opinions, fear of conflict, fear of disappointment." And we don't need a therapist to tell us that a loving harmonious relationship can never flourish under the cloud of fear.

How do you communicate without trying to control?

You say exactly what you think, ask for exactly what you want, and let the other person decide how he or she wants to react. If your partner flies off the handle, communicate calmly that you feel sad when such scenes occur. Talk and discuss when tempers fly. If your husband detests going to your parents' for dinner, tell him that they are your parents and if he loves you, he will try to like them. Try and understand what makes him uncomfortable. Is your father saying something that irritates him or is it something else?

If your wife refuses physical contact on condition that your mom leaves soon, find out what bothers her. Maybe your mother nitpicks with her in your absence, grumbles or fusses over you incessantly. These things irritate any woman. This week, try and notice every time you or your partner does something designed to 'make' the other do, say, or feel a particular thing. Does he speculate about losing his job, making you panic and drop your own interests to support his career? Do you fret and worry to make him offer consoling words?

Every couple has its own patterns, and you can learn to recognise yours. When you see one beginning, stop! Think about your real opinions and needs. Express them clearly and honestly, and ask your husband to do the same. Then, instead of attacking each other, you can join forces to attack your mutual problem.


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