I was in a dysfunctional relationship for 10 years. I still went ahead and married the guy. I hated him. I loved him. I learned a lot.
I get a lot of emails about controlling relationships, where one person seems to want to exert their influence over their partner. I read tarot cards professionally, and many questioners ask, “Why does my boyfriend want to control me?” Well, having been in such a relationship myself for 10 years, I decided to do some research into this question: why do some men feel the need to control their partner?
If you are subject to physical and/or emotional abuse in your relationship you must know it's not love. You must leave. If you are too scared to leave, you must seek help. You can’t stay in such a relationship - you could end up hurt, or worse.
Yet there are many men (and women too) who control their partner in very subtle ways. So subtle that you can’t pin it down. So subtle that you are gently guided toward their way of thinking. You may not even realize you are being emotionally manipulated until you wake up and see that he has undermined your confidence and self-belief.
I’ve focused on men in this article because my emails come primarily from women. And because I’m a woman and have been on the wrong side of a controlling partner myself.
Signs of a Controlling Boyfriend
- Your boyfriend says he loves you deeply and, at the same time, he appears to be vulnerable. You fall for it, and happily take on the role of protector. He may well be insecure but watch out for emotional manipulation. If you find yourself modifying your own behavior in order to keep him happy, he’s controlling you. Sometimes he may even hint at harming himself in order to keep you tied to him.
- He becomes distant or mean when you tell him you’re going out with your friends or seeing your family. Controlling people hate it when they are left out of your social plans. He will either withdraw his affection, or become critical of your friends and their behavior. His aim is to remove you from your support network.
- He puts down your efforts to do anything without him. Let’s say you are savvy enough to service your own car, or change a tire, or do a bit of DIY around the apartment. A controlling boyfriend will find fault or ridicule your work. This saps your confidence and self-worth.
- Constant criticism is another way to undermine and make you feel less-than. He might tell you that he just wants you to be a better person, but the ultimate aim is to make you feel small.
- He places conditions on his love… “If only you lost a little weight…” or “You could be more sexy if you dressed like…” This causes you to strive to make yourself fit his ideal picture of you. It never works because there will always be something or someone for him to compare you with.
- He makes you feel guilty. It might be combined with any of the behaviors detailed above, and the outcome is that you feel guilty because you can’t live up to his demanding standards.
- He spies on you. It is so easy to place a hidden app on your phone and it only takes a couple of minutes when you are out of the room. You’ll never know it’s there, yet he can monitor your calls, texts, emails and location remotely. Tell-tale signs of this is that he knows things that you haven’t told him. Or he questions where you’ve been.
- He accuses you of two-timing him. He’ll take an innocent encounter, let’s say he sees you smile and say thanks at the gas station. Next thing, you’ll be accused of having an affair with the cashier. This shows how paranoid he’s becoming.
- He makes fun of you, which can be funny enough to make you laugh, especially if in front of other people, but leaves a slightly bitter taste. You wonder if his jokes might hold a grain of truth. Again it’s a drain on your confidence. Know that he is bullying you.
- He won’t let you hold a point of view that’s different to his. You’ll be interrupted or find that he’s not listening to you. That your perspective is worthless and invalid.
- He constantly makes suggestions about what you should do, wear, eat, speak and, well, everything. They sound like suggestions but in reality, they are instructions. Should you go against them, he’ll be angry or withdraw his affection and take great delight in saying, “I told you so,” later.
- He drains your bank account. Oh not obviously, but somehow you end up with less money than you should. Perhaps he manipulates your finances so that you are paying out more than he does. Your ‘half’ also becomes his. There’ll always be a reason why he can’t afford to pay a bill or get you a decent birthday gift.
Why Do Men Want to Control You?
- Very often, a man might not even realize that his need to control is unreasonable. It might be how he was raised and how he saw the father-figure in his life treat his mother. Or, the complete opposite - his mother may have been the dominant partner in the relationship and he made a decision he would never be brow-beaten like his dad.
- The most common reason for wanting control is because of fear of losing you. They believe that control is the best way to keep you with them.
- Another reason is their own lack of self-esteem. He is using you as a means of lifting himself. By putting you down, it gives him (in his mind) a level of superiority.
- Sometimes, a man simply thinks he’s doing it for all the right reasons. Men are programmed to problem solve. Your girlfriends are programmed to empathize, but your man is biologically instructed to Get Things Sorted. They don’t understand you don’t want something fixed; you just want them to listen.
- Because he’s a bully.
How to Deal With a Controlling Guy
- Once you recognize your partner is trying to control you, it may be enough for you to walk away from the relationship. Other people might find that difficult because, well, they love their partner.
- Try talking to your boyfriend. He may not be aware of his own behavior and, once you point out to him that it is not acceptable, he might make an effort to modify his controlling attitude. You can make an agreement - if he slips back into his unwanted ways, you can say, “You’re trying to control me again,” or some other mutually acceptable trigger phrase.
- If you feel in any way threatened, you know you have to leave. Do it in any way you can. Ask for advice. If there’s violence involved, contact the police or the NCDSV (or its equivalent in your country).
- Turn to your support network. This could be an ouchie, especially if you have been constantly telling them how sweet he is, how loved up you are. It takes courage to swallow your pride and admit that all is not well. You will receive lots of advice, some of it conflicting, but someone may come up with a plan. If you know there’s something they can do to help, then ask. People often like to be asked specifically.
- Make a plan - and stick to it. Moving on from a relationship can be extra-complex if you have a home together. So work on a way to disentangle your joint commitments and finances. He probably has control of your money, so you may need professional advice how to go about making practical choices.
