My Significant Other Has Control Issues: What Do I Do?

Updated September 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Control issues in relationships are very common, but it’s not normal and can be an indicator of domestic violence. This article will cover why control issues happen, the signs, and what you can do if you believe that you are living with a control freak.

What Causes Control Issues?

Are You Concerned About Your Partner's Impulse Control Issues?

When we think of control in relationships, it often has a negative connotation to it; however, control isn’t always a bad thing.

For example, having control in relationships allows us to set boundaries for ourselves, and it can let partners know what their expectations are.

But controlling behavior can get out of hand very quickly, and lead to many issues in relationships as well and be the recipe for a toxic relationship. This usually happens when an individual has a strong, incessant desire to dictate what happens in their environment, and more often than not, this involves those around them.

This can become overbearing and even oppressive for the people on the other end, and it can ruin relationships. However, control issues aren’t just limited to domestic life; these types of problems can also be observed at a person’s place of employment as well, where a person can experience overly strict rules and micromanagement. Controlling behavior can be present at work, like for an authority figure, but when it is brought home, this need for control in a domestic environment can lead to all sorts of problems.

Control issues aren’t a specific mental health disorder, but it can be a sign of much broader issues, including domestic violence or mental health issues, such as personality disorders for example. Nonetheless, control issues can become pathological in many ways, which is where the term “control freaks” stems from. A controlling person with controlling behavior can have such a need for control that rigid rules turn into emotional abuse.

Control freaks typically don’t impose their will onto others out of pure maliciousness, and there are many psychological reasons why they try to gain control, such as:

  • Fear, such as abandonment, failure, uncertainty, or pain
  • A lack of trust in others
  • Low self-esteem
  • A past history of trauma and abuse

As you can see, many people who want power and control can be doing so out of emotional sensitivity, fear, and pain; however, it can be deeply-rooted and subconscious at times, and letting go of control can seem impossible. Exerting control can be a way to feel like the person is not losing control over their personal relationships.

Acting out of fear or pain doesn’t make the actions of people with a controlling personality justifiable by any means, but it just gives insight as to why they feel the need to control everything around them.

When it starts to harm loved ones, especially intimate partners, it becomes known as domestic abuse. Control issues and domestic violence are learned behaviors, and ultimately, it is a choice whether a person tries to exert power and control over others and make their well-being a priority over their partners through various tactics. [1]

In the next section, you will read more about some of the indicators of control issues and domestic violence and behaviors that controlling partners can exhibit.

The Signs of Control Issues

Controlling behaviors can take many forms, and it’s important to be able to identify them so you can get help. Here are some common strategies that control freaks can use to maintain control and power over others. [2] [3] These are not qualities of healthy romantic relationships.

Constant Criticism

Controlling people will often criticize others even for inconsequential things. Still, it can add up and cause their victim to believe their self-worth rests with how their partner feels and never feel “good enough” in the relationship and that they can’t do anything right. Constantly criticizing a person’s character, body, past experiences, etc. is emotionally abusive behavior and can lead to negative thinking, poor mental health, and a variety of other problems.

Insults

Criticism can eventually evolve into insults, where your partner demeans and belittles you and makes you feel shameful out of a need for control. For instance, they might try to accuse you of being a bad parent or make rude comments about your appearance.

Isolation

It’s common for control freaks to try to isolate you from friends and family so that you depend on them solely for support. By controlling where you go and who you interact with, it also makes it easier for them to keep tabs on you.

Spying and Stalking

If by chance you are able to do things on your own, controlling people will still attempt to be a part of your life by doing things such as interrogating you about what you were doing, or worse check your phone logs, text messages, social media accounts, and internet browsing history, and even follow you around in fear out of a need for control.

Guilt-Tripping

Controlling partners often resort to guilt-tripping to get people to do something the way that they want. For instance, they might try to say things like “if you love me, you’ll do this for me,” and usually, a victim of guilt-tripping will oblige because they are emotionally-vulnerable and want to make their partner happy.

Using Threats

When they feel like they are losing control, a controlling individual can utilize threats to get what they want as well, but this time, it involves scaring you. It can be verbal or physical and involve weapons and other people that you care about. Sometimes, these threats can make a person feel like they are at risk of losing their support, and this can cause them to feel stuck in an abusive relationship which can lead to dealing with confusing emotions.

Financial & Career Control

In domestic violence, gaining control over all of the finances is quite common, and abusers will try to have the power over each and every cent. They could also try to limit your opportunities, such as finding a job or continuing your education so that you can find a better one because it will allow you to have more autonomy. [3] This dependence can lead you to deal with an unhealthy environment and unnecessary stress.

