The futile and fatal search for control

The futile and fatal search for control


Sandra was furious. She had caught Tom checking her phone message once again. “ I just did it to reassure myself – its no big deal” Tom replied defensively.

Is it a big deal?

In relationships the tendency or temptation to control is one of the most toxic forces that leads to the breakdown of trust, openness and growth.

Worse it can lead to domestic abuse and in the worst cases violence. In fact physical violence should be seen as what it is – a desperate attempt to control one person by another. We know this is wrong, or we should. But people often get confused about control behaviours that fall short of physical contact. Sometimes these can be worse than physical force.

Psychological abuse which includes humiliation, denigration and bullying leave scars that take a lot longer to heal than bruises and broken bones.


We often see the tendency to control associated with jealousy. Jealousy is a complex relationship dynamic. Fundamentally it is about fear. A fear that your partner will drift or he/she will be “stolen” . The notion that someone could be “stolen” naturally runs counter to the idea that relationships are a matter of choice.

Jealousy  and control are thus close companions. Control behaviours are much more common where there is a belief system that supports the idea of relationship as a form of ownership where one party (the male in patriarchal systems) has dominance or “ownership” of their partner. Males usually also have the capacity to physically dominate their female partner, but it is the belief that this is acceptable that causes the most damage.

This belief runs directly counter to the view that a relationship is a voluntary association between two adults of equal power. The “equal power” relationship is the one assumed and supported by our laws and the values of an advanced society. It means that two people enter, stay or leave a relationship based on free will and an unfettered choice.

In this context our fears and anxieties about our partner’s choice need to be managed. Any attempt to control should be named and recognized as the enemy of building trust.

How can you build love and trust with someone by imprisoning them! Sounds  ridiculous – but this is precisely what many people try to do out of fear there partner will leave them.

The controller who is able to recognize their insecurity and learn to trust as well as develop a better framework for what is acceptable in relationship can save their relationship descending beyond the point of no repair. Many couples facing these problems have been helped by good relationship therapy.

Often the pattern of domination and control is recognized as a legacy of the family of origin – a family where Dad roared and Mum cowered. Usually when such a pattern is recognized there is a desire to improve on the past and not repeat the tragedy.

The point is to recognize control behaviours as toxic and name it and do what is required to get it out of your relationship.

This article is written by our Perth Relationship  Psychologist David Indermaur.



If you are in Sydney and want help with controlling issues in a relationship, see our Sydney Psychologists.





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The stresses of Infertility

Planning a  baby should be an exciting, pleasurable and sexy time for a couple, right?

Isn’t that what we imagine – lots of sex, emotional closeness and fun is involved in the making of a baby?

But, what happens for a couple if they do not get pregnant as they plan?

Research shows that 1 out of 6 couples might experience difficulties in conceiving the natural way.

A heterosexual couple that has been trying for a baby is diagnosed with fertility issues if after 1 year (in the case of under 30s) and 6 months (for over 30s) they have not conceived.

The stress of Infertility – How females feel

For a female every month that  goes past and she gets her period can be a reminder that she has “failed” to conceive.

She might well experience repeated loss, and start to question why her body has let her down.

She will sometimes start thinking that it is something she has done.

The stress of Infertility – How males feel

Males tend to be more pragmatic and might just want to get on with it and not quite understand what is the rush.

However they are often hugely disappointed, but just experience it differently.

They usually want their cheerful happy partner and might get frustrated that their lives are so caught up with the rules of baby making and the limitations on their social lives and their alcohol consumption.

Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy can suffer as women are focused on the right time of the month to have sex.

Men will often complain that they love their partners and would like to get them pregnant, but often feel like they have to perform on demand.

It is easy for your sex life to get confined to the fertile window, meaning that spontaneous and fun sex gets put on hold.

Most couples find a diagnosis of infertility and fertility treatment becomes very intrusive with personal questions about their intimate life. This medical intervention can also cause a decrease in libido and bouts of impotency for the male.

Don’t let your social lives become limited

For some couples their social lives become limited as it can feel unbearable to see their close friends pregnant, and  often with the 2nd and third children.

Couples complain that their friends say things like “We just have to look at each other to conceive” or might make remarks like “What is wrong with the two of you?” and “Why don’t you hurry up?”. One lady reported that her girlfriend said “I can lend you my husband!”.

Couples that are struggling to conceive often can dread christenings or Christmas when all the family is gathered.

They might start experiencing stress and find it difficult to talk together.

She can not want to show him how upset she is, and he dreads the time of the month when her period is due.

If they go for fertility checks and proceed with assisted fertility treatment it can give them hope, but can tend to put their sex lives on hold, as sex and baby making get scrutinised and put in the medical arena.

How can you get back the fun and sex you had prior to trying for a baby?

You can start by remembering why you got together in the first place.

Plan fun dates outside of the fertile window.

Write love notes to each other and put them where your partner will find them as a surprise.

Have a cuddle and a kiss or a sexy text during the day, reminding him/her that you find them attractive.

Plan a weekend away.

Make sure that you limit the talk about fertility treatment to 20 minutes a day.

