My partner and I did something for the first time; we got into a heated argument. It was negative, hostile, and it made me feel like a lesser version of my usually composed self. The aftermath was worse. I was angry, sad, exhausted, and frustrated.
What spurred the argument?
It does not matter. Essentially, we were both struggling to be heard, understood, and emotionally validated.
After the emotions returned to their resting state, rationality and logic began to heighten. I realized that the argument occurred, in large part, because something deep within our relationship needed to be fixed.
Most disagreements in relationships are not as simple as my fault or your fault. It is almost always our fault. I mistakenly focused too much attention on the faults of my partner in handling our problem rather than correcting my own misbehavior that contributed to the issue.
I expressed that something in his life made me uncomfortable. As time passed by, I felt as if the efforts to make me comfortable weren’t moving fast enough, or weren’t good enough. Long story short, things spiraled and I lost trust in him to handle the situation correctly. I then began doing the worst thing I could have done: I tried to control the situation.
How do I know this?
My partner told me. My partner said, “I feel controlled in this situation.” Immediately, I got mad, then sad, then really mad. After truly registering what my partner had told me, I looked myself in the mirror and realized that I was starting to exert control over the situation.
Why was I doing this?
Fear. Specifically, the fear of getting hurt.
The problem we were attempting to overcome was similar to something from a previous relationship. So I became fearful that this situation will turn into that one. Although my partner attempted to handle the issue, I disagreed with his method. As a result, I began to take control of the situation, not only verbally but also emotionally.
I was trying to control something in my partner’s life that I couldn’t and shouldn’t. Only my partner has control over his life. If he ever feels that I am controlling his life or am a threat to his freedom (so long as his freedom does not disrespect me and our relationship), he will more than likely grow to resent me.
Have you ever read the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou? In the poem, Angelou artfully discusses freedom vs. captivity using two birds as an example. There is a caged bird who longs for freedom and whose potential is wasting away contrasted with a free bird that not only thrives but also soars, grows, and taps into the endless possibilities of the world. Admittedly, Angelou was mainly talking about oppression of Black Americans, but I think her observations are applicable to relationships.
I want the best for my partner. But how can he maximize his potential if he feels controlled by me? And how can our relationship ever flourish if he, on his own, is not blooming?
Control isn’t love, folks. It’s control.
So what did I do?
I apologized. I looked him in the eye and said I was wrong. He was trying, in the best way he knew how, to handle the situation and communicate with me, to be open, honest, and transparent about it, but I was giving him resistance.
So, from this day forward, I have effectively placed control back to where it belongs: in his hands. All I can do is communicate how his actions make me feel and trust that he will do the right thing, consistently, for our relationship.
I want my partner to be free, just like the soaring and thriving bird in Angelou’s poem. And if for some reason our lifestyles conflict with one another or our needs aren’t being met, that is okay. It simply means we are no longer compatible or we may need to create compromises. What it does not mean is that I need to take control. Compromise comes from a place of love. Control does not.
I admit there is a fine line to walk between being controlling and ensuring your needs are being met. However, through communication, commitment, compromise, and trust, I’m sure that tightrope can be walked successfully.
Here’s the thing about control—it’s a slippery slope. You’ll begin by controlling one situation. Then you’ll want that feeling over another, then another, and before you know it, you’ve turned into a controlling, manipulating maniac. That is not healthy for anyone involved.
Let. It. Go.
So how do I plan on consistently being uncontrolling?
1. I will listen to my partner clearly and objectively. When my emotions are high, I will wait to revisit a conversation so I can logically and level-headedly understand what he’s saying.
2. I will remind myself of who my partner is. I will take into account his experiences, values, character, and how he views the world, because the decisions he makes are through his interpretation of the world and his moral compass, not mine.
3. Communicate. I can only express to him how I feel, I cannot control what he does. I can only control myself.
4. LET IT GO! I reiterate, I cannot control what he does. I can only control what I do.
What if I let go and my partner hurts me?
Remember the caged bird in Angelou’s poem? That bird wants to be released. The more you control, the more you’re pushing your partner out of the door. Besides, letting go of control means letting go of your fears and learning how to trust your partner. It’s a win-win situation. You can’t lose.
Now, if you let go of control and your partner hurts or betrays you, that’s fine too. Your partner showed you exactly what you needed to see. That their natural state of freedom means hurt for you. You can’t control that. On the positive side, you have many more appetizing options that you can control. You can forgive your partner, try to work it out and hopefully arrive at a better destination, or you can even pack up your belongings and fly away to another free bird who will not hurt you (yes, this a real option, and yes, this is hard to do). Like I said, you cannot lose!