Dear Carolyn: What to do when you recognize controlling traits in yourself? I’m certainly not mean, I don’t yell and I don’t make loaded “jokes,” but I tend to drop many many hints about healthy eating and going to the gym and laying off the TV whenever my S.O. doesn’t do these things, because his family is all overweight, they have serious health problems, etc. I get worried that my S.O. will become like that too … so I get totally irritating and out of line. How to stop? – Va.
You do two things you already know are difficult:
(1) You override your hint impulse and say what you mean (“I’m worried that your eating habits are killing you”) – or bite your tongue. If you’re not sure which route to take, one tiebreaker can be to ask yourself whether you’d appreciate his making such comments to you. It’s long, but works pretty well as a mantra: If it’s worth saying, it’s worth saying it straight.
(2) You accept that grown men and women are the ones who decide what they eat and watch.
You, for your part, had choices of your own – including whether to commit to someone who has bad habits and family health history. You also get to decide whether to stay, and (this is big) whether your irritating hint-drops have helped his health, his confidence or your relationship even remotely.
Think about it. Have your efforts changed his habits? So often, people justify their controlling tendencies as a choice: Do something, or watch your loved one die. So often, though, it’s a false choice, where the real choice is: Enjoy your mate while you can, or nag your mate while you can.
In other words, his habits may well be shortening his life, but if your hints do nothing to prolong it, then an attitude change is in order. You buy and cook and order only healthy foods, you invite him to join you in your active lifestyle, and you understand that he’ll do with these as he chooses. Let go, and love. Another mantra to try.