If you jump into hot water, your reaction might be to rush out of it. But what happens when you step into lukewarm water and slowly turn the heat up?
This analogy may help you understand the dynamics of a controlling partner.
Some of your partner’s controlling behaviors may be so subtle or crop up so gradually that they can be hard to detect at first. You may even start getting used to some of them. And then, one day, you may realize the water is too hot and you’re hurting.
Not all controlling partners behave in the same way, though. There are many degrees of control, and the control may be subtly integrated into your relationship.
What really matters is how you feel about these behaviors.
Do they make you feel insecure, uncomfortable, or hand-tied about some aspects of yourself and your life? This may be a red flag in itself.
These are the most common signs of a controlling partner:
1. They make decisions for you
There’s a blurry line between attentiveness and pressure. But it may be the latter if your partner routinely makes decisions for you. This is controlling behavior.
Perhaps they always insist on driving you everywhere, or they hog time in your schedule.
They may also make arrangements with your friends without asking you first, or they may paint or redecorate according to their taste only.
If they disagree with the way you dress, they might tell you so, or they could start slowly “changing your wardrobe” by buying specific outfits as gifts to you.
2. They’re overprotective
Caring for you isn’t the same as controlling you, though sometimes it may be difficult for you to tell them apart.
A partner may be overprotective if they question who you’ve gone out with, get upset if you don’t answer a phone call right away, or act jealous of your friends and family.
They may also assume that you’re only safe when they’re around, or they may ask you to consult with them every time you’re making a decision about your life.
A controlling partner may be on top of your medical appointments, draw a special diet for you, or advise you against that coworker they don’t like.
Any of these behaviors on their own might not mean anything in particular. But if your partner or spouse repeatedly acts this way and won’t take your interests, needs, and opinions into account, they might be trying to control you.
3. They play the blame game
A controlling person can have a hard time taking responsibility for their actions.
You may confront a controlling boyfriend, only to find that they’ve somehow turn it back around on you. You may even find yourself apologizing for something you didn’t know you needed to be sorry for.
For example, let’s say you’ve been texting your close friend about your relationship difficulties. While you’re in the shower, your girlfriend goes onto your phone and reads those private messages, then gets mad at you for what they saw.
Instead of admitting that they invaded your privacy in the first place, they might shift the blame to you in order to avoid responsibility for their choices. This is a sign of controlling behavior in relationships.
4. They criticize you
This is more than a careless remark here or there — after all, we all have our bad days.
Criticism can look like making jokes about you in front of other people, disparaging the way you dress, or always pointing out mistakes — like the one place you forgot to shave your legs or a little bit of dust you forgot to clean on the floor.
Over time, constant criticism can erode your sense of self-confidence, and it may also lead you to act in certain ways to avoid being criticized.
5. They micromanage you
A controlling romantic partner may try to prevent you from living your life as you typically would. They might:
- tell you what you can wear or how you should wear your hair
- pressure you to stay at a certain weight
- try to control your finances
- prevent you from getting medical care or seeing a therapist
- tell you when you can go to work or school
- hide your school or work materials from you
A controlling partner may also show this tendency in everyday situations. For example, they could:
- always ask you about your conversations when you hang up the phone
- check what you just got out of the fridge
- supervise what you buy at the grocery store
6. They isolate you from others
Isolating behavior can be subtle, like tuning out the conversation when you share stories about other people or giving you an eye roll when you answer phone calls.
It can also be more overt.
A controlling partner may complain about how much time you spend with other people, like friends or family. They may put down your loved ones or say that they’re a bad influence on you. They may even act in certain ways that create friction when your friends or family are around.
They can also isolate you by demanding your attention with a crisis, in order to prevent you from following through on plans with other people. They might give you the silent treatment whenever you choose to spend time with someone else.
7. They gaslight you
The term “gaslight” is inspired by the 1944 film of the same name. In it, a husband slowly leads his wife to believe she’s losing her mind by doing things like dimming the gaslights and then pretending that he didn’t.
