Does your boyfriend or husband freak out if you spend time with your friends? Does he have a tendency to put you down? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells, or that you have to lie in order to maintain calm between the two of you? If so, it’s quite likely that you are dealing with a controlling man.
P.S. Guys, if you’re reading this and you’re curious about the signs of a controlling woman, they’re similar. The same goes for LGBTQ relationships. If your partner is controlling you, the red flags will be evident. For the sake of continuity, we’re talking about “men” here but please be aware that people from all backgrounds tend to use similar tactics in an attempt to control one another and it’s never OK.
We’ll provide some basic advice about how to deal with controlling men and women after we discuss the signs of a controlling man or woman.
Controlling Men Characteristics
Before we get started, it’s very important to note that no two people are exactly the same. Watch out for your own safety and well-being, even if the person you’re concerned about has only one or two of the most common signs of controlling man. Let’s take a closer look.
From outside the relationship, controling men tend to seem charming, friendly, and outgoing. They often retain their charming characteristics during the beginning phases of a relationship, typically offering romantic gestures, telling you how perfect you are, and complimenting you on everything from your appearance to your mannerisms. Be aware that this alone isn’t a sign that your boyfriend or husband is controlling you; anyone can treat you in a loving way and admire you.
If your relationship changes – either suddenly or subtly – and you notice any of the following characteristics, it’s quite likely that you’re seeing signs of a controlling guy.
He wants to control who you’re friends with.
He wants you to stop seeing your old friends, even though they’re good people.
He tries to prevent you from seeing your family.
He attempts to stop you from speaking to your family.
He wants control over your social media accounts, or he wants you to give up social media entirely, even though you don’t spend a lot of time there. (Note, this isn’t the same as concern over social media addiction. That’s a discussion for another time.)
More Signs of a Toxic Relationship
Whether you’re dealing with a controlling boyfriend or a controlling husband characteristics tend to be similar. Often, he’ll be kind to you and compliment you in public, and berate you behind closed doors. Even if he doesn’t strike you, he might grab you or hold onto you too tightly. He might push you or put his hands on you in another way that feels aggressive or unloving. These are red flags!
Keep in mind that a controlling partner probably won’t act aggressive or mean 24/7. He’s not likely to berate others who cross his path, although he might very well treat some people unkindly. He might be very charming, complimenting everyone and seeming sincere. If he makes threats to others, it might or might not happen often. Whatever he does though, it’s quite likely that when you look a little closer at his behavior, you’ll see signs that he is highly manipulative – and probably not just toward you.
Controlling Men Often Control Your Looks
You might think that a controlling man would tell his girlfriend or wife how to look and act, all the time. Keep in mind, telling and suggesting are two different things. A “Hey, it would be great if you’d grow your hair out just a little” is different from “You’re not allowed to cut your hair.”
A man who suggests that his wife or girlfriend try different outfits isn’t necessarily being controlling. If he insists that she dress a certain way, then he’s definitely out of bounds.
A Controlling Man Probably Wants You to Keep Quiet
A guy who asks his partner to quiet down might or might not be controlling. It depends on the circumstances. Imagine that you and your girlfriends are laughing over something that just happened and the phone rings. He takes the call and it’s important. He can’t go outside, so he gestures for you all to quiet down. He appreciates it. It’s a one-time deal. This is nothing to worry about! He simply needed to hear his caller.
Now consider a different scenario: You’re in a social situation, laughing at something someone said. It really bothers him that you’re laughing and he sees you doing it. He might tighten his grip on you or give you a look that silently says that you need to shut up. You feel apprehensive because later, he’s going to berate you for laughing out loud. He’ll tell you that he wants you to be ladylike, or he’ll say that you shouldn’t be talking to that person at all. That’s a red flag. It’s completely different from the first scenario!
Controlling Men are Quick to Criticize
If you feel like you’re constantly being scrutinized and criticized, then you’re probably in a controlling relationship. This often starts small, with the occasional “tip” that doesn’t feel very good. He’ll tell you that he’s just trying to help you look better, clean the house better, dress better, decorate better, or be a better person. He’ll act like he’s rationalizing, particularly in the beginning. Later, he’ll just criticize you for every little thing. You’ll feel small, unappreciated, and unloved. You’ll start to do anything you can just to try to win his approval, because at this point, any kind of validation feels better than the constant nagging and criticism. This isn’t love. It’s control.
Controlling Men Often Isolate Their Partners
Even though it’s often done out of insecurity or out of a fear of losing you or losing your attention, it’s not loving when a man tells you that he wants you all to himself. This is a huge red flag and it’s a tactic that often happens gradually until one day you realize that it’s been forever since you last saw your friends or talked to your mom on the phone.
A controlling person will usually start by complaining about how often you’re hanging out with your friends, talking on the phone, or texting others. They’ll say that they don’t like a certain person, and they’ll ask you to stop seeing that person so much. They are likely to give you an entire list of reasons why your relationships with other people are “harming” them.
The goal here is to isolate you from anyone who might recognize that you’re being controlled and help you get away from your situation. Controlling people don’t want their partners to have a strong social network. They will do anything – including lie about others – to strip you of your friends and prevent you from bonding with family members.
Controlling Men Put Conditions on Your Relationship
“You’ll be so hot when you finally lose twenty pounds!” “You’d look a lot better if you wore more (or less) makeup – then we’d be able to go out a lot more.” These statements and similar ones concerning your appearance, your job, your education, or anything else about you are designed to place conditions on your relationship. The underlying message is that you’ll be accepted and loved only if you meet those conditions. You’re not good enough for him – even though you’re the same person you were in the beginning of the relationship.
