Protect yourself! If you think you’ve been targeted by a scam, click here to get information and assistance from the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline!
Sisters Site Logo.svg
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Sisters community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

11 Signs You May Be With a Controlling Partner

If he insists on that sex act he knows you don’t enjoy, or you find yourself apologizing when things are not your fault, you need to read this.

Comment Icon
illustration of controlling spouse wrapping his arm around his wife
Diana Ejaita
Comment Icon

Lillian thought Kenneth was the man of her dreams when they met. He lavished her with gifts, took her to nice restaurants, checked in on her throughout the day and seemed interested in every detail of her life. The attention was intoxicating at first and she took it as a sign of his deep devotion. But over the course of their relationship, it morphed into something more stifling and Lillian began to feel constrained.

When we think of controlling people, images of a raging bully snapping orders come to mind. That may be the case, but domineering people can also be soft-spoken, convivial, God-fearing, intellectual or possess other traits that make them appear amiable. Their need for control is usually rooted in feelings of insecurity.

“There is usually something wrong going on with this type of person and they feel like they don’t have control over other parts of their life,” says Joyce Morley, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist who specializes in couples’ therapy. “They feel like to get what they need they have to control their partner, regardless of how it impacts that partner.”

Some degree of give and take is normal in relationships, but if your significant other overreaches in ways that impede your freedom or make you feel threatened, that could be a sign of trouble or even danger. Are you in a controlling relationship? Here are some things to look for:

Your partner is the decider-in-chief. No matter is too large or small for this type of person to exert their dominance, and they want their partner to fall in line accordingly. Whether it’s deciding on a major household appliance, choosing a hotel or determining how you wear your hair, they get the final say.

Family and friends are banned. Isolating a partner from the people they are close to is a classic controller move. Lots of times it starts off subtly — maybe they criticize your friends or accuse you of spending too much time with a relative — but eventually, it progresses to demanding that you cut ties with loved ones in an effort to undermine your support system.

It’s always your fault. Your partner didn’t get a promotion at work because you’re not supportive enough. They are late for appointments because you don’t remind them. They couldn’t eat dinner on time because you got home late. Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes, shortcomings or unforeseen circumstances, a controller plays the victim by constantly blaming you.

Arguing is routine. Disagreements rarely get resolved because your lover would rather fuss than work through conflict rationally. Being with a person who argues all the time can make you feel like you’re perpetually walking on eggshells. It is draining and you never win. Throwing in the towel may seem like the only option.

Your opinions don’t count. Your partner stacks the discourse chips in his or her favor by trivializing your opinions, interrupting you in conversation and disregarding your point of view. A controller silences you and leaves you feeling frustrated by not allowing you to freely express your thoughts or feelings.

You have little autonomy. You have to report to your mate about where you’re going and with whom. They want to know who’s calling or texting you, or they read your emails to see who you’re messaging. The partner combs through your belongings. Their rationale: If you have nothing to hide, what’s the big deal? They may make use of video for surveillance. This type of invasiveness makes it clear that they don’t trust you.

You are belittled. Your lover criticizes your looks, makes jokes at your expense, diminishes your accomplishments or compares you unfavorably to other women. This person’s control tactic is to tap your insecurities and make you feel that you don’t measure up somehow.

Gifts come at a cost. Expensive jewelry, five-star restaurants and first-class flights can make you feel like you’ve hit the romance jackpot. Being showered with gifts can also be a means of control because it can create a dynamic where you always feel obliged to the giver, even when they’re behaving less than admirably.

You have no financial control. A surefire way to limit a partner’s independence is to prohibit them from having any say in household money matters. If your mate keeps the mortgage or rent, utilities and other home-related accounts in their name only, makes you relinquish your paycheck or simply gives you an allowance to get by on, it thwarts your financial freedom.

Your me-time is not respected. Spending time alone allows us to recharge and decompress from life’s stressors. A controlling partner can make you feel guilty about this type of self-care or accuse you of neglecting them.

Sex is upsetting. Your significant other is sexually demanding and forces you to do things that hurt or make you feel uncomfortable. They guilt you into consenting by telling you this is what you should do if you love them.

Women who get involved with controllers tend to have low self-esteem and may have been physically or emotionally abused, says Morley. “They generally have had some adverse situation happen in their lives, so they’re looking for that person to fill the void.”

A lot of times women think they can remedy a controlling relationship by helping their partner realize the error of their ways. But, says Morley, “If you’ve got to make them over or try to change them, it’s not worth it because you risk losing yourself in the process.” Instead, focus on things you can do to empower yourself. Here’s how:

Put you first. Life with a controlling partner can be overwhelming and cause you to lose sight of things that are important to you. Get back on track by making a list of your priorities and goals and establish a plan for achieving them.

Create a support system. Identify a friend or family member you can trust and tell them what’s going on and how you’re feeling. If that’s uncomfortable, consult with a trained therapist or look for a support group. Either way, it’s important to have a sounding board to help you gain perspective or assist you when necessary.

Practice self-care. Eat healthy meals, exercise, pray or meditate, get proper sleep and participate in activities that are self-affirming. Doing so will strengthen you and give you peace of mind when things are challenging.

Make an exit plan. If you decide that it’s best for you to leave the relationship, take steps to do so. It may mean saving your money and reducing debt so that you have the financial resources to eventually move or simply setting a firm date to be out. Don’t feel obligated to present your decision to your partner who, in the heat of the moment, may try to persuade you to stay, become threatening or attempt assault. Once you cut ties, don’t feel compelled to stay in touch. If necessary, change your number and make your address inaccessible.

Play it safe. We’ve all heard tragic stories about women whose controlling partner turned violent. If you fear for your safety, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their trained advocates are available 24/7 to assist callers experiencing domestic violence.

This 2019 article has been updated to include how controllers use technology.