What comes to mind when you think of a controlling relationship?

Maybe you think of a physically aggressive partner or someone who dictates what their partner can or cannot wear or what they can do.

However, controlling relationships have more subtle dynamics than that. Some people may not even realise when they are in a controlling relationship. Whether these patterns lead to severe emotional or physical abuse or not, does not make them any less unhealthy, hurtful or damaging.

What is a Controlling Relationship?

A controlling relationship bases itself on a power imbalance. It is where one partner dominates the other in an unhealthy and self-serving manner. If your partner makes you feel intimidated, insecure or guilty, you could be in a controlling relationship. There are many types of abuse in relationships; it can be physical, emotional, sexual, financial, psychological, and spiritual.

Signs Of A Controlling Relationship

These are some signs of a dominating partner. If you or someone you know notices these signs in a relationship, it is highly likely that they are in a controlling and unhealthy relationship.

  • Your partner does not like being excluded from your plans. They might bar you from having a life outside the relationship and not respecting your need for alone time. They want to keep constant checks on your location and who you are with and constantly pester you with texts and phone calls.
  • They get jealous when you spend time with family and friends. Sometimes your partner can make you feel ashamed for spending time with the people you love. This form of control can come across as caring, and you may think that your partner just wants to spend time with you, but it is a sign of controlling behaviour.     
  • They are frequently jealous and accuse you. A controlling partner will often put you on the defensive by accusing you of flirting or cheating on them. Even if they might have insecurities and traumas from past relationships, it is not an excuse to project those emotions onto you.
  • They go through your phone and personal belongings. No matter how long you have been together, everyone has the right to privacy. If your partner checks your phone calls, emails, texts, social media or belongings without consent, it means they do not trust you or respect your boundaries.
  • You are constantly criticised. A controlling partner will always try to undermine your confidence and put you down in public and/or private. They will emphasise your flaws and make you feel self-conscious about your quirks. They might criticise the way you dress, make fun of you in front of others and pass it off as ‘just a joke’.
  • Blaming you for everything. A controlling partner will always blame their emotions on you. Such a partner will use you as a scapegoat and play the victim, even in things that have no relation to you.
  • Your partner twists your experience around. Some controlling partners don’t stop at isolating you from friends and family- they will twist the truth around so you question your own reality. This is called Gaslighting. Your partner does something that hurts you, and you react to it in kind; they insist that you are being oversensitive or don’t understand the situation. An example of gaslighting is when a partner breaks a promise to take you out for a nice dinner and blames you for making them feel bad about it.

How To Deal With A Controlling Partner

The above are some signs of a controlling relationship. If you recognise the above signs in a relationship, you should take them seriously. Controlling behaviour is a form of abuse. You must listen to your gut when you start to see the signs of a dominating partner. Remaining in a controlling relationship can have lasting effects on you like:

  • Decreased confidence
  • Feeling isolated from friends and family
  • Cause feelings of anxiousness
  • Cause you to forgive harsh treatment from your partner and make excuses for it

Being able to recognise the issue is a massive part of helping the situation. Some questions you could ask yourself are:

  • Does your partner make you feel scared?
  • Do you constantly feel mistrusted?
  • Do you feel powerless over your relationship?
  • Do you lie to your partner about where you have been or with whom?
  • Are there specific topics you dread bringing up or avoiding entirely?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, or if any of the above information was relatable for you, the first thing to do is speak to your partner about it.

If you are wondering how to deal with a controlling partner, the good news is that some controlling relationships can be repaired if the unhealthy behaviour is addressed in a safe environment.

If that doesn’t work, you may need outside help or support. Turn to a trusted family member or friend to help you get out of your toxic relationship.