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The Terrible Twins Within
By William S. Cottringer
Last edited: Friday, September 07, 2007
Posted: Friday, September 07, 2007

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William S. Cottringer

• 20 Writing Tips for Better Results
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There are Two Terrible Twins--Expectations and Control--which need to be managed in any relationship

By William Cottringer, Ph.D.

There are two terrible twins that can rear their ugly head in any relationship and take it South in a New York second, if not managed properly. The two terrible twins within are expectations and control. Although these two behaviors are very normal in human beings, they can easily become the tail that wags the dog if they are not managed.

Here is what I mean by these two terrible twins within a relationship:

Expectations: Having predetermined, anticipated gains from the relationship—what boundaries can and can’t be crossed, how you should treat each other, what roles you will play, what the relationship should be giving you, what each other’s life goals are, what both of you need to do to satisfy each other’s wants and needs, how you will spend your free time and what will help the relationship succeed and make you happy, or fail and make you unhappy.

Control: To attempt to dominate, influence, restrain, direct, force, regulate, manipulate or manage a person or situation to bring about a desired outcome. Ironically, you always have strong expectations about this control thing and how it works.

Now one problem here is that life doesn’t always honor our expectations, especially in relationships. Some of this failure may be due to our not having legitimate expectations of another person or the relationship, or not communicating them clearly enough, expecting some mind-reading to occur. Another problem is that it often seems as though the more we try to control a person or situation—especially ones that really make us unhappy and we are convinced that we have a right to succeed—the less we win and the more out of control the person or situation gets. What a mess!

Of course there are many other complications in the interaction between these terrible twins within. For instance your expectations themselves can serve to control someone else. Because we think in either-or dualistic pairs of polar opposites—right and wrong, true or false, good or bad, yes or no, etc.—our expectations can be either legitimate or illegitimate and what things we think are wrong can actually be right. That can also get messy.

Either way though, when we expect things to be one way and the other person expects them to be the other way, an insidious sense of control takes over. And what is the one thing we are willing to get beat up, maimed and even die for? Freedom from being controlled. This even carries over to the imagined fear of being controlled, with or without any reasonable collaboration.

So then, how can we begin to manage these two terrible twins within, before they wreck havoc on a potentially good relationship. Here are some practical tips.

1. There has never been one single life rule more true or effective than the Golden Rule. Success in a relationship depends upon getting along and working things out when you are not getting along. The best way to do this is act the way you want the other person to act and treat people the way you want to be treated (unless of course you are warped or into things like S & M!). Do you enjoy people having expectations of you that you don’t consider to be fair or legitimate? Do you just lie down and let someone else control you, even when you probably need to be controlled? Figure out what you really want and manage yourself to be that way instead of waiting for the other person to become what you want. That will stop a lot of unnecessary annoyance and frustration.

2. Always be open to questioning your expectations of other people. Yes you are saddled with an internal thermometer of fundamental fairness that goes off whenever the other person doesn’t return favors or otherwise do what you expect and even deserve. But that will happen and there’s not much you can do about it, other than expressing your disappointments assertively. But it is a deadly habit to keep score.

3. One lesson it takes many of us what seems to be a lifetime to learn, is how we focus on doing things in the wrong order. We insist on putting the cart before the horse. In successful relationships, the two people focus more on similarities rather than differences, and use more time and effort to understand and accept each other rather than trying to accomplish complete personality overhauls or brain surgery.

4. Men and women are different in key ways which aren’t readily understood. For example, women often raise issues and conflicts, not to be fixed or otherwise solved, as much as just to be heard and understood. Men often feel inadequate if they can’t fix something that seems to need fixing. Also men don’t expect to change in the relationship and therefore expect women not to change either. However, women expect men to change because they change, contrary to what men expect. Moreover, there seems to be a general flip-flopping of gender traits, especially with women gradually becoming more aggressive and men becoming more sensitive. You can easily see how this criss-cross involves unfulfilled expectations and control efforts to fulfill them.

5. Positive change is always possible and the simple act of changing something about the way you approach another person, especially when things aren’t going well, can have a major impact on getting a better outcome. After all, you do get what you expect if it is the right thing for the right reasons. The expectation has to be of deep and pure intent.

6. At the very least, it is probably safe to say that it is a good idea to know when to fish and cut bait, in case there is no compatibility or agreement as to the managing or not managing of these two terrible twins within. In other words, differences can be troublesome, but differences in dealing with those differences, and differences about that can be fatal.

6. The best RX anecdote to the terrible twins within are acceptance and equality when communicated sincerely, abundantly, patiently and consistently. Of course love, hope and charity are good medicine too!

William S. Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue WA, as well as Success Coach, Sport Psychologist, Photographer and Writer in North Bend, WA.. He is author of several international best-selling books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets, Passwords To The Prosperity Zone, “P” Point Management, Reality Repair RX and Do What Matters Most. Bill can be reached for comments and questions at 425-454-5011 or


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Reviewed by Vivian DeSoto
Good article. Passing along to friends and family members. This is true in all relationships, not only in romantic or marriage. I'm sure we've all seen the terrible twins rear their ugly heads in friendships and family dynamic as well. (I have to admit, I had to re-read the first sentence in #4 several times, it wasn't quite clear to me.) Will definitely take a look at other works as well. Good common sense basics, the kind of information that makes you sit back and say "Oh, yeah, that's exactly what I see/feel/believe but coulnd't quite put into words." You've done that well.

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