Have you picked up the hint (subtle or not) that you’re trying too hard to control the people you love most?
Maybe you tell yourself it’s all out of love.
But that’s not what people are seeing.
The good news?
If someone you care about has told you you need to stop being controlling, you’re about to learn how.
With the 11 steps described below, you can begin transforming your relationships for the better.
It’s time for a new approach.
What Causes a Person to be Controlling?
If you’re reading this and thinking, “But why am I so controlling?” you’re probably more aware of the reasons than you think.
It’s natural to want to avoid thinking about those reasons, but for our purposes, here, it helps to acknowledge a few.
Controlling behavior often stems from anxiety and fear, as the following examples show.
- Low self-esteem — You’re expecting your S.O. to leave you for someone else.
- Past relationship trauma — You’ve been hurt before, and you don’t want a repeat.
- Repressive upbringing — Others controlled you in your childhood, and now you want to be the one in control.
- Anxiety over loss — You’ve lost someone before, and you don’t want to feel that again.
- Impossibly high standards — You’ve inherited or created standards no one (not even you) can meet.
How Do I Stop Being Controlling in a Relationship?
If you’re ready to learn how to stop being controlling toward others, it’s essential to identify the specific ways in which you try to control others before you take steps to correct them.
You need to recognize how you’re controlling the people in your life and why before you can change things for the better.
Can a Controlling Person Change?
If they want to be less controlling, and they’re willing to put in the work, there’s hope. It’s not enough, though, to admit you’re controlling or that you’re a perfectionist. It’s tempting to think your need for control is ultimately more endearing than destructive.
Those closest to you — who also want you to be happy — would probably disagree.
Only when you take the steps necessary to stop being controlling in your relationships can you begin to see just how damaging your perfectionist behavior has been.
How to Stop Being Controlling in a Relationship: 11 Must-Take Actions
Now that you’re closer to understanding why you’re controlling toward others (particularly those you’re most anxious to hold onto). You can begin the process of living more freely — and allowing your loved ones to do the same.
1. Talk to your partner about it.
Even if you’re self-aware, the people closest to you will probably see things you haven’t yet. And they’ll see the effects of your controlling behavior more clearly than you will.
Talk to your significant other about your desire to be less controlling. Let them know what you have noticed so far, and ask them to honestly point out which of your behaviors has caused the biggest problems in your relationship.
Resist the temptation to defend yourself.
2. Practice active listening.
The better you are at really listening to others, the easier it is to take their words to heart and modify behaviors that are coming between you.
Consider the following elements of active listening:
- Maintaining (reasonable) eye contact
- Not interrupting or talking over
- Listening with the intent to understand (not to find weaknesses in their reasoning)
3. Write a list of your own habits.
Controlling behavior shows up in your daily habits. Make a list of the things you do every day and why you do them. Which of these habits have you pressured others to adopt — for your sake or (ostensibly) for theirs?
Focus on habits you’ve formed that come across as controlling to others. You can even ask the people close to you what you do on the regular that, to them, feels controlling.
4. Assess the effects of your controlling behavior.
Be honest about how effective your behavior has been at keeping your loved ones under your control. Given what you know so far, put yourself in your partner’s place and ask yourself how being in a controlling relationship might be affecting them.
You can ask them, too. Part of assessing the whole picture of your behavior is getting feedback from those you’ve been trying to control.
Ask them how they feel when you’re around or when you’re trying to control things.
5. Get familiar with your triggers.
Assess the needs you’re trying to meet with your controlling behavior. Then identify what your triggers are. What situations threaten your ability to meet those needs?
When do you feel most strongly compelled to control things or to control the people around you? And what fears are behind that compulsion?
Once you know what situations are most likely to push you into “control freak mode,” you can choose to frame it differently and respond in a healthier way.
6. Get clear on how you feel (when you’re triggered).
Be honest about how you feel when triggering situations come up. What emotions rise to the surface when you’re confronted by something that brings up all your worst fears and anxieties?
The more you recognize those emotions and look behind them, the easier it is to make a decision based on reason rather than a sudden need to exert control where it isn’t needed.
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7. Reframe the situation.
Instead, reframe the situation by looking at your automatic interpretation of it — along with your fears. The choose a different way to view it. Ask the people close to you how they see the situation and be open to their interpretations.
You don’t have to pretend there’s nothing to fear when there is. But look at the whole picture rather than focusing on what your imagination is quick to suggest.
8. Practice being flexible in your thinking.
All or nothing thinking isn’t serving you well. So, be honest about when you’re applying that kind of thinking to a situation and choose, instead, to be open to different interpretations or ideas.
Only when you let go of the idea that things have to be a certain way for you to feel happy or at peace can you take the risks necessary for growth.
9. Change your reaction.
Once you reframe and practice flexibility in your thinking, you can choose to react differently to situations that bring out the controller in you.
Think about how you usually react and how your reaction affects others. Then imagine a reaction based on a more expansive view of the situation — and how that reaction is likely to affect everyone involved.
Do your best to choose the reaction with the best outcome. It takes practice.
10. Build yourself up.
You won’t get it right all the time, so don’t expect perfection or even a quick and dramatic improvement. The more you work at it, the less controlling you’ll be, and that’s worth something. The people you once struggled to control are bound to notice eventually.
Don’t rush them — or yourself. And don’t forget to celebrate your wins, however small. New habits need daily reinforcement. Treat each successful reframe as a victory.
As your confidence and self-esteem grow, your need to control others diminishes.
11. Learn to accept what you can’t control.
None of us can control everything. If you’ve ever been in a controlling relationship, you know how much you wanted to break free and control your own life.
But there are plenty of things in life you can’t control. And part of growing is accepting that and learning to live with uncertainty.
Focus on what you can and should control. That’s enough trouble for anyone.
It’s time to let go of control.
Now that you know how to be less controlling in your relationships, which of the tips described above stood out for you most?
Everyone has work to do when it comes to personal growth. You’re no different in that regard. What matters is your willingness to do the work.
Show the people most important to you just how much you value their freedom and happiness, as well as your own.
What will you do differently today?