5 Little Controlling Behaviors That Show Your Partner Needs to Lighten Up

Kelly E.

Control can be small and unintentional, but it’s still control.

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Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

Jessie likes things in every aspect of her life to be done her way. She likes the dishes to be loaded in the dishwasher in a specific way. She prefers the clothes to be folded Kon Mari style. When people turn the toilet paper the wrong way she instantly corrects it. She admits she’s a bit of a control freak and what’s wrong with that? Nothing — if she lives alone. The problem is many of us let control seep into our relationships and don’t consider the impact it has.

Control is often subtle initially and, like that old analogy of a lobster in a pot, we don’t notice as it turns up. What we once tolerated because we wanted to please our partner, slowly starts to feel oppressive. If your partner is doing one of these, it's time to have a talk:

1. When preferences become rules

We all have weird little things we prefer. I like the pillows on my bed to be a certain way and I love to have lots of them. I like the shoes to live near the door, and I hate when people talk to me while they brush their teeth.

Preferences are fine.

We should try to compromise and accomodate each others preferences where we can in a relationship.

But when we start to think our preferences are law and criticise others for not following them — it becomes control. Some people end up with a huge list of preferences that they expect their partners to remember and follow. The result is a whole lot of unnecessary conflict.

Negotiate together which house-rules work for everyone, and which are just personal preferences.

2. Not so innocent moodiness

I was watching a reality show the other day where it was clear from the first ten minutes that a couple’s relationship was doomed. They seemed like the perfect couple on paper — they were best friends, made each other laugh and had plenty of chemistry. The problem was that any time something didn’t go her way, the woman would sulk.

They would be laughing and having a great time one minute and, at the smallest thing, she would switch moods and that was how she’d stay the rest of the night.

The guy felt he was constantly walking on eggshells, trying to keep her happy and avoid a mood swing.

Moodiness can be a way of controlling other people and getting what you want. Both women and men do it and often don't realise how manipulative it is.

If you or your partner are feeling emotional, express it clearly and learn to communicate it in a constructive way. Unpredictable sulking and moodiness can spell the end of what could’ve been a good relationship.

3. Bossy Positivity

A friend of mine tries to encourage his family to be optimists. He’s a successful businessman, A-type, and driven. He always looks on the bright side and if there is a problem — he finds the solution. He has very little tolerance for emotional outbursts or negativity. If you’re not fun and happy, come back when you are.

Positivity is great, but insisting that everyone be happy and fun all the time is not. It sounds good saying “Let’s try to have fun and be positive” but in reality this is a form of control.

All emotions — the full range from anger to grief to joy — are acceptable to express. We can learn how to express them in more constructive ways, we can learn to manage our negative thoughts and emotions better, we can be encouraged to communicate them well, but always being happy? It’s not normal or healthy for any of us.

If your partner wants everyone to be happy all the time, they may be struggling with their own emotional intelligence and awareness. Healthy couples can communicate about all emotions.

4. Unattractive Attention Seeking

I dated a guy once who was fun and caring, but who insisted on everyone paying him a substantial amount of attention. It didn’t matter what else needed to be done, he wanted attention and if he didn’t get it he would complain until he did.

He also hated me taking alone time and wasn’t overly interested in paying attention to what I was doing or saying. Initially, it felt nice to have someone want to spend so much time with me, but after a while it began to feel unbalanced.

We all need attention from our partners but when we start to demand an excessive amount, or don’t reciprocate and give them attention, it becomes controlling.

Small children do this with their “Look at me, look at me!” and there are many different ways we keep doing this as adults.

The Gottman Institute, who have done research in relationship dynamics for over 30 years, talk about Emotional Bids. In relationships we need to respond to our partner’s bids for attention as often as we can. When they say, “Look at this article I’m reading. It’s really interesting” that’s a bid. They want to share their life with you, share experiences, share themselves. We all need attention and responding to these bids as often as possible is one of the keys to having a great relationship.

So, it’s a balance: seeking attention AND giving attention. Allowing space for alone time is important too.

5. Unhelpful Helping

Control can happen when one partner begins helping the other with an issue. It might be in your partner’s best interest to make them eat healthy food, encourage them to exercise or insist they stop smoking, but — depending on how you do it — “help” can end up being control.

Codependence often starts this way. Usually the person helping ends up feeling like the victim (or becoming the victim). It can be a hard truth to learn that your rescuing attempts were actually a form of control.

There are many ways control can subtly enter your relationship. Often both partners are controlling in some unintentional way — big or small.

If you feel like you can’t completely be yourself around your partner, examine why. Check your behavior as well, because one of the joys of being an adult is getting to live freely beside someone else who can freely be themselves too.

These little control issues can usually be dealt with gently and with kindness. But if they persist it may be time to move on.

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