This is something a lot of couples negotiate throughout their relationships. What one person feels is common courtesy, someone else might interpret as controlling. Finding a middle ground here can be a challenge.
A lot of people can agree on some basic common courtesies. Things like, calling to say you’ll be late for dinner if someone is expecting you to be home at a specific time, filling up the gas tank after you’ve used someone else’s car, and setting your phone, work, or television show aside while someone is talking to you are all generally considered basic accommodations. But what about the specifics?
Much of the difference between common consideration and exerting control in a relationship lies within the intention of both members. Sometimes people aren’t aware of their intentions, and that has a tendency to obscure things. The more empathy you have for yourself and your loved one, the easier it will be to discern your true intention.
It’s helpful for both of you to be clear about your preferences so that you know where you stand in relationship to one another. When you’re both clear and honest about how you’d like your relationship to look, it can take some of the angst out of things. Generally, relationships feel more manageable the more everyone is aware of specific expectations.
Let’s take an innocuous example from what are usually basic agreements between people. Say you and your partner are watching TV, and you remember something you’ve wanted to ask them. Let’s say that you two have already talked about this kind of thing. You know that, since this is your partner’s favorite TV show, if the matter requires substantial discussion, they would appreciate your patience and waited until the program is over. If your question isn’t so pressing, your partner wouldn’t mind a quick pause in viewing for a brief discussion.
If one (or both!) of you experiences the other as controlling, there might be less flexibility in this scenario. Perhaps you’re not concerned with which program is on and you feel that you should be able to ask your question immediately. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to engage in any conversation, regardless of brevity, while watching TV and will not engage with you.
If this is the case, it might mean that some unmet needs have set up shop in your relationship. The more unresolved conflict you have about certain issues, however significant, the higher the chance of resentment clouding the communication happening between one another. If you dread bringing this up for discussion with your partner, the chances are slim that the resentment will resolve itself. Resentment doesn’t care whether you’re the one in the relationship who feels controlled or the one who is being held responsible for exerting control; both sides feel angry that they’re not getting their needs met.
It’s easy to see how couples can become polarized on certain issues. When that happens, both people dig in their heels, and the last thing they would do is back down. Subjects that started out as a matter of common courtesy start to feel more like issues of control. You can find soothing relief when both of you share your experience of what feels courteous and what feels controlling.
Love and Be Loved,