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“I’m not controlling!”
How many times have we heard or said this?
We often overlook controlling behavior in relationships, and the reasons are many:
>> we get used to it
>> we think it’s normal
>> we refuse to admit it
>> we think it’s no big deal, or
>> we’re too attached/scared to leave
To start off, controlling partners don’t always realize they’re being controlling. Sometimes it’s hard to pin down when or how someone is being controlling, especially if they’re emotionally manipulative. But some partners are explicit about their controlling behavior, which makes it easier to spot (meaning the controlling person directly asks their partner not to do something).
We might be the ones who are in control or we could be the victim of a controlling partner. Either way, it’s not okay.
It took me years to realize that I have a controlling personality, and it was significantly reflected in my relationships. But it also took me years to realize that I have low self-esteem and zero trust in myself. As a result, controlling my partners was a “warranty.”
“I don’t trust myself enough to let them stay, but if I control them, I guarantee their presence.” That was how my brain worked.
When I worked on my self-confidence, my controlling behavior has magically dissipated. I’m no longer interested in keeping anyone in check. I offer my help and advice, but I don’t make decisions for people or feel upset when they don’t do things my way.
My issue was insecurity, but yours or your partner’s could be entirely different. Controlling behavior might stem from our childhood where one (or more) caretaker was controlling. We could have either unconsciously adopted this dynamic or fell in love with someone who reminded us of that dynamic (aka controlling partner).
Before delving into the signs, I would like to make clear that there are many degrees of control. Wanting your partner to join you for dinner or choosing their outfit is way different than being abusive. Only you can know the difference (and remember, abuse is not okay).
Are you the controlling partner? Are you the one who’s being controlled? Here are five signs:
1. Criticism. Innocent remarks or jokes are normal in relationships, but constant criticism suggests something bigger. Pointing out mistakes, belittling the other’s choices or skills, or insults are all indirect ways of controlling someone. Because when we’re not in agreement, criticism makes us feel in control (and sadly better).
2. Invading privacy. No matter how close and open partners are, privacy is essential in relationships (and undeniable). When someone starts “monitoring” their partner, know that this is obvious control. Asking about private conversations, snooping, or constantly wanting to be present when they’re with friends are all signs of control.
3. The need to intervene. A controlling partner always feels the need to intervene in order to prevent the worst from happening. If you feel an uncontrollable sense of intervention (even in the smallest things, such as choosing meals or outfits), you or your partner might be seeking control.
4. Not having things their way is a big issue. For a controlling partner, not having things their way could mean conflict. To feel upset after a clear “no” or disagreement is a major sign of control. Sometimes the only way to resolve a conflict is submission from the partner who’s being controlled.
5. Not taking blame. A controlling partner is always right. So if we point the finger at them, we’re most likely to be met with refusal and dejection. Someone who’s in control will almost never admit they’re wrong or meet their partner halfway.
There are many other controlling behaviors that are subtle or indicate that we, or our partner, are controlling. The only way to spot controlling behavior is to check in with yourself and see how you feel about the situation.
Are you constantly walking on eggshells? Are you afraid of losing your partner if you say “no”?
Do you feel you’re stepping on your partner’s toes with your behaviors? Is there an underlying issue you feel you need to work on?
Once you determine the answers, you can decide how to handle it.