Signs You're In a Controlling Relationship

E.B. Johnson

by: E.B. Johnson (Image via

Loving relationship can be hard to find and even harder to maintain. Building a life with someone requires that we find the right partner that complements our physical and emotional needs. That in itself is a tricky process, though, and one which can find us kissing a lot of frogs until we find the right royalty for us. Have you found your own true love? Or has your relationship become a nightmare of jealousy, paranoia, and control? When you’re dealing with a controlling partner, it’s important that safeguard your wellbeing and take action in the name of your happiness.

Signs you're in a controlling relationship.

Does your partner boss you around? Do they criticize your friends? Keep you from accomplishing the things you want to accomplish? Spotting a controlling partner isn’t always as easy as looking for domineering behavior. Sometimes, it comes down to noticing the small slights and the subtle ways in which your partner decides how you’ll behave and what decisions you’ll make.

Social isolation

Has your partner isolated you from your friends and family? Do they run down the important people in your life? Or put so much pressure on you that you cut ties yourself? Social isolation is one of the most common forms of control that abusers use. In order for them to fully pull you away from yourself, they need to pull you away from the people who love and protect you.

Endless criticism

Another method that your partner might use to control you is criticism. This is an indirect means of pushing you around and destroying your self-esteem. When you get excited about something, or share an idea with your partner, they shoot it down by dismissing it or calling it “silly” or “stupid”. They can criticize your body, your dreams, anything. This endless stream of criticism rips you apart and makes you easier to push around and manipulate.

Over-the-top jealousy

Would you describe your partner as a jealous person? Does this jealousy get out of control, or easily become hostile or violent? Jealousy is not a healthy emotion to foster in any relationship. It eats away at our sense of stability and eats away at the trust that we have for one another. It’s also a weapon that can be used to threaten and control. When a partner’s jealousy spins out of control, it can create a sense of fear that prevents us from taking autonomous action in our own lives.

Getting in the way

The most toxic way our partners control us often comes down to their insistence on getting in the way. This insidious form of control happens when your partner prevents you from achieving your goals or bettering yourself. They want to keep you small and within their power (inferior), so they do everything they can to make you doubt yourself (Kelly, 2008). They’ll even destroy educational and professional goals if that’s what it takes to keep you trapped.

Forcing intimacy

Intimacy is important in any relationship, but that intimacy is something that has to be approached mutually and willingly. To the controlling partner, though, intimacy becomes a weapon — in every form it takes. They may force physical or emotional intimacy between you, or use it against you when they want you to behave a certain way. In this type of relationship, intimacy becomes a means of manipulating you, silencing you, or keeping you in line.

Creating unworthiness

Controlling partners know better than to play an out-in-the-open game. Being openly bossy turns people off and makes them harder to manipulate. For this reason, most controlling partners rely on subtle and insidious techniques to push you around. High among these is creating a superior-inferior dynamic. They make you more controllable by creating the idea that you’re unworthy. “You’re lucky to have me,” they might tell you. It’s all about keeping you small and under their thumb.

Belittling your beliefs

Do you feel like your partner is supportive of your beliefs? Do you feel as though you can open up to them or freely express the core thoughts that are most important to you? Our partners should be a source of unconditional love, but the controlling partner is not. When you open up to them about something they’re not in-tune with, you will often be greeted with dismissal, belittlement, and even humiliation.

Pushing you into exhaustion

One of the most subtle controlling techniques is the use of exhaustion. Instead of giving you a direct order, your partner may nag or harass you into a sense of utter exhaustion. Tired of fighting with them, you give in and give them whatever behavior or action it is that they want. They push you right into exhaustion so they can get their way.

Keeping score

Keeping score in any relationship is toxic, but it becomes heightened when it’s used as a tool by a controlling partner. This occurs when our partner brings up all the mistakes of our pasts and holds them over our heads. They might use this when you question their behavior. It’s meant to put you in your place and create a superior-inferior dynamic in which the transfer of blame becomes easy.

Thinly veiled threats

What happens when you try to step out on your own? Does your partner make thinly veiled threats that are meant to scare you into doing what they want? This is controlling and abusive behavior, which terrorizes you with a continual sense of fear. “If you do that, I’ll leave you,” is a common phrase we hear when a partner attempts to control us in this way.

The steps you need to take next.

Are you coming to realize that your partner is controlling? Are you tired of being told how to think, act, dress, or believe? If you want to have a happier, healthier relationship, you have to remember who you are and set stronger boundaries. Then you can get more serious about taking acting and creating a life that is entirely your own.

1. Remember who you are

We fall victim to control partners because we forget who we are and what we want. When we become lost, we lose self-confidence and we lose the will to fight for our lives and the things that we want. Without that spark, we easily fall prey to people who push us around and take our lives from us. In order to get back to a happy relationship and (a happier self) we have to remember who we are and take pride in the things that we want.

It’s time to remember who you are. You are not meant to be stuck in an infantilized relationship. You are your own person, and the things you want from your life are both valid and deserved.

