20 Signs of a Controlling Partner

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When we think of a controlling relationship, we might imagine a partner who gets bossy or even violent. They might try to control what their partner wears or who they spend time with. But there are many other signs of a controlling relationship that can be tricky to notice. Sometimes, people don’t even realize they’re in one. So, here are the signs of a controlling partner.

Keeping you away from your friends and family

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When your partner begins to isolate you from your friends and family—it’s often a sign of controlling behavior. They might start by subtly expressing dislike for your loved ones or discouraging you from spending time with them. This could even escalate to them trying to turn you against those you rely on for support. They aim to weaken your connections outside the relationship, making you more dependent on them.

Always finding something wrong and pointing it out

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Criticism, like isolation, can begin with little things. Sometimes, a person might think their partner’s criticism is fair or that it’s meant to help them improve. But even if each criticism seems small on its own, if it happens all the time in your relationship, it’s hard to feel good about yourself. If your partner always finds fault in your actions, how can you feel loved and accepted?

Saying things that scare you or make you feel bad

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Some people believe threats only count if they’re about hurting someone physically. But threats like leaving, taking away things you enjoy, or even harming themselves can be just as manipulative. It’s not uncommon for the person being controlled to feel trapped in the relationship—not because they’re afraid for their own safety, but because they worry their partner might hurt themselves if they try to leave.

Only showing love if you do what they want

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“I love you a lot more when you’re making sales at work.” “I don’t feel like being close to you right now. But if you keep exercising and lose some weight, I’ll find you more attractive.” “You’d look better if you styled your hair differently.” Though some of these statements are clearer than others, they all send the same message—You’re not good enough as you are. It’s common in controlling relationships.

Tracking everything you do and bringing it up later

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Here’s something you need to know: Good relationships work both ways. You naturally take care of each other without constantly counting who did what. But if your partner keeps track of everything to hold against you, asks for something back, or seeks praise—it might be a way for them to control the relationship. And that’s just very tiring.

Making you feel bad so you’ll do what they say

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Controlling folks often know how to manipulate their partner’s feelings to get what they want. If they can make their loved ones feel guilty about everyday things, it’s like half the battle is won. Their partner might start doing anything to avoid feeling guilty, even giving up their own power and opinions in the relationship. And that’s exactly what the controlling person wants.

Creating a sense of indebtedness

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Controlling people might seem overly romantic at first with grand gestures. But if you look closer, those gestures—like expensive gifts, wanting big commitments early on, fancy dinners or trips, or giving you access to their stuff—can actually be about control. They might make you feel like you owe them something in return or that you’re indebted to them because of all they’ve done for you.

Invading your privacy through spying or snooping

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A controlling partner often believes they deserve to know more than they really do. Whether they sneak around checking your stuff or insist you share everything—it’s crossing a line from the start. Maybe they snoop on your phone, read your emails, or keep an eye on your internet history. Then they might say it’s because they’ve had bad experiences before or they have trust issues.

Acting jealous a lot, accusing you of things

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At first, a partner’s jealousy might feel nice, like they care about you. But when it gets too intense—it can get scary and controlling. If your partner gets upset over every little interaction you have, thinks everyone is flirting with you, or blames you for just talking to someone, they might be feeling insecure, anxious, or even paranoid. It’s not healthy for either of you.

Not letting you have time to yourself

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Feeling guilty for needing time alone to recharge or being made to feel like you don’t care enough is another sign of a controlling relationship. It’s very typical for partners to have different needs for alone time. In healthy relationships, talking about those needs helps find a balance that works for both. But in controlling ones, the person wanting alone time is made out to be bad or isn’t allowed any time at all.

Making you prove yourself all the time

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Sure, you’ll naturally trust someone you’ve been with for years more than someone you’ve known for just a month. However, there should still be some basic level of trust in any relationship. You shouldn’t have to constantly explain where you are or let your partner snoop through your texts. If trust feels like something you have to earn instead of being there from the start, there’s something wrong with the relationship dynamic.

Thinking you’re guilty before even hearing your side

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A controlling person can make you feel like you’ve messed up even before you realize it. You might come home to them already upset about something they found or thought about while you were away. They might even collect “proof” of your mistakes, making you feel like they’ve built a whole case against you—even if you’re unsure what you did wrong.

Making you tired of arguing until you give up

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Some controlling people prefer to control quietly, while others are always ready to argue and stir up conflict. This tends to happen more when their partner is less likely to argue back, either because they prefer avoiding conflict or because they’re tired of fighting. In these situations—the controlling one usually wins every argument because their partner doesn’t push back as much.

Making fun of your beliefs or things you care about

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It could be your beliefs, politics, cultural customs, or outlook on life. It’s awesome when our partners challenge us with thought-provoking conversations and different perspectives. But it’s not okay when they make you feel dumb or try to force you to change something important to you. Being open to new ideas is great, but a controlling partner only wants you to see things their way—without considering yours.

Making you feel like you’re not good enough

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Controlling people might subtly make you feel less attractive, always talk about their achievements, or even compare you unfavorably to their exes. They want you to feel lucky to be with them, so you’ll keep trying harder to please them. This makes it easier for them to control the relationship because you’ll do anything to make them happy and keep them around.

Teasing you in a way that makes you uncomfortable

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In many long-term relationships, humor and teasing are common ways of interacting. But the important thing is that both people feel good about it. In controlling relationships, emotional abuse can hide behind phrases like “I was just joking.” So not only do you get criticized in the first place, but now you’re also told your reaction is wrong. It’s like you don’t have the right to feel the way you do—a classic control tactic.

Leaving you feeling uncomfortable after sexual encounters

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In an abusive or controlling relationship, problems can show up in the bedroom, too. Sometimes, you feel uncomfortable right then and there, but other times, it’s afterward that you start feeling uneasy. If you’re consistently feeling unsettled about what happens in your sexual relationship—it’s a big sign that something isn’t right. You need to talk about it openly if you have any doubts or complaints regarding intimacy.

Ignoring what you think or feel

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You might find yourself constantly being interrupted or your opinions brushed off without a second thought. Your partner may dominate conversations so much that they rarely ask about you or truly listen to your answers. Consider if you’ve ever tried to tell them how their actions make you feel and if they’ve actually listened or just brushed it off (maybe even blamed you for feeling that way.)

Making you do things that are bad for you

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Controlling people might try to sabotage your efforts to be healthier and stronger. They might undermine your fitness goals, tempt you with cigarettes when you’re trying to quit, or pressure you to drink more than you want. Because controlling people want to weaken their partners—messing with your health goals is just another way for them to gain control.

Making you doubt yourself

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Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go to medical school, but now your partner makes you doubt if your grades are good enough. Or maybe you used to dream of owning a business, but your partner dismisses your ideas, and you start to lose confidence. This is another way for your partner to control you, making you rely on them more and fulfilling their own agenda nicely.