9 Signs Of A Controlling Relationship

Having a caring and protective partner who makes sure you’re safe and your needs are fulfilled is a blessing. But, being in a controlling relationship is a traumatic experience. Your partner is least concerned about your freedom and space, and you feel like a bird in a cage. Although having someone supportive overseeing your work may sometimes be helpful, if this becomes constraining or enslaving, it may be time to leave. Hence, when this attention may give way to controlling behavior, and you feel suffocated in the relationship. A toxic relationship makes your life miserable, and you feel like losing your individuality. If you have a control-freak partner, and you are suffering in a toxic relationship, it is high time you confront your partner and speak out about your ordeal. If they continue with their behavior, you should prioritize your mental well-being and part ways with them. Here we discuss what a controlling relationship is, its signs, and how to deal with it.

In This Article

What Is A Controlling Relationship?

A controlling relationship is one in which usually one partner is making the decisions, handling the steering wheel of the other’s life, calling the shots, and basically, holding the strings to control their partner. In such relationships, the other partner will have no option but to abide by the rules set by the controlling partner.

It usually begins with a “you are not taking me seriously” or “you are not allowed to do this… or that.” You begin to accept this behavior: either because you think it is normal for someone who loves you to control you, or because you think they are doing it all for your own good.

protip_icon Did you know?
Sometimes, the emotional manipulation by the controlling partner can be so complex that the one being controlled starts accepting themselves as the villain.

Signs Of A Controlling Relationship

The controlling partner will cross all the boundaries to get things done their way; sometimes they may not even know that their behavior is hurting their partner, and will be under the illusion that whatever they are doing is the best for their partner.

To prevent things from going out of your control, watch out for these signs indicating that you are in a controlling relationship.

  1. Emotional isolation: The controlling partner tries to break you so that you have no other option but to surrender to them. They try subduing your emotions and relationships with friends and family. It is like they’re weaving a spider web around you to make sure you have no additional support in life.

A controlling partner is always:

  • Nagging you not to spend time with your friends
  • Demeaning your best friend
  • Filling your brain with negativity about your loved ones and friends
  • Trying to turn you against anyone, other than them, that you look up to or rely upon.
  1. Destructive criticism: In a healthy relationship, both the partners seek feedback from each other, which should ideally help them become better individuals. For instance, if you are having trouble with your boss, an ideal partner will sit with you, listen to your problems, and try to ease your pain, whereas a controlling partner would try directing the blame on you and say, “I am sure it is your fault” or “you must’ve done something for your boss to say or do that.” They will look for something wrong in everything you do and say.

They almost always wish that you eat, dress, walk, and even talk better. If you protest, they will say, I love you and want you to be a better person. That’s why I want you to be this way or do what I say.”

  1. Codependency: If you do not break this controlling behavior in the initial stages, you will lose your power to think and become increasingly dependent on your partner. Even a simple decision, like deciding on the dinner menu, will be difficult without asking your partner first. Saddling with responsibilities and work, slowly, you will lose your self-sufficiency, which makes you depressed.
protip_icon Point to consider
If you find it challenging to be motivated to do the things you’d typically love doing when your partner isn’t with you, it’s a crucial sign you may be codependent.
Codependency in a controlling relationship

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  1. Threats and abuse: The controlling partner will go to any lengths to have the reins in their hand. They will resort to emotional and physical threats such as “if you leave me and go now, you will never see me again,” “you must do as I say or else….” You will be stuck in the relationship out of fear that your partner will harm you or themselves. Other times, the threats will be about curbing financial support, cutting off access to children, etc. Whether or not these risks are real, statements like these are a sign that your partner wants to get their way, even if it is hurting you.
  1. Conditional love: One more sign of a controlling relationship is conditioning their love and affection. For example, if you find your partner say, “I will love you if you do or be this for me,” or “I would have fulfilled all your dreams if you behaved yourself.” If these are the statements you hear often, your partner does not love you for who you are. They only love you if they can pull strings and get things done through you.
  1. Play the guilt card: Controlling partners are master manipulators and will trick you into believing that they are controlling you for your own good, and showing any resistance is utter disrespect. They will get into your head and make you believe that things between the two of you are quite normal. They even give you statistics or examples that the majority of the partners behave like them. They will make you feel guilty for fighting with them and not being able to earn their love.
  1. No privacy: If you are in a controlling relationship, you will have absolutely no privacy. A controlling partner expects total access to your mobile, bank account as well as email accounts while restricting access to theirs. They will try managing your daily activities. Now, if you and your partner share a genuine interest and share each other’s lives, then it is all right. But demanding to be transparent and spying, snooping on your partner is not acceptable, especially when you are not willing to be transparent with your life.
protip_icon Do remember
The controlling partner may justify this need for constant disclosure by reasoning that they’ve been burned before and have trust issues.
  1. Jealousy: You might have been flattered when your partner wanted to have all of you to themselves. While it may seem wildly romantic at first, you’d gradually realize the real meaning of that. A controlling partner will view your every interaction with a stranger as flirting, and be threatened by that. They get jealous and will keep tabs on your whereabouts and suspect your every move. The controlling partner might even fall to the level of embarrassing you in public to lower your self-esteem.Eszter Brhlik, an author, recalls how she realized later on that she was in an abusive relationship and her partner tried to control her every thought and move. She says, “I remember when we visited his family, he pointed out that I always go to sleep at 10 pm, and I’m like a little child. I also remember he told in front of people that I was stupid and useless. He made fun of my shortcomings in public whenever he could (i).”
  2. Keeping scores: You are angry with your partner for not informing you about their plans of spending the night out. When you confront them about it, they remind you of when you failed to inform them about being late from work three months ago. A controlling partner ensures they get even with you in every way possible. They remember all your past mistakes and use it to their advantage. They point out your mistakes to divert your attention from their mistakes and to keep you in check. Even if you apologize, they will still hang on to it and try to make you feel guilty.

