Learning to discern between healthy and unhealthy relationships is not something that is covered in any class throughout high school or college, and by the time many of us are full swing into our most serious relationships, it can be almost impossible to determine where we stand on the scale of health without partner. The signs of a controlling relationship are often so subtle in the beginning that we don’t even realize what is happening until we feel trapped in it, afraid for ourselves and equally afraid for our partner.
Controlling relationships usually develop from fear. The controlling partner is afraid that he or she is going to lose the one they love while the one who is being controlled is afraid at first of hurting their partner, and then eventually, of their partner. Those who control are not necessarily “bad people,” they simply haven’t learned that they can be loved, how to love, and how a loving relationship can be healthy for both parties if there is a little trust involved.
An abusive use of power or control in any relationship can happen from either party. Gender is not necessarily a vital role in controlling relationships. Controlling men are easier to spot than controlling women, simply because society has taught us that an angry woman at home is somewhat typical. Deciphering between controlling and a partner who is feeling ignored or disrespected is part of understanding what makes a relationship controlling. If you have blown off your partner three nights out of the week, and your partner is starting to resent the fact that you would rather spend your time out with friends than at home together, you should expect resistance. If you have previously arranged for a few nights off with some friends and you return home to an angry partner, something might be wrong.
Initially, the signs of a controlling relationship might resemble clingy behavior. For instance, when a partner starts whining because you came home fifteen minutes late from work, demanding to know why you’re late and not being able to accept that you stopped off at someone else’s office to catch up for a few minutes, you may be heading for trouble. When you meet resistance over seeing friends (especially if you haven’t seen them in a little while) or find that going to a support group meeting or other personal obligation means that you’ll return home to an argument, there is definitely trouble brewing.
We all like to be taken care of. It feels good to know that when we are stressed that our other half will step in for us, cover our backs, and make sure the details of life that perhaps we can’t handle at the moment are not being ignored. It can even feel good to find your clothes laid out for you because you have been putting in long hours at work and the fewer decisions you have to make, the better. These momentary thoughts of random kindness should not be confused with the controlling nature of being told you can’t wear something out of the house because it might attract too much attention or you can’t wear something to work because it makes you look particularly attractive. Some partners even go so far as to only allow certain foods into your lunch, into the house, and into your life. A healthy diet is admirable. Being told you can’t order something off the menu when you go out is a bit controlling.
There is a natural argument to be made regarding the desire to care for one’s partner. Of course, someone who is watching their cholesterol intake might need reminders that the potatoes aren’t the best choice, but controlling relationship usually start off with small issues such as these and grow into much larger issues.
Are you in a Controlling Relationship?
If you’re not sure whether you are in a controlling relationship, ask yourself a few simple questions. When was the last time you were allowed to go out with friends without your partner? When was the last time you went out alone and it didn’t end up in a huge argument? Does your partner threaten to leave and imply that you don’t love them to prevent you from doing things that he or she doesn’t want you to do? Are there times when you feel as though you’ve been followed? Are your email accounts private or do they insist on having access to them? Do you give them a reason to doubt you, such as infidelity, the threat of infidelity, or frequenting clubs and other similar places without them? Do you try to make them jealous?
If your behavior isn’t setting tone for jealousy, and jealousy reigns through the household, then there is a problem. When a partner becomes jealous without cause, or unreasonably clingy, they typically feel threatened by either a perceived or imagined possibility of infidelity. Sometimes a person is so caught off guard finding someone they love they simply are too afraid to let go of them, even for a moment. Regardless of the reasons, if there are any signs of a controlling relationship they should be dealt with immediately. Sometimes the controlling partner can learn to let go a bit, feel less threatened, and verbalize their concerns without threats or violence. Sometimes, that can’t be done while the relationship is still intact. If the controlling partner has no ability to recognize their own possessive behavior, there is little chance for reconciling the problem. If there is at least the ability to recognize that there is a problem, then usually with a little guidance and some couples counseling, the relationship can grow into a much healthier and stronger respectful love.