Being in a relationship with a controlling partner can take a toll on you. To put it bluntly, controlling behavior is a form of abuse. Sometimes, it can be so subtle that you miss the early signs of a controlling man until you’re in a committed relationship with him. Your attachment to him can leave you feeling drained, isolated, and distressed. Spotting this kind of behavior early on can save you a whole lot of misery.
So, how does one spot the early warning signs of a controlling boyfriend/partner before it turns into an abusive relationship? In this article, relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa helps us explore 11 early signs of a controlling man and some empowering advice on how to deal with him.
What Is Controlling Behavior In Relationships?
Controlling behavior in any kind of relationship is a form of emotional abuse. It involves an imbalanced power dynamic and a person in a position to use that power to bully, intimidate and dominate the other. This kind of behavior is seen in parents, bosses, teachers, and peers. But perhaps, when it presents itself in the form of a controlling boyfriend/partner is when it gets most damaging.
This is especially true of a man who is good at masking his controlling behavior. As it is, our judgment tends to be impaired when we’re experiencing a new attraction. Add to that the subtle manipulation of a controlling guy and you have a recipe for disaster.
Related Reading: 12 Signs Of A Control Freak – Can You Identify With Them?
Before diving into the early signs of a controlling man, it might help to understand where this behavior comes from, i.e. it is not your fault. Controlling behavior often finds its roots in past trauma, often going as far back as early childhood. A powerful event in a child’s life causes the child to unknowingly adopt a coping mechanism to deal with the situation.
These coping mechanisms are often described as ‘disorders’ – personality disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. And while they are disorders in the adult’s life, they once served a vital function – they helped protect the child from difficult circumstances that were inescapable.
Shivanya says, “An adult with unresolved past trauma will often develop a distorted worldview, characterized by low self-esteem, anxiety, fear of separation or abandonment, and trust issues. An irrational fear of being cheated on is a powerful motivator for controlling behavior and all of this results in a string of unhealthy relationships.”
It’s important to state here that none of these factors excuse the controlling behavior of toxic men. It is just useful to know that their behavior has an explanation and that you are not to blame for their control issues.
11 Early Signs Of A Controlling Man
If you’ve just started dating someone and feel that he might be a controlling partner or you might be heading toward a controlling relationship, these are some of the early signs of a controlling man you should look out for:
1. Keeps you disconnected from your social life
Shivanya says, “This is way more subtle than it sounds. Rather than overtly preventing you from spending time with your friends and family members, he may disguise it as sweet talk. He’ll make it seem like he just wants to spend time alone with you when in reality, he wants to monopolize all your free time.”
He may say things like, “Why can’t we do something together, just you and me?” or “We don’t need them to be happy in our relationship.” These statements may sound romantic on the surface but in reality, they are one of the early signs of a controlling man who doesn’t want you to have your own life.
Related Reading: Is Your Jealous Boyfriend Being Possessive And Controlling?
2. Constantly criticizes you
Does your man pick on every little thing you do? Does he always criticize the way you dress or the way you talk or even the people you hang out with? Is he coming off way too pushy? Even if he passes it off as an attempt at humor or his concern for you, the question is: why does he do that?
One of the ways for controlling people to compensate for low self-esteem is to put others down. This makes the sufferer feel better in a relative sense and makes them feel less alone. If your partner criticizes you often, this is one of the telltale signs of a controlling boyfriend.
3. Quick to blame you for trivial things
The ‘blame game’ is a favorite of controlling guys. Every little thing that goes wrong in their day is blamed on you. If they’re late for work, it’s because you didn’t wake them up. If they fall sick, it’s because you brought home the contagion. It’s designed to make you start second-guessing yourself at every turn.
Blame is an excellent defense mechanism. It allows a person to preserve their self-esteem through denial of culpability in anything that goes wrong. It’s also an effective tool in subduing their partner, making them easier to control.
About this kind of guilt tripping, Shivanya says, “He may be using your natural guilt/shame response as a way to control you. Over time, constantly making you feel guilty ends up with your life revolving around him because you start to subconsciously look for ways to avoid being blamed.”
4. Always makes decisions for you
This is probably one of the most common early warning signs of controlling behavior in intimate relationships and a slippery slope toward domestic violence. He feels the need to make all the decisions in the relationship, even decisions about your life that may not concern him at all.
“A controlling guy will seek to control your habits, preferences, what you eat, what you wear, what you watch, etc., but he won’t necessarily come across as domineering. He may come across as caring and loving when in reality, he’s trying to gain more control over you,” says Shivanya.
5. Overly protective or possessive of you
This red flag may not be as easy to spot because everyone wants to feel safe or protected or have a sense of belonging. Toxic men have a way of using this to their advantage. By behaving in a protective way, it is easy for him to mask his control issues.
He will try to cover up his actions by saying he cares but over time his behavior will become more obviously controlling. “How are you” will gradually turn into “where were you” and at this point, he has created a pattern of communication between you and him that is very hard to break. This is one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship with a partner who is unreasonably jealous.
6. Expects unconditional love but doesn’t reciprocate
This is a classic example of someone who has sustained trauma during childhood. His sense of entitlement and resentment toward the world ends up being misdirected largely toward his partner.
“In this situation, a controlling partner would expect your love without condition. You have to make all the compromises, according to his expectations, his love will be very conditional, and you have to always be alert to meet his expectations,” says Shivanya.
7. Tracks your social interactions both online and off
A controlling husband or boyfriend would naturally keep an eye on your social life to make sure you’re faithful or to see the kind of people you spend time with when he’s not around. It is a manifestation of an extreme case of anxious attachment style. It finds its roots in his childhood trauma that manifests as controlling behavior in his adulthood.
