By Lilianna Hogan, WebMD
When you think of a controlling partner, the thought of someone who tells the other where they can go or what they can wear might come to mind. But it’s also important to understand that controlling relationships have more subtle dynamics than that. It’s quite common to end up in an emotionally abusive relationship and not even see the signs.
What Does a Controlling Relationship Look Like?
A controlling relationship is based on a power imbalance. One of the partners essentially dominates the other in a way that causes intimidation, insecurity, or guilt. These feelings can be brought up through physical, emotional, sexual, financial, spiritual, or psychological ways.
Here are some signs of a control-based relationship:
- Your partner doesn’t like being excluded from your plans. This is a big warning sign that your partner doesn’t want you to have a life without them. They don’t respect your need for time alone. If you leave the house without them, they start texting or calling you to check on where you are and who you’re with.
- You’re shamed for spending time with family and friends. Sometimes, this can appear as though your partner just loves you and wants to spend lots of time with you. But it’s a sign of controlling behavior if your partner isn’t supportive of seeing the people you love. It doesn’t make you guilty or selfish for wanting that space. Being yourself is actually the best thing for a relationship, even if that means you need space.
- There are frequent jealous accusations. Someone who’s controlling will often try and put you on the defensive by accusing you of flirting or cheating on them with other people. Even if they have past traumas from other relationships, they shouldn’t project those emotions onto you.
- Your partner checks your texts and other personal effects often. No matter how long you’ve been together, you should always be able to have your privacy. Someone who checks your phone calls, emails, texts, social media, or belongings without asking you is someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries.
- You’re criticized constantly. Someone who’s controlling is always trying to undermine your confidence and put you down in private or in public. They seem to want to emphasize your flaws and make you feel self-conscious about your quirks.
- You’re made to feel like the culprit. A controlling partner will always say that their emotions are your fault. They will use you as a scapegoat and take the role of a victim, even in situations that you are not involved in.
- Your partner twists your experience around. Some partners will try to do something called “gaslighting,” in which they twist the truth or twist your emotions around so that you question your own reality. For example, if your partner does something that hurts you and you react in kind, they might insist that you don’t understand the situation or are too sensitive.
Listen to Yourself
Controlling behavior isn’t just unpleasant, it’s a form of abuse in a relationship. You must listen to yourself when you start to see the signs of a controlling partner. Over time, remaining in a controlling relationship may have lasting effects on you like:
- Decreased confidence
- Feeling isolated from family and friends
- Cause feelings anxiousness and distress
- Cause you to forgive adverse treatment from your partner and make excuses for it
Being able to recognize and name the issue is a massive part of helping the situation. A controlling partner will constantly try to make you think that you’re the problem and that your relationship will have no problems if you change. However, realizing the power imbalances of your relationship will help you to either move on to a healthier one or bring needed balance to your current relationship.
Some questions you could ask yourself are:
- Does your partner make you feel scared?
- Do you feel mistrusted constantly?
- Do you feel powerless over your relationship?
- Are there specific topics you dread bringing up or entirely avoid?
- Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?
- Do you feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you?
- Do you lie to your partner about where you’ve been?
If that doesn’t work, you may need extra help or support. Turning to a trusted family member or friend is a good first step. Seeking the aid of a qualified therapist or relationship counselor to help you work through these issues is a viable option, too.