10 red flags you’re in a controlling relationship

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It’s really easy to look at someone else’s relationship and pinpoint all the issues going on, right? 

But when it comes to your own, it’s much harder. 

You’ve got mixed emotions, shared history, hopes for the future and so much more going on. 

That’s why it’s even harder to detect when your relationship has turned sour, or even worse, your partner has become toxic. 

I know because I’ve been exactly in the same position. It’s with hindsight that I realized what was truly going on, and now I want to help others recognize the signs of abuse. 

So, here are 10 red flags you’re in a controlling relationship. Be brave, dear reader, there’s light at the end of the tunnel…

1) You’re forever asking for permission 

Imagine having to ask your friends every time you wanted to go out for a coffee with someone that doesn’t involve them – it would seem crazy, right?

Well, I hate to break it to you, but if you’re asking your partner for permission to do things like:

  • See family or friends 
  • Go out alone 
  • Make personal life choices 

You may be in a controlling relationship. The same applies if you need their approval on what you wear or the food you eat…

These are all major red flags that your partner may be dominating the relationship and as a result, you’re losing your sense of independence. 

2) “It’s my way or the highway”

Do you find it hard to compromise with your partner? 

For example, with my ex who was incredibly controlling, I remember trying to negotiate something simple like who chooses the film that particular night.  

He would never give in – if it wasn’t his way, he’d start a huge fight. 

This is another classic sign of control within a relationship.

The truth is, a healthy partnership is based on respecting each other and compromising when you don’t see eye to eye. 

But if your partner kicks up a fuss every time they don’t get their way, it’s only natural that you’d back down…essentially, they retain their control over the entire situation by manipulating your feelings.

You may even find yourself tiptoeing around them, just because you know they’ll make such a big deal out of every little thing – this is no way to live life. 

3) Your opinions are never “right” 

Another red flag you’re in a controlling relationship is if you never seem to do anything right, and your opinions are never valued or listened to. 

This is super concerning because if your partner starts making you doubt your decisions and perceptions, you could end up with very low self-esteem. 

I remember once making an innocent comment, like, “I love that dress.”

My ex looked at me with a face of disgust and told me I had no idea what I was talking about. 

If your ex does the same or criticizes everything you say or do, it’s another cruel attempt to keep control.

They’re wearing down your self-worth and esteem to the point that you give up having an opinion or doing anything for yourself! 

4) The blame game never ends 

“If you’d made dinner on time, I wouldn’t be in a bad mood, would I?”

Sentences like this make me shiver. They signal someone who takes ZERO accountability for their mood or actions, and instead, blames everyone else. 

So, why is this a red flag of control in a relationship?

Well, by constantly blaming you for everything that goes wrong, your partner is filling you with self-doubt and guilt. 

You may genuinely believe that you’re doing something wrong when in reality, they’d be in a bad mood regardless of whether you made dinner on time or not. 

Either way, it keeps you right where they want you – under their thumb. 

5) Your friends are slowly vanishing from sight 

One thing that I didn’t realize was happening during my controlling relationship was the disappearance of my friendships. 

It wasn’t obvious because it happened gradually. 

But before I knew it, whenever I mentioned seeing a friend, my partner would inevitably have a problem with it…

Either they weren’t “good influences” on me, or I was making him feel left out by going out without him. 

Now I understand how this was another form of control:

By isolating me, he knew I wouldn’t be able to run to my friends once things got bad. I’d feel alone. And naturally, I’d become more dependent on him. 

Does all this sound familiar to you?

If so, it’s time to have a long, hard think about your relationship. It’s okay to dislike your partner’s friends, but to stop them from seeing them or having a social life altogether?

That sounds like control to me! 

6) Public humiliation has become the norm

Another red flag to look out for is public humiliation…

Not only can this signal control, but crucially, it shows a complete lack of respect

If your partner: 

  • Openly compares you to others, “Why can’t you be more like her, she’s so fun!”
  • Makes mean remarks, “Honestly, you’re so stupid sometimes.”
  • Restricts you from making your own decisions, “Don’t even think about it, I already said you can’t have another drink.” 