A controlling partner may downplay an experience, like an angry outburst, and then accuse you of being overly sensitive. They may also say something hurtful, then follow it up with, “It was just a joke. You’re being dramatic.” This is gaslighting.
They may even deny saying things, lie to you or tell you that your gut instinct is wrong. At times, they may even ask you to seek help, saying that you’re losing your grip on reality.
8. They invade your privacy
A controlling partner may demand to see your recent chat history, or they may read your diary while you’re at work. They may also constantly ask what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling.
They may monitor your activity, like following you in their car, watching how many steps you take on Fitbit, or keeping track of what you’re doing through social media or searching on Google.
They may also ask to have your passwords and present it as “if you have nothing to hide, why wouldn’t I have those?” You have the right to your privacy and demanding you don’t is a sign of a controlling partner.
9. They trespass on your boundaries
If you say “no” to something, a controlling partner may try to talk you out of it. This can look like pressuring you to change your mind or arguing with you about why you’re wrong.
This goes for physical boundaries as well. For example, you make plans with someone else and let your partner know that you’re going to be unavailable, but your partner shows up at your house uninvited.
If you need to talk or if you feel unsafe in your relationship
You’re not alone. If you need support right now, you can:
- call or text “START” to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- call the love is respect hotline (aimed at teens) at 866-331-9474 or text “LOVEIS” to 22522
Controlling behavior may actually be a defense mechanism for some people — an attempt to cope with a strained inner world.
Sometimes, people focus on trying to control outside circumstances when they’re frightened by what’s happening internally. They may be terrified of being abandoned, anxious about losing control, fearful of getting too close, living with relationship OCD, or feeling uncertain about what’s going to happen next.
When someone behaves in a controlling way, they aren’t necessarily a “bad” person. This may be a clinical symptom of a mental health condition. For example, it may be a sign of a personality disorder, unresolved abuse or trauma, or depression.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to accept behaviors that hurt you or limit your free will. There’s help available for someone who behaves in controlling ways. But providing that support may not be up to you.
By being more aware of the underlying causes of their behavior, you can keep things in perspective and see what’s really going on: They may be in pain. Also, it’s not about you. There’s nothing “wrong” with you.
You deserve to feel at peace and free in all of your relationships.
Relationship woes? Our advice columnist wants to hear from you!
Submit your anonymous questions here for Sex, Love, and All of the Above from Psych Central sex and relationships writer Morgan Mandriota. Then subscribe to our weekly newsletter to find out if your question is featured.
In a way, a controlling partner and a codependent partner may be two sides of the same coin.
A controlling partner may demand all of the attention, and a codependent partner may assume this control is love and be willing to give them that attention.
Codependency, like controlling behavior, could be an attempt to cope with distressing situations.
The term refers to being “dependent” on another person and putting their needs before your own by engaging in people-pleasing behavior and caregiving.
Sometimes, codependent people may end up in relationships with controlling partners. They become controlling, too.
Change is possible, though. Reaching out to a mental health professional can help you learn to manage both controlling behavior and codependency.
Although childhood experiences may affect your adult relationships, you always have the chance to heal and improve your quality of life.
How to set boundaries with a controlling partner(Video) 6 Signs Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship You Shouldnt Ignore | BetterHelp
How to set boundaries with a controlling partner
No matter how you feel right now, you can get your power back.
Someone else’s reaction to your boundaries isn’t your responsibility — it’s theirs.
To set boundaries in your controlling relationship, consider these tips:
- Use “I” statements. For example, “I feel uncomfortable when…”
- Ask for time to process requests. You can say, “I need some time to think about that.”
- Show your compassion, but continue with your plans. For example, “I understand that you feel upset when I go out with my friends, but this is healthy for me. Let’s talk about this later.”
- Negotiate and compromise to get your needs met. For example, “I will silence my phone on our dates, but the rest of the time it may be on. It’s important for me to be available to my loved ones.”
- Write down concerning conversations in a journal or in a notes app. Do this right after the conversations happen so that you have something to refer back to.
