In this post we’re going to discuss the main signs of a controlling partner and what you can do if you find yourself in this type of situation.
There’s a good chance that if you’re here reading this article, you either suspect that you’re with a controlling partner or love someone who is experiencing this type of relationship. It’s also possible that the controlling partner isn’t your “partner” at all — but a family member, friend, colleague, or boss.
The signs of a controlling person are similar across the board, but today, let’s just review how control manifests within romantic relationships.
There are certain hallmarks of a controlling partner that come in the form of feelings and physical discomfort. You might feel anxious, stressed out, and fearful. You worry about small things and walk on eggshells around this person.
Whoever they were when you fell for them, you don’t recognize them anymore — and you may not recognize yourself either.
19 Signs of a Controlling Partner
If you or someone you love has a controlling partner, you’ll likely notice these signs.
They Isolate You
Controlling partners want you to rely exclusively on them. In fact, it’s how they’re able to exert control over your life. The first thing they need to do is cut you off from your support system. You find yourself spending all your time with them, and when you want to spend time with friends or family members, they disrupt those plans.
While this may seem romantic at first, you notice that it goes beyond insisting that you spend every waking moment together. You’ll notice that they begin to make you question the people in your life. It may sound caring and concerned, but it slowly isolates you from people you love.
They Make All the Decisions
A controlling person makes all the decisions. Your opinion and ideas are dismissed in favor of what they think and want.
You don’t have an equal role in the relationship, and you find that you usually just go along to get along because they’ll make life hard for you otherwise.
It can start out with simple things. You watch all the shows they like. You go to the restaurants they prefer. Your weekends look more like their interests than your own. You’re slowly disappearing, and you don’t even remember when you last got a vote on anything happening in your life or in the relationship.
What’s strange about this is that it can happen to anyone. You might think a person in a controlling relationship is weak and easily manipulated, but even strong, powerful people have found themselves in abusive, controlling relationships. It often happens before you’ve even realized you’re in one.
They Undermine You
A controlling person will constantly undermine you. They point out your flaws to others, constantly dismiss your views, and make everything just a little bit harder for you. If you’ve ever co-parented with a controlling person, this becomes apparent.
You impose a consequence for a behavior, and your partner disregards it because they don’t want to be the bad guy. In fact, in a controlling relationship, the setup is that you’re always the bad guy.
You can be undermined in little ways. It can happen so often that you dismiss it much of the time. It’s only when you’re adding up the many signs of how they exert control that you realize it’s been happening all along.
They Gaslight You
Have you stopped trusting your own perception and gut reactions? This will happen when you partner a controlling person. They make you doubt your sanity.
One controlling partner used to tell me that my reaction to his behavior was due to my past history of troubled relationships. If he could make me feel like the problem, he never had to be accountable for what he was doing.
Gaslighting is insidious. Controlling partners will make you doubt what they said, what you said, and even what you saw with your own eyes. And they twist the truth into a form so unrecognizable that you doubt yourself.
They can do this with great sincerity, and after a while, it becomes difficult to know what’s real and what’s all in your head.
They Limit Your Access to Money
One of the signs of a controlling partner is they want to control the finances, and they want to limit your access to them. Money is power, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It changes the power dynamic if the controlling partner contributes more of the household income.
Suddenly, you’re a child with an allowance rather than an adult with equal access to money and decisions.
This can happen slowly, or it can snowball quickly. They might run up your credit cards, empty your savings, or just make large purchases without talking to you first. It may even transpire that you have to ask permission for money while they get to do what they want.
If they drain your resources, you can’t really leave easily, can you?
They Take Credit for Things You Do
Behind successful people in controlling relationships, you’ll find someone taking the credit for their achievements. A controlling partner will absolutely take credit for your hard work. They see your achievements as being impossible without them.
In fact, they make you feel like every good thing about you or the relationship happens because of them — and, you guessed it, every bad thing happens because of you. But we’ll go into that more later.
They Try to Buy You with Gifts and Experiences
A controlling partner may shower you with gifts and special experiences. It can seem very romantic — until you realize it’s a manipulation. Do they think they can buy your love and loyalty?
Someone who gives you a gift after one of their particularly controlling behaviors isn’t trying to apologize or be kind. They’re trying to get you to fall back in line.