Plan massages together can be helpful.

And, above all, be gentle with both yourself and your partner. This is a stressful time for both of you, but you can use it as a time to pull together, support each other, and strengthen your bond.

Often couples can be helped by counselling with experienced Infertility and Relationship Psychologists.

Beverley in Bondi Junction, one of our Sydney team members, is a Relationship Psychologist specialising in Infertility. She offers Skype session for those located anywhere is Australia.

The stress of Infertility





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The 7 Core values of Successful Relationships – A reminder on Valentine’s week


It’s only a couple of days until Valentine’s Day, and in celebration of love,  I thought it fitting to talk about the 7 essential Values that Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz have identified are must haves to keep you lighting up your partner and energizing and securing your relationship and marriage.

If you are willing to commit to these 7 values, your relationship will flow, thrive and be successful.

1. Put each other first in your relationship.

The first thing you notice in all highly successful loving relationships is that those who really love fully recognize that their relationship is not about you and me, it is about US. Discovering that YOU are not the center of the universe is the hallmark of a great relationship. Actually putting another human being number one is a powerful indication that you are truly in love.

2. Commit to democracy in your relationship.

Always remember, successful loving relationships are equal and shared relationships.  If one of you has all the power and makes all the decisions, it is NOT love! True love is democratic.

3. Commit to ensuring your partner’s happiness.

Remember, true love is not just about ensuring your happiness. More importantly, and often for the first time in your life, you actually enjoy and are motivated by ensuring the happiness of someone other than yourself. It is a good feeling!

4. Value absolute trustworthiness and integrity in your relationship with each other.

If you cannot trust the one you love, then it is not true love!  The most successful loving relationships report that they trust their mate unequivocally and without hesitation. To violate that trust is to undermine and, ultimately destroy, the relationship with the one you say you love.

5. Commit to caring and unconditionally loving each other.

When you truly love someone you do so without conditions. You may choose to set boundaries on behaviour you are not able to tolerate, by all means, but keep your loving beyond conditions.

6. Commit to being mutually respectful towards each other.

There is a Golden Rule in true love and it is like the one you learned early in your life – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do not expect to be treated with respect when you are disrespectful to your partner. Respectfulness is at the heart of all great loving relationships.

7. Share a mutual responsibility for each other.

People in love care for each other in ways that they have never cared for another human being. They feel a sense of responsibility for their partner like no other. It can feel rewarding to love so deeply that you can put another’s needs above your own at times.

If you and your partner can master these values, your love will, in all probability, last a lifetime, which can be a perennial Valentine’s gift.

More on not feeling like lovers in our next blog.

Warmest regards


If you are in Sydney and would like help on any relationship issue, please check out our Sydney Relationship Psychologists.

The 5 Levels of Intimacy: Which level do you communicate on?


In modern day relationships intimacy is the name of the game. But what exactly does intimacy mean? Barbara Wilson has identified  that there are actually 5 levels of intimacy, that we move through as we get to know a new partner or friend.

The Five Levels of Intimacy

Level One: Safe Communication

Level one is the initial and lowest level of communication. It is considered safe because it really just involves the exchange of facts and information. There are no feelings, opinions or personal vulnerability involved, and therefore no risk of rejection.

This is the kind of interaction we have with people we don’t know very well. It’s the chat we have with the supermarket checkout girl. People communicating at this level share minimal intimacy. An example of this level would be, “Looks like it’s going to rain”” This is great Indian”


Level Two: Sharing Other peoples’ Opinions and Beliefs

At level two we begin to share other people’s thoughts, beliefs and opinions. We are beginning to reveal more of ourselves through our associations. We say things like, “My mother always says…” or “One of my favorite authors said…” Such statements test the other person’s reaction to what we’re sharing without offering our own opinions. This is slightly more vulnerable than level one, but because we’re not sharing our own opinions we can distance ourselves from the opinion if we feel threatened by criticism or rejection.


Level Three: Personal Opinions and Beliefs

We start taking small risks at this level because we begin to share our own thoughts, opinions and beliefs. But like the previous level, if we begin feeling too vulnerable, we can say we’ve switched our opinions or changed our mind in order to avoid conflict or pain.


Level Four: My Feelings and Experiences

Sharing feelings and experiences is the next level of vulnerability and intimacy. At this level we talk about our joys, pain, and failures; our mistakes in the past, our dreams, and our goals. What we like or don’t like. What makes us who we are. This level is more vulnerable because we can’t change how we feel about something, the details of our past or current experiences. If we sense we may be rejected or criticized all we can do is try to convince others that we’re no longer impacted by our past. We’re no longer that person. We’re different now.


Level Five: My Needs, Emotions and Desires

Level five is the highest level of intimacy. It is the level where we are known at the deepest core of who we are. Because of that, it is the level that requires the greatest amount of trust. If I can’t trust that you won’t reject me, I’ll never be able to share my deepest self with you. Unlike the other levels, there is no escape at this level.

