Marriage: What is “More Effective” Control?

A foundation of Reality Therapy is that each of us can only control our own behaviour. Relationships improve when people take more effective control of their behaviours. What is “more effective” control?

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

In an earlier column about marriage, I described the situation of Patricia and Paul. Paul is often late for dinner. When he arrives, Patricia is angry and tries to “make” Paul feel guilty. As a result, Paul feels less and less like coming home. He perceives that Patricia yells at him, even when he has a legitimate reason for being delayed. Worse, when he makes an effort to be on time, Patricia is sarcastic, saying, “What are you doing here? I thought you were too important to be on time!”

Patricia has been attempting to coerce Paul into doing what she wants by using a complaining behaviour. That’s not working very well. What might work better?

According to Dr. Glasser, founder of Reality Therapy, people are in effective control of their lives when they are able to find enough need-satisfying behaviours so they can feel good and healthy, while not depriving others of the opportunity to do the same.

Dr. Glasser refers to specific “habits” that can help, including: listening, encouraging, respecting, and always negotiating disagreements.

Remember that a conflict is much like a knot: when two people pull, the knot tightens. When two people try to control each other, the conflict tightens.  What if Patricia relaxes the tension by letting go of her “end of the rope”, so to speak?

How? When Paul arrives, Patricia could say, “I’m glad you’re home” with no resentment or sarcasm. What does Patricia have to lose? If she stomps off fuming, she has an unpleasant evening. If she instead decides to have a pleasant evening, whether she dines alone or waits for Paul, she can have a pleasant evening.

Am I suggesting that Patricia act like a doormat, preparing lovely uneaten and unappreciated meals while Paul does whatever he pleases? No.

Try Dr. Glasser’s approach of “always negotiating disagreements” rather than an all-or-nothing battle. Work toward your mutual goal—a better, closer relationship.

How could Patricia start? “Paul, It’s important to me that you be home four nights each week at 6 o’clock so we can eat together.”

Paul may say he can’t, for whatever reason. The reason is irrelevant; the question is what he is prepared to do. Perhaps he’ll agree to only one evening. Look at it this way, that’s one evening they didn’t have before. The change is in the right direction; it’s the first step leading toward a better relationship.

People enter into relationships, presumably, because they want to be together.

As Dr. Glasser writes in Choice Theory, ask yourself, “Will what I am about to do bring us closer or move us further apart?” What approach do you think would help?

This next article in this series on marriage is here.
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