Getting the courage to say "my partner is controlling" out loud isn't easy. In fact, even admitting it to yourself isn't easy. Sometimes you might not recognize it at all, even when it's super clear to everyone else. Sure, everyone can feel needy or even jealous at times — those are totally normal emotions. But what you do with that — what you feel entitled to do with it— is a whole other issue.
"We all experience jealousy at some point; the key to keeping things healthy is being able to identify the feeling and not allow it to control behavior," marriage and family therapist and relationship expert Esther Boykin tells Bustle.
So if your partner seems to take those jealous feelings (or needy feelings or controlling feelings) and thinks it's your job to act in a way that soothes or plays into them, something may be wrong. The problem is, it's often not that easy. Controlling partners can start out as not controlling at all. It's the same with a lot of toxic behaviors. Slowly, little by little, they sneak in. But you might not even realize they're happening. Your partner might be so good at justifying each instance, that it starts to take over without you even noticing. And then you're in deep.
If that's the case, you have to be willing to take a big step back and look at the big picture and ask yourself, "Is my partner controlling?" and be ready to face up to the facts.
Here are some of the clues:
1. They Violate Your Privacy
I was shocked, years ago, when I realized one of my friends was completely not phased by the fact that her boyfriend checked all of her incoming and outgoing communication— every email, every text. It was until months later, when they had broken up, that she was able to admit his behavior had gotten weirder and weirder, but he always had a convincing reason why he needed to do it. "Violating your partner's privacy (and likely trust as well) is never OK, even if you feel justified in order to prove a lie or to discover that they are hiding something from you," Carlyle Jansen, author of Author, Sex Yourself: The Woman’s Guide to Mastering Masturbation and Achieving Powerful Orgasms, tells Bustle. If they're constantly crossing boundaries, something is wrong.
2. They Give You Ultimatums
Ultimatums are a simple, but effective, form of manipulation. They can get you to do almost anything by threatening you with a huge consequence if you refuse. "Ultimatums are, of course, never fair — but probably the most egregious one is asking a partner to compromise their own value for the sake of your comfort," life coach Kali Rogers tells Bustle. "For example, if one partner values alone time with their best friends every Wednesday, but the other would rather their partner be home with them because they don't love being alone, it's pretty terrible to threaten the relationship to manipulate one into giving up a value for the sake of the other's comfort."
If you find that you're always giving in to big threats or "If you love me you would XYZ" kind of tactics, you're partner is definitely in control.
3. You Feel Isolated
One of the easiest ways to control someone is to isolate them from their friends and family. If you find that you're life revolved around you and your partner (or even you, your partner, and their social circle— but not yours), than you're not having your needs met. And if your partner makes you feel guilty or gets angry if you try to branch out on your own, that's simply not OK.
4. Everything Feels Different, But You Don't Know When It Started
Sometimes you don't see it coming. If you're unhappy, you feel claustrophobic, if suddenly your whole world looks different than it used to— in a way you're really not happy with— it may be that your controlling partner has been wearing you down. If your life doesn't look the way you want it, it's time to reclaim your agency and take charge.
Some people are embarrassed to admit that their partner has been controlling— or they're still emotionally defensive of their partner, even if logically they know it makes no sense. Be open and see the signs, because you deserve so much better.