Uncontrolled Control

So, the call of the blog has rung once again. For those of you who don't know, the Peaceful Partnerships Yahoo! group has been revived, and there's a great thread on there right now about control. Control is, for me, a central issue that determines whether a family can take the unschooling journey arm-in-arm, or with a couple of people in handcuffs. I have seen more relationships (peaceful, unschooling, or otherwise) derailed by control issues than any other concern.

Over the years I've developed my own personal philosophy of control, which I posted on Peaceful Partnerships tonight - take it or leave it, but it resonates with me.    

I am no expert on this subject by any means. But through two marriages (and two mothers in law), a number of careers (including Army), and a childhood spent with two parents who didn't like each other, the issue of control has been a theme that I've had the opportunity to give a lot of thought to. I thought I had it figured out (under control, if you will) until we decided to unschool, but then it popped up yet again - because unschooling for us was such a change from the way I was raised, I had to really let go. 

At its essence, my general theory about control is this: we all need a certain amount of it. That amount is different for each person based on brain chemistry, genetics, upbringing, fears, etc.

If we operate under the fundamental thought that we all need a finite measure of control, then it's a quick leap to this: if I have firm control over something in my life and I lose that control for some reason, I'll need/strive to gain control over something else in my life to balance my overall Control Account. It's simple accounting, really; a debit in one place leads to a credit in another.

In real terms, it works like this, at least for me. When things are going great at work - when I am valued, when I know what I'm doing, when I can measure my success, when good things are happening - then I feel in control of work, and I am able to completely let go at home. When things at work suck (as they have for the past month until a few days ago), then I feel out of control at work. My brain somehow determines that I need to control something, dammit - and so I control whatever else I can to get some sense of balance. I always try to control "insignificant" things first, like responding to emails, cleaning the house, doing dishes, restocking the kitchen, etc. When that doesn't work well enough or quickly enough, then I become the Sabo Family House Jackass because I attempt to control everything that happens at home. This isn't intentional; I don't want to be the Jackass. I try to control other stuff. Just doesn't always happen.

Here's where some of the subtlety comes in. Control, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. For proof, think about things that need to be controlled for an orderly and safe world - wild dogs, air traffic, criminals, whatever. If everything were out of control, the world would be a wholly unlivable place. So control can be good, and is in fact necessary. What makes control bad, in my mind, is one of two things: exercising control in inappropriate ways (bullying our kids, for example) , and failing to recognize that our partners/children need to have a finite measure of control over something.

So what can you do when your partner is trying to control something? First and foremost, take a look at Beth's guiding principles that she posted a few days ago; they are centered around unconditional love and respect, and that's always a good place to try to solve problems from. Then, recognize whether or not you feel the need to control their control issues, and ask yourself if there isn't another way to get what you want. After that, I'd be open about it with my partner: "Hey, I just saw you do XX, which is unusual for you. It was uncomfortable for me. Is everything else okay? Are you feeling a bit out of control?" And then see if there's anything you can do to help them rebalance the Control Account a bit.


  1. there are so few things i feel i can control, so often in the past it was food. the other thing is my hair...when you see me cut it all off, you will know that things in my life have felt out of control.

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. i have looked high and low for a link to beth's yahoo group. can you send it to me???

  2. Sure thing -


    Miss ya'!

  3. Nice to hear your voice again, Jeff, and I try to always read your posts on Peaceful Partnerships. I really relate to your responses and the whole control thing is something I continue to work on. Hope to see you all before too long! Many hugs.

  4. Thanks for your posting. I was attracted to your blog since I've got some boys of my own that I'm unschooling, but hubby and I have been going through our own issues right now, a lot of them centered around control. Interesting, and very timely!