Controlling Relationship?

Do You Recognize the Warning Signs of Controlling or Abusive Relationships?


You could be in a controlling relationship without even realizing it, or worse off, an abusive one. Manipulative and dominating behavior can sometimes be subtle, but the effects are still deep.


Control and abuse isn't always overtly threatening or aggressive. Sometimes controlling partners they are emotionally manipulative and acting out of insecurity - but other times their need for control can be more malevolent. People of any age, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status can be in controlling relationships, playing either role. Controlling tactics in a relationship include veiled threats, belittling or teasing, and using guilt as a tool for influence.


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Controlling can often lead towards abuse, so it's important that you pay attention to the red flags.


Common warning signs include:

  • Pushing for quick involvement: Comes on strong, claiming, “I’ve never felt loved like this by anyone.”

  • Jealousy: Excessively possessive; calls constantly or visits unexpectedly; prevents you from going to work because “you might meet someone.”

  • Making acceptance/caring/attraction conditional. "If you keep working out and lose a bit more weight, you'll be more attractive to me." "If you can't even be bothered to make dinner, I don't even know what I'm getting from this relationship." With these types of statements the message is the same: You, right now, are not good enough.

  • Controlling Behavior: Interrogates you intensely (especially if you’re late) about whom you talked to and where you were; keeps all the money; insists you ask permission to do anything.

  • Unrealistic expectations: Expects you to be the perfect mate and meet his or her every need.

  • An overactive scorecard. Keeps track of every last interaction within your relationship—whether to hold a grudge, demand a favor in return, or be patted on the back—is one way of having the upper hand.

  • Isolation: Tries to cut you off from family and friends; accuses people who support you of “causing trouble.”

  • Blaming others for problems or mistakes: It’s always someone else’s fault when anything goes wrong and they rarely, if ever, take responsibility.

  • Not respecting your need for time alone. Makes you feel guilty for time you need on your own to recharge, or making you feel like you don't love them enough when you perhaps need less time with them than they need with you.

  • Making others responsible for his or her feelings: Says things like, “You make me angry,” instead of “I am angry,” or says, “You’re hurting me by not doing what I tell you.”

  • Veiled or overt threats, against you or them. Threatens of leaving, cutting off "privileges," or even self-harm or suicide if they don't get their way or if they feel threatened.

  • Hypersensitivity: Is easily insulted, claiming hurt feelings when he or she is angry.

  • Getting you so tired of arguing that you'll relent. While some controlling people like to exert their influence under the radar, many others are openly and chronically argumentative and embrace conflict when they can get it - wearing you down so you surrender to their demands.

  • Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure. Secretly snoops or openly demand that you must share everything with them.

  • Verbal abuse: Constantly criticizes or says blatantly cruel, hurtful things, degrades, curses, calls you ugly names.

  • Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself. Uses you as a weapon against yourself by planting seeds of doubt about whether you're talented or smart or hard-working enough to make good things happen in your life. This is another way they can take away your autonomy, making you more beholden to them

  • Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards. You feel constantly unsettled about goings-on within your sexual relationship.

  • Controlling behaviors using social media or technology: Monitoring your social media use, posts, and the comments and likes you make or receive.


If you suspect that your relationship may be controlling or tearing you down, consider these steps for turning things around and taking back your power.


Steps to Take by and for Yourself

  1. Stay calm. Managing your emotions will help you to think rationally and stay in control. That way, you’ll be able to deal with the facts of the situation instead of being lured into irrational behavior.

  2. Understand your options. Regardless of what your partner does, you are in charge of your own decisions. Stick to your values and own your choices.

  3. Build your confidence. Give yourself a boost by reflecting on your talents and achievements. You are worthy of love just the way you are today.

  4. Pursue your goals. Stand on your own two feet even if your partner encourages you to depend on them. Make plans for your financial security. Devote your time and energy to projects you care about.

  5. Set boundaries. Clarify your values and expectations. Define your limits so that you’ll be able to communicate them to your partner.

  6. Socialize more. Lean on your support system. Spend time with family and friends on a regular basis.

  7. Evaluate your situation honestly. Ask yourself how your relationship is affecting your life. Maybe your relationship is worth working on or maybe it’s time to move on. Be willing to walk away if your wellbeing is being compromised.

  8. Get help. If you're feeling trapped or stuck in a controlling relationship, share with someone you trust. Connect with a faith leader, a trusted family member, or even a therapist.

Is it Abuse?

You are worthy of respect, and you can live a life that is free from the emotional abuse of your partner. If it's abuse, you need to protect yourself

  • Get help: call trusted confident, the Domestic Violence Hotline, or a qualified therapist

  • Make a plan: Who can help you, where can you go, do you have the resources to remove yourself?

  • Remove yourself if possible: Stay with a trusted friend or family members, or seek support in a local shelter (AZ Resources HERE).

  • Contact law enforcement officials and inform them about your situation. Request a restraining order or other protection against attacks from your partner.

  • If you relocate, set up a security system in your new home.

  • Tell your neighbors: Advise your neighbors of your current situation, and enlist their help in watching out for signs of trouble.

Unhealthy relationships can sneak up on you. Learning to spot the warning signs will help you avoid controlling patterns and develop a balanced and loving connection that reinforces your self-esteem.


National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
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