Relationship Stress And Issues Of Control (Purpose)

by Doc Orman, M.D.


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Last week, I began discussing how our beliefs about control (especially mistaken ones) can lead us to experience stress.  This week, I want to continue this discussion by further illustrating how issues of control can determine how much, or how little, stress we have in our close interpersonal relationships.

Relationships Can Be Challenging

Achieving joyous, harmonious, long-term relationships with other people can be very challenging.  All you have to do is reflect upon the divorce rate, and other measures of unhappiness in marriages, and you’ll know immediately that this is true.

Conflicts, disagreements, hurt feelings, and betrayals can occur during the course of any long-term relationship.  And when they do, they can either be dealt with successfully, or they can lead to long-term resentments and damage to the quality of the union.

How Much Control Do We Have?

Many people underestimate the true degree of personal control they have over the quality and outcomes of their long-term relationships.  It’s very common, when relationships are going downhill, to feel like you are at the mercy of forces (and feelings) that are beyond your direct personal control.  However, there is much you could have controlled, earlier in the course of your relationship, that you may not have taken advantage of.  And there is also much you can control, when you see the relationship heading toward trouble, that can restore it to health and lasting vitality.

What Purpose Did You Choose For Your Relationship?

One of the most important things each of us has direct personal control over is the purpose we choose for both forming and maintaining our relationships.  Sometimes, the choice of purpose can be the single most important factor in whether the relationship survives or not.

For example, if you have either consciously or unconsciously chosen the purpose for your relationship to be “dominating or controlling” your partner…I wish you luck.  This is not a good purpose for creating long-term, harmonious relationships with others.  I suppose there are some people who are able to make this purpose work, but most of the time it will eventually fail.

On the other hand, choosing to adopt a purpose of “accepting, supporting, and nurturing” your partner is a good one for long-term relationship success, especially if the other person has the same purpose in mind toward you.

In between these two examples, there are many other purposes that people can choose for their relationships.  Here are just a few:

  • I want the other person to always make me feel happy.
  • I want my partner to provide me with financial security.
  • I want my partner to always spend time with me whenever I want.
  • I want my partner to intuitively know what I want and always provide it for me.
  • I want my partner to always make me feel loved and adored.

I would argue that each of these purposes has drawbacks that could eventually lead to relationship stress.  Once again, some people may be able to pull these purposes off, but the vast majority who try to create their relationships based upon these needs and expectations will likely fail.  One major reason for this is all of these purposes are designed to “get something from the relationship” or to get something from the other person.

Most successful relationship purposes, in my experience, are “giving” and not “getting” focused.  What is it you intend to give to the other person, and how will giving this on a consistent, long-term basis make you feel satisfied and fulfilled?

Purpose Is A Choice

The most important thing to take away from this brief, albeit very limited discussion, is that relationship purposes don’t happen by accident.  They are always a choice (either conscious or unconscious) that each of us makes for each and every type of relationship we create. 

Now our purposes may be different for each type of relationship we enter (friends, lovers, spouses, business partners, etc.) but the one thing that is always constant is that ultimately we make a choice.  From the wide range of competing purposes that are always available to us, we always choose one (or more) to be the foundation of each of our relationships.

How much are you aware of the explicit purposes you have chosen for each of your important relationships?  How good are the purposes you have chosen, and how do they position you for either failure or success?

Make no mistake about this…you do have complete control over the purposes you choose for your relationships.  If you exercise this control wisely, your chances for success will be very high.  If you don’t, or if you choose your purposes unwisely, you are asking for relationship trouble down the road, and you just might find it.

Stay tuned for my next two posts this week, where I will explore two other important aspects of control that we can exercise over our relationships—commitment and approach.

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