They’re using humiliation to basically butcher your self-esteem. As I mentioned earlier, this is another tactic used to control you

Because without self-esteem, you’ll find it hard to be confident and independent. Instead, you’ll rely more and more on your partner, which is exactly what they want.

7) Your partner gaslights you

Gaslighting is when someone makes you doubt your memories or emotions. 

My ex used this routinely. We’d argue, and when I’d bring up something cruel he had said, he’d flat-out deny it. 

I’d be left feeling completely baffled…It got to the point where I started questioning my own thoughts and memories. 

That’s a very scary place to be in. You feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. 

And all of those emotions; fear, confusion, powerlessness, and isolation, feed directly into your partner’s desire to control you

8) You feel like you’re under 24/7 surveillance 

Now, as much as gaslighting will make you feel hopeless, being monitored all the time will make you feel like a criminal being investigated by the FBI.

If your partner: 

  • Constantly checks your phone 
  • Wants all the passwords to your social media 
  • Needs to know where you are and who you’re with 
  • Tracks the amount of time you’re gone when out of the house

These are all major flags of control. This isn’t normal behavior in a relationship.

Sure, some couples might use each other’s phones from time to time. Most will check in with each other throughout the day when both are out. 

But it should never be a requirement.

Whether your partner is extremely jealous or has other issues going on, it’s important for you to know that this game of keeping tabs on you isn’t healthy. 

9) The silent treatment is used as a weapon 

Ah, the dreaded cold shoulder. 

If you’re in a controlling relationship, you’re probably well used to experiencing this. 

I actually thought it was normal until I realized it’s a weapon used to punish you when the abuser doesn’t get their way. 

My ex would ignore me for days on end, sometimes insisting that I “beg” for his forgiveness before we could go back to normal. 

Personally, I think abusers do this for two reasons:

  • To play with your emotions and keep you on edge. This helps them maintain control, after all, only they can decide when the cold spell is over. 
  • To hurt you. It’s simply a way to punish you. In fact, some studies have shown that being ignored by someone you love can cause physical pain. These abusers know what they are doing. 

Rather than rationally talk about the issues, they prefer to keep you in the dark. This isn’t just unhealthy, it’s downright disrespectful and harmful! 

10) Your partner keeps trying to change you 

Do you recognize yourself when you look in the mirror?

I don’t ask to make you feel upset, but for you to realize whether your partner is changing you, one piece at a time. 

It might start with something like, “Oh but you’d look better if you wore this”, and eventually lead to, “You can’t possibly think that, what’s wrong with you?”

Hello, red flag

This is the complete opposite of unconditional love. Trying to change who you are as a person, or how you dress, is essentially their way of taking control over YOU

They’re no longer just monitoring where you go or who you speak to, now they want to have a say in everything you think, wear, or do. 

Trust me, no matter how much you try to please them, it’ll never be enough. 

You’re in a controlling relationship, now what? 

If you’ve made it to the end of the list with a knot in your stomach, your worst fears confirmed, don’t worry.  know how tough it is to be in this situation, the person you love is doing the worst thing possible to you.

It may seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m here to remind you there is. 

I got out of my controlling relationship by taking it one step at a time. 

The first was to reach out to my old, trusted friends and family members who I knew would support me. You need to do the same – a support network will make all the difference. 

From there, you can start rebuilding your self-esteem and distance yourself from your partner. 

But remember, if you feel physically in danger, call the police. This doesn’t have to be your life, you deserve a relationship filled with respect and love! 

Kiran Athar

Kiran is a freelance writer with a degree in multimedia journalism. She enjoys exploring spirituality, psychology, and love in her writing. As she continues blazing ahead on her journey of self-discovery, she hopes to help her readers do the same. She thrives on building a sense of community and bridging the gaps between people. You can reach out to Kiran on Twitter: @KiranAthar1

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