Tag Archives: control

A Passionate vs. a Lackluster Relationship:
The Problem with Emotional Fusion

“Pan Extasy” by Mimi Stuart ©

Do you feel threatened when your partner doesn’t agree with you or behave the way you want?

If so, you may be seeking a type of unity that is both unattainable and undesirable. Although many people in a relationship feel alienated from one another, emotional fusion is more often the problem than insufficient attachment. Emotional fusion occurs when people do not function independently, but are emotionally reactive by being overly acquiescent or rebellious.

Couples use silence, withdrawal, and facial expressions of disapproval to pressure each other to express agreement or approval. These subtle forms of manipulation usually causes people become defensive or to repress feelings and thoughts that are incompatible with those of their partner.

If partners can’t handle having differences of opinion, they miss the opportunity to have energized discussions as two separate individuals. Eventually passion in the relationship disappears, because it can only persist between two separate individuals. While it may seem nice to be in agreement, too much unison usually causes mystery, growth, and passion to fade away and be replaced by predictability and boredom, and/or anger and resentment.

Origin of emotional fusion

Emotional fusion with one’s family of origin often leads to a tendency to fuse with people later in life. When excessive energy is bound in a parent/child relationship, the child becomes emotionally fused to the parent and is unable to function autonomously. Over-attachment, where the child stays substantially merged with the parent, encourages emotional reactivity in the guise of accommodation or provocation. The child thinks, feels, and acts with the parents’ and later the spouse’s potential reactions and feelings in mind.

The child may become a “good boy” or “good girl”, doing and saying exactly what’s wanted, while repressing parts of him or herself that would provoke the parent. Or, the child may become rebellious, often saying and doing precisely the opposite of what the parent desires, in order to try to stake out a sense of individuality.

Often the child alternates between the two extremes rather than developing an organic sense of self based on reflections and experience, not simply one that accommodates or reacts against those on whom the child is dependent.
What’s lacking is an ability to reasonably express thoughts and choose actions without an intention to acquiesce or to rebel against family members.

Both over-accommodation and excessive rebelliousness result from fusion. Emotional fusion replaces adequate separation and real intimacy with a sense of suffocation and/or isolation. If your parent cares about you and gives you adequate space to have your own feelings, thoughts, and some appropriate decision-making power, there’s not much to rebel against. Nor is there an urgent sense to please the parent at any cost.


The pressured partner may accommodate her partner, while repressing her own conflicting feelings and thoughts. However, ongoing avoidance of discomfort, disapproval, and criticism leads to partners drifting apart, because they are hesitant to share incompatible or new parts of themselves. Soon they no longer have anything to talk about.

Repressed parts of the personality then gather energy in the unconscious, and ultimately seep out in the form of depression, sickness, or secret affairs. Repressed feelings and thoughts can also erupt unexpectedly in anger, violence, and even unexpected divorce.


Control, anger, and violence can arise from the inability to calmly and firmly withstand the pressure to merge with another person, or from the inability to tolerate another person’s disagreement or disapproval.

Arguing is often a manifestation of the unconscious attempting to balance togetherness and separateness. Focusing on the other through argument provides emotional contact, while anger and resistance to one’s partner’s wishes promote separateness.

Once one becomes emotionally separate, anger is no longer necessary to resist pressures to merge with the other. You can accept the fact that your partner is disappointed or disagrees with you. You can express disagreement or make requests without being angry or scared. Uncomfortable, yes; but angry, no.

Example of Fused Couple: Paul states he does not want Sally to visit her sister. Sally doesn’t go, but is angry for hours or days. Or Sally says she’s going anyway, and Paul stays angry for days.

Example of Differentiated Couple: Paul says he wishes he could go on a trip with her and is sad that she’ll be going without him. Sally says she’s sorry he’ll be lonely, but it’s really important for her to spend some time alone with her sister. Or Sally says that he’s welcome to join her if he can get away.

Partners are equally fused

Partners who stay together for a long time, say a year or more, are generally equally emotionally fused, although they may not think they are. They just express it differently.

For example, it’s not accidental, although it may be unconscious, that a man who seeks his own space chooses a woman who yearns for connection. If she didn’t seek connection, there wouldn’t be any. If he didn’t seek space, there wouldn’t be any. They both need the other to find some sort of balance. Yet, the man may believe that the problem is all hers—she is simply too needy. The woman believes that the problem is all his—he fears intimacy. They’ve both selected the ideal person either to learn from or to blame.

