Has your partner told you that you speak to them in a controlling manner, and that they don’t appreciate it?
Or perhaps you’ve found yourself ordering your partner around like an employee or child and want to curb that behavior?
In this article, we’re going to look at 11 ways to communicate in a less controlling manner for greater harmony in your relationship.
Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you be less controlling toward your partner before it harms your relationship. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.
1. Determine why you’re being controlling toward them.
Controlling language can take several different forms, so if you’ve found that you’ve been speaking to your partner in a controlling manner, it’s important to figure out where it’s stemming from.
This can be determined based on what it is you’ve been saying to them, and in what context.
For example, let’s say you’ve been threatening them with consequences if they don’t behave the way you want them to, such as “If you’re not ready by the time I am, then I’m leaving without you.”
Is this because they consistently procrastinate when it comes to getting ready? Or because you’re impatient and expect them to adhere to your schedule rather than meeting them halfway?
Similarly, do you find that you interrupt them or finish their sentences for them rather than waiting for them to finish? If so, figure out whether this is because they’re going on about a topic that doesn’t interest you and you want to direct the conversation elsewhere, or because you don’t respect them enough to allow them to finish their thoughts.
Understanding the motivations behind your actions is the first step in counterbalancing them.
2. Ask if it’s okay to give advice before doing so.
One great trait I learned from my grandmother was to always ask one of three questions when it comes to advice:
- “Would you like advice, or would you prefer to simply have someone listen?”
- “May I make a suggestion?”
- “How can I best support you in this situation?”
You’ll know intuitively which of these questions to ask, depending on the scenario.
By asking these questions, we let the other person know that we’re there to support them as best we can, but also respect their personal autonomy.
As such, we can either work with them to find the best solution possible if that’s what they want, but are just as happy to sit with them and listen, or offer a helping hand in whatever manner they would prefer.
Importantly, the decision is in their hands, rather than yours.
Although a lot of people want to help those they love, they often jump in and offer a solution before the other person is in the right place to receive it.
Alternatively, the one who’s stuck in a rough spot might already know which route to take—they’re simply not ready to take the steps necessary to do it yet.
By asking them how we can support them, we hold space for them to let us know where they are in this process.
3. Ask what they think of X approach instead of saying “You should…”
Informing someone of what they should or shouldn’t do is both controlling and condescending, and it creates a power imbalance even if that wasn’t the intention.
Basically, it paints you as an authority figure while they’re a subordinate who’s being told what to do.
Your partner is a sovereign, autonomous being who deserves to be treated with respect, not dictated to.
As such, try suggesting an approach and ask what they think or feel about it.
Here’s an example—let’s say your partner is learning a new skill and is frustrated with their slow advancement.
Unhelpful response: “You should watch some video tutorials to help you improve.”
Helpful response: “Do you think that video tutorials would be helpful to you? Or maybe get a friend who’s skilled at this to walk you through it? What approach would work best for you?”
While you may learn well from those video tutorials, your partner might prefer instruction in a classroom setting. We can never assume that simply because something worked well for us, it’ll work the same way for someone else.
By extension, telling someone that they “should” do something your way is a recipe for an argument.
If they don’t follow your advice, you may get offended or feel unappreciated while they may feel obligated to try something that they know doesn’t work for them just to keep the peace.
4. Ask if they need help before offering it.
Although you may want to help your partner move forward through an issue as quickly and efficiently as possible (especially if you have previous experience with a similar issue), telling them what to do isn’t the right way to go about this.
A lot of people think they’re being helpful when they offer suggestions to someone—or make decisions for them—when in fact they’re being controlling.
Then, if the other person isn’t sufficiently grateful for their input, they get upset or offended because they’re “just trying to help.”
Whenever you find yourself in a position where you feel like you’re “just trying to help,” ask yourself who it is you’re aiming to assist: them? Or yourself?
Many people get frustrated when others take too long to do something they’re adept at, or use a technique that they’re not fond of.
While you may very well have the best of intentions, unsolicited help or advice can be condescending, controlling, or even insulting in various situations.
It’s one step away from forcibly yanking something out of your partner’s hands and doing it for them rather than respecting their space and personal development.
5. Remember that what works for you won’t necessarily work for someone else.
There’s a Russian proverb that says: “The same boiling water that hardens the egg, softens the potato.”
In this context, what this means is that one person may be strengthened by stress and hardship, while another will fall apart in the same circumstances.
Similarly, some people assume that because a certain method works for them, then that’s what their partner should do as well.
While they may have the best of intentions and sincerely want the best for the one they love, they have to recognize that they’re different people and thus have to go about things in the ways that work best for them.
Try to avoid nagging them if they aren’t doing things the way you think they should, and instead grant them the space and freedom to approach things their way.
They may discover a method that works better for everyone, which wouldn’t have been found if they hadn’t been granted the courtesy and respect to try on their own.
6. Ask your partner questions to help them make their own decisions.
If your partner is trying to decide between two options (or courses of action), ask them how they feel and what they think about each choice before offering your opinion.
This encourages them to think about each option and determine how they feel about each one honestly.
Furthermore, by asking them these questions, you’re empowering them to make this decision based on their own leanings, intuition, and confidence, instead of deferring to your wishes.
This is particularly important for someone who was raised to obey and bow to external pressures rather than know their own mind and stand their ground as needed.
Note that at this point, it’s important to accept and respect the decision your partner makes, even if you disagree with it.
A partnership or marriage isn’t about having someone by your side who’ll do everything you tell them to and agree with everything you say. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you don’t want a partner—you want a servant.
