Some of us are fortunate to have made good relationship choices. As a result, we find ourselves with a fairly amenable well-adjusted partner, with whom life is fairly comfortable. Others of us, for whatever reason, may have found ourselves drawn to a stubborn individual who just likes to do things his or her way. All things being equal, although there may be some underlying good qualities which we see, we, nonetheless, recognize that our partner has some serious control issues. A control freak tends to bully his or her way through a relationship. While this article is not meant to dissect the psychology of such a person, it does acknowledge underlying issues like insecurity and fear which feed the behavior of controllers.
Now I know this may be a volatile topic in some quarters because behavior which is overtly controlling can border on abuse or may be outright abusive and even dangerous. If an individual feels physically or psychologically threatened, is physically hurt or is unable to function normally as a result of spousal control, then this is a serious red flag which indicates a need for intervention. In no way should we tolerate or trivialize such behaviour.
For others, the experience of control, while undesirable, may be livable. It may be seen as just a personality quirk of our spouse which we have resigned ourselves to living with. When this is the case, what are we expected to do when we witness such behavior spilling over into the bedroom? When our partner loves to control everything, how exactly does this pan out between the sheets? And how exactly does a controller behave in the sex department? Here are a few likely traits which are applicable to either male or female:
- Usually wants sex on demand
- Seeks to manipulate in the area of sexual preferences including positions, use of sex toys, and the like
- Will only experiment with what they are comfortable with or will seek to re-work a “pet” fantasy
- Expects partner to fulfill every sexual wish or fantasy; regardless of how uncomfortable the partner might feel
- Pouts and sulks when sexually dissatisfied
- Is insensitive to spouse’s likes or dislikes when they differ from controller’s preferences or knowledge base
- Uses sex to express dominance and control
- Lacks empathy and does not listen to or embrace spouse’s point of view on sexual matters
- Will try all the moves learnt on previous partners, while ignoring spouse’s individuality
- Will repeatedly do or say what they “know” will turn partner on, even if he/she says otherwise; for example, a husband who repeatedly lunges at his wife’s breasts from the get-go because he “knows” that all women find this arousing
While these examples are not exhaustive by any means, our response to such behaviour is likely to be influenced by our own personality. Are we shy and retiring, a go-getter, a cussing confrontationist, a manipulator or a wise negotiator? Then there is our sexual style which also influences what we want in bed, what we like and how we like it. These factors together are likely to have an impact on what we do in such a relationship.
Those of us with submissive personalities or with submissive sexual tastes will likely enjoy our spouse’s role as a controller. We may derive a sexual thrill from giving in or in being dominated. Where this becomes problematic is where we always sacrifice who we are or what we prefer for the sake of giving in to our partner. This will be a challenging habit to break, especially if we derive our sexual energy and identity from playing such a role. On the other hand, as we mature and our sexual needs change, we may still find ourselves stuck in a rut with behaviour that no longer meets our current sexual needs but is perpetuated because it has become the norm.
This individual understands the power of sex and uses it as a weapon to respond to the controlling partner. This is done by either withholding sex or by simply going through the motions when making love (you know like reading a magazine or writing the shopping list while he’s having a go at it) Because the passive/aggressive does not have the nerve to vocalize his/her concerns about this aspect of the relationship, anger is channeled through the sex act itself. While this behaviour can cause the passive-aggressor to feel in control, they are in essence copping out and robbing themselves of the possibility of a great sex life.
This partner is attempting to hold on to who they are for dear life. While there may be a deep love for the controlling spouse, there is also a deep resentment for the power balance. The result is a fair dose of overt aggression as this partner seeks to assert who she is in the bedroom by countering with her own set of sexual demands. While this may be hard for some men to swallow, there is, for example an entire group of men who LOVE to receive oral sex but who are indifferent about giving it. While assertiveness is great and should be commended, if both partners remain locked into an “I want” mode, then this becomes counter-productive. This stance in fact fuels a lack of sexual fulfillment, as neither partner becomes sold on the idea of “giving” as an integral part of the sex act.
The negotiator understands very well that she has something which her partner wants; and she intends to give him. While she may love sex, however, she is unwilling to sacrifice her sense of who she is without active dialogue and the pursuit of a better relationship. At the same time, she understands that life is seldom ideal and that in relationships, we do not always get everything we want, when we want it. So she’s fairly realistic and does not expect relationship perfection; she is willing to bide her time.
Where she differs from the fighter, is that while she is willing to vocalize her own desires, she is also still interested in pleasing her partner sexually. She tries not to use sex in a “tit-for-tat” style but attempts to break down her partner’s defenses with the type of lovemaking he will never forget. (Guys could well learn from this negotiation style that they can have sensational sex, by themselves being sensational lovers). This is done in the hopes that if her husband is sexually fulfilled, he would be willing to meet her own needs; both sexual and emotional. Like any act of negotiation, there is however a tremendous risk involved as there are no guarantees. Issues like a mismatched sex drive and differences in bedroom preferences are not easily resolved and require a mature approach from both partners and a willingness to compromise.
While admittedly, a controller is who he/she is because of an inherent unwillingness to compromise, we also acknowledge that no individual is hopeless and outside the scope for change. If beneath that desire to control there is any real love and respect for the offended partner, then loving, but firm, non-aggressive confrontation will be needed to move the relationship forward. Withholding sex is a knee-jerk response and the partner who seems more mature, must be willing to model what it means to really give in a sexual relationship without sacrificing their sense of individuality or personal dignity; a delicate balancing act I admit.