Problems with fusion:

1. No sense of identity

Increased emotional fusion paradoxically creates both a greater need for more togetherness in one person and an urge to flee in the other person. Sometimes one person experiences both. Feelings of being trapped, controlled, and smothered, or isolated, unsupported, and unloved infuse the relationship.

The problem is that neither partner can maintain his or her sense of identity in the presence of the other. When one disagrees or neglects the other, the other takes it personally and becomes reactive by withdrawing coldly or picking a fight. Alternatively, partners may quickly accommodate each other, repressing their own feelings and thoughts, which eventually leads to resentment or a diminished sense of self.

2. Needing emotional validation

Most relationship difficulties result from attempting to avoid anxiety. Often, when we’re anxious, we seek validation from others. Others then feel obliged to give us validation, because they feel uncomfortable with our anxiety. Validation is an attempt to soothe the other’s anxiety in order to soothe our own. Such validation differs from compassion and appreciation, which are freely-given expressions of kindness, enjoyment and gratitude toward the other, rather than attempts to mitigate distress.

3. Diminishing boundaries

With increased fusion, boundaries between people dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. “As boundaries dissolve, there is increased pressure on people to think, feel, and act in ways that will enhance one another’s emotional well-being” (Kerr and Bowen, p. 77). Well-being cannot be provided by another person without diminishing that person’s selfhood and independence. So, the expectation of providing for someone’s well-being ironically increases pressure, anxiety, and disappointment.

4. Controlling behavior

If your sense of identity or well-being depends on what your partner thinks, it’s natural to try to control your partner. Above all, it becomes critical to minimize anxiety and to continue securely in the emotional attachment. Controlling behavior, however, stifles all spontaneity and freshness in a relationship.

For example, people who complain of sexual boredom often feel threatened by the display of new sexual behavior by their partners and therefore ridicule or reject such attempts, which are ways of trying to control a person. Or they may hesitate to try something new themselves for fear of their partners’ disapproval.


To resolve the anguish of emotional fusion, individuals need to become more highly-differentiated, that is, emotionally separate, and therefore, less reactive. Differentiation will (a) permit a person to get intensely involved without becoming infected with the other person’s anxiety, and (b) eliminate the need to withdraw or control the partner to modulate a person’s own emotional well-being. Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the relationship will improve.

Ironically, emotional objectivity and separateness allow us to be more intimate and passionate. Someone who is differentiated doesn’t fear intimacy or solitude. While we want to be considerate of others in our interactions, we don’t want to negate ourselves by endowing others with too much power. When we are not excessively worried about another’s reactions, we can be truly intimate, that is, we can express ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions more freely and deeply. When we are more confident in ourselves and less hindered by our partner’s anxiety, we can grow emotionally, sexually, and intellectually, often enticing our partners to do the same. When someone is confident with a positive attitude, rather than cautious, fearful of rejection, or controlling, that person becomes more attractive and is able to ignite passion more easily.

When we take care of and are responsible for our own emotions, we can be intimate without pressuring others to validate or soothe us or to do what we want. By not allowing other people’s anxiety to infect us, we remain emotionally separate and objective, which paradoxically allows for greater connection and intense intimacy. Relationships are desired for enjoyment, not to be controlled to fulfill a need.

Existential aloneness

Underlying emotional fusion is caused by a fear of being separate and alone in the world. As we face and accept our own existential separateness, our tolerance for being alone increases. Our disappointment in others diminishes, because we relinquish unattainable expectations that our partners will save us from our basic separateness and mortality. Paradoxically, our oneness with others, not just our partners, increases as we accept our separateness.


We need to recognize how our reactivity toward others is driven by our own anxiety and sense of aloneness. Part of this process is realizing that we can never be fully united in thought and feeling with another person. Once we genuinely accept our existential separation from others, we can more fully enjoy the fleeting connection with others, without grasping to get more of it, and without resisting it to avoid the pain of its eventual loss.

Passion requires being in the moment and letting go of fear and control. While there is a place in long-term relationships for planning and thinking about the future, there is also a place for being free of those thoughts and letting spontaneity and desire reign. Passion is a feeling of being alive, alert and excited in the midst of the unknown. By breaking away from predictable routine and control over your partner or over yourself , you can allow a little unpredictability back into the relationship. Embracing the unknown—or anxiety—with a positive attitude, you can turn it into excitement, desire, and passion.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I never get to go skiing anymore because of my partner.”

