Control Kills Passion

"Roar" by Mimi Stuart

Email question: My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I go on bike rides with my buddies, which I like to do. She’s also pressuring me to get a better job. How should I handle this?

Jake (pseudonym)

Controlling or helpful

She says she loves you, but you’ve got to get a “better” job. Trying to choose your partner’s friends, activities, or work all suggest that you consider your partner to be inadequate. Even when the controlling partner is simply seeking that magical feeling of unity, seeking it through control damages the respect at the core of love. Doing everything together, having the same friends, and having agreement all the time create merely the illusion of unity. In time, you may be left with uniformity, which can ultimately become dull and oppressive.

The moment you try to control another person, you undermine their free will, which is one of the strongest of human drives. That’s why control, even in the guise of being helpful, can feel so oppressive and annoying. Most people would rather choose their own path, even it is paved with difficulties, than to follow someone else’s directions.

People who tend to be controlling may simply want to make others happy or have things done right (in their view). Yet, often the controlling partner experiences discomfort with another person’s independence. People who spend a lot of time managing people around them often have difficulty regulating their own anxiety. Yet, they are too busy directing others to notice what’s going on within themselves.

Appreciate the unexpected

Relationships that are fresh and alive require that the two individuals are each in control of their own lives. To experience passion, you need to be able to handle and appreciate the unexpected in life, similar to the way a good traveler enjoys the unexpected. Controling people experience the tension of the unknown in a negative way as anxiety-causing unpredictability. They would benefit in learning to experience that tension in a positive way with a sense of acceptance of the unknown, excitement and adventure.

If you are controlling

Those who are tempted to control others need to stand back, relax, and let live. When they want things to run more smoothly, they might recount their own experiences rather than telling the other person what to do. That’s not to say that you can’t give your opinion, but do so without manipulation, leaving the other person free choice. State how you feel and why, but don’t badger, whine, demand, or manipulate. There’s actually a lot of relief in letting go of the tension that accompanies constant management of another person.

If you let yourself be controlled

The person who complains about a controlling partner is also an active participant in the dance of control. The partner who is susceptible to being controlled is often trying to avoid confrontation. The problem with living in dread of your partner’s reactions is that your desires and values wither away, which leads to a restricted life and a passionaless relationship.


Passion is the feeling of exhilaration in the face of mystery. It doesn’t exist in the context of restriction and uniformity. Passion arises from the heat generated by the intermingling of two people pursuing their own individual passions. So if partners sacrifice their own personal passions, interests, and friends for the sake of the relationship, that relationship could eventually become passionless.

What to do if you let others control you

Those who are susceptible to being controlled need to stop fearing the other person’s reactions. That doesn’t mean becoming confrontational. We simply cannot let the fear of others’ anger dictate our willingness to stand up for our values and needs. Candid, honest communication is best.

In response to Jake

So, to answer your question, Jake, rather than giving in to or arguing with your girlfriend, honest, open communication about your own needs and aspirations regarding your job might be the most advantageous for both of you. You might also inquire into why she wants you to get a “better” job. Is it her hope that you would be happier with a different job? That you would have a better image? That you would make more money? Or is it that she has faith in your ability to do something you don’t have faith in yourself to do? This may be a good opportunity to discuss key values you each have. Clarify how your values may differ from hers. For instance, if she thinks you will be happier with the other job because you’ll make more money, clarify what you value about your current job, whether it’s the actual work, the free time, or the people you work with, for example.

Under pressure to stay home rather than to go bike riding with your buddies, you might say, “It means a lot to me to spend time with my buddies and to bike ride.” It’s also worth exploring what your girlfriend’s fears are, and address those. Is it that she feels insecure about the relationship? Her view of love might involve spending all your time together. Perhaps you value autonomy more than she does. Or perhaps she feels that you are focusing on fun at the expense of your responsibilities. These issues are important to discuss early in the relationship. If you discuss your values with candor, you might avoid living in constant dread of your girlfriend being upset.

Healthy compromise rather than control

Avoiding control and manipulation doesn’t mean there cannot be compromise. Healthy compromise involves valuing both persons’ needs and respecting free choice. When people agree to compromise without having been manipulated, they are often willing to accommodate their partners’ real needs without resenting them afterwards. Instead of being motivated by fear of another’s reactions, each partner strives for maximum happiness for both partners. Yet, they allow each person to have the ultimate say in choosing his or her own path to a happy or meaningful life.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “‘My parent was controlling.’ How we develop Defense Mechanisms (Part I).”

Read “I’m always walking on eggshells. I don’t want to upset my partner.”

4 thoughts on “Control Kills Passion

  1. desert voice

    Excellent article. I hate control passionately. Today, most control is done in ways sanctioned by particular cultures. Generaly, lets take the term “take it easy.” In appearance it’s innocent. But it is a viciously controlling argumentum ad hominem. It appears in most world cultures tode. Most of us who travel, know “aspetta”, in Itally, “spokojnie” in Poland, “slow down” in the U.S., “con calma”, in Argentina. The problem is that in some cultures, this term acquires often extremely offensive meanings. Take Poland as example. A cashier is doing something on the computer. You are purchasing a book, and ask, will you have change for a 100-dollar bill. A polite question, you would think, and important. The reponse you get in Poland is “spokojnie”, in the sense of “wait a minute”,which the tone of voice further accentuates. It is in fact the elevated voice and tone what swings the balence toward control. A person feels offended and disrespected. His right as a customer to ask this question was violated, along with his person! You call police, but he swears that he didn’t mean to offend you! Yet deep domn you know that he attempted control! So as I say, you have to be watchful in which country you hear the word “take it easy.” It is loaded with a “controlling” meaning!

    1. Alison Post author

      Interesting. It’s true that many innocuous-sounding comments including complements can take on a critical or controlling quality with tone of voice and body language. Intention is the most important part of communication. Usually such rudeness is more about the offending person than the person it’s aimed at.
      Thank you for your comment.


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