Nurture vs. Control in Relationships

This post is about how people nurture vs. control in relationships and why nurture is essential for developing our full potential.

To explain this, I am going to explore two types of relationships. One if the flourish-friendly relationship and the other is a control relationships

First, we need to start with something interesting about people.

People Need People

Adult humans could live a pretty secluded existence all by themselves, away from other people, if they wanted to do so.

And given the pain that relationships and interactions with other people can cause, we might be tempted to avoid such interactions as much as possible. Perhaps some of us do.

Nevertheless, most people choose to live in a system of complex relationships with family, friends, and partners of various sorts (for instance, business and romantic partners). And even though these relationships sometimes disappoint us and even bring us suffering, most of greatly value our relationships deeply and want them to flourish or, rather, we want to flourish in them.

Picture by Johann Siemens, courtesy of Unsplash

I choose the word flourish intentionally.

When something flourishes, it grows vibrantly and exuberantly.

A plant that flourishes doesn’t just survive or eke out the bare minimum of existence. Plants that flourish get all the nutrients and nourishment they need, and as a result, they grow like gangbusters. They are healthy, radiant, and hardy. They develop all of their plant capacities to their fullest.

The Ideal Relationships Help Us Flourish, Not Just Survive

And this is how I think most of us want to live. We don’t want to just survive or just eke out the bare minimum of existence. Rather, we want to thrive and grow like gangbusters. And we want to develop all our human capacities.

It is right for us to want this.

Human beings are not meant to live a bare, biological existence in which we just survive or just keep ourselves from dying. Rather, human beings come into the world full of undeveloped capacities. Our goal is to develop those capacities.

We have capacities for compassion, creativity, love, wisdom, reason, justice, just to name a few.

When we develop these capacities in the context of our unique personality, lived experience, and view of the world, we develop a unique goodness that we can share to make the world a better place.

And that is the purpose of every human being.

This is how human beings flourish.

A world of flourishing human beings would be much like a garden full of flourishing plants, all of them sharing their unique goodness and beauty with the world. This makes the world a more vibrant, and even a healthier, place.

And this is one of the main reasons that we develop relationships with other people. We may be able to survive biologically as a human being without other people, but we cannot flourish without other people.

Our human capacities we cannot develop in isolation. For example, you cannot develop compassion fully in isolation.

And, indeed, the goal of all our relationships should be to create spaces for flourishing.

Flourish-Friendly Relationships

I will say it again: the goal of all human relationships is to create a context in which all of us can flourish. I will call such relationships Flourish-Friendly Relationships.

Flourish-Friendly Relationships are relationships that create conditions in which all the people in them can live vibrantly and develop their full human capacities, and as such, Flourish-Friendly Relationships are inherently humanizing.

The opposite of a Flourish-Friendly Relationship is a Control Relationship.

You can read more about one reason why control relationships develop here:
Dealing with Our Dark Side

Control Relationships

Control Relationships occur when people exist in a relationship, not so that they can create a space for both people involved to flourish but merely so that they can control someone else to meet their own needs and desires.

Sometimes people also enter Control Relationships so that they can be controlled by another person in some way.

And by the way, while both Flourish-Friendly and Control Relationships exist at an interpersonal level, they can also exist at a community, national, and global level, too.

Flourish Friendly vs. Control

Most people want to have Flourish-Friendly Relationships. Very people consciously desire a Control Relationship, although some might. Therefore, usually people develop Control Relationships unconsciously as a result of their own unconscious beliefs or needs.

Control Relationships can even feel safe or exhilarating initially. Controlling others can make us feel powerful, effective, and successful for a while. Being controlled by others can give us feelings of security, predictability, and even care for a while.

If you think you tend to initiate or get involved in control relationships, you can read more about how to break this cycle in the posts below.

Dealing with Our Dark Side

Do You Have a My Guy Bias?

The Destructiveness of Control Relationships

But eventually, Control Relationships prevent people from developing their fully human capacities. In fact, Control Relationships eventually crush many, if not most, of our human capacities. That is because in Control Relationships, the relationship does not exist for the sake of the people in it. Rather, the people exist for the sake of the relationship.

Therefore, Control Relationships inherently discourage capacities like empathy, compassion, generosity, and creativity which would make people the center of the relationship and make the relationship exist for the people in it.

For this reason, Control Relationships are inherently dehumanizing because they discourage the development of our full human capacities. Thus, the longer people stay in Control Relationships, the more they wither and settle into survival mode.

When we make it our goal for all of our relationships to be Flourish-Friendly Relationships, everyone wins.


If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing on social media.

By the way, bell hooks writes beautifully about cultivating flourish-friendly relationships in her book All About Love. She does not use the specific term flourish-friendly, but that is what she is getting at. Her book explores how we can nurture each other’s spirituality through loving relationships.

I will be writing more in the future about how to create Flourish-Friendly Relationships. For now, you might find these posts helpful:

Two Views of Human Beings: And Why the Views Matter

How to Know if People are Treating You Badly




11 thoughts on “Nurture vs. Control in Relationships”

  1. Our culture can glorify control relationships. We have a bit of an obsession with big romantic gestures and dramatic stories. I have certainly made mistakes here, and the romance and drama has turned into something quite unhealthy.
    I love the term flourish-friendly. It implies space to grow, and that there is an element of cultivation and dedication.

    1. I agree, Ali! It’s really easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of what actually helps us flourish as human beings, in the midst of emphases on big, romantic gestures. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with big, romantic gestures, but what is really important is that we have space to grow together in whatever relationships we are in.

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