Sexual Control

In romantic relationships, sexuality can be used as a form of control, and although people may use it to do things that make their partners uncomfortable or upset, some partners can try to withhold sexual activity in order to get their significant other to do what they want. Neglect from control issues feel awful even though it is passive.

Holding Grudges

Instead of forgiving and forgetting, control freaks can have a tendency to hold onto your past mistakes, no matter how small, and will bring them up when it is convenient for them to make you feel bad about a person’s character. This can also be considered a form of guilt-tripping.

Gaslighting

People with controlling behavior can use gaslighting to manipulate you into doubting yourself and start to question what is true or not, even if you have the facts, and you are in the right. Nonetheless, gaslighting techniques can be so powerful, which is why abusers can use it to control others psychologically.

In addition to these specific examples of controlling ways of acting, there are some general behaviors that people with control issues have that you can keep an eye out for such as jealousy, dishonesty, being overly-protective, not being able to take “no” for an answer, and getting upset or moody when they can’t control the situation and not being able to get their way.

What To Do If You Have a Controlling Partner

If you relate strongly to the need for control as relayed above, you may feel vulnerable, experience anxiety, be under extreme stress, and be feeling helpless all the time. In certain situations, the fear and strong emotions makes sense. There are many potential causes for a controlling partner, such as a specific disorder, a factor of environment, or many options.  

Since control can vary in severity in life, the safety that people should take can differ from person to person, but there are options that you can take that you can apply to your own situation. Here are some of them:

Pay Attention To The Signs and Assess The Severity

Controlling and abusive behaviors tend to gradually evolve over time, but it’s possible to catch them early. If noticed early enough, these behaviors can be addressed and potentially be fixed; however, even if it has reached the point of violence, it isn’t too late to get help.

Reach Out

Navigating a controlling relationship can be tedious and exhausting, and it can require the assistance of a professional as well as support from friends and family. In addition to giving people ways to cope with the stress of a controlling partner, therapists can help people with control issues identify the reasons why they feel the way that they do and address them so they can improve and start letting go of control in life.

Be Ready To Leave

Although some of them can be fixed, not every controlling relationship is salvageable, and in severe cases, it’s important to know when to call it quits. This is especially true if your partner is abusive and makes you feel dependent on them. In severe cases like these, professional assistance will also be highly recommended because they can be physically and emotionally difficult to leave these types of relationships.

Where To Find Help

Are You Concerned About Your Partner's Impulse Control Issues?

Counseling and therapy that involve addressing relationship dynamics, such as control, are widely available, and help is accessible to both parties involved in the relationship.

For example, therapy can help controlling partners identify the negative emotions and past experiences that make them want to control, and then they can change their behaviors. Therapists can identify a specific disorder surrounding the control issues. They will also find new ways to cope, letting go of control, and feel more secure with themselves.

It is important for the controlling partner to take responsibility for the physical and mental control that they have taken over your shared environment. The process is difficult, and the outcome is not guaranteed, but seeking treatment through a licensed therapist is the first step of many to changing your relationship environment and your lives.

Additionally, both of you can participate in sessions to try to understand where you each are coming from and learn ways to improve the relationship in life together. If you have been on the receiving end of controlling behavior, therapy is a good idea for you too. Treatment can help both of you to move on with your lives.

However, overcoming control issues is tough work, and your partner may not acquiesce. If things appear to be irreconcilable or you are being abused, counseling and therapy will be recommended to overcome the feelings that come from a controlling relationship as well as adjusting to life without that partner. The pain of control issues feel horrible, and they can lead to an anxious understanding of life. The right response is to act and seek a better outcome, such as through therapy. A therapist can teach you tools like CBT or meditation with progressive muscle relaxation, and they can also just talk you through it. With a new understanding developed, you can work on a new you.

The first step can be finding a therapist to help you cope with the effects of from a person from controlling relationships is easy, and BetterHelp’s online services strive to give you a comfortable, safe, and discrete way to find a therapist. Online therapy is also convenient, and even though one of the perks of it is being able to attend from home, if you feel like you can’t do it at home, because of your significant, all you need is internet access and a mobile device to connect to licensed professionals.

Lastly, if your relationship is showing signs of abuse, you can always contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. In many cases, legal assistance may also be recommended, such as getting involved with law enforcement and obtaining a restraining order against your former partner.

Conclusion

It isn’t always easy to know what to do when in a controlling relationship, but hopefully, by learning the signs and the strategies you can take, you have a better idea of where you should proceed. Living with a controlling partner can make you feel alone, but you aren’t, and help such as therapy is available, and in some cases, these relationships can turn into ones that are happier and more fulfilling for everyone.

References

  1. The National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2020). Why Do People Abuse? Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/why-do-people-abuse/
  2. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2020). Learn More. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/learn-more
  3. The National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2020). Abuse Defined. Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

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