If you've ever been in a controlling relationship, you know how easy it is to get caught in its web.
It usually starts out with a simple suggestion like, "Do you think that outfit is the best you can do for the banquet tonight?" or "I think you're better off ordering the salad," or "You should get a real job and stop all that nonsense about making it as an artist."
At first, you take the suggestions as a reflection of love and concern. After all, the comments are not that far off base, and you certainly don't want to appear unappreciative or defensive.
At this stage of the relationship, you want to please your mate, not alienate him or her. It's more important to appear receptive and understanding of your partner's opinions than to challenge them. You don't consider what he's doing emotional abuse.
Some time goes by. You now notice that your significant other's opinions of you continue to be critical. Only now, there is an emotional undertone that suggests if you don't abide by his opinion, he will be angry, punitive and emotionally manipulative. The scariest times come when you believe the threats of rejection and abandonment.
The cycle has repeated itself in such a way that somehow, you've become sucked in and are believing the rhetoric. Or, at the very least, you've been trying to manage the critical outbursts.
You're now so consumed with keeping your partner's emotional judgments at bay that you have trouble considering if the demands have crossed over into an abusive and inappropriate arena. Your judgment is clouded.
You continue to ask yourself, Is it me or him? You feel anxious around him, believing that somehow you can make things right again; you want to feel the love you did when the two of you first got together.
Deep down, your biggest fear is that his opinions of you are right ... that there really is something wrong with you, and you just may not be lovable the way you are.
The bad news? You are now caught in the web. The good news? There is a way out. It is so important to understand what control is really all about. Let me show you the way.
Here's what controlling behaviors are really all about:
His own sense of helplessness and powerlessness.
Getting someone else (like you) to make him feel OK.
Wanting to hand-off his own anxieties so he doesn't have to deal with them himself.
Ensuring that you will never abandon or reject him/
Projecting his deepest fears of being inadequate and unlovable.
Note: His controlling behaviors are never about you.
Here are five steps to getting out from under his control:
1. Get your power back.
The quickest way to do this is to be willing to walk away from the relationship if need be. This enables you to move forward with the next steps from a place of power, not a place of fear.
2. Set limits on his criticism and emotional outbursts.
Let your partner know that you are open to hearing his concerns about your actions and how they affect him, but will no longer engage in conversations that attack who you are as a person.
3. Consider your partner's concerns.
What are you willing to do for him? What is completely off the table? Make sure you align these requests with your personal well-being and integrity. Don't agree to do things simply in order to keep the peace or save the relationship, especially if deep down you know it isn't right for you.
4. Be clear and honest with yourself first, then your partner.
Consider your values, goals and needs. Make sure your decisions are in alignment with your highest self, needs and all. Let him know what you can and can't do for him. Whatever you do, do not be intimidated. Have a powerful "no" and make it clear that he will need to accept the "no." If he can't, then it may be best for the two of you to part ways.
5. Find people and experiences that celebrate who you are.
Find ways to reconnect with the powerful person you truly are, i.e. someone that would never tolerate being treated in such a manner. Engage and connect with other people that support and love you for exactly who you are.
At the end of the day, only you can decide if his controlling behavior is something you are willing to live with or not. Relationships should be something that supports your growth, not something that diminishes it.
Love celebrates who you are; it does not put you down. You deserve to have a powerful and loving relationship. So start with yourself. Love yourself enough to take the first step in reclaiming you.
Julie Orlov, is a psychotherapist, speaker and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery. Learn more about her at www.julieorlov.com