The Anatomy of Control: How it Manifests Itself in Personal Relationships

Learn how many relationships end because of control itself. This article includes the fundamental categories of control and how to let go of that struggle for a better and happier life.

By Stacy D. Phillips
Updated: March 17, 2015
Health and Well Being

In the continuation of the series of excerpts from the book, Divorce: It’s All About Control — How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars (ExecuProv Press) by renowned family law specialist and managing partner of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation in Los Angeles, CA, Stacy D. Phillipswe move on to an important component in all personal relationships — the issue of control. In this installment, Phillips offers insight into how control over what she terms "The Big Six" can often be at the heart of contention between two people.

For some couples, the break up is over control itself, or because of a chronic control battle that cannot be rectified. These control issues typically fall into a half dozen fundamental categories. One of the following has either prompted a struggle for control, or people are at war in that particular area over control. Here they are:

  1. Money/Property/Wealth
  2. Children
  3. Health (Physical and Mental)
  4. Loss of Love/Intimacy
  5. Growth (Personal and Professional)
  6. Fear (Physical/Emotional/Psychological)

When personal relationships are not working, it is usually for two primary reasons. Either value systems are mismatched or there is a power struggle over things, big and small.

When you begin to understand what constitutes control and how it manifests itself in a personal relationship, you can either work out your differences in one or more of these areas, or you can let them split you apart. How does one know she or he is either in control or being controlled? For starters, ask yourself this: Who’s calling the shots? Who has the last word? Whose decision reigns supreme! To be more specific: Who gets to select the movie, pick out the towels, change the channel, hire the gardener? Who feeds the baby according to his/her preferences. Who determines day and time of lovemaking? At an even deeper level: Who controls the money? Who controls the friends each person or the couple has (or does not have)? Who is the decision-maker on where, when and how the couple goes on vacation, when and where the children go to school, or who chooses the neighborhood where they live? Whoever it is, I consider this person the "Shot-caller"!

How does one become a Shot-Caller? Well, that’s a very complex question and always a gray area with no formulaic table to consult. And the balance of power can shift. Long ago, and still today, philosophers have pondered that query in a search for answers, for yesterday’s Shot-Caller (Controller) can be tomorrow’s Controllee. And how and why that happens is of great interest!

Each couple’s circumstances and relationship typically evolves and changes—often dramatically over time. This is especially true where the "Big Six" are involved. So naturally then, the balance of power in the relationship can also evolve or change. It’s truly mystifying. And, what is even more baffling is that two people can have control at the same time, but over different issues. That, too, can change. True it can provide a status quo as it transforms, but it can suddenly shift and shuffle and cause total chaos.

There is a defining factor in each control struggle: He who calls the last "shot" prevails or reigns as the Shot-Caller in that (whatever it is) issue. Indeed, the last "shot" is always the controlling shot. Yet if people willingly trade off calling the shots, the "who is controlling whom" dynamic can work nicely. Yes, the control baton can be passed back and forth, but when a marriage is in trouble, or even during the divorce process or the aftermath of a divorce, it is usually because someone inevitably yearns to be the General Shot-Caller. Often times, both parties do. In the latter instance, sparks begin to fl y, igniting an emotional pyrotechnic display as each of them hold steadfastly to the baton, neither willing to let it go! For some it becomes a game—a competition, a contest—for others, a thrill!

Whether it’s values or power in the relationship, the result boils down to the same problem: he thinks it should be one way, she, another. So then, it becomes all about control!

Divorce-control issues can trail for years! The goal then is to assume and maintain control, and to do so in a positive way.


Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is co-chair of the Women's Political Committee and a member of Divorce Magazine's North American Advisory Board. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm's Divorce Magazine profile here.

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Reason for your Divorce

Why did your relationship end? If there's more than one reason, choose the strongest factor.

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Physical/Emotional Infidelity
Physical/Mental Illness
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