A client of mine, Mark, asked me the following question during one of our recent sessions:
“My fiancé recently said she wanted time apart to think about the future and doesn’t feel a lot of hope for us. I’m despondent. How do I not try to control this outcome?”
This brief question holds so much information. Let’s dig into what it’s telling us.
What does this development mean?
Often, when someone wants space, it’s because he/she is feeling controlled and engulfed in the relationship and just wants to get away from it. The fact that Mark asked, “How do I not try to control this outcome?” indicates that trying to control his fiancé has been a pattern in their relationship.
This could either be a moment in which Mark continues his unhealthy controlling patterns, or it could be an opportunity for him to ask himself questions and start finding a new, healthier way of dealing with anxiety in his relationship.
The questions for Mark to ask himself:
- How have I been trying to control her that has led to her wanting space?
- What are the fears and false beliefs I’m operating from that lead me to try to control her?
- Where did I learn my controlling behavior?
- What signals has she been giving me that I’ve been ignoring that have led to her wanting space?
- How am I abandoning myself that leads me to feel insecure, resulting in me trying to control her?
Next, he needs to identify the motivation for his behavior:
Instead of asking about how not to try to control his fiancé, Mark needs to do his inner work to heal the fears that lead to his controlling behavior. He needs to understand that trying to control his fiancé isn’t loving to her—nor is it loving to him. He needs to learn to love himself so that he can share his love with her rather than trying to get love from her—which is what controlling behavior is about.
It’s unrealistic to believe that we can try to control someone else’s feelings without pushing the other person away. Mark is struggling with a typical relationship system, in which one person tries to control someone else’s love and attention, and the other person, feeling engulfed and trapped, withdraws. The more Mark tries to force love, attention, and affection, the more his fiancé likely withdraws, and the more she withdraws, the more likely it is that Mark will put even more pressure on her—a very negative relationship system.
Why it’s not just about Mark:
Since people come together at their common level of woundedness, both Mark and his fiancé are abandoning themselves. Mark abandons himself by trying to control her instead of learning to give himself the love and validation he needs so that he can share his love with her, and she abandons herself by withdrawing rather than speaking up for herself when Mark tries to control her.
Relationships work when each person learns how to take responsibility for their own feelings rather than making the other person responsible. Relationships work when we come to each other full of love to share rather than trying to get love or avoid being controlled.
What Mark needs to do is back off from his fiancé. He needs to give her space while he focuses on his own inner work. If he lets go of trying to control her and learns to be loving to himself and to her, it’s possible that she will come back into the relationship. She must have loved him when she accepted his proposal, and she likely still loves him, but she can’t feel her love for Mark when he’s trying to control her. Letting go of the control and learning to take responsibility for his own feelings may give her the space to again feel her love for him.
While there are no guarantees that learning to love himself and share his love will bring her back into the relationship, he is virtually guaranteed that she won’t come back if he continues to try to control her.