Relationships - When support turns to control

In a relationship support and control often have opposite meaning.  Control indicates that one person to some extent is in charge, perhaps the authority in the relationship, and the other is submissive, bending with the wishes made, often without fully realising what is happening.  Feeling supported and being supportive are crucial ingredients in a healthy relationship and balanced measures of both give the feeling of equality, mutual appreciation and a sense of working together.  It’s one of many important cogs that make the relationship wheel turn smoothly.  However on occasion support can turn into control without either partner being aware that it has happened.

In relationship counselling I sometimes see couples who describe their relationship as initially being supportive, that they both used to feel appreciated by the other.  Now something has gone wrong and the balance they thought they had initially no longer exists.  Confused, they talk about the love they still feel for one another at the same time as saying that the intimacy they once had no longer exists; they feel they have drifted apart.

When we begin to explore their relationship right from moment they first met, it isn’t unusual to find that there may have been a time when one partner needed a little more support than usual.  Perhaps an illness, childbirth or redundancy changed the balance of support momentarily.  The couple managed to negotiate the change of support, so one took on more responsibility than the other, which worked well and they got through the difficulty they experienced.  They talk about how their love grew and that this was a time when they felt incredibly close.

Looking back at the time when the difficulty they experienced went away, we find that the balance of feeling supported and being supportive had not been re-adjusted or negotiated.  Their roles in the relationship had changed but the responsibilities had not, resulting in an unequal balance of feeling supported and being supportive.

Gradually their relationship turned into control and submission where one, being used to take the main part of the responsibilities, unwittingly carried on in this role not realising the damage being done to the relationship.  The other, embarrassed and not wanting to be seen as ungrateful, held back their need to return to the balance of mutual support they once had.

Resentment began to build on both sides as the mutual appreciation disintegrated and both partners put on a brave front, not wanting to ”rock the boat”.  As what should be said remained in silence, the intimacy slowly disappeared, buried beneath unspoken words.  Before long they could no longer reach each other through words or touch.

Neither enjoy the roles of control and submission they now find themselves in though neither are able to say what really needs to be said for fear of hurting the other or suffering rejection.  It may seem easier to keep quiet and believe that it will all go away with time, but the silence they both subscribe to is poisoning their relationship.

No relationship stays the same, and the ability to negotiate in an open and honest manner, without damaging the trust in the relationship takes skill.   Often these are skills that exist in other areas of life and with a little exploration can be brought into consciousness.  Once a couple has understood how they have created the situation they find themselves in, putting these skills to use will, after a while, help to reignite the intimacy that once existed. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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