Facing the Aftermath of a Controlling Relationship
One characteristic of controlling boyfriends is that they don’t like to let go. He will do everything he can to get you back. It may involve pleading with you, turning on that irresistible charm, promising you he’ll change, threatening you, following you, stalking you, talking to mutual friends about you, spreading lies about you, turning up on your doorstep and even contacting your family to let them know how badly you’ve treated him.
Don’t fall for any of it. It’s too easy to believe he’ll moderate his controlling ways, but deep down, you know that’s not going to happen. Don’t you? Take it from one who’s been there.
I wish you all the best and have a happy life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why did my ex-boyfriend get upset when I chose to go to a different Walmart than usual?
Answer: Well, if he's your ex, it doesn't matter now. I can't tell you why he felt uncomfortable, maybe he was one of those people hooked on a routine?
Question: Why am I wrong all the time when I speak up for myself to my partner?
Answer: Because nothing you can say will be satisfactory to your partner. Not ever. It's one way they undermine your confidence. You are wasting your time with this one. Just end it.
Question: Am I wrong for having a separate life outside of my relationship? Not cheating but I hang with my girls sometimes, eat, party, just girl things. It’s caused me to be single because my boyfriend doesn’t want me to have a life while being with him
Answer: No, you are not wrong. In fact it's essential for everyone to have time out from their partner. It keeps the relationship fresh. And after all, you aren't joined at the hip - spending all your time with one person becomes claustrophobic and stale.
Question: If I meet my other male friends once a year and my boyfriend says its wrong, is it actually wrong?
Answer: Your boyfriend has no right to dictate to you. If you want to meet your friends, then meet them. He will have to deal with it. If he continues to try to control your behavior, then ditch him - trying to control someone is not love.
Question: Is it wrong if I ask my fiance for a little bit of trust? Because there is no trust and it's toxic.
Answer: If you describe your relationship as trust-less and toxic, it doesn't sound like a happy, fulfilling relationship. My advice is to walk away. It will never be a rewarding partnership.
© 2017 Bev G
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on October 10, 2017:
That's an interesting point, Umesh, but don't forget there were matriarchal societies as well as patriarchal. Although, of course, the latter tends to be more prevalent.
Thanks for you kind words.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 10, 2017:
If you see the history of human evolution there was an animal instinct in them where a male used to naturally control female in many respects as well as protecting her from strangers and other dangers.
With the development of human species and till modernization lot of changes took place in he relationship between a male and female yet still their are some natural reminiscent instincts that might be seen in present day boys towards their girl friend.
Anyway the article is great and I enjoyed reading it to understand the subtle emotions between such a relationship where a boy is trying to control her girl friend slowly and gradually.
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 11, 2017:
I agree with everything you wrote, dashingscorpio. I can tell that you are an enigma :D
Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 11, 2017:
Hi Pen, my ex was 95% loving and kind. When things were bad, he seemed to need to put me down in order to make himself feel better. It made him feel higher in the pecking order, I think. So he would call me names and draw attention to the fact I have a scar on my chin, or point out I'd put on weight, etc.
dashingscorpio from Chicago on June 11, 2017:
"why do some men feel the need to control their partner?"
I think there is probably more to be gained to find out why women are attracted to "controlling men".
Since the only person one can control is her/himself it's important for the individual know yourself, love yourself, trust yourself. If you love yourself you're naturally going to have boundaries and "deal breakers".
On the other hand if you're overriding desire is to be validated by having others like and approve of you then you're at their mercy.
" If you live for people's acceptance, you'll die from their rejection."
I imagine for some women they're going through a "bad boy" phase. "We ignore those who adore us and adore those who ignore us." They're likely to put "nice guys" in the "friend zone".
You could put such a woman in a room with five guys and have four of them drop to their knees extending their heart out to her while the 5th guy sits in a corner sipping on a cocktail acting as if she does not exist.
That will be (the guy) she wants to get to know!
He's a mystery, a challenge, he'll make her (earn) his attention and affection. For these women love and approval that comes easy is not stimulating. They equate drama with passion.
This notion of needing to "win him over" or earn his love oftentimes can go back to a little girl's childhood whose father was either not there or didn't automatically shower her with attention. Therefore she chooses similar men with the hope of this time getting a "gold star". She embraces the challenge.
In other instances the initial controlling aspects of a guy's personality were approved. She liked having a "take charge" guy who made sure she had everything she needed and planned where they would go and what they would do. Until one day realizes she's in a cage and he's controlling every aspect of her life. (When she can see family or which friends she can't see...)
He starts going through her mail, hacking her phone, and email accounts, making her prove her loyalty over and over again. Eventually she's not allowed to smile or laugh with anyone else.
However the word "allowed" isn't correct because no one is "stuck" anyone. If a woman's boyfriend is an a-hole and she stays with him because "she loves him":
Essentially she is saying: "I love a-holes!"
Each of us gets to (choose) our own friends, lovers, & spouse.
We get to (choose) who we spend our time with.
We're responsible for having our own "mate selection/screening process" and "must haves list" for a mate.
It's not about who (we attract) but rather who we are attracted to. Nothing happens until (you) say "yes".
I believe women invest too much time trying to "figure out" men and should still try to figure who (they themselves) are.
If you want something different (you) have to do something different. Don't be a "passenger" in your own life!
"Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary."
- Oscar Wilde
Anyone who seeks to control/dominate you doesn't love you.
Any woman who stays with a controlling man doesn't love herself.
One man's opinion!
pen promulgates on June 11, 2017:
Beautiful article Bev.
Hope nobody gets to face such a lover. Just wanted to know, why would a controlling boyfriend feel good in humiliating his partner? (as you mentioned above) I am aware you mentioned later 'He might have low self esteem.' but does no love exist that it goes to humiliating, criticizing etc?