Notice when you get the gifts. Is it really “for no reason”, or did they do something that you can’t quite rationalize? Are you on the verge of leaving when they suddenly surprise you with a weekend getaway or expensive gift?
They Don’t Want You to Socialize without Them
Suddenly, you never go anywhere without them. Not to see your family. Not even for lunch out with your friends. Wherever you go, they go, too. In fact, they insist.
You begin to realize that you don’t have time where you can just hang out with your friends. They’re always there, listening and observing. You might not even seem like yourself anymore because you know they’re going to put a spin on what you say or do.
It’s easier not to socialize at all than to have to ask your family and friends to make sure your partner is included each and every time.
They Make You Feel Insecure
You used to feel good about yourself, right? A controlling partner will undermine that, too. If you have healthy self-worth, you can’t be controlled. If they can poke holes in it, you’ll be easier to manipulate.
They don’t just make you feel insecure about how you look. They make you question your intelligence, your interests, what you wear, what you do, and even what you say.
And they may even act like it’s just a joke, but their jokes are always pointed — and the barbs are aimed at you.
Recommended read: 17 Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse
They Criticize You
One key sign of a controlling partner is that they constantly criticize you. It’s not just that they make you feel insecure with their passing comments and jokes. They are directly critical of you all the time.
Over time, this can wear you down. You feel like you can’t say or do anything right. They twist everything, and you just find it easier to walk on eggshells than deal with their outbursts.
They Blame You for Everything
The controlling partner has to be the hero, the good guy, and the winner. Naturally, this means, they have to cast you as the villain, the bad guy, and the big loser.
Just as they take credit for every good thing you do, they blame you for everything that goes wrong for them whether it has anything to do with you or not. If they’re struggling, you’re the reason — never them.
This is such a tough position to be in. On the one hand, you know they’re experiencing the consequences of their own actions, and you haven’t done anything wrong. On the other, they make you feel wrongfooted and at fault about all of it anyway. You’re constantly anxious, and you become watchful of their moods.
They Use Intimidation to Get Their Way
If you ever try to bring balance to the relationship and have more of a voice, they won’t shrink from intimidation. It’s not always physical either — although it certainly can be. They’ll threaten to leave you, threaten to hurt themselves, or find another way to intimidate and manipulate you into staying.
The physical intimidation might even be subtle if they use it. They might step into your space, raise their voice, or call you names. They might not lay a finger on you, but you’ll feel intimidated all the same.
The Controlling Partner Never Compromises
A controlling person doesn’t compromise. It’s not how they work. They have a strong need for everything to go their way, and they’ll make sure that it does. In fact, if they ever do seem like their compromising, it could be a power play so that they can get something else they want. Be vigilant.
Relationships, healthy ones anyway, should have balance. They should involve compromises that suit both parties, not ones that always favor one partner over the other. If you’re the only one compromising, you’re the one being controlled.
They Check Your Phone and Private Communications
Every relationship needs a healthy amount of space, freedom, and privacy. Partners are not entitled to know every thought you have, read or overhear every conversation, or know every detail of your past. If you have a partner who feels free to check your phone and private communications, you’re dealing with someone who is controlling.
You have a right to basic privacy in a relationship. Someone who feels like it’s okay to see who you’ve been talking to and what you’ve been saying is crossing a line. No matter what justification they offer, this isn’t acceptable or appropriate behavior.
They Monitor and Account for Every Second of Your Day
One of the signs of a controlling partner is that they monitor and account for every single second of your day. Getting home a few minutes later than usual will bring about an interrogation as to where you’ve been. Changing a single thing about your routine is encountered with accusations and suspicion.
In healthy relationships, your partner shouldn’t have to know where you are and what you’re doing all day long.
You should be able to go to the bathroom and miss their call without being subjected to a tirade when you finally return it. This close observation of every move you make isn’t love, care, or affection. It’s control.
They Ignore Your Boundaries
Most of us have some boundaries around our lives. They’re healthy to have. A controlling partner won’t care what boundaries you’ve set. They’ll run right over them if it gets in their way.
If you’ve asked your partner to give you some space or lower their voice when they’re yelling at you, you might find that they crowd you more or increase their volume.
