Vail Valley Living on Purpose: How to handle a controlling relationship
Steve and I had coached together for five months. He came to life coaching after he and his girlfriend had broken up. Although his desire for a healthy relationship prompted the coaching, we had explored several other areas of his life.
Today’s session brought us back to the topic of relationships. He and his new girlfriend, Camille, were in a fight. We began by sorting through the dynamics of what had happened, how he was feeling and talking about his next step.
Steve had come a long way. Initially he struggled with feelings of rejection. He had asked, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I stay in a relationship?” We began by talking about what he wanted in a relationship. Steve’s homework included writing a list of what he wanted in a mate and in a relationship. He divided his list into “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” items. What had to be there and what was optional? According to Steve, this homework assignment was challenging, but eye-opening.
As he resumed dating, he used this list to see if his “non-negotiable” items were being met. At one appointment, he said, “I’m too picky! No one will ever meet all of these requirements. Maybe I should change my criteria. I don’t want to be alone!”
We then reviewed his “non-negotiable” list. Still he was not willing to compromise. “I’d rather wait than settle ” even if I am lonely,” he said.
Two months later, he met Camille. As he floated into my office that day, he said, “I’ve found the one. She’s everything I want … and more. It feels like we’ve known each other our entire lives.”
His energy today, however, was different. Their fight was about something that had happened over the weekend. According to Steve, Camille had gone from “the one” to being “the controller.” It had been happening on and off, but this was too much. He couldn’t ignore it any longer.
Steve told me what had happened. “She’s trying to control my life. First she tells me what to wear; then she makes a hair appointment for me AND shows the stylist how she’d like my hair cut! I feel like I’m six years old and she’s my mother! I can just hear my friends saying, ‘Who wears the pants in that relationship?’ And I sometimes wonder that myself!”
He continued, “I guess I struggle because I sometimes feel it’s better than being alone. When I’m not dating, I get bored and lonely.” He paused. “But I also don’t like being controlled or backed into a corner.”
“Is ‘not being controlled’ something on your non-negotiable list?” I asked.
He hesitated, unsure of his answer. I asked him to stand up and step into a corner of my office. I stood in front of him about two feet away, shrinking his space. I could tell he felt uncomfortable, but I wanted him to get a literal realization of what “being in the corner” felt like.
“This is exactly how I feel in our relationship,” Steve said. “She wants to control everything! I feel trapped.”
I stood there a few seconds longer, even though I could feel the discomfort in the room. “I can’t stand it!” Steve said. “I don’t want to be alone, but I’m unwilling to compromise my freedom just to be with someone.”
I stepped away and the tension dissipated. Anticipating my next question Steve said, “I will confront this situation head-on. I’ll talk to Camille tonight, even if it means that our relationship might end.”
We talked further about the specifics of this conversation and even discussed some worst-case scenarios. Although confident now, Steve said if he began to waver, he’d physically stand in a corner to remind himself of what he would no longer tolerate. It seemed like the perfect reminder to me.
No matter what kind of relationship you seek (work, friend, romantic, etc.), determine what you’d like your relationship to look like. How will you be and feel in the relationship? What is negotiable? What is non-negotiable? Getting clear on your expectations will help you more easily enter and navigate your relationships and communicate with the important people in your life.
Sheri Fisher is a Life Coach who lives in Grand Junction. Her practice, Living On Purpose, focuses on personal and professional coaching. The situations and characters in her column are fictional to maintain client confidentiality. If you have topic suggestions, e-mail or comment on Sheri’s blog, http://www.coachwithsheri.com/blog. Sheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more information, visit http://www.coachwithsheri.com.