Communicating to Relate or to Control?


Most of us want to be loved for who we are.  But for that to happen, we must reveal ourselves.  That can be uncomfortable, even scary at times.  Self-disclosure takes practice with intentionality.  Learning to relate more openly and to control less is vital to healthy relationships.

There are important distinctions between communicating to control and communicating to relate.  Control communication values getting a predictable outcome that does not challenge the ego’s defense system.  The goal is to look good, act more in control than we feel, and try to avoid emotional discomfort.  Such communication is pretty automatic and reflects what we do most of the time.

Communicating to relate, however, values sharing authentic feelings and risks transparency.  We let go of the need to control even if it feels uncomfortable.  This type of communication encourages knowing and being known; understanding and being understood.

Susan Campbell and John Grey address this important subject and offer some differences between controlling and relating communication in their book:  Five-Minute Relationship Repair, 2015, New World Library. Here are some examples: 


  • Seeks to know the other person and to be known
  • Values being real, unique, and open to surprise
  • Uses “I” messages and self-disclosure
  • Listens openly, with curiosity and empathy, showing an ability to hold and wait
  • Is responsive to the other person’s pain or fear—with empathy and reassurance
  • Collaborates to find an outcome that takes both partners’ needs into account


  • Seeks comfort, looking good, and appearing in control
  • Values being right, knowing what will happen, having things all figured out
  • Uses “you” messages, sales pitches, power tactics, and manipulation
  • Makes assumptions and generalizations about the other and believes these are right
  • Ignores the other person’s feelings and focuses on own needs
  • Assumes that being open to a partner’s needs means giving up one’s own

Relating involves two-way communication.  The goal is to know and be known by our partner at the deepest level—not to win, be right, or stay out of trouble. It affords an opportunity to grow and deepen a cherished relationship.

Campbell, S. and Grey, J. (2015). Five-minute relationship repair: Quickly heal upsets, deepen intimacy, and use differences to strengthen love. HJ Kramer/New World Library.