According to Shivanya, “A controlling partner takes control of your phone to see who you’re talking to and for how long because he’s anxious, fearful, or insecure. But he also monitors your facial expressions when you’re out with him. He may ask you accusatory questions like, “Why are you laughing?” or “Who are you smiling at?”.”
8. Keeps the score in conflicts with you
Another coping mechanism from a rough childhood, keeping the score in conflicts makes a traumatized person feel safe. It is a way of protecting one’s self-esteem and exerting control by keeping a list of the transgressions committed by others.
In the case of a romantic relationship, it is something that your controlling husband/partner will use against you in every argument to feed into your self-doubt. And the longer your relationship lasts, the longer his list will get. This could also be an indicator that your partner has some narcissistic tendencies that have gone unaddressed.
Related Reading: 9 Expert Tips On How To Deal With A Narcissist Spouse
9. Gaslights you when you confront him
When you do confront your controlling partner, he will of course deny it. He will claim that you’re imagining things – his behavior, the way he treats you, etc. Or he will claim that his intentions are pure and that you’re misinterpreting his actions for your own gain. These are both classic gaslighting tactics of a controlling person and constitute a huge red flag.
10. Downplays your wins in life
If a man wants you in his life for the long run, he will celebrate your wins with you. These wins could be big – a promotion or a raise at work, a marathon win, or a good investment that paid off. Or they could be small – you cooked something great for dinner or you won a radio contest.
A controlling partner, on the other hand, would find a way to make you feel bad despite the win. He may say congratulations but he might follow it up with something snarky like, “Don’t let it go to your head.” Or he may just bring up one of your flaws (in his distorted opinion) as a way to damage your self-worth in the wake of your recent victory.
Related Reading: 20 Signs You Are In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship
11. Uses veiled humor to intimidate you
Does your partner frequently make mean jokes or negative comments at your expense? Does he do this in private or in front of your friends and family members? Or both? Why does he do that? Mean jokes are a preferred tool in the arsenal of toxic men who are constantly seeking to feel superior.
It is a way for controlling people to demonstrate their wit and your alleged poor self-worth all in one bad joke. Two birds with one stone if you will. This is a massive red flag that often goes unnoticed as one of the early warning signs because jokes at each other’s expense are some people’s way of showing affection. The trick is to realize when the jokes coming your way are always mean.
How To Deal With A Controlling Man
Dealing with a dominating and controlling partner is not easy. If you don’t stand up for yourself sooner rather than later, your life may turn toxic and you may find it difficult to break these patterns of communication.
For a controlling person to truly change their ways in the long run, they truly need to find out where this behavior is stemming from. It is very likely to be the result of childhood trauma, so it will take therapy and a supportive mindset to help him come to terms with his control issues.
This is, of course, only if he accepts that he needs therapy. You can’t force him to go to therapy and if he does refuse, if he does not think that he needs to change, then that is your cue to leave for the sake of your mental health. Having established that, here are five tips on how to deal with a dominating partner from day to day while striving for positive changes in the long run:
1. Communicate well
The first step in opening up a line of communication about your controlling relationship is to do your best to communicate well. If it has come to this stage, then he probably knows your triggers and will use them against you. Being able to communicate calmly and firmly will be your biggest asset in this conflict.
Shivanya’s advice on communicating with controlling guys is, “Tell them that you appreciate their involvement but they don’t need to interfere with every aspect of your life and overpower you with their decisions. They will understand if you communicate it well and if they’re open to growing with you.”
Related Reading: Communication Problems In Relationships – 11 Ways To Overcome
2. Do not ignore
If your gut is telling you that your partner has a controlling personality, then you’re better off dealing with it sooner rather than later. The longer you take to address such a relationship, the more comfortable he feels with his abusive behaviors. Shivanya says, “You might not take your partner’s dominating actions seriously and end up ignoring them. But you should know that it gives your partner the freedom to think that you’re okay with the domination and may control you more.”
3. Work mutually
If a man wants you in his life, he should be willing to discuss boundaries and the need for personal space without any negativity. But only if he is open to change. If he is set in his ways and genuinely believes that his behavior is not inappropriate, then you might want to reassess your priorities. If you feel like he won’t change, you might be better off leaving him.
4. Stop giving in
You might agree with everything your partner does just for the sake of love or at least to not rock the boat. But deep down, you’ll feel guilty about it. So, stop giving in and take a stand when you both aren’t on the same page. Controlling people thrive on agreeableness because it helps the relationship become more enmeshed. Only you can break out of this pattern.
Related Reading: What Is An Enmeshed Relationship? Signs And How To Set Boundaries
5. Seek help
“Sometimes, you may feel scared or confused about communicating with your partner. In this case, you can ask for help from your friends and family. And if you aren’t comfortable discussing it with them, or if you feel his controlling behavior is escalating, seek professional help. A skilled mental health expert will guide you well and give you some useful tips on strengthening your bond with your partner or healing from the heartbreak,” says Shivanya. If you’re in a controlling relationship and looking for help, qualified and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel are here for you.
- Controlling behavior is a subtle form of emotional abuse perpetrated by establishing dominance over the victim
- A person with a controlling personality seeks to instill self-doubt and low self-worth in order to feel superior
- This kind of behavior masks a past trauma, usually dating back to childhood, and compensates for his insecurity
- Keeping tabs on you, criticizing you, blaming you, and downplaying your victories are a few examples of controlling behavior
- If he is open to taking responsibility, professional counseling can help you move toward a healthy relationship, but if not, it might be time for you to move on
If you feel like you might be in a relationship with a controlling man, you might want to see how many of these 11 early signs of a controlling man apply to him. Continuing such a relationship for the sake of the attachment will make you feel unloved, and leave you riddled with self-doubt and guilt. If you think he can change, be as supportive as you can. If you think not, then save yourself. Whatever you decide, trust your gut!