Recognizing controlling tendencies.

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Controlling behavior is when one person expects, compels, or requires others to cater to their own needs — even at others’ expense.

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based on a talk presented by David Kohn, LSSW, CASAC – February 2013

During the dating period, you are getting to know him and you are helping him get to know you. You are finding out about each other’s values and interests, and experiencing each other’s personalities and quirks.

And you should also be working to ascertain that you both can work together in a loving and successful marriage. You should be paying deep attention to your gut about how you feel in the relationship. And how the other feels as well.

Beyond his values, priorities, overall personality and how a wife fits into his goals and dreams, there are several other things to consider throughout your dating, especially as the relationship develops. NEVER infer anything; make sure you really know. NEVER think that you’ll figure these things out eventually. And most importantly, listen to your own gut.

  • Do you admire and respect him? What about him do you admire and respect?
  • Do you feel admired and respected by him? What about you does he admire and respect? (How do you know that: From your own observations? From your experience with him? From what he says?)
  • How does he interact with others? (How do you know that: From your own observations? From your experience with him? From your ‘research’? From what he says?)
  • Do you feel totally comfortable with him? Does he feel totally comfortable with you? (How do you know that: From your own observations? From your experience with him? From what he says? From the ‘shadchen’?

Red Flags of Controlling Tendencies

Generally, people are on their best behavior during dating. So it is especially important to really tune in and pay attention to the following questions during the dating. These are RED FLAGS of controlling tendencies.

Caveat: Nothing is black & white. If you notice isolated incidents, it does not mean control or abuse. However, if you notice a pattern, or if you feel a sense of pressure or guilt to do as he wants, then you might be dealing with control issues. Trust your gut. And speak to a qualified professional.

Tune into the following questions about the person you are dating. And think about the same questions from the lens of the person you are dating.

You ought to also think about these topics in regard to yourself: “What would it be like for me to go through these situations? What would it be like to actually have to deal with another person – in a way that makes them feel cared for just as I want to feel cared for, and at the same time, hold onto my own opinion, not to lose my identity in the relationship? When have I gone through similar situations in my life? How have I handled myself?  What am I challenged with in those situations? Do I become impatient, frustrated? Do I feel that the other doesn’t care or respect me? Do I become disrespectful? Do I become short-tempered? What happens on my end?”

How are decisions made? What is the process?

  • How does the person I am dating make decisions?
  • How do I make decisions?
  • How do we make decisions together?
  • During shiduch dating, you may not have many opportunities to observe each other making decisions or coming to a decision together. Where you might experience during dating: Deciding where to go on the date, what to eat, where and when to make the Lchaim.

What happens when there is a conflict or difference of opinion or disagreement? What are the responses and reactions to conflict? How does it get resolved?

  • How does the person I am dating respond to conflict?
  • How do I?

Disagreeing. How comfortable are you to disagree?

  • When you two disagree, what is going on for the other person? What is going on for you?
  • How comfortable does the other person feel to disagree with me? If s/he is not comfortable, why not?
  • Am I comfortable to disagree with him/ her? If you are not comfortable, why not?

Changing the other person’s mind

  • What might she do to change my mind?
  • What might I do to change her mind?

If these topics don’t play out in actuality, then at the very least, explore them in conversation. You might bring them up in a discussion, definitely not as a interrogation or checklist: “What are your thoughts about how conflicts should be handled?”, “What are your thoughts about how to negotiate a relationship when you are very passionate about the way it should go?”

Attitudes to look out for/ be mindful of

Additionally, tune into how you are experiencing her – how do you feel in these areas below.

Jealous of time spent with family & friends

  • Does she get jealous of time you spend with others?
  • Are you jealous of her time spent with others?

You are not expected to drop everything that is important to you because you are in a relationship. And you can’t expect that from her either.

Planning to make the other change

  • Do you try to dissuade her from plan with friends?  Are you starting to think about how you might dissuade her from having certain friendships, or going certain places or doing certain things?
  • Do you feel that she is starting to think about how she might change your plans, your way of being?

Of course, you will not always like what the other person is doing. However, those in a healthy relationship have a mutually respectful dialog about it, with both of you talking respectfully about your thoughts. It is the way  you disagree that matters.

Disapproval and disappointment

  • Is she starting to express unhappiness, disapproval with things you do?
  • Are you starting to feel or express disapproval with things that she does?

Pressure or guilt

  • Is she pressuring or guilting you into responding in a certain way – just to keep her happy?
  • Are you pressuring or guilting her?

Keeping tabs

  • Do you need to know her whereabouts at all times and are angry if she is not available?
  • Do you feel you ‘must’ tell her where you were?
  • Do you share your day – because you want to? Or do you feel that you must give an accounting of the day?
  • Are you expecting a complete accounting of her day?  Is she sharing her day because she wants to, or because she somehow feels obligated to?

This is different from a healthy accountability to the relationship and each other.

Giving advice and what if it is not heeded

  • How do you react when you give advice that is not heeded? Is there anger?  Is there a ‘stuckness’, or flexibility? Do you say: “Why didn’t you listen to me?”
  • How does she react?

Responsibility for one’s actions

  • Does she take responsibility for her actions? Does she apologize? Does she justify her actions? Or ‘dig in her heels’ – “I had to do that because ….”? Does she brush it off in some way?
  • Do you own your own actions? How easily do you apologize?

It is worth repeating. If you notice one of these things, or if she or you express your concern about something (ex: how much time is spent on something), it does not mean controlling or abuse. It all depends on the way it is brought up, and the dynamics of the couple, if there is a dialogue about it, if there is reciprocity in the conversation, are both hearing and being heard,  etc.

However, if there is a sense of guilt or pressure. Or a pattern of this behavior is emerging – then you might be dealing with control issues.

END NOTES: If you are noticing these things during the dating, note that it will not get better later in the marriage. Speak to a qualified professional about your apprehensions.

  • Parents: If you notice your dating child is nervous or cautious, DO NOT try to allay their concerns; encourage them to trust their gut, and to speak to a qualified professional.

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