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