You might have fallen in love with your partner, and may think that you cannot live without them. But if they are using your love for them as a weakness to manipulate you, then it is time to take a step back and evaluate if you want to be with this person or not.

When Should You Put An End To Your Controlling Relationship?

Selfish partner in a controlling relationship

Image: Shutterstock

Most controlling and manipulative relationships turn into physically or verbally abusive ones sooner or later. It is not at all selfish to have second thoughts on such a relationship. It may seem difficult to get out of it, but you may have to walk away and take control of your life when:

  • Your partner has turned abusive, and you feel that your relationship has become life-threatening.
  • They have absolutely no trust in you and always accuse you of having an affair with anyone and everyone you talk to.
  • You stop loving yourself and start believing all the bad things your partner says about you.
  • Your partner refuses to believe that they need help and do not cooperate with you.
  • You see that there is no future for you in your relationship because all your partner thinks is about themselves and their presence is overpowering your dreams and ambitions.
  • Your partner does not even think for a second before throwing you under the bus or crushing you with blames when things go wrong.
  • You feel emotionally drained and are failing at all the other aspects of your life, and find balancing your career and relationships very difficult.
  • You find that your partner is secretive, disrespectful, and takes decisions knowing they will adversely affect you.
  • Your partner does not seem to look at or consider your perspective.

If you can relate to most or all of these points, then gather all your self-esteem, evaluate what is best for you, and take steps towards it. These points will help you in determining what you really need to do. You have only one life, and it is not worth sacrificing it for a person who uses you for their needs but doesn’t care about your well being.

What Should You Do If Your Partner Is Controlling?

Before putting an end to a controlling relationship, you can try and discuss your problems with your partner and let them know that their behavior is hurting you. Here are a few ways to do that and resist being controlled in a relationship.

  • Never give up on yourself, and always make self-care a priority; every degrading word uttered by your controlling partner is only to break your confidence and gain control over you. Don’t let them win at their work of limiting you.
Focusing on self-care

Image: IStock

  • Stop crossing mountains for a person who cannot even cross a puddle for you. If your partner is making his love conditional, do not beg or do things to please them.
  • Stop pretending like everything’s okay. If it were, you would not be reading this article or questioning your relationship.
  • Think about what you are good at and do more of that. Whether it is something in your profession or a hobby, pursue it. When you are good at something, you will become more confident and feel good about yourself. This will help you get out of the vicious circle of wanting your dictating partner’s validation.

Stop making excuses for your partner’s abusive behavior. They have no right to shout at you or hit you just because you did not do what they want.

Is walking out of the relationship the only solution? Not always. If your partner can understand that you feel trapped and is willing to change for you, then with some help, both of you can set some ground rules and start a new life together. But that may not always be the case.

How To End A Controlling Relationship?

Unfortunately, if your partner is not ready to listen to you and change their ways, then it is time to do what is in your best interests. Do not be under the impression that you cannot live without them. Even though it might hurt you a little now and might feel overwhelming, things will get better eventually. Here are a few points to keep in mind before deciding to walk out.

  • Before thinking of ending the relationship, be sure that you are actually in a controlling relationship and that you have tried everything possible to repair it.
  • Introspect to know if this is what you want wholeheartedly because taking decisions based on emotions can make you regret.
  • After you have made the decision, do not expect your partner to change, and do not fall for the mixed and compelling signals they give you. Controlling partners can be manipulative and might try to reel you in by influencing you.
  • Do not react to any retaliation from your partner, as this may lead to humiliation and can leave you emotionally scarred.
  • End all contacts with them, and block them on social media and mobile. But first, initiate the process of separation, legally if you are married, and seek help from friends and family if needed. If necessary, have an available phone number of domestic violence assistance.
End all contacts with them

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  • Focus on the positives in your life, work to rebuild yourself, shift your focus on to work and career, and accept the past, but never let it define your future.

