The Dynamics of Love and Control in Relationships

There is something of a paradox in love. Nuances are the deal. Love is both near-on impossible, yet too incredibly easy.

For some, in some situations, love is neither the desire nor do we have its agency. Love’s not so easy. Situations like these we feel controlled or we act out of a need to have control. Relationship in this way is about taking and demanding and not giving or letting go. No matter what we try to do, the person we want to love will not receive that love. Whatever we give doesn’t seem to be enough or even the right thing; it isn’t perceived as loving.

They perceive us as controlling and we perceive them as controlling, and never the twain shall meet.

Yet love in a different situation is a pure delight. There is no effort required, and no effort expended. It’s a flow downstream. One will give to another, even as the other is pouring love back. Love, as it can only do, gives and gives and gives. And the nature of love in the other person feels that love; they reciprocate in-kind.

Love doesn’t feel like control.

And yet at times there is an attempt to love that feels like control. Someone may be gently speaking truth into our life, but because that truth elicits pain, because the soul is exposed to an inconvenient or uncomfortable truth, such love feels like control. It doesn’t feel like we’re getting anything; if anything, our security is being taken away. There is a lack of trust that undermines this love. (Or the wisdom of protection, where ‘love’ is determined to be control, where the person is deemed unsafe.)

Trust is the foundation of being able to receive love.

The trust of wisdom is this: ‘this trusted person’s wisdom is loving and well-motivated.’

Love endeavours to speak truth and understands relationship trumps truth. And yet if we push that too far, relationship becomes untenable. Boundaries are disrespected and broken, and co-dependencies form. And control, demanding it and submitting to it, characterises the relationship.

Control is clearly an indicator that love has become a runaway train over the precipice into the abyss of hell.

At some point it has ceased to be love. And control is the person’s deception who cannot see their actions as implicitly attacking or withdrawing. The person who feels controlled can only ask, ‘Am I being controlling; are others responding to me as if they are feeling controlled?’ It’s the only way love can re-enter the relationship, for love is initially and always introspective; it asks, ‘what can I do to give or add?’ And not ‘what can I take or demand?’

If we feel controlled, what does the love in us do to respond?

How do we resist being controlled in a loving way? Of a sense, it requires us to take control, assertiveness if you will, and initially what we must do is stop responding; to stop reacting because we feel like we’re being controlled. This is easier said than done, for even in stopping our responding the other person probably feels controlled, because now they feel ignored. But when we do respond we can be kind and gracious.

We all have the capacity to love, but it is only when we face love, most commonly the love of God for us, that we draw on this capacity to love.

If we’re not behaving in a loving way, i.e. we’re not perceived as acting in a loving way, we need to stop and ask ourselves why; to work with the other person’s truth.

Likewise, we all have the capacity to control, which is the reverse of love. Whenever we are disconnected from love we will seek to control, because in love’s absence fear fills the void. This is because we are so truly geared to receive God’s love; we need it to survive.

If we don’t have God’s love for ourselves, we become every relationship’s worst enemy, because we’re acting only on our own behalf.

God’s love is a security affirming we are secure. With God’s love on our side we don’t need to fight our battles, as we allow Him to fight them for us.

We just love in faith, knowing that love is God’s will.

The difference between love and control is cavernous, even if it is full of enigmatic nuances. It’s like the divide between Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. Love and control are kingdoms apart. And yet I know, personally, just how subtle the drift is from an intent to love to behaviour that controls. I can feel it in my own heart within seconds – when fear enters, and insecurity presences itself in me against God’s will. Blessed ever am I to be aware of this as it happens.

When a relationship is going healthily it’s easy to love. But when there is a disagreement, the temptation to influence can easily morph into control.

Love keeps itself accountable to the truth.

So how might I conclude? The only thing we can do as far as love is concerned is to ask God, ‘what I can do to love better and more?’

Love is not something that I should expect if I’m not first seeking to initiate. Love starts with me. It ends with me.

For every controlling interaction I experience, love is required, for love is the only way to influence others toward love.

We could say, in relational terms, that love’s opposite is not fear or hate, but the behaviour of control. That control could be based from fear or hatred, but ultimately the opposite of love is control.


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