The conflicts that develop over control issues may suggest the struggles the child experiences as she grows up. Part of our development involves the child striving to gain a sense of independence and integrity while the parent needs to control the behavior of the child. This may not be the ideal description of growing up in a healthy way, but the struggle, if not resolved, is sometimes carried on into adult life. Unresolved control issues may lead the child who grows into adulthood to model him- or herself after the controlling parent, or, conversely, to play out rebellious behaviors (often finding partners who they can rebel against).

It is advisable for parents to imbue their children with a sense of love, integrity, and independence (along with structure and containment) as they grow up. Often, however, there is a child-rearing pattern in which the behavior of the child is kept totally under control. A dominated child is one who feels drained of a sense of personal integrity and their adult lives may be characterized by a feeling that life is a struggle either to control or be controlled.

Marriages with control issues are sometimes in conflict. A viable marriage is usually one in which each partner can enjoy a sense of personal integrity. In the adaptive marriage there are usually some control behaviors between the partners, but clear boundaries have been established and there is a fairly equal balance between the two partners in the amount of controlling each tries to do. There is also usually good communication so that feelings that underlie the control issue can be talked about freely.

In conflicted marriages one or both partners may feel that the only way to achieve fulfillment in life is to get the other partner to provide one’s comfort, and that may mean controlling the other person’s behavior. In this situation there is an attempt to make the other partner completely responsible for one’s own fulfillment, and this is where the control cycle comes into play. People sometimes take the old saying, “Find your one true love and you’ll have happiness ever after,” a bit too seriously. Finding a good partner is part of it, but developing a sense of one’s own personal integrity is most of it.

It takes two to play the control game in a marriage. If one partner, either the controller or the controlled, decides not to play, it is difficult for the other to try to continue the old patterns. Of course, in childrearing the child often does not have a choice and must continue to play the game, often to the longterm detriment of everyone.

Control is a relative term. The controller seldom defines him- or herself as the one with the control. This person usually has a self-image characterized by such notions as being needy, wanting closeness, and wanting interdependence. Indeed, the controller usually sees the partner as having all the power. The partner in turn feels that the neediness of the other is controlling every aspect of the relationship. So both partners usually end up accusing the other of having all the control.

Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT

San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.