If there is anything I have had to learn, it is that nothing in the external world is under my control. With difficulty, we can learn to control our own attitudes, emotions, behaviors, choices. But we are unable to control events or the attitudes, emotions, behaviors, and choices of others.
Most couples' issues revolve around control. Each person in the couple is trying to control the other. Both are under the illusion that they can -- or should -- control the other. Both believe that their way is superior to that of the other person. Watch Dr. Phil. And even Dr. Phil (whom I admire) seems to have his own illusions of being in control.
Some people believe they can control their environment. Perfectionists in particular imagine a world where they perform perfectly and where everything is perfectly organized. In this ideal world, they imagine they can be protected against the messy, the dirty, the disorganized, the imperfect, the unforeseen.
Others believe they can protect themselves from disappointment or heartache by preparing for the worst and controlling their responses to events. "So what?" and "I'm not going to let it get to me" are stock phrases.
It is shocking when one finds there is actually no protection and no control over others and events. But this is a necessary shock. When one can acknowledge that it is impossible to control others and the events of life, then one can begin to try to control one's own attitudes, emotions, behaviors, and choices.
It is more difficult and very humbling to be in charge of oneself. But there are rewards. Relationships become happier. How to deal with problems becomes clearer. We get to know ourselves more intimately.
As Sri Ramakrishna said:
Dwell, O mind, within yourself;
Enter no other's home.
If you but seek there, you will find
All you are searching for.
(Quoted in Be Love Now by Ram Dass (Harper 2010), p. 230.)