It seems that it is infinitely easier to give out advice than to take it. It also can seem almost impossible to see red flags in your life while the ones in your BFF’s relationships stand out to you like neon signs in Vegas.
This is one of the reasons that people can find themselves in a controlling relationship with no idea how they got there. Chances are the relationship began happily with romance and passion, but gradually became more worrisome until you can’t avoid admitting it. So what ARE the warning signs? What bad behaviors in a relationship mean that you should jump ship? Or should you always hold on and work through issues?
Isolation from friends and family.
Every new couple may find themselves lost in each other’s eyes at some point, and many go through periods where they only ever want to be with each other. The sense of satisfaction to just be with one person isn’t a bad thing. However, if a partner actively tries to stop the other from having any sort of social life beyond the relationship, this can be a major red flag of a controlling relationship. Andrea Bonior, PhD, with Psychology Today states, “It may start subtly, but this is often a first step for a controlling person. Their goal is to strip you of your support network, and thus your strength – so that you will be less likely or able to stand up against them whenever they want to ‘win.’”
Instead, healthy relationships should allow each partner to have a fulfilling and happy social circle both inside and outside of the coupling
Total control of finances.
This can go in either direction. If a partner insists that the other has to have a job to financially support the relationship, yet refuses to work themselves, they exercise power over how and when work happens. These partners are usually also in control of when that money is spent, often running up costly expenses on money they did not work for, continually forcing the other person to support them.
On the other hand, control can happen when a partner insists that only they get to work or handle money. This forces the other individual in the relationship to be completely financially dependent, removing their option to have any sort of financial power separate from the relationship.
The best kinds of relationships should allow both partners to have a say in how finances are managed. Even if one partner does control how money is spent, it needs to be out of happy agreement from both individuals, and a flexible arrangement that can be challenged in the future if needs be.
Belittling goals or beliefs.
A relationship worth seeking is one where you feel you are being pushed to achieve your best potential, but that you are accepted just the way you are. Controlling people lose their power if their partners feel confident and able, and so will often belittle any goals or self confidence until nothing is left. If you are in a relationship with someone who works to make you feel like your goals are not worth achieving, or that you as a person are inadequate, you may need to get out of there ASAP. It’s true, even someone with the best intentions can make their partner feel crummy every now and then, but a controlling relationship will offer very little praise and encouragement in the long run.
Sardonic or hurtful teasing.
I will be the first to admit that sometimes things I try to say as a joke do not come out that way; it happens to everyone. In many controlling relationships, however, hurtful “teasing” is used as a poor excuse for emotional abuse. If the brunt of the teasing in a relationship is hurtful jabs followed up with, “don’t take it so personally,” this is another form of control. All within one phrase, a partner has been criticized both by the original statement, and for having the “wrong” reaction to it.
Love and acceptance with terms and conditions.
Within every relationship lies a list of reasons why each partner likes each other. However, if love, affection, and acceptance all hinge on a laundry list of behaviors or attitudes, and are withheld if these things aren’t met, it may be a controlling relationship. Saying things like, “I love you so much more when you dress fancy,” or “I can’t be intimate with you when you’re not making as little money as you do,” drives home one major concept: “You are not good enough as you are.”
All of these behaviors have one goal in common: to establish power and control. If you feel that you are in a relationship with someone who is working hard to make you powerless, it may be time to walk away before control turns to abuse. Relationships worth staying in are made of two individuals who both have a say in how things turn out, not ones where one partner holds all the power while the other holds none.
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Written by: Melece, Master’s Student in Marriage and Family Therapy. Reviewed by Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.