Signs to look out for in a controlling relationshipNot wanting you to go on nights out
Many people don’t realise they’re in a controlling relationship. Or, more accurately, they do, but don’t want to admit it to themselves. The signs are all there, but they’re justified with ‘I’m only doing this because I love you’, or ‘I do trust you, it’s everyone else I don’t trust’. Through my own first-hand experience of bouncing from one controlling relationship to another, coupled with research and articles from expert psychologists, I’ve compiled a (by no means definitive) list of some of the most common signs of a controlling relationship. If this helps even one person out there, it’s worth it 😊
A lot of partners in controlling relationships say “I don’t want you going clubbing/ out with your friends/ to the pub” etc. This isn’t healthy – no one should be controlling where their partner goes or with whom. It’s often justified with ‘I just don’t trust the people in nightclubs’ or ‘I’d rather you spent time with me’, but if they trust you then what other people do shouldn’t matter; they trust you not to do anything, so nothing will happen! And if they don’t trust you, the relationship will be doomed from the start.
As for spending time with them, it’s a balance – you can spend time with your partner on some nights, and time with your friends on others. You shouldn’t have to choose one or the other.Not wanting you to see your friends
A lot of (although not all, and not exclusively) heterosexual couples say they don’t want their partner spending time with their friends of the opposite sex. As before, it all boils down to trust. If your partner trusts you not to cheat on them with one of your friends, then it shouldn’t be an issue who you hang out with or how often. And if they don’t trust you, you shouldn’t be with them in the first place. Telling you what clothes/ makeup/ products to wear
It’s one thing to tell your partner that what they’re wearing is two sizes too small or has a large stain down the front. It’s completely another to say that they don’t want you to wear revealing outfits or hair gel or too much makeup. They often make these ‘rules’ because they say they ‘don’t want other people looking at you’. But why is that a problem? You’re in a relationship, so it doesn’t matter who looks at you, you know and your partner knows that other people can’t have you!Demanding you ‘check in’ when you’re out
This is another scenario which is completely out of order. Under what circumstance could you need to report back every half an hour with information about where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing? If you’re
worried about your own safety when out, then you call the shots about ‘checking in’. It’s up to you to make that decision, not your partner.Not allowing you to have privacy
In an attempt to control their partners, some insist on checking through text/ Facebook/ Whatsapp messages, 'just in case'. You may not even know they're doing it. But if you have reason to believe they're looking at your messages, that's a giant red flag. Other invasions of privacy include: checking internet history, sat-nav destinations, and call logs; listening to your voicemails; "vetting" or "approving" social media posts such as instagram; and going through your activity log to check whose selfies or statuses you've liked. All completely unacceptable. A relationship means that you value each other's privacy, not that you have no privacy.Your friends and/ or family are worried
If multiple people are telling you that something seems off about the relationship, chances are they're right! Often you can't see it for yourself, and it takes someone with an outsider's perspective to show you that you and your partner's relationship isn't normal. If lots of people have concerns or doubts about your relationship, it might be worth asking yourself what they're all seeing that you aren't. Making you feel guilty
Have you ever been made to feel like something is your fault, even though you know deep down it isn’t? That’s manipulative and a sign of a psychologically abusive relationship. Maybe they forgot their keys, and they say it’s your fault for not reminding them to bring them. Or maybe they didn’t charge their phone, and it’s your fault for not having a spare charger in your bag. Or maybe you had to cancel a date last minute because your brother was taken into hospital. Whichever way they try to spin it, it’s controlling and incredibly unhealthy. Gaslighting
This is a term some of you won’t be familiar with. To gaslight is defined as: “to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity”. Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D. describes it aptly by saying:
“Picture someone who sporadically turns 180 degrees without knowing or admitting it. You're standing in front of them. They turn around and suddenly you're behind them. So they scold you: "Hey you. Why did you suddenly jump behind me? I’m standing still and you're hopping from one position to another." To make themselves feel consistent they have to call you inconsistent.”
According to Psychology Today, there are some very common techniques to look out for:
1. Blatant lying – the controller will often tell lies which are very obviously untrue, which makes you begin to question every little thing. This keeps you confused and unsure. They may also deny they ever said something when you know
they said it, which again makes you start to doubt yourself.
2. Negative comments – they will make a snide comment here and there, only very occasionally at first, until it becomes more and more frequent. Of course, they will give positive comments every so often too, so that you can convince yourself they’re a good person, deep down.
3. Projection – gaslighters tend to project their own inadequacies onto you. A serial cheater will often accuse you of cheating, which distracts you from their own behaviour, for example. Accusations of cheating and such also induce paranoia on both sides - the abuser convinces themselves that you are
cheating and so their actions are justified, whereas you may begin to worry that your behaviour is inappropriate or flirtatious when, in reality, it's nothing of the sort.
4. Questioning reality – an abuser will convince you that everyone is allied against you, and is lying to you for their own gain. This causes you to turn to the gaslighter for information rather than anyone else, and so the cycle is able to continue.
The most important thing to remember is that these behaviours don’t happen all at once. The ‘frog in a frying pan’ is a perfect analogy for this type of situation. If the heat is applied suddenly and all at once, the frog will jump out and run a mile. But if there is originally no heat, and it is turned on and up slowly over time, the frog will happily sit in the frying pan until it boils to death. It's also incredibly important to remember that anyone can be in this type of relationship, no matter their age, race, nationality, gender, sexuality, or job.
What a relationship is fundamentally based on is trust. If your partner trusts you completely, then you shouldn’t have to limit your behaviour, because they know you’ll be faithful. And if they do make you limit your behaviour, they don’t trust you as much as they say they do.
Please feel free to add any other common signs in the comments, or to share your own experiences. There’s always a friendly face to turn to, and if anyone needs support or advice, please please send me a PM. I’m here to help!
Below are a few resources for anyone who needs them:0808 2000 247
- 24-hour Freephone Helpline (for any type of abuse)116 123
- The Samaritans (24/7, 365 days a year) 020 7008 0151
- The Forced Marriage Unit (for people being forced into a marriage)0808 802 4040
- Respect (for people who think they might be a perpetrator of abuse) 01708 765200
- SupportLine (for any type of abuse) 0300 999 5428
- Broken Rainbow (for LGBT+ people who are abused)0808 801 0327
- Men's Advice Line (for help, support, and advice for men who are being abused)