We all have our own particular way of doing things, but there's a fine line between being particular and being controlling. If you're a controlling person, it's likely you're sabotaging your own relationships. What's even worse is that being a controlling person can take a toll on your partner's self-esteem. It can weaken your trust and interfere with communication. All these elements are essential for a healthy relationship.
When I worked with couples as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, control issues were at the heart of most of the failing relationships. What's sadder is that control was also a big part of the abusive relationships.
Remember, relationships should only enhance your life. They should never take away your identity, or your independence. And as a loving, supportive partner, you should never want to take away your love's sense of self and sense of control over their own lives. This is not an exhaustive list, but if you're doing any of these controlling behaviors in your relationship, it's likely that if you don't loosen up the reigns, your love story could be over without any kind of happy ending.
1. You Interfere With Friendships
Your partner's friends might be the worst, but they're still your partner's friends. You're certainly allowed to have (and respectfully voice) an opinion about who your partner hangs out with. What you can't do is tell your partner who they can or can't be friends with. That type of controlling behavior is a serious red flag for trust issues and other unhealthy relationship problems. You can't ban your partner from hanging out. You can't make rules about those friends not being allowed in the house (unless it's a safety issue). You can't throw a fit every time your partner wants to spend time with those friends. Healthy people in healthy relationships have the time and space to chose and nurture their own friendships.
2. You Dress Your Partner
We've all done this from time to time, but there's a difference between helping someone with their look and controlling it. If you're helping, it should be because your partner has specifically asked for your help. It's an even exchange of opinions, but your partner ultimately has the final say in what they wear. In a controlling relationship, you tell your partner what to wear, with the expectation that they have to wear it. This type of control is usually motivated by jealousy (you don't want your partner wear things that would cause others to look at them) or embarrassment (you don't approve of their style and want to control the image you present as a couple). Either way, it's not OK.
3. You Have High Standards For Your Home
Do people call you a clean freak? A tidy home is a awesome feeling, but it shouldn't come at the expense of your relationship. In a healthy relationship, chores are divided equally, in a way that you both feel is fair. If things slide once in awhile, it's totally fine. You might even step in to pick up the slack when your partner's life gets busy. In a controlling relationship, one partner sets expectations for the other without giving them any say. When those expectations aren't met, there's the threat of a fight, or even violence. That partner often walks on eggshells because they're afraid of what will happen if they don't meet their partner's rigid expectations.
4. You're All Up In Your Partner's Phone
Trust is everything. If you can't trust your partner, you either have to figure out a solution, or find another partner. Phones are a true test of trust. If you insist on seeing who your partner calls, texts, and interacts with on social media, that's part trust issue, part control issue. If you tell your partner who they can and can't talk to, or make your partner feel like they can't freely interact on social media without fear of getting in trouble, that's taking it too far. You have the right to ask questions and say how you feel, but you don't have the right to control who your partner can communicate with.
5. You Want Your Partner With You At All Times
It's OK to want your partner to be with you at all times. It's not OK to make your partner be with you at all times. Healthy people in healthy relationships spend plenty of time apart, even if they miss each other in the process. They do their own thing, work on their goals, hang with their friends, and see their families without their partners. A controlling partner will use anger, guilt, or shame to make sure you're together all the time. They'll make their partners feel like they have to turn down invites, or that they have to get home right away after work.
6. You're The Default Decision Maker
If you make all the decisions about where you're going, how you're spending your money, what you're eating, if you'll have a family, or how your future will look, that's controlling. Even if your partner is the kind of person who doesn't like making decisions, a good partner still takes their opinions and desired into account when making plans. If you're a controlling partner, then you live with the mindset that it's your life and your partner is coming along for the ride. That's not a true partnership at all.
7. You're The Sole Captain Of The Ship
Are you the boss? Do you expect certain things from your partner, and get angry when your vision of the perfect life isn't coming together? Do you make the rules? Sometimes when you're in a relationship, it's not about you. It's about your partner's goals, dreams, wants, and needs. The good thing about that is, you get your time, too. But if it's always about you and what you want, and you think it's your partner's job to serve you or spend their time making you happy, that's control rearing its ugly head. If you think you're the boss in your relationship, in more than a joking way, that's a problem.
8. You See Compromise As A Personal Attack
Always demanding to get what you want is a form of control. Relationships are about compromise. If you are never willing to meet in the middle, you're forcing your partner to do all the work of changing, adjusting, and sacrificing in order to please you. No person in a relationship is royalty. It's not anyone else's job to make you happy all the time. If you're unwilling to compromise, you're setting up an expectation that your needs and wants are more important, and that your partner's job is to comply. That's an unhealthy use of control.
9. You Dictate Your Partner's Future
Your partner's future, no matter how entwined it is with yours, is ultimately theirs to determine. That means if they want to go to school, get a job, change careers, or pursue new interests, in most cases you should be a supporter, not someone they have to go to for permission. These types of big life changes should be something you discuss openly and iron out together, not something you get the ultimate say in determining.
10. You Decide When You Have Sex
When you want sex, do you take it? That's totally fine if you know for a fact that your partner's on board. If, not, it's really controlling and unhealthy to make your sexual desires the default. I worked with so many people who felt that it was their duty to keep their partners satisfied weather their partners wanted to be or not. No person has to ever have sex with you if they're not in the mood, even if you've been married for 20 years. It is always the right thing to do to make sure your partner is down for sex instead of just expecting them to be.
11. You Use Anger & Negativity To Get What You Want
When your partner doesn't do what you want, do you get angry? Do they live their live in fear of what will happen if they disobey or make you angry? This doesn't always look like a situation where one partner is a monster and the other is a scared mouse. It can be done through manipulation and unspoken threats so that one partner doesn't even realize they're being controlled by the other. Maybe it looks like you coming home from work and stomping around as you clean because the house wasn't picked up when you got there. Maybe it's you giving your partner the silent treatment when they do something you don't like. All these manipulations add up over time to create a partner who is under your control.
If you are a controlling partner, there's no shame in admitting it, and seeking help for it. And if you're being controlled, you can always call and chat with the people behind the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It's not just for people who need help escaping. It's also there for people who just need to talk, ask questions, and get some clarity.