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Recent years have seen an explosion in the diversity of partner control mechanisms hypothesized to stabilise cooperative behaviour among unrelated individuals. Game theory suggests numerous strategies, each with specific decision rules that allow cooperators to control a non-contributing partner. While the diversity of hypothetical strategies seems likely to reflect diversity in the types of intraspecific cooperation and interspecific mutualism that exist in nature, theoreticians typically neglect real-life examples as inspiration. As a consequence, many models explore cooperation under rather abstract conditions. Furthermore, control mechanisms are typically explored one by one, while individuals may often have the choice between several options, raising the question which conditions favour the use of which option. Here we propose to develop models that will be strongly based on empirical evidence. Three topics will be addressed. First, we will explore parameters that affect the relative efficiency of competing partner control mechanisms in an unstructured population. For example, one may ask when an individual should respond to cheating by the partner with respectively punishment, return cheating, or breaking the relationship. In a second step, we will explore the same questions in a structured population, as is the case for species that live in stable social groups. Relationships within groups can be described with dynamic networks, and their structure may greatly affect the effectiveness of different control mechanisms. In a third step, we will introduce asymmetries between individuals like differences in fighting abilities (rank-order) and analyse how that will affect strategies and levels of cooperation. These models will allow us to create an interactive process between theory and empirical research on systems as diverse as marine cleaning mutualism, cooperatively breeding vertebrates, and primate societies.