11 things that controlling partners do in relationships
When it comes to controlling relationships, many of us may think we have a pretty good handle on what it looks like — and how to avoid one. Someone who isolates you, punishes you, keeps you financially dependent. In some cases, the signs of a controlling or coercive relationships are super obvious. But not everything is quite so textbook. There are a lot of more subtle signs of controlling relationships that you may not be familiar with or be able recognize.
People who have been controlling for a long time — or just have it in their nature to be abusive and toxic — can sometimes be very, very good at it. They do things that are subtle, confusing, or even make you feel like you’re the one to blame. So it’s important to know that some more nuanced behaviors just aren’t OK. Here’s what you should keep an eye out for.
1. The silent treatment
Ah, this old chestnut. The silent treatment may seem immature — or even downright childish — but it’s actually incredibly effective and can be very destructive. They may even say that they’re just tired or not paying attention, but it’s an incredibly controlling thing to do, leaving you feeling anxious, insecure, and, often, desperate to please them and make it stop.
2. Keeping score
A lot of couples might keep score over silly things — like who changes the toilet paper more — but keeping score about emotional things, things you “owe” each other, and bigger issues can all be signs of control. Abusers will often keep score in their favor, so you're on the back foot.
3. Criticisms and corrections
Correcting or criticizing someone about something small might not seem like a big deal, but constantly doing it can actually be really hurtful and destabilizing. It makes sure that they’re establishing themselves as an authority – and making you question your own ability.
A lot of people might have the urge to snoop occasionally — and maybe your partner is claiming they’re just giving in to the urge. But regularly snooping is often about control, plus it’s a total violation of trust.
5. “Protecting” you
A lot of people who are controlling will do their best to convince you — and maybe even convince themselves — that it’s in your best interest. And of course, partners can and do protect each other in some ways. But if “protection” is a regular theme of your relationship, it might be more linked to control.
6. Pretending not to understand
Full-on gaslighting is definitely a sign of controlling behavior, but sometimes it’s not quite that strong. Pretending not to understand your point of view (or acting like it’s unreasonable) is a subtle way of gaslighting and controlling.
7. Black and white logic
“If you did X, you obviously don’t love me.” “It’s either them or me.” “All couples socialize together if they really love each other.” If your partner talks in black and white logic or only in terms of all-or-nothing, that’s often a way of minimizing your viewpoint and regulating your behavior. If they don’t accept shades of grey, then you have to all exactly in line with what they want — or be in the wrong.
8. Being needy
Neediness can seem like a sign of their insecurity — it may even feel nice to be needed. And, of course, we all feel needy sometimes. But if your partner is constantly needy, make sure it’s not about trying to keep you uncomfortably close.
9. Putting you on the spot in public
Control is all about dominance and authority — and sometimes this can come out in unexpected ways. If your partner makes you feel uncomfortable, shares private information, or puts you on the spot in public, that can be a way of asserting dominance. It’s incredibly thoughtless and disrespectful, plus it’s a way of controlling how you feel around other people and how they view you.
10. Making you “earn” trust
Most relationships have a sense of building and evolving — but controllers often like to keep you in a weaker position. They might insist that you need to earn trust, you need to prove your worth it. If you feel like you’re trying to convince them to be with you or that you’re worthy — and yet their behavior is never up for debate — that’s a very worrying sign.
11. Playing contrarian
Some couples like a heated debate, but if your partner is always being a contrarian — taking the other side of what you’re saying, pushing back on your point of view, or making you feel stupid — it may be that they’re trying to get you to questions your own authority and, ultimately, autonomy.
There are so many different signs of controlling behavior — they can all be done to different extremes, in different ways, and with different outcomes. But it’s important to look beyond the obvious toxic behaviors and know that reality is often a lot more complicated and nuanced. Trust your gut — if you feel uncomfortable or like something’s not right, then it’s not a relationship you should be in.