You criticize others frequently
Constructive criticism is key to building relationships and growing as an individual. Part of showing empathy and understanding to someone is being careful of how often and intense your criticism is. Offering unwarranted, dismissive comments about the actions of others, perhaps a partner or loved one can be a form of controlling behavior. You are minimizing their input in the relationship by putting down their efforts, especially in an inconsiderate tone. Critique is fine, and correctly wording it can be tricky, but empathy should come first.
You have difficulty controlling anger or jealousy
Everybody has emotions they struggle to contain. Some find it difficult to control their anxiety or excitement, others are easy criers or quick to lose interest in people. However, emotions like jealousy and anger are volatile; they can be dangerous for yourself and those around you if you don’t manage or control them well. Anger often inspires fear from partners, and long-term unaddressed anger is likely to be a sign of abusive behavior. Jealousy is similarly damaging, and equally a behavior that leads to acts of control.
You get physical often
This could be something like throwing objects out of rage, knocking them over, kicking or hitting walls or doors. Similarly, it could be placing yourself between someone and a means of their exiting. Physically imposing yourself on others is an act of control, regardless of context, as is throwing a phone at somebody, or hitting them. People who lose their temper and are prone to violence, either out of panic or desperation, are attempting to exert control in a situation in the only way they can.
You lie to your partner
While some behaviors can warrant a little suspicion, how you react to them can reveal much about how you view the other person. If you find you are often lying in small ways to tease out more information, or in bigger ways in an attempt to get back at what you perceive as a sleight, you are likely trying to take control of a bad situation. The best way to avoid this is to communicate openly with the person, rather than operating off of what you know and what you have imagined possible to fill in the gaps.
You don’t trust your partner
If you have experienced trust issues in the past, it’s important to keep that in mind when assessing your behaviour. Things like keeping tabs on where they are, who they spend time with, and interrogating them on their behavior are all potentially controlling behaviors. Trust goes both ways in a relationship of any kind, it is important to respect their autonomy and privacy. Likewise, you are entitled to raise any concerns you may have, but that relies on you trusting your partner and their response.
You don’t handle uncertainty well
This can be a more general personality trait, not just related to interpersonal relationships. If you experience anxiety when planning things out, fearing small deviations or unsubstantial details, this is fairly normal. It can be stressful organizing trips, times and schedules for yourself, having to keep contingency plans in mind. When this process is applied to a relationship, it can become an issue. Planning out a future or an event for two requires compromise, often on those small deviations or details, and that need for control is now potentially affecting someone else, putting your own needs above theirs.
You need things done your own way
Having your own standards to stick to shows discipline, integrity, and drive. Being passionate about what you do and how you do it is an incredibly fulfilling thing. It is important to remember that other people, driven by rich inner lives, knowledge, and experience that are completely different from your own, will have their own way of doing things. For work, it is expected to be given a brief on how best to achieve a task. Relationships are not like this at all, requiring an appreciation for those different ways of being.
You fear the worst
Like many impulsive behaviors, catastrophizing can stem from anxiety. If you constantly find yourself fearing the worst from small problems, following trains of thought until they snowball into avalanches, this can lead to you attempting to take control of the situation by exerting control. Perhaps you fear losing someone, or they change something about themselves you disagree with. When your mind creates an end picture of destruction, it seems easy to justify small acts of control to save them from that fate, but this completely overlooks their independence as a person.
You aim for younger partners
Celebrity age-gap relationships are a very popular topic among tabloids and on social media. There it is framed as money and power being used to make up for the one thing they can’t prevent: aging. While that is not 100% accurate, it is true that some people, overwhelmingly men, look to date younger women as their limited life experience makes them easier to control. They are less financially dependent, less knowledgeable of how controlling partners act and do not have the societal power that an older man would have. While age gaps aren’t inherently harmful, they can be prone to abuses of power.
