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The Control Freak

  • Dr. Les Parrott for the eHarmony Research Library
  • 2004 17 Sep
The Control Freak

One of the most common complaints I receive when discussing relationship problems is that one of the partners has a controlling personality. A controlling person has a tremendous need to be in charge, set the agenda, and dictate opinions. In the past terms like "bossy" were used in a lighthearted manner to refer to the domineering personalities we all encounter. But if you've ever been in a relationship with someone who qualifies as a true Control Freak, you know there is nothing amusing about it.

A confirmed control freak is not interested in true discussion. It's as if they have all the truth, and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. They feel no need to examine both sides of any issue and their mind is made up before they even hear that there is another side to an issue. They circle the wagons to protect their opinions and deny even an effort at clarification, balance, and understanding, to say nothing of building community with people who do not see things exactly as they do. 

These people can have a lot of trouble getting their romantic relationships off the ground, because their thinking is too restricted, their minds too closed, for any future relationship dialogue. Ultimately, this causes them to close their hearts to people who would make a loving partner.

Bob, for example, was a 45-year old man who wanted to find a long-term relationship. He joined, an online relationship matching service and was matched with Julie, a woman who met most of his preferences-she was 39, wanted to have children, shared his religious denomination, and lived a short distance from him. 

Most importantly, Julie liked Bob and soon was sending him several messages a day. But then, one day, they reached an impasse-though they were both committed Christians, Julie felt that women should be allowed to become ministers, but Bob disagreed. Though neither was headed for the clergy, and this was only a theoretical disagreement, Bob couldn't let it go. Refusing to see her side of the issue or even allow her to have a different opinion, he badgered her again and again about this one issue, telling her why she was wrong and letting it take up most of the messages he was sending her. 

Angered by her "inability" to see his way of thinking, he eventually ceased communicating altogether. Rather than concentrate on all the remarkable similarities in their personalities and values, as well as his good fortune in finding someone who truly accepted and liked him, he let one small issue cheat him out of a wonderful relationship.

At the root of all controlling behavior is an attempt to tame our anxiety-not to dominate another person. That's why control is so tempting.

It is intensely seductive. Control tickles our psyches with a sense of peace and calm. It provides us with a delicious taste of power over everything that seems beyond real control, namely time and other people. As a result, many of us end up fighting simply to achieve that powerful control. 

For the dating control freak, compromise in order to have a good time with the person we are dating just doesn't seem as gratifying as an out-and-out victory, and that makes it easy to forget that our conversational triumph represents the defeat of something more important-communication, empathy, and the kindling of love.


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