Once I let someone see who I really am, I can no longer convince them otherwise. Communicating at this level means we offer someone the most vulnerable part of ourselves. And the greatest fear is that they could use it against us later. When we share things like, “I’m hurt when you don’t call,” I need to feel respected by you,” or “I want to spend my life with you,” we’re sharing not only our hurts but our desires and needs as well.

It’s also the level where we let others see our emotional reaction to things, which if you’re like me, isn’t always a pretty sight. Maybe that’s why we save those for the ones closest to us, like our families.


True Intimacy

It’s important to understand that true intimacy in a relationship happens over time…not in a day, week or even a month. Think of your best friend…how long did it take before you felt at the highest level of intimacy with them, where you were able to trust them completely, or share your deepest self? It’s the same in romantic relationships…true intimacy develops over time.

But another important element is needed for true intimacy…both people in the relationship need to move through the levels together. If I’m sharing at level four with someone (feelings and experiences) but my partner is sharing at level three (opinions and beliefs) we’re not experiencing true intimacy. I may feel closer because I’m sharing at a higher level, but in reality what we have is a false sense of intimacy.

In truth, intimacy is measured by the person with the lower level of vulnerability.


Sex can be a False Sense of Intimacy

Level 5 is the healthiest, safest and most intimate place to have sex. When we feel loved unconditionally, and have the highest level of trust, we’ll be able to give ourselves completely to each other, increasing intimacy and the enjoyment of sex.

We can have sex at the other levels, but without that same level of trust the vulnerability of sex may be associated with anxiety, fear and distrust.

For further help with intimacy and communication, please see our relationship counselling services.

More on balancing intimacy and closeness with individuality in our next blog.

Warmest regards


 If you are in Sydney and are experiencing intimacy problems, check out our team of Sydney Relationship Psychologists.


Are you a doormat in your relationship?

Can anyone be “too nice” and “too much of a pleaser” in a relationship?

If someone is inconsiderate of you, or walks all over you, do you smile politely while quietly seething underneath?

Do you find yourself catering for others needs and even whims even when there is no real reciprocation on their part? (for example Angela and Allan’s romance and relationship was based on lots of give and take. Angela gave – which included back rubs, complements and gifts, and Allan took, without ever thinking to reciprocate in any way)

Why am I a doormat?

Many doormats  rationalize to themselves that they are taking the moral highroad in their relationships, that if they model kind and thoughtful behaviour towards their partner, he or she might also treat them in the same way, but more often than not, this does not result in a more considerate partner, but rather a more self- centred one.

Too often long suffering partners find themselves with people who exploit them mercilessly.

An unbalanced relationship

If you find that in your relationship, you are doing all the giving and your partner is doing all the taking, you are in an unbalanced relationship.

women's loss of self in relationship

It is important to understand why this happens for you.

While your endless tolerance might seem to be coming from a deep and abiding love, in fact it is almost certainly arising from fear.

You tendency not to say anything negative about your relationship, or to speak up about for your own needs and wants, and to just put up with what you are given, is borne of a number of fears. You can be fearful of anger from your partner, fearful of conflict, fearful of losing control, or fearful of emotional abandonment. These fears usually originate in your childhood experiences.

Having this awareness of why  is the first step to doing something constructive about changing your situation.

How can you know if you are a Door Mat?

There are 2 red flags to alert you that you are behaving as a Door mat.

1. You notice a tendency among the people around you to become increasingly selfish, exploitative and unfair.

2. You notice a growing disconnection between your own feelings and your actions, directly proportional to how badly you’re being treated. For example even though you continue to tolerate bad and selfish behaviour, you are beginning to feel hurt, resentful or even seething with underlying rage.

Listen to this underlying anger. It is telling you that what you are doing is not good for you; that on a deeper level your psyche is railing against this unfair and unkind treatment.

Often those who are doormats worry that the only alternative to grovelling niceness is aggressive dominance, but this is not the case. There is a middle ground called assertiveness, which is nether passive or aggressive, and it is the only healthy way to behave in a relationship.

The way forward to feeling happy in a healthy relationship involves 4 steps:

counselling for a happy relationship

1. Honestly assess what is happening in your relationship and whether your relationship is balanced and fair or not (whether it be your partner or anyone else in your family, your friends or at work)

2. Express your truth  authentically and firmly to this person.This might be that you are having a problem with his/her behaviour, stating your needs or wants in your relationship, or your views.

3. Hold your ground. Expect that you might receive some negative emotional outburst or reaction, but stay firm and as neutral as possible.

4. Be open to feedback without collapsing or abandoning your own perspective.

5. If your partner can not accept or tolerate your truth or needs or perspective when you have expressed them in a clear and firm manner, then you may wish to consider whether this person really has your best interests at heart, and begin to question your wisdom in continuing this relationship.

Often when you are trying to break the habits of a lifetime, you can need support in doing so. Our Psychologists Australia wide, are trained to help you through these passages and into more healthier and happier ways of being and relationships.

Both Relationship and Individual Counselling is available by our trained Psychologists in 60 locations Australia wide, in Sydney and all capital and large regional cities, either In-house, by Phone or Skype Sessions – 50 mins

Phone 1300 830 552 to enquire or make an appointment.
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