Avoid putting the weight of your worth on someone else. Look within. You have so many strengths and abilities to celebrate. Look on the outside. You are strong, capable, and beautiful enough to survive any challenge your partner (or life) throws at you. Build up your self-esteem. Celebrate yourself and all the victories you manage to pull from the world every day. Loving yourself is the key to taking back power in your life. When you love who you are, you won’t be so willing to let someone else define the course of your life.

2. Set stronger boundaries

Boundaries can seem like a bad word when we’re talking about our romantic partners, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our intimate relationships require limits more than any other relationship. The partners we choose to fill our lives with need to know what our expectations are, and they need to know what lines they aren’t allowed to cross. This is how we build a solid foundation of respect — both for them and for ourselves.

Use your new self-esteem to begin creating stronger boundaries that allow to exert more control over your life. These boundaries should revolve around how you want your partner to treat you, and should set clear lines around both your needs and your expectations of them.

Every good relationship thrives on solid boundaries. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and tell your partner when they’re crossing the line. Along with setting boundaries, you need to set consequences too. When your partner crosses the line, they need to know that you won’t tolerate it. Remove yourself from their presence and limit their access to you physically and emotionally. We don’t have to put up with people who don’t respect our needs, and this is one of the best ways to show them where the line is.

3. Build a helping circle

When you’re lost or going through a hard time, the people you’re surrounded with become even more important. That’s especially true when it comes to hardship in your relationship. Forgetting who you are with a partner who pushes you around is dangerous. In order to get back to ourselves, it’s important that we reach out and build a strong and supportive helping circle.

Create a helping circle that can assist you through the challenging stages ahead. This circle should be composed of friends and family who want the best for you. It can also include mental health experts and relationship professionals in the case that your experience is especially tough or extreme.

Lean into this circle as you find your feet in the midst of your growing self-confidence. Open up to them and let them see what’s going on beneath the surface of your “picture perfect” relationship. Share your feelings and your experiences, and allow them to give you advice. Listen to them and try to see yourself as they see you. By opening up to this new perspective, you can empower yourself to take action and take charge of your life.

4. Stop engaging in the antics

Don’t expect the journey back to self-determination to be an easy one. Controllers in our lives don’t give up that power easily. It’s addictive, and it makes their lives easier. They’re not going to give back power without a fight. Engaging in those types of antics with that type of partner will only end in calamity, though. Getting back to us means focusing on ourselves and leaving our controlling partners to their own feelings about it all.

Don’t engage in the antics, the fighting, and the bickering anymore. The further you move away from a controlling partner, the more they are going to fight you. Don’t give them that fight. The more you resist and offer up a display of emotional fireworks, the more justified they are going to feel in controlling you or telling you how to live your life.

Just do whatever you’re going to do and don’t make excuses or ask apologies for it. If they get mad, let them be mad. Disengage and walk away from the arguments and the antics. You don’t have to justify meeting your needs. You don’t have to feel guilty for making yourself happy or achieving something with your life. Leave them to their distractions and upset. Don’t claim their anger. Claim your opportunity and your joy on your own terms.

5. Communicate and take action

Once you’re clear and what direction you’re taking, sit your partner down and let them know where the new boundaries lie. Explain how you’re feeling and explain the resolutions you’ve decided on. Make it clear that their perspective isn’t needed, but give them a chance to apologize and explain themselves if they desire. Then, commit to taking action and focus on getting back to your definition of happiness in life and love.

Let your partner know the new direction your life is taking. Make it clear that from this moment forward, you’re moving your future in the direction it needs to move. They can be a part of that, or they can get off the train. Now is the moment to take action for your needs.

A relationship that makes you miserable is not worth holding on to. A partnership in which one person calls all the shots is not a partnership — it’s a dictatorship. If you’re going to break out of this cycle, you’re going to have to actually break out of it. Lean into your sense of self and your newfound courage. Release yourself from your relationship if that’s what you need and let your partner know why you’re doing it. You only have a little time on this planet. Make the most of it and fill it with a love that’s rewarding.

Putting it all together…

Is your partner controlling? Do they call all the shots in your relationship, or most of the shots in your personal life? It’s not normal for our partners to boss us around or criticize our every move. Our partners shouldn’t seek to control us, they should seek to encourage us and support us. When you wake up and realize that your partner is overly bossy, it’s important to take steps to protect your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Remember who you are and plug into that undeniable sense of confidence that lives within you. You have a right to be happy and loved by the person you’re with. Embrace that. Set hard-and-fast boundaries and don’t allow your partner to cross them anymore. They don’t get to call the shots in your life. You’re the only one with that power. Build a helping circle you can rely on and even enlist the help of a mental health or relationship expert to get there. Your controller will challenge you. Don’t engage them. They don’t have a right to place in your life if they can’t treat you with autonomy and respect. Make that clear and make yourself clear too. Communicate this new direction your life is taking and take action every day to build a life that is entirely yours.

  • Kelly, J. and Johnson, M., 2008. Differentiation Among Types of Intimate Partner Violence: Research Update and Implications For Interventions. Family Court Review, 46(3), pp.476–499.

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Pelham, AL

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