Humans are complicated. And that is a huge understatement. Even when we try our best and act with good intentions, we can operate in unhealthy ways. We may even be guilty of behaviors we didn't realize were controlling. Our past hurts, our role models, and even the media can affect what we think is normal and healthy relationship behavior. Plus, we all think we know what abuse and control looks like. It looks like big scary people who hit us, threaten us, and tell us what to do, right? Except not at all. That notion helps us to live in denial and to make excuses when otherwise nice people (who we really love) treat us in unhealthy or abusive ways. The real truth is, we probably all have some unhealthy behaviors from time to time, even in the best and happiest of relationships. And humans can be good and bad for us (and to us) at the same time. Things are rarely black and white.
If there's anything I've learned from working with both happy and toxic couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, it's that we all need to watch out for behaviors that are motivated by power and control. Power and control define whether similar behaviors behaviors are annoying or abusive. And many controlling behaviors are really, really easy to miss. Take a look at this list of sneaky controlling behaviors and make sure you're not guilty of them or accepting of them. And remember, if you're unsure, you can always talk to a relationship expert for free by reaching out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The trained experts who answer those calls aren't just there for domestic violence cases. They're their to listen and educate as well. I know, because I used to answer those calls.
1. They Sabotage Your Attempts At Self-Improvement
Abusive, controlling partners thrive on weakening their partners. That doesn't mean you're weak, it just means your partner wants you to be weak. They worry that if you' continue to improve yourself, you'll be too good for them. So they'll try to control that process. This can come out in a bunch of really subtle ways, like tempting you with pizza when they know you're doing a Whole30, offering you cigarettes when they know you've quit, pressuring you into drinking more than you planned, or guilting you into watching TV when you wanted to go for a long run. They usually try to come off like they're being nice, generous, or supportive. If you push back and your partner supports you, they could think they're being nice. If they get mad, moody, resentful, or argumentative when you stick to your guns, they're probably reacting to a failed attempt at control.
2. They Also Thwart Your Goals
This power and control red flag is the same as the one above, but on a bigger scale. It can look like your partner insisting you can't afford to go back to school. It can be claiming you can't afford to have two cars, or telling you horror stories about public transportation. It can even sound caring, like, "I just don't want you to spend all that time and energy on something I don't think is going to make you happy." In healthy relationships, partners support rather than sabotage each other's goals. It's OK to ask your partner to support you, even if they don't get what you're trying to do. Your life is yours to live, even if you share it with another person.
3. They Don't Like Any Of Your Friends Or Family
If your partner doesn't like any of your friends, family members, or co-workers, you have to ask yourself why. It could be an attempt to control you by controlling who you hang out with. It might seem innocent, or even loving, when your partner first expresses concern about who is in your life. But if you're not careful, you can wake up one day and realize that you aren't close to anyone anymore. It's also a popular ruse of abusers to isolate their partners.
4. Your Partner Is Mysterious
Does your partner know everything about you and your life, but you don't know much about theirs? Are they mysterious? Do they refuse to talk about or introduce you to their co-workers or friends? Do they not tell you where they're going for long periods of time, leaving you to wonder? This is a way to control what you know, and therefore, control your opinion of your partner. It's one thing to keep work and home life separate, but it's another to keep your non-home life on lockdown. Before you know it, you'll start hearing rumors about your partner that seem like they can't be true, because you only know the version of your partner that they want you to know.
5. Always Disagreeing
Always disagreeing with someone is a popular control tactic. By never acknowledging your opinions, and never seeing your side of things, your partner is subtly training you to stop having differing opinions. Your partner can use other bullying techniques to control how you think, like acting smarter than you, citing their education and experience, talking in circles until you're confused, turning everything you say around on you, constantly correcting you, or acting like they can't understand your point of view. They might also make you feel like your opinions are wrong because you're somehow hurt or damaged. Eventually you'll just stop trying to disagree, or stop sharing your opinions entirely.
6. They're Never Out Of Excuses
A controlling person has an amazing talent. It's like they were born with an unlimited amount of perfect excuses for every situation imaginable. They have a reason why you shouldn't trust your friends. They have excuses for why they got fired, for where they've been, and why you shouldn't ever be mad at them about anything, ever. This is controlling when these excuses are constant because they're used to control what information you have about them and how you view certain situations. Manipulating information is a powerful way to control someone.
7. They Remind You Of False Truths
Controlling partners like to make a lot of statements in order to control the tone of the relationship. They often make positive statements about how great they are, how much they understand you, how perfect you are for each other, and how lucky you are to have found each other. Then in the next breath, they say things like, "nobody would want us anyway, we're too old now" or, "it's really hard to find someone when you have kids." They're trying to brainwash you into believing you would be stupid to leave the relationship, and that you won't find anything better.
8. They Give You The Silent Treatment
There's a huge difference between needing time and space before you can continue a disagreement, and giving someone the silent treatment. When you need space, you're cooling off, gathering your thoughts, and figuring out what you want or need. When you give someone the silent treatment, you're saying, "I'm not going to meet your needs until you give me what I want." It's very manipulative and incredibly controlling. It's also immature.
9. They Monopolize Your Time
Controllers keep you busy. They need you to take care of them, the home, the kids, the meals, the pets, and everything else they can think of. When you have time left over, they want you to go out to eat, or watch a movie. They will always find some way to make sure you don't have time for yourself, your goals, and your development. They might even reward you and praise you for all you do so that you'll keep doing it. Deep down, it's all about keeping you under control.
If you spot controlling behaviors in your relationship, treat them like fires. Stop everything and deal with them. Otherwise, they'll consume you.
Images: Pexels (9)