You criticize others frequently
Constructive criticism is key to growing your relationship. Showing empathy and understanding to someone means 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.
You have difficulty controlling anger or jealousy
Everybody has emotions they struggle to contain. Some find it difficult to control their anxiety, 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 everybody around you. Anger inspires fear from partners, and long-term unaddressed anger is likely to be a sign of abusive behavior. Jealousy is similarly damaging.
You get physical often
This could be something like throwing objects out of rage or hitting walls or furniture. It could also mean placing yourself between someone and a means of their exiting. Physically imposing yourself on others is an act of control, regardless of context. People who lose their temper and are prone to violence are attempting to exert control in a situation in the only way they can.
You lie to your partner
While some behaviors can warrant suspicion, how you react to them reveals a lot about how you view your partner. If you find you tend to lie in small ways to tease out more information or an attempt to hurt them, you are likely trying to take control of the situation. The best way to avoid this is to communicate openly and honestly with them, always.
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 behavior. Things like keeping tabs on where they are, who they spend time with, and interrogating them on their activities are all controlling actions. Trust goes both ways in a relationship of any kind, so it’s important to respect your partner’s autonomy and privacy.
You don’t handle uncertainty well
This can be a more general personality trait, not exclusive to relationships. It’s normal to experience anxiety while planning, as it can be stressful organizing trips, times and schedules for yourself, while having to keep contingency plans in mind. When this process is applied to a relationship, it can become an issue. Planning with a partner requires compromise and understanding.
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. However, it is important to remember that other people carry knowledge and experience completely distinct from your own, and will have their own way of doing things.
You fear the worst
Like many impulsive behaviors, catastrophizing can stem from anxiety. If you constantly find yourself fearing the worst from small problems, this can lead to you attempting to fix the situation by exerting control. It becomes easy to justify controlling actions when you convince yourself you are doing them to avoid something worse.
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.
You try to isolate your partner
If you find yourself worrying about what kinds of influences somebody’s friends and family 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 unlikely your partner’s friends are conspiring against you or your relationship.
You keep score
Effective relationships are all about balance and compromise. 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 sometimes you are making the most sacrifices, but using that against them is toxic and controlling.
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 that line. Many abusive partners are controlling over their spouse’s phone, emails and communication. This usually starts with questions about who they are texting, but may evolve into checking their messages without consent.
You struggle with dependency
Sometimes people, understandably, find they are ill-equipped to live life on their own. Expecting a partner to cook, do laundry and other such household 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 may lead to controlling behavior.
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.
Insecurity over finance
Money worries can take a huge toll on our mental and physical health, and make pre-existing conditions much worse. The issue is 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.
Keeping your feelings to yourself
Expressing complex emotions is a difficult process. 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 person 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, which can lead to false impressions moving forward.
You try to deflect the blame
Those with controlling personalities often try to blame their own faults on others, especially 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
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 original applications. Frequently making your partner doubt their judgment, accusing them of misremembering events or overreacting, 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.
You control aspects of their travel
Those with control issues often make outlandish demands surrounding travel. This stems from 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 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 sends pictures of where they are, or who they are with, then you are approaching this situation looking for control. It’s wonderful to see people you care about enjoying themselves, so the pictures themselves aren’t the issue. Instead, it is demanding evidence to satisfy your own anxieties. 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.
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 is grossly manipulative.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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, but 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.
Your moods are unpredictable
Unstable moods make it harder to act rationally, 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 feeling comfortable and stable. There are both conscious and subconscious elements at play here, making it hard to judge the severity of controlling actions.
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.
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.
Using humor as a deflection
A lot of people are okay with jokes during intense moments, and assuming everyone is on the same level. 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.
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.
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.
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 people, but you may find you become crueler to your partner when around male friends, for example.
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, then try and mold them into someone they approve of.
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 what caused the reaction. Perhaps you use some derogatory language as a joke, but you should realize that nobody benefits from these except for you.
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 notable events happen to your partner, you might feel the need to even things out in an unhealthy way. This hints at insecurities about seeing someone – even a loved one – do better than yourself.
You try to hint at what you want, without saying it
For smaller things, like gifts or interests, pretty much everybody drops subtle hints. It’s cute and playful to nudge your partner to imply interest in something. Controlling people will do something similar but for more serious things, like trying to prompt that they want sex, money or something else from their partner, while trying to make it seem like it was their idea.
You are inflexible while socializing
If you approach social situations with a pre-determined goal or structure, this shows you feel the need to control the interaction. This is not always done maliciously; plenty of work interactions are based around structure and goals, for example. However if you feel the need to force the conversation through a particular, self-centered checklist, this hints at deeper issues with control.
You have trouble letting things go
Controlling people tend to be quite sensitive, and as criticism of them is unlikely to be part of any plan they make, they take it very personally. They tend to dwell on small comments about their words or actions, frequently bringing them up as they think of justifications or ways to deflect blame onto someone else.
This is not exclusive to controlling people, but the ways it shows itself in them are much more damaging. Games and sports outside of professional circles are meant to be a fun and engaging way of interacting with others. When someone takes genuine offense to losing, or is needlessly toxic while participating, this is a sign they struggle with control issues.
You are compulsive about hygiene
While many conditions and personality types have fixations on hygiene, and many of those are driven by a need for a sense of control over yourself, when you project your personal compulsions onto others it becomes an issue. Treating people as lesser for having their own, completely acceptable hygiene routines is a toxic way your control can affect others.
You don’t allow people to leave your life
Navigating break-ups, either in a relationship or between friends, is tricky and upsetting. It’s also a natural part of life that involves giving up control, allowing another person to decide how they want to move on. Naturally, this proves a problem for controlling people. Repeatedly messaging them and checking their social media to keep tabs is not respecting their decision or boundaries.
You treat relationships as transactions
This is an unhealthy way to view any kind of relationship, and can lead to controlling behaviors seeming normal and justifiable. Instead of accepting the give-and-take of human interactions, you begin thinking in terms of what is owed. People are not commodities, and trying to even out some kind of value debt will result in you dehumanizing a partner.
You try to dissuade others from seeking help
Controlling partners see outside sources of comfort and help as threats, and will try to ensure they are the only source of stability in their partner’s life. Telling them they don’t need medications for mental or physical health issues, or not to talk about their problems because that’s what they are there for, stops them from getting another perspective on the controlling actions.
You ‘backseat’ their actions
Offering help and tips on things like cooking, cleaning or work is fine, if a little annoying to some people. The key is in the phrasing, tone and frequency of these comments. Repeatedly telling a partner they are doing something wrong, undermining their confidence and ability, creates long-term insecurities and anxieties which controlling people seek to exploit for their own gain.
You use people’s instability against them
There are millions of individuals with chronic mental and physical health conditions who lead prosperous and fulfilling lives while maintaining good relationships with those around them. Someone seeking to control their partner may use their health against them, like threatening to take away their children or have authorities intervene, often over small fluctuations in their condition.