Recommended References:

Kerr, M. & Bowen, M. (1988). Family Evaluation: The role of the family as an emotional unit that governs individual behavior and development. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.: New York.

Schnarch, D. (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible: Paradigm-shift in sexual and marital therapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Embracing Each Other, by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone

“If I don’t keep on top of everything, I don’t know what will happen.”

“Garden of Eden” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Being organized, dependable, and creative in planning for the future are wonderful qualities. They allow you to create beauty in the home, order in your finances, and enjoyment in your social life.

Control and order

Responsible people generally strive to achieve security, order, and harmony to prevent upheaval, chaos, and turmoil. When circumstances become stressful, however, the drive to sustain order can get out of control and actually add to the stress. Ironically, the attempt to take too much control of life sometimes results in excessive vigilance that leaves you feeling powerless and out of control.

Moreover, you may become preoccupied with your worries to the exclusion of appreciating your blessings. As a result, you end up feeling tense, angry, and tormented — even panicked, while others seem to be nonchalant. It doesn’t seem fair.

Effective Problem-Solving

Paradoxically, by focusing exclusively on what has gone wrong and what might go wrong in the future, you lose your objectivity and effectiveness. If you dwell too much on a problem, you may lose sight of the bigger picture and access to your intuition. You may get mired in the mud of hopelessness. You may also drive other people away with your anxious energy.

Brain research shows that the best way to resolve a problem is to focus on that over which you have control. Inform yourself of all the facts and seek good advice if necessary in order to consider the problem thoughtfully. Then engage in something other than thinking about the problem. Stepping away from the problem at this point will allow your intuition to inform your decision-making. It also allows you to maintain perspective, while being able to enjoy other aspects of life.


Taking the time to plan and organize fosters security and harmony in life. Too much planning and organizing, however, creates excessive tension that wipes out feelings of security and harmony. While you can hedge against some risks in the future, you cannot prevent all misfortunes and loss. Life is fleeting and mercurial. At some point you have to let go of trying to control against all misfortunes, and face the unknown with courage and acceptance.


Given the ephemeral quality of life, we need to balance planning for the future with being present in the moment. It may seem inappropriate and even absurd to think about enjoying life when faced with uncertainty, misfortune, and stress. Yet it is the present moment that we actually have the most control over, that is, we have control over our attitude and reactions to whatever is currently happening. Regardless of how beautiful and safe we try to make our world, we inevitably must accept what comes our way willingly and gracefully.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

How to handle a jealous partner & your own jealousy

Click on the picture below to watch the short video:

How to handle a jealous partner

When someone becomes driven by their jealousy, it’s quite annoying and unappealing. Yet, jealousy is a terrible emotion to experience. It causes a powerful fear of being abandoned or betrayed by someone you care about.

Occasional feelings of jealousy can be natural and sometimes are a response to bad past experiences. So when your partner is jealous, it’s best not to be defensive but to be kind and to assuage his or her fears.

If your partner is leering or flirting with others excessively, then you could mention something. Remember it’s important to speak from a place of reason and calm, not hostility and insecurity.

When someone is frequently or excessively jealous, and starts becoming controlling, it’s critical to set boundaries and stand your ground. You have to be clear that you are not willing to be controlled or submit to unreasonable demands.

If unwanted behavior continues after you’ve had a conversation about it together, it’s unlikely that you can change the other person. Possessive jealousy tends to destroy a relationship through hostility and control. So you may have to limit or even terminate the relationship before it gets out of control.

How to handle your own jealousy

If you are the person experiencing jealousy, understand that occasional feelings of jealousy can be natural and sometimes are a response to past abandonment or betrayal. However, it’s important to note that it’s natural and in fact healthy for men and women to notice and look at other attractive people, to engage in harmless mild flirting, and to have some friends of the opposite sex.

But it can be threatening to people who get jealous easily. When you feel threatened and respond by attacking your partner or friend, you look insecure, which is very unappealing and ineffective in sustaining a successful relationship. So develop the self-discipline to avoid acting on your jealousy. If you can respond with confidence, life will be more enjoyable, and your partner will find you much more attractive.

