There are two kinds of control over other people: wisdom-based control and fear-based control.
The most obvious example of wisdom-based control is in child rearing. You are in total control of your infant child. You help your child grow up healthy and confident by controlling their learning environment. You teach through words and example and you often say no.
As time passes your child becomes more independent and learns to make good decisions. Wisdom dictates that you turn increasing amounts of control over to your maturing child.
The second obvious area where wisdom-based control must be exercised is in employment. If you are a business owner or manager, you know the importance of controlling the work process. That means to a certain extent controlling how your employees do their jobs. Here the highest level of control is exercised through creating systems and training employees so they know exactly what is expected of them and are free to give their best.
Nevertheless, there will be times when an employee messes up and must be dealt with in order to bring the flow of work back under control. I had to fire a man once, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. However, I had to get the business back on track.
What starts as wisdom-based control can slip into fear-based control. Let’s deal with child-rearing first. Part of the early adolescents’ life work is to push for more independence, that is, to challenge their controllers (that’s you). If their demands and challenges scare you and you relinquish your control too soon, or if your fears lead to holding on too tight and not relinquishing appropriate control, things can go awry. Either too little or too much control can lead to an “out-of-control” teenager.
Likewise, when a business owner is dealing with personal fears, financial or otherwise, he or she may tighten the reins on employees in an effort to feel in control. Morale drops, and with morale goes performance, further increasing the owner’s fears… and the employees’ fears. The all-time favorite of fear-based control is the expression “My way or the highway!”
And it isn’t just in small businesses where control becomes fear-based and managing becomes damage control. Northern Telecom, the Canadian high-tech darling of a decade ago, let go 15,000 employees in a financial panic. As the industry started to rebuild after the dot.com crash, Northern Telecom had no way of recovering. They had treated their workforce as a commodity rather than as hard-won intellectual capital. They had “blown their brains out.”
Finally, when one party in a marriage-type relationship attempts to control the other, it almost always arises from personal fears. There can be 100 justifications, but only one explanation: fear. Two people can control their lives by openly discussing options in the context of mutual respect and care. It may get heated, but it’s a cooperative venture, not a debate. There is no bully and no victim in a viable relationship. The alternative is to end the relationship.
If one of you feels the need to control your partner, then do what you need to do to identify and deal with the source of your fear. Your fears are about you, not about your partner. Get help if your need to control persists.