- Change the passwords on your devices, social media accounts, and email accounts. Feel free to say “no” if they ask that you share these.
- Keep nurturing other relationships, like trusted friends and family members. Keep in touch with them on a regular basis.
- Reach out to a mental health professional. They can offer guidance about the particulars of your situation. If you believe your partner is willing to put in the effort, invite them to couple’s therapy to discuss important topics in a safe environment.
It can also be helpful to adjust your expectations. You may want to reconsider staying in a relationship in the hope that maybe, one day, they’ll change. In order to heal, a controlling person has to want to change for themselves.
You may also want to focus on behaviors and actions instead of words.
A controlling partner may offer you change or make promises about the future. But if they’re not getting the professional help they need, it may be difficult for them to translate those words into actions.
There’s a wide range of controlling behaviors. Some of these can be worked on and overcome with professional help.
Other behaviors might make you feel insecure and afraid, or they could threaten your safety.
These behaviors include:
- punching walls
- breaking or throwing objects
- bringing weapons into the house
- harming your children or pets
- saying they’ll hurt you (even if it’s disguised as a joke)
- threatening self-harm to prevent you from leaving
If you feel concerned for your safety, it’s important to create a safety exit plan and get help right away.
Consider these steps:
- Seek mental health support. You may want to search for local therapists and support groups. If you can’t leave just yet because your safety is at stake, a professional may be able to support you and monitor the situation.
- Reach out to someone you trust. Tell close friends or family members, as long as they’re trustworthy. You can also reach out to a spiritual leader, like a pastor or rabbi, if that feels more comfortable.
- Remove your personal belongings. If you share a home with a controlling partner, start to move your personal belongings to a safe location a little at a time. If you need to move out all at once, bring people with you and let friends and family know where you are. Avoid moving out by yourself, if possible. You may also consider leaving your things behind until it’s safer to return. In this case, you may want to only take important documents.
- Move to a safe place. Be sure to keep your location secret. Stay in a safe place, like a family member’s home, a friend’s spare bedroom, or a shelter in your local area.
The signs of a controlling partner include isolating you from loved ones, criticizing you, giving you the silent treatment, and gaslighting.
Being in a controlling relationship can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. But you don’t have to go through this on your own. Help is available.
Consider these resources for more information:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- love is respect
- Pathways to Safety International
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Casa de Esperanza
You will get through this. Take it one day — one moment — at a time.
How do you know if you are controlling in a relationship? ›
You dictate what your partner does, who they're friends with, and more. Regardless of how you feel about what your partner does, who your partner is friends with, or anything else, if you're telling them what they are and aren't allowed to do in terms of those things, you're likely being too controlling.How do you know if you are controlling someone? ›
If someone tries to control situations or other people to an unhealthy extent, others may describe them as a controlling person. They may try to control a situation by taking charge and doing everything themselves or control others through manipulation, coercion, threats, and intimidation.Does a controlling person know they are controlling? ›
Summary. Controlling people attempt to assert power and control over others through manipulative tactics such as blaming, being critical, and shutting others down. They may not be aware they are exhibiting this behavior, which often stems from their own anxiety.How can you recognize a controlling manipulative relationship? ›
- They make you think everything's your fault. ...
- They criticize you all the time. ...
- They don't want you to see the people you love. ...
- They keep score. ...
- They gaslight you. ...
- They create drama. ...
- They intimidate you. ...
- They're moody.
A controlling partner might undermine your confidence and make you feel insecure, putting you down in private and/or public. For example, they might criticise the way you dress or how you spend your time, exaggerate your 'flaws', or make fun of you in front of others but pass it off as 'just a joke'.What are 4 signs of an unhealthy relationship? ›
- Control. One person makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. ...
- Dependence. ...
- Digital monitoring or “clocking”. ...
- Dishonesty. ...
- Disrespect. ...
- Hostility. ...
- Harassment. ...