Frequent or severe jealousy shows insecurity and can wreck a relationship. So it is critical to gain self-control and maintain your self-confidence. You are much more attractive and appealing to be with when you don’t feel threatened by the presence of other attractive people and friendships. You are also much more effective in sustaining a healthy relationship when you stay calm and comfortable in your skin.

Sometimes jealousy is a signal to pay attention to what’s going on. Look at all the circumstances objectively. If your relationship is taking the backseat to new friendships, talk about to your partner rationally. Also consider whether you have been paying adequate attention to your relationship, and discuss your desire to spend time together in a positive way.

If your relationship is taking a backseat to another outside friendship, then it might be time to talk about what’s going on, which is much most effective when you avoid becoming accusatory or defensive.

If your relationship continues to take a backseat to an outside relationship or if there is lying or cheating going on, despite reasonable conversations and efforts, it may be time to move on. Anger and controlling behavior will not improve the situation.

Excessive jealousy destroys relationships. It leads to controlling and possessive behavior, which leads to a limited and miserable relationship. It can also lead to abuse and violence. If you experience frequent anger and jealousy, take control of your life by getting help or counseling.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication


Read “Pursuing passions or partnership? ‘You should spend time with me instead of going fishing!’”

Read “Jealous Partner: ‘How can you be so jealous! You’re being ridiculous.’”

Read Sam Vaknin’s “Romantic Jealousy: ‘I can’t think of him/her with another man/woman.’”

“It’s always your way or the highway!”

"Angle of Approach" — Furyk by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Angle of Approach” — Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So… what I REALLY meant was…

“Let’s agree to include both our opinions into the solution. Let’s start by finding our common ground.”

Sarcasm furthers hostility.

Giving in causes resentment.

You can frequently find a healthy compromise if you remain calm, respectful, and persistent.

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

~John F. Kennedy

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

Read Positive Bonding Patterns:
“We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a doormat.”

“I’m not going to visit my sister because my husband will get mad.”

"Bounteous" by Mimi Stuart©  Live the Life you Desire

“Bounteous” by Mimi Stuart©
Live the Life you Desire

Fear of being alone

Underlying most controlling behavior is a fear of being left alone, physically or emotionally. A person’s reactivity and possessiveness is often driven by anxiety and fear of abandonment.

The problem is that we can never be fully united in thought and feeling with another person. In fact, the more we try to possess another person or allow ourselves to be controlled, the more we squeeze the magic out of the relationship.

Once we genuinely accept our existential separation from others, we can enjoy the connection we have more fully, however fleeting it may be. Then we can be truly loving without becoming controlling and possessive.

Responding to a controlling person

If you are in a relationship with a controlling partner who is trying to coerce you into not doing something you want to do, such as visiting your sister, you can choose to respond in the following ways:

Accommodate—You don’t go visit your sister, but you will feel disappointed, angry, disempowered, and resentful for not going.

Rebel—You vehemently declare that you’re going anyway, but your partner will try to punish you with his anger.

Differentiate—You are considerate while maintaining your self-respect. You tell him you’ll miss him and you’re sorry he’ll be lonely, but it’s really important for you to spend some time with your sister. Or, you could that say you’d really like to see your sister, but that he is welcome to join you if he can get away. If your partner continues to be angry about your decision, you can show compassion to a point, but you should not allow yourself to be manipulated by his fear or anger. Stand firm albeit with compassion, but without becoming defensive.

Intimacy requires freedom

It sounds paradoxical that intimacy and passion can deepen as we accept our separateness and stop controlling others or allowing ourselves to be controlled. Yet a relationship based on respect requires letting go of fear and control. By breaking away from control and possessiveness, we can allow a little unpredictability and excitement back into the relationship.

Passion is based on the feeling of being alive, alert and excited in the midst of the unknown. By respecting another person’s autonomy and embracing the associated anxiety, we can enhance excitement, desire, and passion in our relationship with that person.

As we face and accept our own existential separateness, our tolerance for being alone increases. In addition, our disappointment in others diminishes, because we relinquish unrealistic expectations that our partners will save us from ourselves.

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

Watch “How to Deal with Controlling People.”

Read “I’ve texted you five times in the last hour! Where have you been?”

How to Deal with Controlling People

Does it help to argue or complain when dealing with a controlling person? How do you respond to someone who is controlling, demanding and wants you to do things you don’t want to do?

Video by Alison Poulsen, PhD

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

Read “Dealing with Brashness: ‘I feel miserable because she has been so short with me.’”