Every relationship has its quirks, but if you feel like you are losing parts of yourself to please someone else’s constant demands, you could be in what’s known as a controlling relationship.
Experts call this type of controlling behaviourcoercive control. “It’s more than just being bossy,” says Lisa A. Fontes, Ph.D., a lecturer in psychology at UMass-Amherst and author of Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship. “It’s really dominating another person, taking over their life, and no one should be subjected to that.”
Living in a controlling relationship can damage your emotional health and even your physical health by increasing your blood pressure, triggering headaches, and leading to chronic back and neck pain, she says. Watch for these common signs of trouble.
Your partner tries to keep you away from other important people in your life.
Denise Hines, Ph.D., a research associate professor in psychology at Clark University, studies male victims of domestic violence, and one of the first things she asks them is: Is your partner controlling how often you see your friends and family? Sometimes the tactics are subtle. Does your partner start an argument or make a scene around your friends and family? Does it seem burdensome to attend social events because of this behaviour? If your partner checks your phone, email, and social media to see who you’re talking to, that’s also problematic.
Isolation is a huge red flag “because when a person is deprived of contact with others, they lose a certain amount of power and resources,” says Fontes. The controlling partner then makes all the rules about what love is. Another particularly damaging example: using your children as leverage by saying something like: “‘You’ll never have access to the children again if you don’t do X or stay with me or put up with this thing that I want,’” says Fontes.
Your partner’s jealousy stops you from doing normal stuff.
If you can’t enjoy a night out without being accused of flirtation, that’s a problem. “We hear from men who say they’re out at a restaurant or party and their wife or girlfriend won’t let them talk to other women,” says Hines. Maybe your partner doesn’t explicitly tell you not to converse with other ladies, but she gets incredibly upset if you do. “Some men describe ‘keeping their head down’ when out to avoid giving the impression of interest,” says Hines.
Keep in mind that while all people feel pangs of jealousy sometimes, no one should use jealousy as a weapon to control you. “We have these cultural myths that jealousy is a sign of love, that spending all of one’s time is required in a loving relationship, that romance is giving up everything for love, and these ideas are kind of traps,” says Fontes.
Your partner controls the money.
It’s normal for couples to work together on budgeting and financial planning, but it’s a problem if one partner controls all the money and only lets the other use a certain amount that is unreasonable given their financial situation, says Hines. Giving out punishments and rewards is also a form of control. “That should not happen in a healthy relationship,” says Fontes.