Usually, resistance to control is not taken well by the controlling partner. Resist too much, and it could put you in harm’s way, especially if the partner has violent tendencies. But wait. What if you are the controlling partner?

How To Not Be Controlling In A Relationship?

Have you realized that you are the controlling partner in the relationship? Well, congratulations then! You are already halfway through to change for the better. For the rest of the way, here are a few tips on how you can stop controlling and save your relationship.

  1. Do not order, but suggest: The next time you want your partner to do something your way, do not be ordering around. Instead, make them sit and explain the pros and cons. Your partner is an adult and can think rationally. So have trust and let go. You will be surprised to see your partner go along with your plan, not out of fear, but because they were able to understand the advantages of it.
  1. Exchange pleasantries: Ego and love can never coexist, so it is up to you to decide which way you choose. Understand and accept that a relationship means two people who are equal, and there is nothing wrong in saying “thank you,” “please” and “I love you”. Simple pleasantries and niceness will make your partner happy. But remember you must not use these to manipulate or get things done by them. This means you must return favors too.
  1. Practice listening: A relationship is a union of two people, which means both must have a say in what goes in the relationship. Having a know-it-all attitude is terrible for your relationship; your partner might have a better solution to a problem, which you will never know about if you do not listen.
Listening to your partner is important

Image: IStock

  1. Sometimes you, sometimes me: Next time, when you are planning a vacation, ask your partner their ideas. And when they tell you, value their opinion or planning and execute it. This will help them gain their self-confidence back and make them happy. This give-and-take action must be selfless and not to keep scores to decide who gets to do what next.
  1. Know your anxiety: Know the real reason behind your controlling behavior. Is it the fear of failure or the obsessive compulsion that is making you behave that way? Accept the fact that you cannot always control everything in life, and it is okay for things to go wrong. It is better to lose control than to lose a loving partner due to your imaginary fears.
  1. Accept them as they are: No one is perfect. Neither you nor your partner. If your partner is willing to accept your flaws, then why can’t you? Expecting your partner to be the best in everything is unfair. Accept them for who they are, focus on the positives, and pick your battles carefully.
  1. Check your expectations: It is okay to expect your partner to be loyal, loving, and caring, but depriving them of their privacy and personal space and hoping them to be happy with that is not. Also, do not compare your partner to your friends and family members and ask them to be like them. Because each person is unique, focus on what your partner’s uniqueness is bringing into your relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What causes a partner to be controlling?

The controlling and dominating behavior manifests in a partner due to several factors such as anxiety, personality disorders, learned behavior, past traumatic experiences, and low self-esteem.

2. How do I differentiate between a caring and controlling partner?

A caring partner may do things for you out of love and affection. Their presence and actions will positively affect your life and help you grow into a better person.

Whereas a controlling partner would pretend to care for you but their real motive could be to satisfy their ego. Being with a controlling partner will create misery and despair in your life.

3. Can controlling partners change?

To decide whether a controlling partner will change or not, you should understand the reason behind their behavior.

  • If your partner controls you because of personality disorders, they may overcome this attitude if they get proper medical treatment
  • If your partner’s modulating habits are because of past trauma, they may get over their habit by releasing their past emotions and accepting the new life
  • However, if your partner exercises control because they love controlling people, they may seldom want to change

Living in a controlling relationship where they try piloting you, can be extremely difficult and often unsafe for you. Isolating you from friends and family, indulging in destructive criticism, and threatening and abusing you to do what they want are a few signs that your partner is trying to control you. If your partner manipulates and controls you, it’s time to think if you want to continue your relationship with them. Since controlling relationships can be toxic to mental health, ending such a relationship isn’t selfish.

Infographic: Questions To Ask Yourself To Check If Your Partner Is Controlling

When you are in love, it’s hard to believe that that person could be toxic to you, even though the signs may be quite apparent. This is why we have compiled a few questions for you to ask and answer yourself to help reveal your partner’s controlling behavior that you may have been overlooking.

your partner may be controlling (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Get high-quality PDF version by clicking below.

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Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • In a controlling relationship, only one partner makes all decisions for both the parties involved.
  • Emotional isolation, destructive criticism, codependency, threats, and abuse are a few of the other behaviors and signs of a controlling person.
  • You should put an end to such a relationship if you begin to develop mistrust for all, being in the relationship feels life-threatening, you stop loving yourself, etc.


Are you feeling like you’re not in control of your own life? Learn the must-know red flags of a controlling relationship in this video.

Personal Experience: Source

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