7 Signs Your Partner Is Trying To Control Your Thoughts & Behaviors
It may start off innocently enough. Your partner may jokingly tell you to "shut up" after you express a different opinion from theirs or make subtle comments about how they dislike your friends. These are small things that may not seem like red flags. But according to experts, it's still important to take notice. If your relationship is starting to feel off, these may be signs your partner is becoming emotionally dominant over you.
"Emotional dominance occurs when one person overwhelms the other's emotional boundaries and begins to control what the other is allowed to show, think, feel, and/or how to outwardly behave," psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, tells Bustle. "Most physical and sexual abuse happens after one person establishes emotional dominance over the other."
More often than not, a person who is emotionally dominating has deeply-rooted insecurities and issues surrounding control. As psychotherapist Emily Roberts MA, LPC, tells Bustle, they're often quick-tempered, lack regard for your time and emotions, and often blame others for their feelings and problems.
"Dominance means that your partner is attempting to limit your power," Roberts says. "It's not a sign of someone who cares about you. It means they care about them and are attempting to control your decision making or manipulate you. It's unhealthy and emotionally abusive."
Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse isn't always as easy to spot. So here's how you can tell if your partner is becoming emotionally dominant over you, according to expert.
1. They Snap At You For Having Different Opinions
"Emotional abuse is communication that intentionally tries to make another person feel bad, wrong, or unloveable," Scott-Husdon says. If you feel like you're not "allowed" to state your opinion or talk about certain topics that your partner doesn't like, these could be warning signs of someone attempting to emotionally dominate you.
2. They Emotionally Invalidate You On The Regular
When someone emotionally invalidates you, they basically tell you that you don't actually feel the way you do. For instance, they might say, "You're so sensitive. Get over it" or "Stop being so dramatic." According to Scott-Hudson, they do this in an attempt to dismiss or minimize your experience. Again, it's all about making you feel "wrong" for feeling the way you do.
3. Your Partner Gives You Certain "Looks" And You Immediately Stop Talking
When you're being emotionally dominated, there may be "clear non-verbal cues" that have been developed within the relationship. For instance, you may receive a subtle glare from your partner that means, stop talking and keep it to yourself. "Without a word, you're made to feel like you can't say how you really feel, or there will be a big blow-up," Scott-Hudson says.
4. They Criticize Your Friends
Abusers commonly use isolation as a way to keep their victims dependent on them. When you're with an emotionally dominant partner, one of the most powerful ways for them to maintain control is to limit your exposure to friends. "If we start talking to others about our partner's controlling behavior, our friends will make us aware that we're in a toxic relationship and it's time to consider leaving," relationship coach, Mayla Green, tells Bustle. So they're likely to criticize your choice of friends until you start seeing your friends in a negative light.
5. They Constantly Correct You Or One-Up You
If your partner has a habit of one-upping you or correcting you during conversations, this may be a sign of your partner trying to emotionally dominate you. For instance, you may come from home work and say, "I'm super exhausted." Instead of trying to talk or comfort you, they'll one-up you by saying, "I bet my day was much worse." As Dr. Fran Walfish, relationship psychotherapist and author, tells Bustle, "This keeps the abuser on top and the victim in a one-down position." They basically do this to make you feel like you're inferior to them.
6. They Expect You To Know What They Want
Some people may act unhappy until their partner "guesses" what they want. They may use lines like, "If you actually knew me or loved me, you'd know what I want." According to Dr. Walfish, this controlling behavior locks the other partner out and raises feelings of anxiety and failure for not "knowing."
7. They Blame You For Things That Have Nothing To Do With You
People who emotionally dominate others usually lack accountability for their actions. They're never at fault. According to Roberts, they often blame others for their feelings and problems. Since you're the closest person to them, they'll place blame on you and claim it was "justified" based on something you did.
Just to make it perfectly clear, emotional dominance is emotional abuse. "You must be willing to set boundaries and limits with yourself and try to gain self-respect even if it's minor (waiting a few minutes to call them back, for example)," Roberts says. "You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."
No one who truly loves and respects you will make you feel inferior. If you feel like your partner is becoming emotionally dominant over you, it may be time to seek help from loved ones or a therapist in exiting the relationship.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.