Locus of Control: Who’s Driving Your Life?

a gummy worm place atop a steering wheel, giving the illusion that it is driving
Image by Debs (ò‿ó)♪ / CC BY

When I first started dating, I was pretty clueless about what kind of person I should be seeking out. I was frankly pretty slapdash with regard to partner selection.

In the early days, I pretty much would date anyone who would have me. I looked at dating as a challenge where I needed to trick the other person into thinking I was their ideal partner until it was too late for them to change their mind about me — at least not without great inconvenience to them (so romantic, right?).

Because of this, I was so focused on being a social chameleon and being accepted that I never gave much thought into qualifying them. Making sure they were what wanted.

This turned out to be a fatal mistake. And one I made many, many times. Over and over, I dated folks who came to adore me (or at least the person they thought I was), but I often felt unfulfilled, like something was missing. Because they weren’t necessarily a person wanted to be with.

And I suppose it didn’t help that pretending to be someone you’re not for long stretches of time is inordinately stressful.

The relationships were painful. The partings were painful. It was a lose-lose all around.

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to learn, but these days, I am a far cry from that former mode of partner selection (if you can even call it that, what I used to do).

And these days, I have identified a key number of things that I tend to look for in a partner. The absence of any one of these aren’t dealbreakers in and of themselves, but I do find that I have better relationships if I date folks who have certain attributes.

And one of my new tendencies is to look for a partner with a fairly internal locus of control.

Locus of Control: Who’s Driving Your Life?

When we talk about a person’s locus of control, we’re talking about whether or not they feel like they have the ability to influence the events of their own life. People with an internal locus of control feel like they can and therefore feel a responsibility to take actions to shape the outcomes they’d like to achieve. And because of this, they are accountable for the outcomes of those actions.

A person with a very external locus of control, on the other hand, never believes anything is their fault. Things just happen to them. Good or bad. It’s all luck, fate.

Like many binaries, most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Here’s a test that’ll give you a good snapshot if you’re curious where you naturally fall.

As one would expect, people with a more internal locus of control tend to default to taking responsibility for many things, including one’s own actions and emotions.

An internal locus of control is considered generally more advantageous since it makes it more likely that you will take steps to improve your life circumstances. However, even internal LOC has a dark side: If a person doesn’t deal well with failure, setbacks can be demoralizing since you feel personally responsible.

Still, it beats careening through your life helplessly strapped into the passenger’s seat. External locus of control (wrongly or rightly) is sometimes also known as “victim mentality.”

I am a person with an extremely internal locus of control. Arguably, mine is at times far too internal. I feel quite personally responsible when relationships end. Tend to voluntarily pick up an inordinate amount of the blame for any collective conflict within an ongoing relationship.

And while this is something I try to be mindful of (and try not to fall too far into that trap of picking up way more than I should), I’ve also found that I do terribly when I date people whose locus of control is too external. My relationships seem to function better when the other person is also quick to pick up responsibility. Otherwise, accountability in my relationships tends to become one-sided, and I grow resentful.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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