>> Calls you all the time when you are not with them.
>> Wants you to spend all your time with them because they miss you so much when you are not with them.
>> Tells you what to wear because they want you to look your best.
>> Doesn’t like your friends/family because they aren’t good for you.
>> Asks you a series of questions before you go out because they want to make sure you are safe.
Surely these are all signs of a caring relationship, right?
These behaviours can also be signs of a controlling relationship. There is a fine line between being caring and controlling, making it difficult to identify the difference.
I interviewed 200 therapy clients experiencing relationship issues. Eighty-nine percent stated they had been unable to tell the difference between caring and controlling behaviours within their relationships, consequently resulting in them staying in an unhealthy or toxic relationship a lot longer than they should have.
Three steps to help you identify the difference between a caring and a controlling relationship:
Focus on your feelings
Your feelings are your compass in life, steering you in the right direction and keeping you on track. If something isn’t right, then this will be reflected in your feelings.
A healthy, caring relationship will make us feel loved, safe, secure, respected, supported, valued, and happy. In contrast, a controlling relationship will create a lot of “uncomfortable” feelings. We will feel unhappy, insecure, unsettled, angry, anxious, tense, and on edge. As time goes on, we begin to lose confidence and start doubting ourselves, overanalysing situations, overthinking our actions, and seeking constant reassurance. We begin to feel lost and, at times, unsure of who we are.
If you are experiencing any of these feelings directly as a result of your partner or relationship, then do not ignore them. These are red flags alerting you to the fact that something isn’t right.
Ask yourself what/who triggers these “uncomfortable” feelings? What would need to happen to deal with these feelings? What would life be like if you didn’t have to deal with these feelings?
It can help to take time out of the relationship. If you start to feel happier, healthier, and stress-free, then perhaps you need to consider that your relationship is unhealthy for you.
In a relationship, we think emotionally. This can cloud our judgement, make us partial, and we overlook what is right in front of us. By thinking rationally, you gain clarity, certainty, control, and the confidence to deal with your situation.
To think rationally, we have to focus on facts, evidence, and proof. This enables us to see the reality of our situation rather than what has been placed in our mind by our partner.
Next time your partner says something that makes you feel unsettled, unhappy, upset, anxious, criticised, insecure, or not good enough, ask yourself:
Where is the evidence to prove what he/she is saying is true?
Where is the evidence to prove what he/she is saying is not true?
What would I say to a loved one if they were treated/spoken to this way?
The more rationally we think, the more clarity we have about our situation. This enables us to identify whether the relationship and the behaviours within it are coming from a place of care or control.
Actions speak louder than words. By shifting our focus away from what our partner is saying and placing it instead on their actions, we gain peripheral vision into our situation. This helps us to look into our blind spot and notice things we may have overlooked.
Reflect and refocus:
If your partner tells you they love you, what do they do to make you feel loved? If your partner tells you they respect you, what do they do to make you feel respected? If your partner tells you they want you to be happy, what do they do to make you feel happy?
Do their actions actually make you feel loved, respected, or happy? If not, then why are these actions still being carried out?
In a healthy relationship, it is normal for the views, values, opinions, and ideas of both to be considered. If this isn’t happening, there is a power imbalance alerting you to the fact that the relationship could be controlling rather than caring.
By using these three steps, we can empower ourselves to have 20/20 vision within relationships. This will help us feel happier, healthier, and stress-free—not just for the new year, but also for the years ahead.