You try to isolate your partner
If you find yourself worrying about what kinds of influences somebody’s friends, family, or co-workers have over them, it is likely a manifestation of uncertainty. Somebody who is controlling would seek to separate a partner from their social circles, believing they are keeping them safe from danger. Of course, these dangers are not real. It is highly unlikely for a group of your partner’s friends to be conspiring against you or your relationship. Even if they were, forcing your partner to cut themselves off from them is making a decision for them, which is a core behavior of controlling partners.
You keep score
Effective relationships are all about balance and compromise. This is easier said than done, and in real life compromises are rarely exactly 50/50, but controlling partners will often keep track of times they have done, or offered to do, something for their partner. It could well be the case that, at that point in time, you are the one making the most sacrifices, but when you use that as leverage for an argument or to get them to do something for you, it begins crossing over into controlling behavior.
Feeling the need to spy
It is natural to want to know what your partner is up to, but they deserve their own life independent of you, and there are times you can cross the line from a normal curiosity into something more toxic. Many abusive partners are controlling over their spouse’s phone, emails and communication. This usually starts with questions about who they are texting, and evolves into checking their messages without consent. This a a violation of trust and privacy. Before it gets to this point, talk to your partner or seek help.
You struggle with dependency
Sometimes people find they are ill-equipped to live life on their own. This can be an emotional dependency or a more general life skills problem. Expecting a partner to cook, clean, do laundry, and take care of jobs is a little selfish, but easy to remedy if you really care about the division of labor. However, emotional anxiety surrounding separation, affection or relationships can be difficult to overcome, and these often influence behavior toward controlling actions out of self-preservation.
There are all kinds of treatments to help with underlying conditions that exacerbate controlling behaviors. This can involve therapy or counseling and medication for depression and anxiety, all of which can assist you in controlling your emotions and actions. It can be very difficult to be told you need help, and many reflexively deny they need it in the first place. Only you know for sure if you have a problem, but a loved one letting you know there are options is a sign they are looking out for you and seeing concern.
Insecurity over finance
This is a real concern for the majority of people. Money issues take a huge toll on mental and physical well-being, as well as making pre-existing conditions that much worse. The issue presents itself when one partner makes more or all of the income in the relationship, or has sole control over joint finances. It is easy to exert power over a huge portion of someone’s life when you control their finances, be it in the form of allowances, monitoring their transactions, or denying them small amounts with the justification that they can’t be trusted, or it would be better saved.
Keeping your feelings to yourself
Expressing complex emotions is a difficult process, especially in the moment you feel them. While you shouldn’t feel forced to tell your partner everything that upsets you or makes you angry, a controlling partner might withhold information from someone to cause uncertainty. Sometimes this is done unintentionally, but part of being a good partner is acknowledging how your actions affect those around you, which is the key to avoiding potentially controlling behaviors.
Lying about expectations
This can happen throughout a relationship, as the inevitable ‘so like, where are we?’ conversations make their appearance. Not everybody is a future planner, but when dealing with a partner it becomes your responsibility to think ahead. Often, lies about expectations are small, like indicating a mutual desire to continue when you are unsure, or simply prefer it to being single. This can lead to false impressions moving forward. When having these conversations, respect and trust the intelligence of your partner to not react negatively to your concerns.
You try to deflect the blame
A sign of a controlling personality is that they often try to blame a fault they have committed on someone else. This presents in different ways across different kinds of relationships, but the key thing to look for is when this is done over small mistakes. For instance, if a controlling person knocks over a glass, they might be blame it on their partner for leaving it there. If they refuse to at least accept shared blame and get angry at the suggestion they should, this indicates control issues.
You make them doubt themselves
A term originally from a stage play, ‘gaslighting’ has become common enough to often be used as a punchline. As in “Accusing the dentist of gaslighting me when he says I haven’t flossed.” This isn’t exactly a misuse of the term, but it does detract from its primary applications in analyzing patterns of controlling behavior. If you frequently make your partner doubt their judgment, accuse them of misremembering events or overreacting, that pattern would be considered gaslighting.
