Couples: Passive and Controlling Partners

Self-Therapy For People Who ENJOY Learning About Themselves


Passive people usually find controlling partners. Controlling people usually find passive partners. They are "perfect" for each other.

Passive people are apparently quite happy to be left alone. They have little to say, and they can seem to be deaf when you try to discuss problems with them.

Controlling people make constant demands on their partners. They have much to say, and they can act like they think they've been elected to tell everyone else how to live their lives.


Passive partners can be recognized by what they don't do. They don't initiate anything. They seldom participate whole-heartedly in anything. They seem content to be left alone observing life, often through a TV set.


Controlling partners can be recognized by all they do. They try to "lead" everything and they often have boundless energy. They are seldom content, and they seem to resent anyone who is.


Both passive and controlling partners are terrified down deep.

The passive person is actually afraid that they'd lose their mind if they became active. The controlling person is actually afraid that nearly everything is "life or death." Both people fear "doom around the corner." Both passive and controlling people come from the same stock. If they had two parents, one was passive and the other was controlling. If they had just one parent, that parent was controlling. The passive person would never admit it, but they think they need someone to control them, to "keep them straight." The controlling parent thinks life is so difficult and complex that they need someone to work hard for them at all times. (They admit it too!)


If your partner is passive, you need to ask them for what you want but be ready for them to refuse to give it to you. Make a plan before you ask. Know what you will do if your partner refuses you, and put your plan into action as soon as your request is denied.



A woman asks her partner to clean the living room. He says "yeah... later..." and he doesn't move. She then asks him to do it by 6:00. He again says "yeah... later...," and he still doesn't move. At 6:01 she's on the phone arranging for a cleaning service. He has a right to refuse, but there are natural consequences.


If your partner is controlling, you need to ask your partner for what you want but expect that they will have "conditions" on everything. Refuse their conditions, but continue to ask for what you want.


A woman asks her partner to cuddle. He says "I don't feel like it because you didn't take care of the kids before like I asked you to." She says: "Well, I still want to cuddle."

[She may not get the cuddling she wants tonight. But if she always responds in this way it may become clear to him eventually that he can have many of the good things he wants in life if he'll just stop putting conditions on everything.]

He has a right to refuse, but there are natural consequences.


Since both controlling people and passive people have poor relationships, they experience a whole lot of loneliness. After a long while, all of this loneliness adds up and makes them realize they can survive on their own!

Then they can stop trying to change their partner and simply enjoy them as they are! Unfortunately, both people need to learn from their loneliness - so they can grow into people who WANT each other instead of people who THINK they need each other.


Some people who treat each other this way eventually outgrow it. But the people who don't outgrow it end up living lives that are "emotionally dead." In the long run the passive person almost always "wins."


Unfortunately, passive and controlling behaviors are not easy to change on your own - because both are based on some pretty strong fears.

If you recognize yourself and your partner in this description, ask yourself first about the DEGREE to which you are each passive and controlling. (And be willing to admit that YOU are probably just as strongly passive or controlling as your partner is the opposite!... This will probably be quite hard for you to admit....)

Then simply do everything you can to stop YOUR OWN passive or controlling behaviors. If you are passive, learn to only give your word when you mean it AND ALWAYS KEEP YOUR WORD! Realize that it is just as much your responsibility to do half of the chores as it is your partner's... at least on the half that even YOU agree do need to be done! (You might think this will make you work harder every day, but it won't - because you will be saving all of the time and energy you used to use arguing!....)

If you are controlling, realize that you and your partner only need to share the duties you BOTH agree are necessary in your life together! (In other words, realize that your partner has NO obligation to meet YOUR higher standards!.... This may help you to lower your standards, which would probably be very good for you anyway!....)


Truthfully, most people who have these problems to a high degree simply cannot change enough on their own. While they CAN change their behavior, each of them also becomes extremely fearful as soon as they begin even think about it.

These couples would do well in "couple's therapy." Or, if the passive partner refuses (as is usually the case...), the controlling partner can make their own changes through individual therapy. A good therapist can help either party as they learn to change, and as they learn that they can stay SAFE while they change.


If there is violence in your relationship, the information in this topic might seem to "fit" for you, but I actually think that you should IGNORE this topic and anything else you ever read which talks about "fixing" your relationship!

Violence has NO place in a relationship, so either the violence needs to end or the relationship needs to end... and, in my opinion, anyone who experiences violence should HAVE AND USE a good "escape plan." There is no point in working to "fix" a violent relationship. The goal should be immediate safety, relief from the violence, and, eventually, finding your way to a new, completely different, and shockingly GOOD relationship.


next: Relationship Analysis 2

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 2). Couples: Passive and Controlling Partners, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Last Updated: March 29, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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