7. Speak to your partner as an equal, not a subordinate or a child.
How do you feel when someone tells you that you “should” do something instead of asking how you feel about it first?
You probably don’t like it very much, and even if the advice they give you is good advice, you may refuse to follow it on principle.
As such, it’s important to be aware that your partner is unlikely to appreciate your controlling behaviors either.
Your partner is your equal, not your child. It’s not your place to make decisions for them, plan their personal schedule, inform them of how things are “going to be,” and so on.
You don’t get to “allow” them to make decisions for themselves because this person doesn’t need “permission” to do anything.
This person has full permission to live their life on their own terms because they are an adult human being.
If they’re courteous and respectful enough to consult and inform you of their life choices, then it’s because they love you as their partner—not because they’re obligated to report to their supervisor.
Even if your partner has mental or physical challenges, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same measure of courtesy that you do.
Some people take a caregiver role a bit too far and end up infantilizing their partner instead of respecting them, or think of their partner as a lesser human being if they don’t make as much money as they do.
You may have control issues for a variety of different reasons, but those are your responsibility to address and unpack—preferably with the help of a trained therapist.
8. Avoid using absolute language such as “always” or “never”.
If you find that you’re micromanaging your partner, take some time to figure out why you’re doing so.
Are you afraid that they’ll somehow ruin something beyond repair if they make an error? If this is the case, you may use absolute language in an attempt to justify your controlling language.
For example, informing them that you don’t trust them to cook because they “always” leave the burner on, when in fact that has only happened once in 10+ years.
The same goes for telling them to phone their parent to wish them a happy birthday because they “never” remember to do so, when in reality you assume that they’ve forgotten and feel that it’s your job to remind them.
They may be perfectly aware of the birthdays and had plans to call around dinnertime, but you took it upon yourself to inform them to do this, because according to your opinion, that phone call “should” have happened in the morning.
9. Be aware of body language: theirs, and your own.
People communicate in many ways other than verbally. If you notice that your partner has gotten quiet during your conversation, and is perhaps avoiding eye contact, turning their body away from you, or is busying themselves with a household chore, then that’s a good sign that you’ve either made them uncomfortable, or that you’re disrespecting their boundaries.
Similarly, take note of your body language as you interact with your partner.
When you speak to them, do you tower over them while they’re sitting so that you’re in a position of power? Are your hands open or calm in front of you, or aggressively posed on your hips? In turn, do they cross their arms in front of themselves in a protective measure?
How about voice modulation? Do you raise your voice when you speak to them as though you’re yelling at a disobedient child? Or do you speak to them in a calm, measured tone as befits an equal?
By being aware of how you move and speak around your partner, you can counteract various behaviors to appear less domineering or threatening—and by extension, less controlling.
10. Explain things rather than being dictatorial.
Instead of informing your partner that things need to be done a certain way and that’s simply how it is, be courteous enough to explain to them why that is.
People who don’t have the patience or the grace to explain to their children why things need to happen a certain way inevitably go with the “because I said so” explanation to shut them up.
Your partner isn’t your child, nor are they your subordinate. They’re your equal, so stop controlling your partner and start treating them with the respect and courtesy that they deserve.
If they aren’t aware of why things need to be done in a particular way, then have the decency to explain it to them.
You don’t know the mechanics or explanations behind every action, do you? No. And you’d likely get upset if you asked for clarification and you were spoken to like a mentally deficient toddler for not magically already knowing all about it.
11. Ask yourself how you’d like to be spoken to in the same situation.
Any time you speak to your partner in a controlling or discourteous manner, ask yourself whether you’d appreciate being spoken to like that—either by them, or by a peer whom you care about.
If you determine that you’d feel belittled, condescended to, or otherwise disrespected if you were spoken to like that, ask yourself why you think it’s okay to speak to the person you claim to love in such a manner.
Think about how you’d speak to a person whom you hold in high esteem, and then aim to address your partner the same way.
Avoid sarcasm or passive-aggressive language, as well as backhanded compliments in an attempt to manipulate them into behaving in a manner you’d prefer.
Instead, be more positive and complimentary and make them feel good about themselves, rather than cutting them down.
For example, if they’re wearing something you dislike and you’d rather they wear something else, be aware that they made this choice because they like that outfit.
It makes them feel good and confident about themselves, so telling them that they’re really brave to wear that despite their holiday weight gain is not the right thing to say.
Simply tell them that they look amazing, and make the conscious decision to love and accept them as they are, not how you’d prefer them to be.
It’s great to take steps to speak to your partner in a less controlling or aggressive manner, but it’s even more important to determine why you do so, to begin with.
What’s driving you to behave in such a controlling way? Are you afraid that your partner will leave you unless you micromanage? Or do you see yourself as superior to them and thus don’t grant them the respect and courtesy they deserve?
If you’re lacking control in your own life and thus attempting to control someone else, then it’s a good idea to speak to a therapist about that. Past traumas may be manifesting in ways that are detrimental to your relationship, and that won’t allow you to heal in an effective manner.
Remember that controlling others doesn’t mean that you’re in control of anything: you’re simply allowing your irrational, intrusive thoughts to maneuver you like a puppet.
See your partner as the amazing, sovereign individual that they are, and respect them as such.
Still not how to behave and speak in a less controlling way?
Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can be the ear to listen to you and the voice to offer well-considered advice to help you explore your control issues and gradually overcome them.
Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a certified relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.
While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through in their relationships without ever being able to resolve the issues that affect them. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.