External Control vs. Happier Relationships

Kristen and Sherri are in the midst of the first dispute of their shared-living arrangement. Kristen is attempting to coerce Sherri into celebrating their first evening in the city by going out for Indian food. Sherri is attempting to coerce Kristen into staying home, saving money, and tidying the apartment. Neither Kristen nor Sherri feels very satisfied right now.

This article is one in a series  on relationships.
You can find the first article in the series here.

“External Control Can Kill a Marriage” is one of the lessons discussed in Dr. William and Carleen Glasser’s book, Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage.  This lesson applies to any relationship, even a “friendship of convenience” such as Kristen and Sherri’s.

External control is the attempt to control another person. The intent behind external control may not be at all devious. Often, people attempt to control, coerce, and manipulate others because they truly believe they know what is best. Someone needs to be helped, even coerced, because it’s clear to the “helper” that the “helpee” is woefully inadequate at figuring out what’s really best for them.

Kristen tries to force Sherri to go out because in Kristen’s mind, it will be good for Sherri. Sherri tries to force Kristen to stay in because she believes it will be good for Kristen.

At the beginning of a relationship, both people are likely determined to make an effort to get along. The first time (or first dozen times) that one asks the other to do something the other doesn’t want to do, they may get their way. Someone gives in.

So, Sherri may go out to placate Kristen. But Sherri will be unhappy, complain about the food, the wasted money, and the unpleasant service. And, she’ll blame Kristen for her unhappiness.

Or, Kristen may stay in to placate Sherri. Kristen will be unhappy, complain about being bored and the tedium of tidying. Likewise, she’ll blame Sherri for her unhappiness.

Doesn’t bode well, does it? If this behaviour continues, it will harm and perhaps destroy the relationship.

What works better? Is a non-coercive approach possible? A principle in Reality Therapy is to negotiate differences.  Kristen and Sherri have many options; they could start by discussing how often they will go out together (if ever).

A simple and non-coercive solution: Kristen can go out; Sherri can stay in! Each gets some of what they want—Kristen has an exotic meal but no companionship; Sherri gets to stay home but with no help tidying. Another compromise: bring take-out home, followed by tidying.

Both people won’t get exactly what each wants unless their “want” happens to be identical. However, each may be able to get some of what they want.

Ultimately, if Kristen and Sherri value the relationship and want to get along, negotiating will be their best bet. External control, while it may seem to produce the results you want at the time, will not lead to long-term satisfaction. What do you think?

The next article in this series is here.
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