Deciding what your partner is allowed to wear
Controlling appearance is one of the most common ways power is asserted in a relationship. Sometimes, people do dress inappropriately for situations. It’s a common fear because it’s a common occurrence. However, deciding your partner is dressed too provocatively, for example, and forcing them to wear something else is putting an opinion of minor importance you hold over the expression and comfort of another. Everybody should feel free to present as they wish.
You control aspects of their travel
Those with control issues often make outlandish demands surrounding travel. This stems from a distrust, believing the partner is using the commute to in some way hurt them, either by seeing people or places they do not like. Insisting that you be the one personally responsible for their travel can limit their access to support or services they need, which is a core component of abusive relationships.
Asking for evidence
If you require your partner to send pictures of where they are, or who they are with, then you are probably approaching this situation from a controlling angle. It’s wonderful to see people you care about enjoying themselves, so the pictures themselves aren’t the issue here. Instead, it is demanding evidence to satisfy your own anxieties. Likewise, if you want to see their messages to friends or family, fearing they will be discussing you. There is no reason you should be entitled to private communications or somebody’s location.
You constantly have to check-in
Concern for your partner is a positive trait, and making sure they are safe and having fun is great. But continued, repeated messages on exactly what they’re doing comes across as desperate at best and harassment at worst. Like many other controlling behaviors, it stems from an insecurity in yourself and as an extension, the relationship. Demanding they check in frequently is a similar issue, conveying a lack of trust and respect for the other person’s time and agency.
You often guilt-trip others
Making another person feel guilty accomplishes nothing, and can progress into coercion. You might make a partner feel guilty for not having sex with you, or forgetting something important, which can compound in them not feeling safe to express their feelings. Using your partner’s guilt as leverage to get them to do something for you, or not do something for someone else, is grossly manipulative, and a sign of a conscious effort to reserve control.
Holding good deeds against people
Everybody should strive to be kind and considerate, but controlling individuals often use small gestures of kindness as cudgels, repeatedly bringing it up as a signal that you owe them something. This transactional way of viewing relationships is toxic, especially when small favors are used to extract more value from the other, e.g. tidying the house as a way to get sex, or using good deeds as apologies for quite serious things like instances of abuse.
Feelings of sexual inadequacy
Controlling people often disregard important elements of sexual intimacy, or think they are pointless or morally up for debate. Elements like foreplay, the use of toys, communication and comfort are all normal and positive aspects of sex. A controlling lover may be threatened or feel ashamed and insecure about tertiary elements of sex, as they perceive the activity purely through a self-centered lens. Consent obviously goes both ways, and listening to one another’s wants and needs is essential for a healthy relationship, sexual or otherwise.
Withholding love or affection
If you find yourself becoming cold and distant as a reaction to a partner failing to meet your standards, it could indicate you are conditional in your affection. This can be a sign of control, as depriving someone of care or attention acts as a kind of negative reinforcement. Love and compassion should be unconditional, and your partner should not be made to feel inadequate for failure. A very common trait is found in controlling parents, who deny children who go against their wishes a healthy, nurturing home environment.
You enforce gender roles
Stereotypical views on gender stem from a mixture of complex sociological factors. Men who see their position in the hierarchy as dominant, stoic breadwinners and their partners as a submissive and housebound will likely have other outdated opinions on modes of being. This includes what constitutes controlling behavior in the first place, as unequal, unfair, and potentially abusive expectations are justified as ‘natural’. Traditional relationship structures are fine as long as both parties have continued, ongoing discussions and set clear parameters.
You don’t understand consent
Sex education is vital to ensure young people know how to navigate the idea of informed consent. The very basics seem straightforward – everybody says yes, and that’s it – but sometimes there are some imbalances to consider. Is one person drunk? Are they in a vulnerable place? Those questions alone render ‘yes means yes’ insufficient. Controlling people will place their partners in situations where they may feel pressured to say yes out of fear, or refuse them the option to withdraw consent at any time, both of which are clear violations of the concept.
