When I was young, I was always taught that physical abuse was the only thing wrong in a relationship and that if someone ever hit me, it was time to walk away.
I wasn’t informed about the devastating effects of psychological abuse or how manipulation could manifest in many ways, making me an extremely easy target for several controlling relationships.
As time went on, I began to identify the behaviors and warning signs that someone didn’t necessarily have my best intentions in mind.
Several of my closest friends have also been able to leave controlling/abusive relationships, and over the years, I have learned that it is much more common than you may have believed.
Here are four subtle warning signs you can look out for/or identify if you believe that you or someone you love is in a controlling relationship
#1. Your partner always offers to drive you places and pick you up
A few years ago a few of my friends were out at a live music event. Most of us had taken a Lyft or Uber to avoid any drinking and driving. Our friend Sarah on the other hand, was dropped off by her new boyfriend who also came to pick her up when the show was over.
All of us talked about how sweet it was that he had gone so far out of his way to make sure she was taken care of.
As time went on, however, we realized his behavior was a bit odd. Sarah’s boyfriend would drop her off and pick her off wherever we went. He would call her to see how much longer she would be out and it quickly became apparent that what had seemed so “sweet” was actually a way to control how long Sarah stayed out with her friends.
#2. They use control disguised as “concern” to isolate you
Have you ever been in a relationship and heard the following about almost all of your friends/even family members?
“I just worry that she/he isn’t a good influence on you… I’m very concerned that you could be in danger hanging out with them.”
Years ago I had a friend that was only allowed to hang out with me if I came to her and her (now ex-husbands) house so that he could monitor what we were doing. Everyone else was “a bad influence” and not people he wanted for her to be around.
The reality is that concern is usually the primary method used to disguise control in the means of isolating someone.
#3. Whenever you go somewhere you get interrogated
In my early twenties, I had a completely easygoing boyfriend at the beginning of our relationship.
Once we moved in together, things began to quickly shift. The mornings when I left to go to the gym before he woke up would result in him getting furious that I didn’t tell him where I was going. When I would decide to grab a quick bite with a friend after work (and I would let him know), I was asked exactly who I was with, exactly where we went, if we made any other stops and if anyone else was there.
The accusations quickly escalated to the point where I didn’t want to return home because I knew exactly what would await me. Our relationship deteriorated and within two months of living together, I was moving out.
#4. You are constantly told what “should” be done and what is expected of you
There was a specific moment when the warning bells went off in my head when I was dating an older narcissistic man a few years ago.
“A good woman needs to support her man and also be an example for others. These women look up to you, set a good example.”
The words were said to me when my ex and I could hear his cousin and girlfriend fighting on the other side of the wall. At the time, I didn’t know that there was psychological and physical abuse in that relationship as well, or that my ex was trying to mold me to fit what he wanted.
A subservient woman that wouldn’t question what was expected of her and would tolerate abuse.
Love and concern are not in the same category as control
One of my closest friends is a recovering alcoholic. His partner has expressed concern about him being at certain parties that could tempt or encourage him to drink. Her concern is out of love.
On the other hand, I have a friend that loves dancing. Her boyfriend tells her that if she goes out guys are going to hit on her, and she could cheat on him. This is not out of love or concern, this is out of his need to control her surroundings.
Someone controlling may not be abusive, especially in the beginning, but control is a gateway to abuse. Isolation and the desire to mold someone into who they want them to be instead of accepting them as they are is incredibly toxic.
Pay attention to the small behaviors from your partner that cause you anxiety or make you feel like your partner will become upset because they need full control of your lives together.
A healthy relationship/partner will create an environment in which you feel free and safe, not on edge and fearful.