16 Apr How To Know If You Are In a Controlling Relationship

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows how easy it is to get into power-plays.

Power (having it and/or not having it) is important when it comes to matters of the heart.

Businessman points his finger at you high quality studio shot

In healthy relationships, power is something that ebbs and flows between both partners, essentially equally shared.

In other relationships, power becomes something that’s wielded by one partner over another, and in these relationships, an unhealthy culture of control develops.

Despite gender stereotypes, it’s not just men who assume control over their female partners. Unhealthy control and abuse of power occurs with women as well as men.

There’s a big difference difference between normal plays for power in healthy relationships, and unhealthy relationships where one or the other partner is too controlling.

So how would you know if you are in a relationship with a partner who is too controlling? Here are some common experiences of people who are:

1.You doubt yourself most of the time.
You downplay your relationship problems and feel confused about how important they really are
You assume that you must be a bad partner – just like he or she says you are
You have lots of “Harsh Inner Critic” negative self talk

2. You don’t feel good about yourself.
You frequently feel anxious, stressed, depressed, unsure, vulnerable, or guilty
You don’t know what you feel – until your partner sets the emotional thermostat for the day
You focus on making your partner feel good, at the expense of your own feelings

3. You justify your partner’s controlling behaviour.
You reason that everyone else in relationships probably has the same issues
You believe that you’d never find a better partner – this is your only chance at love
You frequently protect or shield him or her from the negative opinions of others

4. You brace yourself or feel the need to prepare, before being together.
You change what you’re doing or what you’re wearing if you believe he or she won’t approve
You avoid contact with friends and family because it’s easier to be together alone
You need to “psyche” yourself up to cope when he or she is around

5. You feel guilty or apologetic a lot of the time.
You defer to your partner’s opinions about what is right and what is wrong
You assume blame for stuff even when it’s not your fault
You notice that your partner doesn’t usually apologise, even when you believe it’s deserved

6. You don’t do things that you otherwise would do.
You don’t enrol in those yoga or gym classes, because it’s not worth the hassle of asking to go
You don’t wear the clothes that you used to because he or she will disapprove
You don’t invest in the friendships that you’d like to, because your partner puts up a fuss when you do

7. You cycle between deciding to leave, then to stay.
You make a decision to speak up or move out, only to lose your nerve
You remember elements of the person you used to be, but then doubt that it can still be you
You frequently feel confusion, doubt, and indecision about what you should do

8. Your relationships with friends or family have changed or are suffering.
You deflect well-meaning comments or questions from people who care for you
You have “fallen out” with otherwise close family or friends due to your relationship
Your partner frequently criticises or complains about your friends or family

9. You fear losing your relationship if you speak up or don’t comply
You don’t speak up because you’re scared that if you make a complaint, you’ll lose it all
You worry about how you’d manage if he or she left you on your own
You worry about things getting nasty or dangerous if the relationship breaks down

Aren’t these things just normal?

No. If you identify yourself in more than a couple of the above scenarios, it’s possible that you are in a relationship with a controlling person. It is not healthy. This doesn’t mean you don’t genuinely love him or her: controlling people are usually just “normal” people like you and me. They want to be loved, and deserve to be loved, just like we do.

The problem is that that controlling partners have developed ways of relating that are unhealthy, unloving, and harmful. A relationship where one partner holds control over the other is not a healthy relationship, and can never be so.

If you recognise yourself in these scenarios, there is hope!

Positive change is always possible. But it isn’t just your controlling partner who will need to change. You will too, because the way you relate to him or her is an integral part of the dance. Your ability to hold your ground in healthy, relationship affirming ways is as important as your partner’s ability to lighten up and let go. It will take work by both of you to change these patterns.

What can you do?

Talk. Chose someone you trust and start sharing what’s happening in your relationship and how you really feel. Find a well qualified therapist who specialises in relationship dynamics. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your partner to come along, it’s fine to go alone. It’s also fine to keep your work to yourself until you have a clearer sense of how best to move forward.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.