A Controlling Man Keeps Score
It’s one thing to have reciprocity in your relationship, i.e. you did the dishes one day and he did them the next day. It’s another thing altogether to count every single interaction as a positive or negative, and then use guilt as a way to manipulate you or make you feel like you’re somehow indebted. Controlling men and women often give lavish gifts and treat their partners to extravagant, exciting experiences at the beginning of a relationship as a way to establish control and instill a sense of indebtedness. It’s true that people do nice things for one another all the time but if your gut is telling you that there’s an ulterior motive, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what’s happening and attempt to determine why you’re being treated this way. It could be nothing, or it could be the beginning of a scary, controlling relationship.
Controlling Partners Want to Know Everything
Does he want your passwords? Does he have to see your bank statements and your credit card bills? Does he insist that you keep your phone unlocked so that he can read your texts and see who you’ve been talking to? These are major red flags that you shouldn’t ignore. Controlling men feel that they have the right to know everything about you and if you don’t disclose your activities 24/7, they’ll go on about how you must be cheating because if you weren’t, you’d have nothing to hide. No one has the right to violate your privacy. Healthy relationships are based on trust – not tracking.
A Controlling Man is Likely to Be Possessive
A certain amount of possessiveness or jealousy can be cute – at least in the beginning, before it gets out of hand. Guys will tell you that they want to make sure that you’re safe, or they’ll tell you that their possessiveness comes from a place of love and caring. But viewing conversations with outers as suspicious, flirtatious, or somehow threatening to your relationship is a sign that serious possessiveness has taken root. This can be scary, and it can be a sign that your relationship is becoming abusive. Possessive men are often jealous of time that you want to spend by yourself, too; some go so far as to insist that their partners leave the bathroom door open, and many won’t allow their partners to go anywhere without them.
Controlling Men Often Make Threats
Manipulators are master of threatening behavior. Not only are they likely to threaten you, they’re likely to threaten your children, your pets, and themselves. They threaten to take your phone, or hide your car keys, or take away your credit cards. They threaten to harm or kill pets. They threaten to leave, or they threaten to take the kids. They threaten physical violence, and sometimes they make it seem like they’re going to carry it out, or they actually start hurting you. Whether a controlling man’s threats are genuine or simply part of his manipulation tactics, they’re not OK. They’re not made out of love.
Even though the controlling man often says that he loves you, he says and does things that a loving partner would never do. This is one of the biggest controlling relationship red flags there is – and if violence hasn’t occurred yet, it’s likely to.
How to Deal With a Controlling Partner
We’ve covered some of the biggest controlling relationship red flags; now, let’s discuss what to do about it. Should you try to work things out? Should you leave the relationship? The answer depends on the controlling man’s behavior, as well as your own wants, needs, and goals.
In minor cases, where you feel like you might be under the influence of a controlling man, you might be able to convince him to see a therapist with you for couple’s counseling. If he refuses, it’s a sign that you will probably be better off if you leave the relationship.
If you’re stuck with a controlling spouse or partner, you might feel alone, frightened, or as if you are in danger. The ideal of breaking up probably feels very scary. If you think you need to leave, be careful and quiet as you make your plans.
How to Leave a Controlling Man
Leaving a controlling relationship might mean breaking up, or it could mean divorce. Either way, it’s important to recognize that a man who is about to lose control of his partner can be very dangerous, even if he has never resorted to physical violence before. Keep your safety in mind and document everything in a safe format that he can’t destroy. Call law enforcement for help leaving or asking him to leave if you are afraid that control might escalate into violence.
Let Trusted People Know What’s Happening
Since controlling men often cut their partners off from friends and family, it might be difficult to turn to others for help. Even if you’re embarrassed, ashamed, intimidated, or frightened, find a safe way to let your friend and family know the truth about your relationship, even if that means writing old-fashioned letters and putting them in the mail when he isn’t looking. Trusted coworkers or neighbors might be able to help if you have no one else to turn to. Members of the clergy, therapists, and health care professionals may be able to help as well.
Make a Silent Plan
It’s vital that you keep him in the dark about your plans to leave if that’s what you intend to do; if children are involved, you will need to learn about the laws in your area and find out what steps you’ll need to take to make a clean break. Try to talk to a lawyer about keeping your plans legal, and try to have a discussion with a therapist about how to talk to your kids about what is happening.
Think about what you’ll need, where you’ll stay, how you’ll get there, and how you’ll access financial assets. Try to be analytical and matter-of-fact as you prepare. Think about different scenarios, not to frighten yourself, but as another way to be prepared for problems. It’s normal to have mixed feelings when you are leaving a controlling relationship behind.
Ask for Help
Even if you’ve been isolated for years, people still love you, care about you, and want you to be safe. Be specific as you ask for help. Most friends and loved ones will be glad that you asked, and they’ll do whatever it takes to help you move forward. Whether you need a place to stay, help with transportation, help changing the locks on your house, or something else – even someone to listen to you or a shoulder to cry on – others will be happy to help.
With your plan in place and help from the ones who care about you, you can make the final step and get out of your controlling relationship. Remember to call the police if you are afraid; use the non-emergency number if you are calling ahead, before things get out of control.
It’s normal to feel nervous, frightened, and worried as you carry out your plan. With your support system back in place and help from professionals including lawyers, law enforcement officials, and therapists, you can eventually bring a sense of normalcy and calm into your life and move forward with each and every hopeful step.
A Final Note on Leaving a Bad Relationship
If you feel as if you have nowhere to turn, or if you simply want someone safe to talk to, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1800-799-SAFE or Break The Silence at 1-855-BTS-1777.
You can also find a state-by-state list of local resources here.