The point is that they want you to see that you’re not in control; they are. Even simple boundaries are disregarded as if what you have to say doesn’t even matter.
Recommended read: 4 Examples of Boundary Violations
They’re Frequently Jealous
The controlling partner is usually a jealous one. They are constantly making sure that they are number one in your life — above everyone who came before. They might even compete with attention from your best friends, children, or family members. The thing is they aren’t just jealous of other potential partners; they’re jealous of everyone.
They want all your time and attention, and you may begin to feel smothered. It may feel like the only time you get space is when they want space. Otherwise, you don’t have room to breathe in the relationship.
Recommended read: Retroactive Jealousy: What It Is, Signs, and How to Get Over It
They are Critical of Your Support System
Does it just so happen that your partner doesn’t like your friends and family? Are they constantly critical of everyone you’d go to for support?
They might deliver this feedback in tones of kindness and caring, just looking out for you, but what’s happening here is that they want to drive a wedge between you and everyone else.
This goes beyond isolation, although it’s part of it. The controlling partner doesn’t want you to trust yourself, so it’s advantageous for them if you think everyone is against you.
If they can remove the support system, they can become that for you — adding yet another tie to the relationship you’ll have trouble severing.
They Use Psychological Punishment When You Step Out of Line
While this list is by no means all-inclusive, one of the most powerful and painful signs of a controlling partner is that they use psychological punishment any time you assert yourself or step out of the box they’ve put you in. They’ll use whatever hurts you most.
Expect passive-aggressive comments and posts, the silent treatment, withholding intimacy, or anything else that makes you unhappy. You’ll be punished for daring to stand up to them.
The thing that you need to understand if you love someone who is in a controlling relationship is that they are dealing with an attack on their nervous system at all times. They’re in survival mode, which may be why they aren’t open to your monologue about why they should leave.
They’re trying to put one foot in front of the other while partnering an unstable, controlling, and abusive individual. It’s not so easy they can just cut and run. They know there will be consequences when they go.
This is why so many people in controlling relationships leave slowly and carefully — or ghost all at once after months of planning. They need to leave but to do it as safely as possible. They’re afraid all the time, even when no physical violence has occurred. They’ve experienced punishment that maybe you can only imagine.
What You Should Do If You’re in a Relationship with a Controlling Partner
If after reading the main signs of a controlling partner, you think you may be in a relationship with one, there are things you can do to feel safe and begin to take back your power. The following actions won’t be easy, but they may be necessary for your overall wellness.
- Contact the National Domestic Violence hotline at 800–799–7233 or text START to 88788. They’ll help provide you with the knowledge and resources to move forward. Make no mistake: a controlling partner is an abusive one.
- Make a safety plan. You can read about them online, but if you think your digital communications are being monitored, call 800.799.SAFE (7233) for further assistance. A safety plan will help you be prepared to leave the situation you’re in.
- Make an appointment with a therapist. If you can get your controlling partner into couples counseling with you, more power to you, but you also need an individual counselor of your own to talk through the trauma of your experience.
- Rebuild your support system. You may have damaged your relationships over the course of partnering a controlling person, so you’ll need to do what you can to reach out and rebuild some social support. You’re going to need people in your life who are there for you if you’re choosing to leave the relationship. Even if you don’t want to leave the relationship, you still should have a full independent support system in your life.
- Decide what you want to do. If your partner shows some of these behaviors but not most of them, you may feel like the relationship is worth saving. If this is the case, you’ll need to get your partner on board with counseling and with working on changing your relationship dynamic. You cannot save this relationship alone.
Controlling partners are usually hurting individuals who might not even realize the extent of the harm they’re doing. That doesn’t make it okay.
If you’re in a relationship with a controlling partner, you’ll need to shift away from making excuses for what they’re doing and start looking at how you’re living.
If you want to return to your power and feel like yourself again, you may need to admit that this isn’t the best relationship for you. Let your controlling partner get healthy if they want to — but you don’t have to stick around while they do.
Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned author and the author of the Heart of Madison contemporary romance series.
When she’s not writing or working on her next book, you can find Crystal traveling, paddle boarding, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, gardening, doing yoga, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children.
You can find more of her work on her personal website: crystaljacksonwriter.com.