Controlling behaviours usually begin gradually, so gradually they can creep into our relationships without us noticing. We might look back later and wonder how we failed to spot the signs, but when we’re on the inside it’s hard to see the big picture. It’s like being lost in the woods – from above the path is easy to see, but down in the tangle of trees, it’s impossible to find a way out.
Controlling people can be experts in their field; highly skilled at grooming and manipulating us. They lie, confuse and keep us off balance. That’s why we can’t see the wood from the trees. It’s hard enough to cope with controlling friends, a parent, maybe a boss, but when it’s coming from our intimate partner it can be especially difficult to manage.
Here are 10 pointers that you might be in a controlling relationship. You don’t have to be experiencing all of them. They are called red flags, and as any of us can be groomed and controlled whatever our age or gender, we should be able to recognise the signs.
1. Your partner puts you down or criticises you. This might be disguised as humour such as making constant wisecracks at your expense. When you complain, you’re made to feel that you’re being overly sensitive or can’t take a joke. The problem is, it isn’t funny. This behaviour lowers your self-esteem.
2. You find yourself ‘treading on eggshells’ trying to keep the peace, or you feel anxious about saying or doing the wrong thing. You should be able to fully relax in your partner’s company without the need to watch what you say or do.
3. You frequently apologise even if deep down you know you’ve done nothing wrong. You might be doing this just to keep the peace, but if you’re not careful you will soon be apologising for your very existence. In a healthy relationship, both parties take responsibility when they make a mistake.
4. You put off telling your partner about arrangements to see friends or family because you know they will sulk or make you feel guilty. It’s important to have time to yourself and to have your own hobbies and interests. If your partner doesn’t like this, you should see it as a big red flag.
5. Your partner uses emotional blackmail as a weapon. When they don’t get their way they might threaten to end the relationship, harm themselves, even disappear for hours on end causing you to worry about their safety. They become so distressed that you end up giving in or apologising.
6. You often feel you are being punished but you have no idea why. Your partner should never give you the silent treatment without telling you what is wrong. If this happens a lot, take it as a sign of emotional manipulation.
7. Your partner gets upset when you don’t answer calls or messages promptly. This is usually disguised as concern. You might regularly excuse yourself from meetings or other events so you can go and calm them down. This is a common sign of control.
8. Your partner is irrationally jealous, accusing you of flirting or cheating. They might tell you they’ve been betrayed before and find it hard to trust – which may or may not be true. It is your right to talk to anyone you like and if your partner has trust issues that’s their problem to manage, not yours.
9. They don’t respect your boundaries. They will persuade and wheedle to get their own way, and when that doesn’t work they will sulk and blame you for spoiling their lives. They may resort to tears, emotional blackmail or threats.
10. They rush you. Controlling relationships often begin as whirlwind romances. You are rushed into living together, marriage or having a child together, all before you get a chance to see their real behaviour. It might feel flattering but you should allow yourself time to get to know someone before taking any big step. If they won’t wait for you, you need to ask yourself why?
Controlling behaviours rarely just stop but tend to get worse over time. You don’t have to be hit or hurt – coercive control is a crime in the same way that physical assault is a crime. If you recognise any of these red flags please break the silence and talk to someone you trust. If you need us, NCDV can help you take out a legal court order to protect you from further harm. You can find other forms of support on our resources page by following the link below:
National Training Manager