I'm a Psychologist and These Are 5 Telling Signs Someone Is a Controlling Partner
These red flags could signal a subtle form of abuse.
A common feature of toxic relationships is one partner exerting excessive control over the other. However, in the early stages, it can be hard to spot the signs of this serious but subtle—not to mention often escalating—relationship problem.
That's why we spoke to Rod Mitchell, MC, MSc, a registered psychologist working with Therapy Calgary Emotions Clinic. With an extensive background in counseling the perpetrators and victims of partner abuse, Mitchell says there are five key signs to look out for which could indicate that someone is a controlling partner. "Recognizing these signs is crucial because they often precede more severe emotional or psychological manipulation," he tells Best Life.
Wondering if you might be with a controlling partner—or that you might be one yourself? Read on for Mitchell's top five red flags that could signal a serious problem.
Excessive criticism and belittling
Mitchell says that the first red flag to look out for is one partner belittling the other or being excessively critical toward them. If your partner often makes you feel small or ashamed of yourself, your relationship has taken an unhealthy turn.
"A controlling partner often uses criticism to undermine their partner's self-esteem," he explains. "This isn't about constructive feedback; it's about making someone feel lesser so they're easier to control. It's concerning because it can erode one's sense of self-worth and independence over time."
Isolation from friends and family
Your relationship with your partner shouldn't stop you from having great relationships with others. If it does, this may be a sign that your partner is controlling you by limiting your social life.
"When a partner starts dictating whom you can see or speak to, it's a significant warning sign," says Mitchell. "This behavior aims to limit your support network, making you more dependent on them. This isolation can be subtle at first but often grows over time."
Being financially dependent on your partner makes it especially difficult to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many controlling partners are aware of this fact and use it to their advantage.
"Financial control can take many forms, from overtly managing your expenses to subtler means like making you feel guilty for spending. It's important to be aware of this because financial independence is crucial for personal autonomy, and controlling it is a way of limiting your freedom," says Mitchell.
Some people also control their significant other by constantly monitoring their behaviors. This can quickly create a warped dynamic—one in which the controlled party submits to unreasonable expectations or demands.
"Whether it's incessant texts, demanding to know your whereabouts, or even installing a location tracker on your phone, constant monitoring reflects a lack of trust and a desire to keep tabs on every aspect of your life. This behavior is concerning because it shows a disregard for your personal space and autonomy," Mitchell warns.
Making decisions on your behalf
Finally, Mitchell says that if someone regularly makes decisions for their partner—big or small—it could mean that there's an unhealthy power balance.
"When a partner consistently makes decisions for you, especially without your input, it's a sign of control," he explains. "This could range from small daily choices to significant life decisions. It's a concerning behavior because it undermines your ability to make choices and can make you feel like a passenger in your own life."
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