“Always be mindful of the kindness and not the faults of others” ~Buddha
In these hectic and often chaotic times, for most people (controllers included), the need for intimate, close bonds with friends and family is more important than ever for their overall well-being.
Yet, most controllers are unaware of how much their controlling actions prevent intimacy.
Losing Intimacy with My Son
Twenty years ago I was a massive, obsessive controller. I firmly believed that the best way to satisfy my needs and achieve what I wanted in life was by controlling everything and everyone. At home, Father truly knew best! I knew what was best for my children—and didn’t hesitate to let them know.
When my son Brandon was a child, I constantly offered my two cents on almost everything he did, thinking it would help him better traverse life’s many challenges. When he was young, he had no choice but to put up with my intrusions.
In his teens, however, he became very dismissive of me—he didn’t want to hear anymore from me, and he strongly let me know it.
Our bond remained strained until I was literally brought to my knees by a rapid-fire series of traumatic events (concluding with 5 major cancer surgeries). At that point, I no longer had the desire or energy to continue intruding upon his life.
Because I no longer offered him my opinions or advice, Brandon began seeking my input on important challenges he faced as a young adult.
Hence, the very thing I had sought—intimacy—came to me only after I stopped trying to seek it!
The Control/Intimacy Correlation
When we try to change or control others, this behavior almost always creates conflict and resentment, resulting in the loss of intimacy. And the fact that our intentions may be good doesn’t really matter.
For example, when we try to control a loved one by giving unsolicited advice and opinions or making unreasonable demands, it only pushes them away. Who likes being told how to be and act in matters of the heart?
The same is true with respect to our friends. When we try to change them, we are in effect telling them that they are not “good enough,” and that discourages them from opening up and confiding in us.
The Magnet Theory of Intimacy
I like to think of the intimacy dynamic in terms of trying to connect two magnets. If each magnet has one side infused with control and the opposite side with acceptance, placing the two acceptance sides together forges a very strong bond. However, when you place the two control sides together, it causes a forceful separation.
In the same manner, acceptance brings people closer together, and control pushes them apart.
Lose Control to Find Intimacy
When we accept people as they are instead of trying to change them, we make them feel at ease and comfortable with us. They feel that they can trust us.
My best friendships are ones in which we accept one another fully, blemishes and all. That allows us to be open and intimate without fear of criticism or judgment.
The same is true with respect to our loved ones. When we accept them as they are, we allow the love currents to unfold naturally so that they can just relax and be themselves, offering their love and kindness without pressure or expectations.
3 Decontrol Methods that Foster Intimacy
1. Focus on peoples’ positive qualities.
Instead of complaining about or trying to change someone else’s annoying habits, focus on their positive qualities. Think about what you like and appreciate about them.
For example, if you have a dear friend who you love, but her idiosyncrasies just drive you nuts, remember why she is a dear friend.
Some time ago I harped so much on a close friend for not having an answering machine at home that he didn’t talk to me for almost three years! Now, I don’t make plans with him where I might need to reach him and simply appreciate him for the dear friend he is.
Though we don’t see each other nearly as often now, our friendship is stronger and healthier than ever.
2. Listen attentively—without advising.
Attentive listening can be a very healing tool that fosters intimacy. In dealing with challenging issues, many times people simply need to vent or express themselves without receiving feedback.
Unless people specifically ask for your advice or opinion, try listening without “counseling” them; just be caring and empathetic.
I have found this particularly beneficial with my children, where their being able to freely express themselves has enabled them to effectively process their issues and concerns. Many times children (and adults) simply need to get things out of their “system,” and afterward they feel much better.
3. Moderate your expectations of others.
Expecting too much from people fuels controlling actions that lead to disappointment and resentment on both sides.
In your love relationships, lower your expectations of your partner—and of yourself. Don’t look for your partner to fulfill your love needs. That’s not his or her “job.”
Don’t expect him or her to be more affectionate or say “loving” things when he or she is uncomfortable doing so.
Don’t expect too much of yourself, as well, or you may start pressing too hard to make things “better.” That usually results in unhealthy enabling actions.
To reduce love and relationship expectations, ask yourself whether your perceived need or desire is that important in the overall scheme of things. Most of the time, it is not.
I am confident that once you start using these decontrol tools, you will forge much closer bonds with your friends and loved ones, creating the kind of intimacy that builds lasting and fulfilling relationships.
Photo by JoshMock