We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: how to tell if your partner is too controlling.
Q: “My partner likes to be in control — in bed, in our relationship, even household things like cooking and cleaning. He takes the lead in just about every aspect of our relationship. For the most part, it works. I like being taken care of and being more submissive. But how do I know if he's being too controlling? He has never done anything crazy, but sometimes I have this nagging feeling that maybe it’s too much.”
A: Thanks for the question! Being an adult is hard, and sometimes it’s really nice to be able to sit back and let someone else take charge for once. I know you said your boyfriend hasn’t done anything “crazy,” but it’s very easy for “taking the lead” to turn into “controlling.” Here are 13 questions to ask yourself if you’re concerned about your partner being too controlling in your relationship.
1. Am I Looking Out For The Obvious Signs?
Sometimes the signs of a controlling partner are pretty overt:
- Physical aggression
- Making threats
- Putting you down or calling you names
- Telling you that you have no choice
Each of the above are big, glaring red flags, and signs of an abusive relationship.
2. Could I Leave?
This question is an extremely important litmus test. Do you think you could leave your relationship? Of course, your boyfriend might be sad, upset, or hurt, but would he allow you to leave the relationship? Or do you ever feel fearful that he wouldn’t let you walk away? Do you worry he might do something dramatic to make you stay? Does the thought of leaving make you feel anxious or scared?
3. Have I Consciously Chosen This?
How did this dynamic between you and your boyfriend start? Did the two of you consciously decide to let your boyfriend be “the leader” in some of the key aspects of your relationship? For example, there’s a subset of people in the power play community who have explicit D/s relationships where one partner (the “D”) is in control, and the other partner (the “s”) is the submissive. These types of arrangements usually come with contracts and timelines. There’s no set of guidelines that’s going to work for every couple, but the idea is to be purposeful about what you want in your relationship, rather than just falling into a pattern.
4. Do I Know Why My Partner Likes Being In Charge?
Different relationship dynamics work for different people, but it’s worth trying to find out why your partner likes being in charge. I’d be on the lookout for answers that indicate that he doesn’t trust you, or doesn’t think you can handle things yourself; for example, saying things like, “things wouldn’t get done if we left them up to you.”
Here’s another interesting possibility: does your partner genuinely like being in charge? Or is he doing it because he thinks you — or society as a whole — expects him to “be the man” in the relationship? If you’re a little nervous about your boyfriend being too controlling, this probably isn’t the case, but it’s still worth asking him if he feels like he has a choice in the role he plays.
5. Is My Partner Keeping Score?
It’s nice to take care of someone you love, but you want to make sure your intentions are mostly pure. Once you start keeping score of who has done what, things can start drifting into controlling territory. Does your boyfriend talk or joke about how you “owe” him? Does it feel like you’ll never be out of debt? Does he seem to remember a lot of details about exactly what he has done for you?
6. Am I Being Constantly Criticized?
Berating and name calling are some of the more obvious signs of a controlling partner, but more innocuous-seeming criticism can be just as bad. Sure, lots of couples bicker, but I’m talking about constant criticism. Does your partner make you feel lesser than? Does he get on your case about the same things over and over? Does it feel like you can never do anything right?
7. Does He Act Jealous?
Jealousy can be another glaring red flag. Most people feel occasional jealousy, but controlling partners tend to go over the top. Does your boyfriend question you about your relationships with other people? Does he “allow” you to have male friends? Does he snoop on your phone, or in your email? Does he accuse you of cheating on him?
8. Do I Still Have My Own Life?
You want to make sure that your partner is cool with you maintaining your own private life, separate from your relationship. Do you ever have to ask him for permission to hang out with your friends, or go out with coworkers? Does he seem to want to spend every waking second with you? Do you feel guilty when you do things on your own? If it feels like he’s constantly checking in on you, or paying attention to your every move, he’s being way too controlling.
9. Am I In Control Of Anything?
Even if your boyfriend takes the lead with the majority of things in your relationship, there should be some things that you're in control of. Maybe you're the one who plans date nights, or you handle your joint finances. If you can’t think of anything that you’re in control of in your relationship, it’s time to reevaluate.
10. Could I Change The Arrangement?
This question is an excellent way to gauge whether your relationship is controlling or not. It’s fine if your boyfriend is a better cook than you, for example, but would he allow you to cook? Or would he jump in and say that you “wouldn’t do it right”? Say something like, “I’ve been thinking about how much you do for me lately. I really appreciate it, but I also want to take on more responsibility. I know you usually handle paying the bills, but I’d like to take that off of your plate and manage it from now on. How do you feel about that?”
11. Have My Friends Warned Me?
Sometimes we can have blinders on when it comes to romantic relationships. It might be difficult for you to determine whether or not your partner is being controlling, but your good friends are more likely to be able to use an objective lens. Have your friends ever expressed fears or concerns about your partner?
12. Do I Feel Good About Myself?
This is another extremely important question. Do you genuinely enjoy the dynamic between the two of you? Do you think this relationship is helping you grow and mature? Do you feel proud of the person you are in it?
13. Do I Feel Scared, Nervous, Or Unsure?
At the end of the day, some of the most important advice I can give you is to follow your gut instincts. Clearly, you felt enough hesitation about this relationship to warrant reaching out and sending in a question. Honor your feelings by paying attention to them.
Wishing you the best of luck.
Editor's Note: If you feel like you need help getting out of this relationship or figuring out what to do next, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
Images: Focus Features; Giphy