Many people end up in controlling relationships and don't even realize it. That's because we often get an idea in our heads of what a "bad" relationship looks like, and we do a pretty good job of convincing ourselves that it doesn't quite describe our own experiences. This can lead you down a road of denial, which is incredibly common when it comes to being in abusive relationships.
In fact, toxic relationships usually seem pretty romantic and passionate at first. You swoon when your new SO wants you all to themselves, or acts jealous, or doesn't want you to go out. "They just want to spend all their time with me," you think to yourself, without realizing that it's actually totally creepy.
But don't feel bad about not noticing. Controlling partners can be pretty darn sneaky when it comes to isolating you. They also are pretty slick when it comes to doling out insults, often disguising them as a weird sort of compliment. So you are definitely not at fault for finding yourself in a controlling relationship, or for getting stuck in one.
These types of relationships can be nuisances, or they can get downright scary. If you ever find yourself in a bad situation, don't be afraid to ask for help. Here are some signs to look out for if you suspect you're in a controlling relationship:
1. They Isolate You From Friends And Family
It's normal to forget anyone else exists when you're in the throes of a new relationship. But sooner or later, most couples start having separate lives again, and that includes hanging out with friends on their own. If you're in a controlling relationship, however, your partner will seek to isolate you from family and friends either by making you feel guilty for going out, or by preventing you altogether. According to Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., for Psychology Today, "It may start subtly, but this is often a first step for a controlling person. Their goal is to strip you of your support network, and thus your strength — so that you will be less likely or able to stand up against them whenever they want to 'win.'"
2. They Try To Control Your Money
Controlling people often have a very skewed idea of how money should flow in a relationship, and it can be a sign of worse things to come. In some instances, you may find that every penny you earn goes to supporting your partner, who conveniently is never able to contribute. As Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., notes in Psych Central, one partner may find themselves working all the time to pay the bills and buy food, while the other partner promises to find a job, but never actually does.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, according to Hartwell-Walker, is the partner who promises full financial support. They seem all sweet and romantic about it, but it's really a ploy for control. After all, if you're indebted to them, both emotionally and financially, then they can keep you in their clutches. This is precisely why everyone needs a rainy day fund so if you decide to leave a relationship, money won't be something holds you back (because that's exactly what a controlling partner wants).
3. They Make You Doubt Your Ability To Reach Your Goals
In healthy relationships, both partners will support each other's dreams and goals. And they should, because one perk of being in a relationship is having each other's backs. Controlling partners, on the other hand, will often make your dreams seem silly or pointless or unattainable. According to Bonior, they'll do whatever they can to make you feel incapable.
4. They Belittle Your Beliefs
You should be able to share your thoughts and ideas openly with your SO, as any loving partner will be interested in what you have to say. But controlling partners will be quick to shoot down what you think, especially if it goes against their own beliefs. As Bonior noted, "It's great when our partners can challenge us into interesting discussions and give us new ways of looking at the world. It is not great when they make you feel small, silly, or stupid, or they consistently try to change your mind about something important to you that you believe in. Openness to new experience is wonderful — but a controlling partner doesn't see it as a two-way street, and only wants you to be and think more like they do."
5. They Way They Treat You Makes You Feel Sick
If your partner is causing you constant stress by belittling you and ruining your self-esteem, you may find that you feel under the weather more often than not. You may also notice feelings of anxiety or depression as you deal with their mistreatment. According to an article by Iris McCann, Rachel Winwood, and Dr. Petra Boynton in The Telegraph, "Living under this chronic stress can affect the victim both physically and mentally with symptoms such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety and depression, and maybe suicidal ideation or attempts." A relationship should always make you feel better — never worse.
6. They Want You Involved In Their Life, But Are Disinterested In Yours
You go out of your way to take an interest in your partner's hobbies and friends and favorite TV shows, but they seem incapable of returning the favor. As Hartwell-Walker said, "You may justify it at first, figuring that you’re more flexible, that you want to get to know his friends, that it’s cool that he wants to teach you about his interests, that getting him to go to one of your events isn’t worth his sighing and his restlessness and his comments. But somehow you end up making all the compromises..."
A controlling partner can be very subtle in their tactics to run your life, or they can be downright obvious in their attempts to cut you off from any sort of autonomy. Always remember that you don't have to put up with this abuse. And if you ever find that the control is escalating into violence, please get help as soon as you can by contacting The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
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