Toxic relationships are complex and can sneak up on anyone. The red flags of relationships can be easy to miss, as many signs of a controlling relationship are not overt and easy to spot.
Oftentimes we attribute those controlling behavior patterns to our partner loving us too much, being extremely caring, or being afraid to lose us. This further complicates recognizing signs of controlling behavior for what they are – attempts to dominate and exert authority.
What are the signs of a controlling person?
When you understand controlling relationship symptoms further you can evaluate whether you are in a controlling relationship.
Check out the 25 signs you’re in a controlling relationship:
1. Isolating your form friends and family
Common controlling behavior in a relationship is seeking to separate you from your support network. The means of doing so vary from complaining how much time you spend with them, to making bad comments about them and trying to put a wrench between you.
2. Feeling you have to check-in for any decision
Control freaks in relationships like to exercise authority over all decisions. They present themselves as wise and possess the right expertise to drive you into checking with them.
3. There is drama whenever you don’t respond asap
In a controlling relationship, you feel you need to be next to your phone and able to respond anytime. When, for any reason, you are unable to do so they become angry, overly worried, or pout. In any case, you know there will be drama so you avoid such situations.
4. Controlling what you wear, eat and how you spend money
Being in a controlling relationship feels like you seize to have your own opinion, choices, and wants. The more sophisticated they are, the more they can mask it in the veil of genuine worry or advice.
However, over time, it becomes obvious as you receive criticism or emotional freeze out any time you don’t do as they would expect.
5. Blaming you for their actions
Controlling relationships is also detectable by who ends up being blamed in the relationship. For small things too, for example – if they broke a glass, they will say you were in the way and that is why they dropped it.
Blaming it all on you is one of the controlling personality traits.
6. Criticizing you all the time
It might seem that anything you do could use improvement when you are in a controlling relationship.Your partner criticizes you over small or big things equally and expects perfection.
7. Threatening you – more or less overtly
One of the signs of a controlling partner is threatening.
Those intimidations are not always physical and can be veiled. They might threaten they will cut your contact with kids if you divorce them, harm themselves, share secrets you shared with them, or cut the privileges you have at the moment. Look out for feeling trapped in the relationship.
8. Feeling their appreciation and acceptance is conditional
The common thread in many controlling relationships is feeling like you need to earn their love.
When you lose some more weight, they will be more attracted to you. When you are successful at work, they care more about you or when you grant them some favors. All in all, you feel you need to earn their affection by what you provide to them or by changing yourself, otherwise, you feel not good enough.
9. Keeping a scoreboard
Compared to a healthy dose of reciprocity, in a controlling relationship, it feels there is a constant count of who did what for whom. It feels exhausting keeping track, but they do it so spontaneously. It could be their way of having the edge over you.
10. Using guilt or anger to manipulate
Depending on how proficient they are in manipulating, the signs will be less or more easy to spot. Be it shouting, cussing, or guilt-tripping you into doing what they want, be on alert as these are traits of a controlling person.
11. Making you feel you are in their debt
If the signs of controlling personality showed up right in the beginning, it would be easy to notice them for what they are. Nevertheless, they don’t.
At first, they are sweet and generous. Later on, these gifts and favors become something they hold over you when they need to collect on that debt. This makes it harder to leave.
12. Going through your things
This is a definite sign you can hardly ignore. If you notice they are going through your belongings, spying on you, listening to calls, or checking your messages, you are dealing with a controlling person.
13. Jealousy or paranoia
Although jealousy in relationship may seem at first as though they just love you all too much, over time it becomes difficult to bear. The intensity, obsessiveness, and unreasonable nature of their jealousy and paranoia are too excessive to ignore.
14. Making you feel you are not good enough
This is the most frequent characteristic of a controlling relationship. You might have felt this way before you met them, but it sure intensifies when around them.
15. Protesting against your time alone
Do you feel like you can’t have some time for yourself and feel guilty over it?
They might wrap their protest in wanting to spend more time with you because you are so busy, but you end up feeling like a villain. Having alone time is a healthy need and you shouldn’t be made into an evil person for having it
16. Having to earn to get on their good side
Although trust is earned over time, in a controlling relationship you might feel you never quite reach it. You feel as though you have to keep working to get on their good side.
However, you never seem to gain the right to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.
17. Arguing all the time until you cave
In a controlling relationship, you could have more or fewer fights (usually more), but the distinction is that they are used to make you cave. You feel so tired that you eventually relent.
18. Making you feel stupid or incompetent for your beliefs
In a healthy relationship disagreements over core beliefs are met with attempts to understand and accept them. In a controlling relationship, you feel not capable, smart, or adequate due to your partner’s reaction towards your beliefs.
19. Enforcing you to disclose details against your will
One of the clearcut signs of controlling personality is feeling like you have to share information they ask for, regardless of your willingness to do so.
20. Belittling or embarrassing you into submission
In a healthy relationship, people tease each other, but only to the extent, the other feels comfortable with. In a controlling relationship, you might feel ridiculed and then made believe you misunderstood what they meant to say. You end up confused, hurt, and feeling you don’t have the right to feel that way.
21. You don’t feel heard or understood
There isn’t much room for your voice and opinion when your partner is trying to make you think as they do. Not only is there no understanding, but there are also little or no attempts to hear your outlook on things.
The video below suggests some ways to communicate your thoughts to your partner so that you are heard. The key to being heard by our partners is to accept that we have to become strategic about the way we talk to them. Learn more:
22. Impending your growth and goals
If you improve you might leave them. Hence a controlling partner will subtly try to slow down your progress and keep you by their side never rising to your dreams.
23. Trying to control who you spend time with
What is a controlling personality?
We are talking about a person that tries to bring order into a social situation in different ways to have control over what happens. Thus, they might also attempt to control whom you see and how much time you spend with them.
24. Dominating or controlling in sexual activities
Control creeps into the bedroom too, so you might sense you can’t refuse sex without getting on their bad side. You could undergo pressure to have intercourse otherwise there are consequences. For example, they get emotionally distant and make you work your way onto their good side for days.
25. Causing you to question your sanity
As a result of attempting to cut you off from your social support, embarrassing you, making you question your beliefs and reactions you could end up doubting your judgment. If they convince you their reality is the right one, you are less likely to leave.
How many signs have you checked off the list? Do you feel you are not good enough to find another partner or that you are not capable of making a change? If so, try to remember all the things you were able to do before they came into your life. Those are your accomplishments. Of course, it helps to have support from your friends & family.
There is no single answer on how to stop being controlling in a relationship. It takes work to understand why a person acts this way and what can they replace it with. Therefore, it is recommended to have help from a professional in this recovery journey, both for the person who is controlling and their partner.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Milica Markovic has graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy with a degree in Clinical Psychology. She has 7 years (and counting) of Psychotherapy and Coaching education (both Transactional Analysis and Psychology of Personal Constructs) and experience in working with clients. Throughout her career, she has had remote clients around the world facing various personal, academic, or professional challenges.
She finds her primary duty is to establish a trusting environment in which clients can feel safe enough to discuss anything that might be troubling them and grow closer to their goals. She believes that whether you are experiencing a personal, relationship related, or professional challenge, the journey to surpassing it can be made easier with the right help by your side.
Milica is also a strong advocate of lifelong learning and continuous improvement.