In Christian tradition – Lucifer, the devil, was cast out of heaven because of the sin of pride; but Lucifer had a more pervasive and devastating character flaw – it was the desire to control others. Recall his temptation of Christ in the desert. He tried to get Christ to do things he didn’t wish to do. “Turn these stones into bread”, “Throw yourself off this high building and angels will rescue you”, “Bow down and worship me”. Contrast this desire to control others with God’s nature. God sets down guidelines and then gives people the choice to follow the guidelines or not. Because God has self control, He allows us to choose how we live and does not make His love conditional on our obedience. Christianity then might be summed up as the struggle between self control and the desire to control others.
Why do I describe External Control as the most destructive behavior in a relationship? I’ve got a couple thoughts on that topic.
When I first met my wife I thought she was perfect. I could not see any flaws. I accepted her as she was and this acceptance made our relationship possible. Not too much time passed before I began to notice little things in my wife that if changed would improve her. In turn she noticed things in me that may have been present when we met but now seemed to need her attention as well. We began a 21 year process of trying to change each other into what we thought the other should be. We did this for very good reasons…reasons like: “You would be better if….”, “I would like you more if you…..”, “I would be happier if you just…..”, and the ever popular “You should do it this way because this is the right way to be!”. Have you ever noticed that everyone has an idea of the right way to be – but often these ideas are very different from our partner’s idea of the right way to be. What do we do when our partner’s right way to be - differs from ours? We begin working on changing them.
Next I will describe the 7 deadly techniques we use to try to change others and how this interferes with having a healthy relationship.
In his book Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health, Dr. William Glasser describes 7 deadly habits that we use to try to control others. Before I reveal the 7 deadly habits let me share some of the underlying thinking that we use to justify our attempts to control others. One of the thoughts is that it is possible to control someone else. We would never try this behavior if we did not believe that it had some chance of working. The most deceptive thought is that: “It’s the right thing to do – it’s right for me and it’s right for you as well”. Both ideas are incorrect but they are front and center when external control is being practiced.
Ok – here they are – the 7 deadly habits of external control. CRITICISING, BLAMING, COMPLAINING, NAGGING, THREATENING, PUNISHING, AND BRIBING (or rewarding to control – there’s nothing wrong with rewarding unless we do it to get something or cause something to happen). Think of how often – in any given day – you use one or more of these deadly habits. Imagine how you would relate to your partner if you never used one of these again. You would encourage, support, compliment, let unpleasant things go, ask once - then trust that the job will get done, give without expecting anything, speak positively! Can you imagine how people in your life would respond to this kind of behavior from you? Are you excited enough to begin a new life of self-control in place of external control. Let me suggest that you begin by identifying the deadly habit you use most often. Then start doing the opposite. Here are the habits with their opposites: Criticizing-Commending; Blaming-Complimenting; Complaining-Accepting; Nagging-Trusting; Threatening-Respecting; Punishing-Excusing; Bribing-Giving Freely. Watch the remarkable change in your spouse as they experience your new behaviors. Better yet – watch the remarkable change in yourself. Using the 7 deadly habits drags a person down and contributes to their unhappiness. Doing the opposite of the deadly habits builds a person up and adds to their happiness. You win – your partner wins – everyone in your life wins…so what are you waiting for. Start the positive habits today!