You may have heard the accusation before: “Stop being so controlling!” If your S.O. has directed this complaint your way, don’t beat yourself up—it’s a pretty common dynamic, especially in serious relationships. And in that situation, your instinct is probably argue that you’re not being controlling—you’re “just trying to help.” (And hey, you probably are—you’re just doing it in a way that doesn’t feel so helpful to the other person.)
Still, if this is a frequent refrain in your relationship, it might be time for some self-reflection. Nobody wants to be the person who can’t deal when things aren’t done exactly to their standards or freaks out when plans go awry. It won’t just wreak havoc on your romantic relationship—it’ll also have negative repercussions in other areas of your life.
To all the perfectionists and type-As out there, we get how hard it can be to loosen the reins when you just know that things could be done a lot better if they were done your way. But for the sake of your S.O.’s sanity and the health of your relationship, we suggest taking a few of the tips below—that is, if you want to stay together.
Turn Orders into Suggestions
Whether your controlling attitude comes from wanting things your way or wanting your partner to be better, there’s a fine line between being helpful and ordering your partner around. Instead of saying, “We’re doing this,” try asking a simple question like, “What do you think of doing this?” which can take the bossiness down several notches. By offering advice or making suggestions, your S.O. may even decide to go along with your plan of their own accord—though, of course, that shouldn’t always be your goal.
Demanding something from your partner (or anyone, for that matter) is simply not nice and makes it seem like you don’t have any respect for them. Simply inserting a “please” and “thank you,” or even an “I love you” when you ask for something changes the whole tone. And don’t forget to return favors, too.
Give (and Take) Some Space
When you’re in a relationship, you’re a team and decisions should be made with your partner. That’s why it’s important to spend time alone every so often, so you can focus on yourself, and your S.O. can do the same. Rather than obsessing over your partner’s every move, let them be, says relationship writer Kaetlyn Summers. “When it gets hard to give them space, which they rightly deserve, try to picture yourself in their shoes and understand that their solitude means as much to them as yours does to you.” Having your own life outside of the relationship is vital for keeping yourself from getting too controlling.
Instead of trying to exert control in every situation, try to become more assertive—which is very different. “Assertiveness is not aggression,” says sex therapist Mary Fisher. “It is an affirmation of your right to have a point of view, without aggressively discounting your partner’s point of view.” Instead of snapping, “No way are you meeting your ex for lunch!” for instance, you could say, “I feel anxious about you meeting your ex for lunch and would like to talk it through so I understand your point of view better and feel more comfortable before you agree to meet her.”
Don’t Succumb to Insecurities
Each time your partner gets a text, do you instantly assume it’s from an ex or a flirty coworker, and then proceed to snoop through their phone? Going through your partner’s phone and private things, or even monitoring every “like” on Instagram, is still considered controlling behavior. It’s not fair to your partner and a really unhealthy relationship habit, says Summers. “That sort of paranoia needs to be controlled by simply trusting your gut. Deep down, you probably know they’re not a cheater, so listen to that gut feeling instead of acting on paranoid feelings.” (And if deep down you’re wondering if they really are a cheater, that’s a whole other conversation.)
Address Your Stress
The urge to try to control everything tends to spike when people are under stress, explains couples therapist Jenn Kennedy. “If you feel out of control in other areas, you might micromanage your partner to try and regain equilibrium,” she says. “Stay in your own lane and make peace with your own sense of powerlessness,” she adds. Whether it’s through yoga and meditation or venting to a friend, find ways to calm down and self-regulate. When you feel good and grounded within yourself, you’ll feel way less compelled to control everyone else.
Accept Your Partner as They Are
News flash: Your partner isn’t you! Sounds obvious, but trying to force someone to do and act as you would is essentially trying to make them conform to the expectations you have of yourself, which is totally unfair. Everyone has their quirks and flaws and you need to respect that if you want a healthy relationship, says Anita Chlipala, a couples therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love. “If you don’t, you’ll send the message that they aren’t good enough. Even though they may be different, their values are just as important as yours. If there’s something your partner is or isn’t doing that really bothers you, you need to talk about it and perhaps try to compromise. Otherwise, pick your battles carefully.”
Be Open to Change
Sometimes the urge to control your partner and the relationship stems from a fear of the unknown—the worry that if you don’t plan every date or detail of your domestic life together it won’t go according to plan, says Summers. “To eliminate that fear, you try to control your partner. But there’s an alternate way. Think of how the change would be good for you, how it could bring some positive effects in your relationship.” Letting go of your fear of the unknown is easier said than done, so make sure you let your partner know that you’re doing your best to work on it, and even consider talking it through with a therapist if you find yourself unable to let go.