Controlling people often insist everyone do things their way, even when it comes to small issues that are a matter of personal choice. Your partner might insist you change clothes if you're wearing something they don't like. They may refuse to back down even after you make it clear you disagree with them.Is he controlling or caring? ›
There is a very fine line of difference between caring and controlling making it very difficult to distinguish between the two. While caring arises from a sense of selflessness and love, controlling usually starts with feelings of insecurity and resentment.When you should walk away from a relationship? ›
So, how to know when to walk away from a relationship? If your partner is unwilling to make any adjustments for the sake of the relationship, you should contemplate walking away from the relationship. If your partner gives importance to everything but not you, there is something wrong in your relationship.How do you outsmart a controlling person? ›
- Identify the type of controlling behavior. There are many ways a person can be unscrupulous. ...
- Dont believe the lie. Controlling behavior is not about the victim, it is about them. ...
- Recognize the triggers and patterns. ...
- Carefully choose a response. ...
- Try, try again until done.
What upsets a control freak? ›
Deep down, control freaks are terrified of being vulnerable; they're anxious, insecure and angry. They believe they can protect themselves by staying in control of every aspect of their lives. They're very critical of their colleagues and their friends, but underneath their criticism is a mountain of unhappiness.Are controlling people insecure? ›
Understanding Controlling People
Insecurity — Controlling behavior is often the result of fear or insecurity on the part of the controller, despite the image of strength and confidence he or she often projects.
- They know your weaknesses and how to exploit them.
- They use your insecurities against you.
- They convince you to give up something important to you, to make you more dependent on them.
- Flattery. The first stage is when the person who manipulates puts on a facade of being kind, caring, and helpful. ...
- Isolation. This is when the person who manipulates may start to isolate you from your friends and family. ...
- Devaluing and gaslighting. ...
- Fear or violence.
A manipulator will actively lie to you, make excuses, blame you, or strategically share facts about them and withhold other truths. In doing this, they feel they are gaining power over you and gaining intellectual superiority. Manipulators are experts in exaggeration and generalization.What triggers controlling behavior? ›
Some potential causes of controlling behavior are: low self-esteem; being micromanaged or controlled by someone else; traumatic past experiences; a need to feel in-control; or a need to feel 'above' someone else.. None of these have to do with you, the victim of inappropriate control.Does a controlling person love you? ›
It can be difficult to identify controlling behaviour when you're in a relationship. It's easy to justify controlling behaviour as a sign of caring or love for you. It's important to remember that controlling behaviour is not love, it is about power and manipulation.What are the red flags in a relationship? ›
Red flags in a relationship include excessive jealousy and frequent lying. You should also be wary of a partner who frequently criticizes you or puts you down. Another major red flag is an unwillingness to compromise — relationships shouldn't be one-sided.What are 3 warning signs that a relationship is in trouble? ›
- Communication is minimal and often negative.
- Differences are criticised rather than enjoyed.
- You are spending less time together.
- One partner indicates the relationship is in trouble.
- One partner is rarely prepared to listen.
- Conflict leads to resentment, not resolution.
Having a superiority complex could be a sign of a toxic relationship waiting to happen. Contemptuous people destroy relationships because they see their partner as inferior. Rolling your eyes, curling your lip in disgust, or using a sarcastic tone with your partner are just a few telltale signs of a toxic relationship.
What are the three types of controlling? ›
Three basic types of control systems are available to executives: (1) output control, (2) behavioral control, and (3) clan control. Different organizations emphasize different types of control, but most organizations use a mix of all three types.What are the five activities in controlling? ›
The control function can be viewed as a five-step process: (1) establish standards, (2) measure performance, (3) compare actual performance with standards and identify any deviations, (4) determine the reason for deviations, and (5) take corrective action if needed.What are some examples of controlling? ›
Examples of controlling functions
Schedule and deadline management, employee training, performance evaluations, adjustments to budgets or staffing assignments, and resource allocation are all included within the controlling function.