Your moods are unpredictable
Unstable moods make it harder to act rationally consistently, and people may act controlling when they wouldn’t if they were otherwise okay. However, such instability is also a common sign of a controlling person, using their volatile emotions to keep their partner from getting comfortable, or to draw attention to themselves. There are both conscious and subconscious elements at play here, making it hard to judge the severity of controlling actions. However, both are treatable and manageable with professional help.
You find others too sensitive
Controlling people often become angry or exasperated when others are offended by their words. A passing joke or a snide remark that seems inconsequential to you might trigger a negative reaction from others. These situations happen, and it’s best to recognize that their feelings are genuine, apologize and move on. However, if you respond angrily to others being upset, this can be controlling behavior. Calling others ‘too sensitive’ or saying they are exaggerating is just dismissing their emotions as irrelevant, and seeking to re-establish a position of security.
You make decisions that affect other people
Making big decisions in life that will affect your partner without their input is an act of trying to take control of an uncertain future. Important moves around finance, work, your home life or your family should always be made with guidance from those involved. This is true for smaller decisions too, especially if those small moves are made rashly in moments of weakness. Having more minds work on the problem will improve the outcome.
Using humor as a deflection
A lot of people are okay with jokes during intense moments, and assuming everyone is on the same level, it can help defuse the tension. A common trait is using humor to self-depreciate, which although not always helpful, is usually harmless to others. However, controlling individuals might use humor to deliberately minimize their partner’s needs or position in an argument, then use the “you can’t take a joke” excuse to make it seem like their partner is overreacting.
You can’t cope with failure
As control is often a defense mechanism people fall back on while under stress, controlling people tend not to take failure very well. The failure of the task itself, and your own inability to have made the outcome better, are both distressing factors. They might try to double down, shifting the blame onto others and insisting the results are unfair, or in more serious instances, respond violently and aggressively.
You see everything as you-vs-them
An antagonistic personality is not exactly the same as a controlling one, but there is some overlap between them. If you tend to leave interactions with people focusing on who came out on top, you’re taking the wrong approach. Relationships are not competitions, and treating them as one is going to put a strain on everyone involved. You and your partner should be on the same team, moving towards the same goals.
Using others to hurt your partner
A common move by controlling spouses is to use somebody else’s safety to blackmail their partner into continuing the relationship. Bringing up any children or hints at custody, attacking a family pet or relatives, all in hopes of twisting the knife and limiting the partner’s options. This is where controlling behavior becomes abusive, and these kinds of threats are often used alongside physical abuse, like threatening to take their children.
You treat your partner differently around people
Couples who spend a lot of time together become very familiar with the other’s personality, speech patterns and body language. If a friend or spouse has noted that you sometimes act differently around other groups, it could be worth examining this. It’s natural to ‘codeswitch’ around different groups that have different dynamics, but you may find you become crueler to your partner when around male friends, for example. This can cause a sort of dysphoria for them, where they are unsure how much of what you say is genuine.
You try to control how they speak
The way people speak is a reflection of a complex web of influences. Where they were born, what type of hobbies they have, their education, and many other factors coalesce into how they communicate with the world. A controlling partner might have irrational reactions to this, getting annoyed that their partner discusses certain matters openly, or if they swears or mispronounce words. They try to mold the other’s personality into something they have manufactured and have control over.
You use derogatory language
What makes controlling behavior difficult to analyse is the focus on language. Abusers can deflect with ‘it was just a joke’ or ‘you’re taking it the wrong way’, which is an attempt to correct their partner’s reaction, without acknowledging the cause of the reaction in the first place. Perhaps you use some derogatory language as a joke, but you should realize that nobody benefits from these except for you. Upsetting others to make yourself feel valued is a selfish act of control.
You make everything about you
This ranges in severity from person to person, such as bringing up a personal anecdote that relates to a conversation. Often, this is harmless. However, when big or notable events happen to your partner, you might feel the need to even things out in an unhealthy way. For instance, if they had an amazing day at work, but yours was awful so you want to talk about that instead, this demonstrates a tendency to make your own emotional state the focal point. This hints at insecurities about seeing someone – even a loved one – do better than yourself.