How many of you have ever been involved with a significant other who wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do? I doubt that I’m the only one. By virtue of a significant other relationship, there will be times when our partners will want us to do things we don’t necessarily want to do and conversely, there will be times when we will want our partners to do things they don’t want to do.
This is perfectly normal. The key, however, is what we do about it. Can you remember the behaviors your partners used to get you to do things their way? Dr. William Glasser, in his book called, Getting Together and Staying Together, talks about the seven destructive relationship habits. They are: complaining, criticizing, blaming, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing or rewarding to control. Do you recognize any favorites?
I like to add guilting to the list—this seems to be a favorite behavior of mothers. I know, because I am one. You can recognize this pattern in martyr type behavior. Saying things like, “After all I’ve done for you, you can’t do this one little thing for me?” I’ve actually heard some mothers play the “childbirth card”. You know the one. It sounds like this: “I was in labor with you for 36 hours! All I’m asking for is this one thing.”
I know for me, I am a world class nagger—just ask my children. The question of “Will you clean up your room today?” can be asked in a variety of different ways, with varying tonal inflections and volumes to convey a variety of meanings. By the time I’ve reached the end of my rope, it would frequently sound like, “How can you be so lazy! If you don’t do it right now, I am going to do something to hurt you!” (This pain usually took the form of haranguing my child for an extended period of time.) Does this sound familiar?
With regard to nagging, it is my belief that after you’ve said it three times, your significant other has probably heard you and is not planning on obliging you any time in the near future. Repeating your request most likely will be unsuccessful at getting you what you want.
Complaining and criticizing are other behaviors we often engage in to get our loved ones to do something they don’t want to do. Does this sound familiar? Why can’t you be more like _____________? Do you have to do it THAT way? Why can’t you ever do something I want? You never do things the right way. You are so lazy, stupid, frustrating, aggravating, etc. Do these sound like relationship strengthening behaviors to you?
I think the blaming, threatening and punishing behaviors are self-explanatory. Blaming sounds like: It’s always your fault. Threatening goes like this: If you do or don’t do ______________, then I’m going to (insert something you won’t like). Punishing often takes the form of withdrawal. It may be that we give our partners the silent treatment or we may withdraw affection or at least our enthusiasm during intimacy.
The last destructive habit to discuss is called bribing or rewarding to control. This may require a little more discussion. Bribing or rewarding to control does not mean the same thing as negotiation. Negotiation in a relationship is very healthy and necessary to the long term success of the relationship. It involves two willing partners, each interested in helping the other person get what they need, while at the same time meeting their own needs. Bribing simply means that I am going to dangle a carrot of what I think you want in front of you to get you to do the thing I know you don’t want to do.
I can remember often asking my youngest son to pick up his room. His room was always a mess and quite possibly a health hazard. I remember one day, I decided to put my nagging behavior away and try something new. So I said something like this: “Kyle, if you clean your room today, I’ll let you have a friend come over and play.” Do you know what his answer was? He said, “I don’t want a friend that bad.” And the room didn’t get cleaned! What a surprise!
Bribing or rewarding to control also needs to be distinguished from spontaneous rewards. Can you feel the difference between these two scenarios? You want your partner to attend an office party with you that he or she does not want to attend. In your best attempt to bribe him or her, you seductively express what you might do when you come home from the party.
Compare that to, you ask your partner to attend the party. He or she agrees. You go and have a wonderful time, spontaneously enjoying some quality intimacy upon your return home. Do those circumstances feel different to you? I bet they would to your partner.
No one likes to be controlled no matter how subtly or skillfully the controlling is administered. External control is one thing human beings are almost guaranteed to rebel against.
The bottom line is that we often engage in destructive relationship patterns with those people we claim to love the most. We typically don’t use these destructive behaviors with our friends. If we were to try, we soon wouldn’t have any friends left!
When we think about our progress over the past 100 years in terms of technology and relationships, it is very clear that we have made great strides in the technological field and very minimal gains, if any, in our relationships with each other. Can you think of things we have available to us today that didn’t exist 100 years ago? Today we have cell phones, computers, satellite, televisions, DVDs, CDs, space travel, etc. The list is virtually endless.
One of the reasons we have made such huge gains in the technological field is because those who are working at making those advances are willing to try a new approach when their approach is no longer working. They adjust their behavior to fit the situation. This is simply common sense.
However, in the area of interpersonal relationships, would you say that people get along better today than they did a century ago? Do husbands get along better with their wives? Do parents get along better with their children? Do teachers get along better with their students? Do neighbors get along better today? Most would admit that there has been little, if any, improvement.
The reason for this lack of progress in the relationship department is that when our external control behaviors don’t work to get us the results we want, we take those same behaviors to the next level. We are convinced that they will work if only we do it more often, harder or faster. In other words, we get a bigger stick!
The reason this mentality has survived the ages is because we can usually crank up the pressure or find the one punishment or threat that will work to get us what we want. Did you hear me say external control doesn’t work? Of course it works! That’s why we use it. The question remains: At what cost?
When we consistently use external control behaviors in our relationships with those we love, what does it cost? It costs us the relationship. I’m not saying the relationship will necessarily end, although that is a definite possibility. What I am saying is that we keep whittling away at the foundation of our relationship and then wonder why there has been no relationship progress over the past 100 years or even longer.
There are alternatives. There are ways to simultaneously honor ourselves and our partners. The first step is to recognize when we are using external control behavior. We will probably be able to recognize it long before you feel able to do anything about it. This is acceptable. Of course, the best case scenario is that from this moment forward, every time you consider externally controlling your partner, you stop yourself and use a caring habit instead.
However, if that is not what happens in your case, don’t despair. Recognizing external control is the first step—bringing it into your conscious awareness. Once it’s there, then you can make a decision about what you are going to do about it.