Signs of insecurity in men commonly include elements of controlling behavior. This may take the form of belittling or putting you down, isolating you from friends and family, constantly guilting you, a constant lack of trust, stressing their role as your 'protector' and the list goes on.What is a controlling boyfriend like? ›
A controlling boyfriend always wants to dominate the relationship. He forces his partner into doing things that he likes and does not respect her wishes. Care and overprotectiveness are different. If your boyfriend is watching all your moves and checking your phone often, it is certainly not a good sign.What are the warning signs of a controlling boyfriend? ›
- You're increasingly isolated from friends and family. ...
- You don't have many other people to talk to. ...
- You're apologizing all the time. ...
- You're hiding innocent things from him. ...
- His love is conditional. ...
- He thinks he's always right. ...
- He treats you more like a child than an equal.
There are a lot of character flaws that should probably cause you to end the relationship. Problems with alcoholism, drug addiction, habitually cheating, the need to tell lies constantly and a lot of others. If your partner won't at least try to work on these problems or get help for them, it might be time to move on.When a woman feels neglected in a relationship? ›
What happens when a woman feels neglected? When a woman feels neglected in a relationship, she is likely to feel as if she isn't important. This can lead to her also feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless. She may also begin to feel lonely as if she has no one to turn to because her partner is emotionally unavailable.What is a stale relationship? ›
"Relationships go stale for many different reasons," Brown says. "For the most part, they go stale because whatever true emotional connection that existed when you first started out, has been broken. It might also mean that there is significant unfinished business between the two of you.How do you break controlling behavior? ›
- Identify what causes your need for control. To learn how to be less controlling, you must figure out the deeper reasons that are driving it. ...
- Build your self-awareness. ...
- Reprogram your mind. ...
- Ban control-oriented language from your vocabulary. ...
- Develop your communication skills. ...
- Adopt healthier habits. ...
- Get an outside perspective.
How do you communicate with a controlling person? ›
Keep a neutral gaze, expression and tone of voice when speaking with them. Don't let your emotions get the best of you. Make it clear that you're committed to working with them, but let them know your boundaries and that they're non-negotiable.What does a controlling relationship look like? ›
Someone who's controlling is always trying to undermine your confidence and put you down in private or in public. They seem to want to emphasize your flaws and make you feel self-conscious about your quirks. You're made to feel like the culprit. A controlling partner will always say that their emotions are your fault.Do control freaks have anger issues? ›
Control seekers are often obsessive-compulsive, angry (either overt or passive-aggressive), phobic, or even mood-disordered. These people need control because, without it, they fear things would spiral out of control and their lives would fall apart.What is a controlling personality called? ›
domineering. adjective. trying to control other people and make them obey you.Why Controlling people are toxic? ›
Controllers as Toxic:
The “controller” has an authoritarian attitude, they seek control and power, blame others and have a hard time accepting responsibility. They assume they are right about everything and take partners for granted.
Control issues can be related to:
An individual's beliefs, values, and faith. Perfectionism and a general fear of failure. Traumatic or abuse life experiences. Low or impaired self-esteem.
- Gaslighting, lying, and guilt-tripping.
- Refusing to compromise.
- Passive-aggressive behavior, including the silent treatment.
- Extreme emotional highs and lows that impact the relationship.
- Isolating you from relationships with family and friends.
"If you have voiced a concern but still feel frustrated, anxious, and pacified, you [may] have been emotionally manipulated," says Porche. "If you feel one way and someone is trying to convince you to feel another way, you are [likely] being emotionally manipulated.What are the 8 signs of emotional manipulation? ›
- You're doubting your own reality.
- The relationship is very emotionally intense.
- You fear abandonment.
- You have a gut feeling that something's wrong.
- You feel insecure.
- They want you to depend on them and only them.
- They keep comparing you to others.
