Does the Emperor Have Control Issues? Why I Hope There Is NO Emperor in Your Relationship

There is one tarot card that, as a feminist, I really hate to see in a relationship reading. If you come to me for a relationship reading, you might be thinking that the one card you don’t want to see is the Three of Swords, or perhaps the Devil. Granted, those aren’t fun cards to see. But the one that really gets my back up is the Emperor. The Emperor, Rider-Waite

Why? To me, the Emperor says, “I am in charge here.” And my response (I come from a long line of uppity women who DON’T like to be bossed around) is bound to be, “like hell you are!” Telling me what to do is at the top of my list of pet peeves: I won’t put up with it. And I will be sorely tempted to do the opposite of what you tell me to do even if I was previously planning to do the very thing you insisted should be done.

But that’s just my personal preference, so why does it irritate me to see the Emperor when I am reading cards about a client’s relationship?

The truth is–gulp!–that I have a little of the Emperor in me. More and more so as I get older. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do, but I definitely think I should be granted a little obedience when I tell YOU not to let anyone tell you what to do. Are you sensing a little irony here? a little hypocrisy? Look, I come by it naturally. My mother was a principal and then a superintendent, and is the queen of bossing people around. My brother and I call her “Little PawPaw,” after my grandfather, who was in the military and really excelled at giving orders. Moreover, as my uncle tells me, there are any number of ancestors I can channel if I want to start ordering people around.

But the truth is, even if I am being a hypocrite, you should listen to me on this. Let me be a healthy Emperor in warning you about this issue! When the Emperor card turns up, it often can mean that there are control issues going on in a relationship. Upright, it can mean that the person in question feels in control, which is fine. But it can also suggest–depending on the context–that one person in the relationship views the other as someone who should be under his or her control–as someone who should step in line and follow marching orders. And that, to me, is so uncool. You can’t control another person, and you shouldn’t. Or perhaps I should say, you shouldn’t control another person, and even if you tried, you couldn’t. If you try, your attempts at control are likely to become a source of conflict and dismay. It will undermine the relationship at its very foundations. 

What if the Emperor turns up reversed? Well, that brings up other interesting control issues. Does someone in the relationship feel out of control? If your lover (or hoped-for lover) is moving more slowly than you’d like, sometimes the reversed Emperor can suggest that he or she is feeling out of control–like the relationship is controlling him or her rather than the other way around. This individual might be sorely in need of asserting his or her own individuality by taking responsibility for himself or herself. Because honestly, even if you think you don’t mind being under another person’s control, it’s wise to be aware that if the balance of power shifts in favor of one person in a relationship, that skews the entire relationship. Suddenly, you’re no longer equals. Are you not bothered by that? How about this? Suddenly, you’re living in different worlds. Once you start living in different worlds, don’t you think that your connection to each other will be disrupted? And then you’re taking steps away from intimacy and commitment, not toward them. 

Don’t get me wrong. Control is not a bad thing–when it’s self-control, or when you are ruling your world Sakyong Mipham style. If control refers to your own sense of discipline in choosing what path you want to walk and sticking with it–that’s awesome. That’s a healthy Emperor in healthy balance. But as a woman living in a world in which control issues in a relationship often become unhealthy, it often makes my stomach clench when I see the Emperor pop up in a reading. That’s all I’m saying. And the truth is, that when the Emperor gets out of control and becomes a fascist dictator, that’s when the Emperor just may turn into the Devil. That’s when the relationship may stop feeling so loving and sweet and instead start to feel like a trap or a prison. And in some cases, those control issues lead to abuse (check out The Duluth Model’s power and control wheel for a whole education on this topic!)

One last comment: the Emperor isn’t just a concern for women. Men, take note: every now and then, that woman who seemed so meek and mild at first can turn into General Sherman and slash and burn her way to a divorce if her control issues get out of control. That’s why it’s in everyone’s benefit, no matter what your gender, to address control issues in a relationship before it is too late. The best way to do that? Respect your partner’s autonomy and independence, starting NOW. Maybe you do indeed know better than your partner does. Maybe you are smarter, wiser, older, or see something your partner does not see. You can express your opinions about these matters, but you cannot and should not demand obedience from a sovereign adult.

Got it? Thank you!!!

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