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How to Avoid Destructive Dynamics in Your Marriage

A dynamic that prevents real connection in a relationship is when a couple engage in controlled/controlling behaviour. This is when one person tries to control the other, and the other allows themselves to be controlled.

Sarah and Mike are an example of this. Mike works long hours in a professional career which he enjoys. Sarah had a satisfying career in retail, which she gave up when children came along.

Mike got more and more involved in his career, whilst Sarah felt more and more disillusioned with being a full time mother.

Mike liked order and routine in his life. He believed they had an agreement. The house and children were Sarah's responsibility.

Mike paid Sarah a housekeeping amount each week and he maintained the rest of the finances. When Sarah talked about going back to work, he believed she was going back on what they had agreed.

Sarah stopped talking about it.

Sarah resented what she perceived as Mike's freedom. Sarah resisted any suggestions from Mike about interests she could pursue or hobbies she could try. Mike felt he was trying to help.

He was worried she was unhappy. Sarah didn't see concern, only control. She felt manipulated and powerless.

It's easy to see the pattern. The more Mike tried to control the situation, the more Sarah rebelled, forcing him to try and control even more. Underneath control is fear - fear of being out of control.

But people aren't controllable, no one has control over how another will react. It doesn't work. The more Sarah rebels, the more controlling he becomes.

Finally, after years of arguing and Sarah feeling unfulfilled, Sarah said she wasn't sure if the relationship was what she wanted any more.

The controlled/controlling relationship relies on both parties to opt in - in order for Mike to control Sarah, she has to relent to being controlled. For many couples, this may not be a conscious action. It develops over a period of time.

Do you think there could be a imbalance problem of this type in your relationship? It's important to see relationships as constantly evolving. Things do change, and what may suit at some stage may not be appropriate down the track.

If either Mike or Sarah choose not to control/be controlled any more, the relationship has to develop in new ways. While the old way of relating may not be a conscious decision, deciding to change certainly is.

In the Mike/Sarah scenario, before they can get the 'WE' right, Sarah needs to have the freedom, time and means to find out what it is that she wants.

She needs to work out what it is that will fulfil her and make her happy. She needs to find a career path or area of interest that will reignite her interest and zest for life. It is up to her to find this, not Mike. Mike can support her discovery, but not map it out for her. Once Sarah knows what it is she wants, they together can plan out how that could work in their life.

Couples don't consciously decide to control/be controlled. It happens over time, often unintentionally. Both want control and neither will give it up. A power struggle ensues.

This is a real sign that the 'WE' is missing from the relationship. Both feel that to gain control of their lives, they need to hold on to the power - so the fighting begins.

In fact, when one or both give up the power struggle and focus on being an individual within the relationship, the struggle dissipates. Setting boundaries is a good way to get this equilibrium and avoiding destructive dynamics in your relationship.

Tania Dally is a relationship coach and author who helps you achieve happiness with the love of your life. For couples, this can mean recapturing the love that originally brought you together. For singles, this means preparing you to find your soulmate. Check out Tania's relationship advice blog.

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