- Dribbling (moving a ball with the feet, as in soccer)
- Kicking or rolling (a ball)
- Pushing and pulling (the object might be a wheeled toy)
- Striking (such as swinging a baseball bat or golf club to hit a ball)
What is the strongest type of manipulation? ›
Omnikinesis is the ability to mentally control anything and everything that exists, organic or created, existing now or in the future, right down to the molecular level. This is quite possibly the most overwhelming and most powerful ability because it involves everything that tangibly exists without exception.What is narcissistic manipulation? ›
Narcissistic manipulation often involves frequent implications that you make bad decisions and can't do anything right. An abusive partner may call you stupid or ignorant outright, often with a falsely affectionate tone: “Honey, you're so dumb.How do manipulators play the victim? ›
Manipulators often play the victim role ("woe is me") by portraying themselves as victims of circumstances or someone else's behavior in order to gain pity or sympathy or to evoke compassion and thereby get something from someone.What do female manipulators listen to? ›
While there is a lot of overlap of artists, most notably The Smiths and Cage the Elephant, female manipulators are known for listening to Lana Del Rey, Mitski, Grimes, and the like, as well as drawing a strong influence from riot grrrl and hyperpop.What does a controlling person act like? ›
A controlling person is someone who attempts to maintain control, authority, and/or decision-making power over other people and situations. Controlling behavior can include everything from directly telling someone what they can or cannot do to more discreet methods like guilt-tripping, gaslighting, possessiveness.How do I know if I have control issues? ›
People who have control issues feel the need to control their lives as well as the lives of others. It's likely that you've run into individuals like this. They will feel the need to tell you what to do or how to live. These compulsions can cross to the point of abuse if the controlling individual doesn't let up.What causes a person to be controlling in a relationship? ›
Some potential causes of controlling behavior are: low self-esteem; being micromanaged or controlled by someone else; traumatic past experiences; a need to feel in-control; or a need to feel 'above' someone else.. None of these have to do with you, the victim of inappropriate control.What does a controlling girlfriend do? ›
Several signs that your girlfriend may be displaying controlling behavior can include isolation from your family and friends, frequent criticism, threats and ultimatums, keeping score, snooping, and making love and acceptance conditional.What personality disorder is most controlling? ›
Controlling behaviors can also be a symptom of several personality disorders, such as histrionic p ersonality, borderline personality, and narcissistic personality. These disorders can only be diagnosed by a licensed health care professional.What are 3 issues of controlling others? ›
You may try to exert control over other people by:
Bullying or taunting them. Being dishonest with them. Keeping a person from talking to or seeing their loved ones. Gaslighting them.
What does out of control feel like? ›
What does it mean to feel out of control? Dictionary.com defines out of control as: “out of hand; no longer under management, direction, or regulation; unmanageable or unruly.” Sooo yeah, when our emotions are out of control, it means we have a hard time managing them and keeping them under control.What kind of trauma causes control issues? ›
Particularly in chronic trauma—continued exposure to domestic violence, abuse of any form, war, poverty, and others—victims usually reported that they felt powerless to stop or change their circumstances. Victims of chronic trauma may lose the ability to make decisions in their lives.What is a controlling personality type? ›
This person is so controlling, is stated about someone who instructs others on who they are, how they feel, what to think, and how to act. It is exhausting to be around this type of person. But how do they operate? Controllers tend to use the same tactic over and over in multiple environments.What is a controlling partner like? ›
Someone who's controlling is always trying to undermine your confidence and put you down in private or in public. They seem to want to emphasize your flaws and make you feel self-conscious about your quirks. You're made to feel like the culprit. A controlling partner will always say that their emotions are your fault.What is red flag in relationship? ›
Red flags in a relationship include excessive jealousy and frequent lying. You should also be wary of a partner who frequently criticizes you or puts you down. Another major red flag is an unwillingness to compromise — relationships shouldn't be one-sided.What are signs of a toxic relationship? ›
- Lack of support. “Healthy relationships are based on a mutual desire to see the other succeed in all areas of life,” Caraballo says. ...
- Toxic communication. ...
- Envy or jealousy. ...
- Controlling behaviors. ...
- Resentment. ...
- Dishonesty. ...
- Patterns of disrespect. ...
- Negative financial behaviors.
Someone with a controlling behavior can still become a good life partner if they are willing to learn and are compatible with you. Don't immediately reject someone just because they have some controlling behaviors. It's important to know what's important to you in a relationship.