How Does the Locus of Control Affect Your Relationships?

People with an external locus of control tend to assume a victim position in their links with others. They find themselves in dependent relationships and end up losing their individuality. We explain why.
How Does the Locus of Control Affect Your Relationships?
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

Who do you hold responsible when something goes wrong in your life? Fate, society, third parties? Similarly, when you’re in a relationship, who’s responsible for your happiness? We know that in emotional and relational matters the quality of a relationship is always down to two people. However, there are those who have rather different views on the subject.

As a matter of fact, you often neglect how the locus of control affects each area of your life, including the one related to love. If you exhibit an externalized locus of control, you won’t be able to separate yourself from your partner. This ultimately results in hypervigilance, emotional insecurity, jealousy, distrust, anxious attachment, fear of abandonment, etc.

The perception that your well-being depends on chance, fate, or what your partner does only leads to suffering. Your mind enters a state of constant insecurity and also of absolute dependence. In effect, you lose your individuality and are completely subordinated to your partner to reinforce your self-esteem, temper your fears, and feel secure in your relationship.

This completely subordinates your ability to be happy.

Remember, in any situation, be yourself and avoid becoming emotionally merged with your partner.

If your well-being depends exclusively on how your partner is, or on what they do or don’t do, you’ll suffer.

 How the locus of control affects your relationships

The locus of control concept defines the degree to which people feel that they’re in control of what happens in their lives. It was psychologist, Julian B. Rotter, who developed this theory in 1954. It’s an extremely popular construct in psychological literature and has attracted the attention of many researchers.

For example, a 2020 study conducted by the Victoria University of Wellington claimed that the locus of control is integrated into our personalities and is behind countless behavioral correlates. For instance, people with an external locus of control have a higher risk of developing criminal tendencies.

In addition, the study claimed that these kinds of people exhibit less adherence to psychological treatments, abandon them earlier, and benefit less from them. It seems that holding external forces responsible for their personal circumstances completely dilutes the level of their personal responsibility. They even assume that they have no ability to change their reality, however adverse it may be.

Unsurprisingly, the impact that this mental approach has on emotional relationships is immense.

Emotional fusion and loss of identity

The way the locus of control affects your relationship can be devastating, especially when you become a reactive agent to external forces that act on you. In other words, if you subordinate your happiness and well-being solely to what your partner does, or you can’t separate your own identity from theirs.

In these cases, your relationship becomes damaging. Indeed, you’re integrated in such a way with your partner that they become your mirror. You continually look at them to find out who you are, how you are, and what you want. Furthermore, because your identity is completely engulfed by your partner, you require constant validation.

You need validation to know that you’re loved, to feel important, and to find motivation, self-love, and well-being. Gradually, you end up becoming what you think your partner wants you to be.

Feelings of emptiness and learned helplessness

If you have an external locus of control, you’ll often assume the position of victim. It’s an attitude reinforced by learned helplessness. Martin Seligman defined this concept. He claimed it’s the mental state in which a person is convinced that they can’t do anything to face or escape from situations that are harmful to them.

The complex thing is that if you have an external locus of control, you’re fully aware of your unhappiness. You know that you absolutely depend on what your partner says to feel good and to validate your self-esteem and identity. However, you can’t cut off this supply. You depend on them and it’s never enough. In turn, this gives you a disturbing feeling of emptiness. You’re never loved as you expect or deserve.

You might wonder why you’ve developed this type of locus of control. In fact, it’s not an inherent component of your personality. Your childhood experiences and the type of attachment you built with your caregivers in childhood often determine it.

Children whose parents encourage their independence and help them develop personal responsibility are able to form an internal locus of control. Consequently, they understand that acts have consequences and that everyone can and must take charge of their own actions and decisions.

The external locus of control strips us of any sense of responsibility towards ourselves.

Although there’s always a certain amount of chance in our lives, we all have some control over many of the things that happen to us.

 An internal locus of control guarantees happier relationships

Having an internal locus of control changes everything in relationships. It makes you mature, responsible, and assertive, capable of guiding your life and decisions. This internalized approach correlates with the opportunity to experience happier and higher-quality emotional bonds.

In 1999, Scott M. Myers and Alan Booth conducted a study that claimed the greater the sense of control, the greater the happiness and willingness to build a more satisfying joint life. They claim that, in these scenarios, there’s no longer an obsessive dependence on the other. Nor is there the insidious fear of not being loved, or of not being enough for their partner.

In these cases, it’s no longer chance, circumstances, or the behavior of the other that modulates your state of mind and your life course. It’s you, with your own decisions and will to take care of your relationship that helps you build the opportunity to be happy. Furthermore, with an internal locus of control, you’ll be able to leave a partner behind if they only bring you suffering instead of hope.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Tyler, Nichola & Heffernan, Roxanne & Fortune, Clare-Ann. (2020). Reorienting Locus of Control in Individuals Who Have Offended Through Strengths-Based Interventions: Personal Agency and the Good Lives Model. Frontiers in Psychology. 11. 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.553240.
  • McPherson A, Martin CR. Are there gender differences in locus of control specific to alcohol dependence? J Clin Nurs. 2017;26(1-2):258-265. doi:10.1111/jocn.13391
  • Hovenkamp-Hermelink JHM, Jeronimus BF, van der Veen DC, et al. Differential associations of locus of control with anxiety, depression and life-events: A five-wave, nine-year study to test stability and change. J Affect Disord. 2019;253:26-34. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2019.04.005

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.