Generally speaking, the need for control means a need for security and certainty. The more insecure you feel, the greater is your need to control others. By controlling others you feel powerful and thus you get artificially and temporarily the comfort and relief that your self needs.
In a couple relationship, the need for domination and control doesn’t come from love, but from insecurity, possessiveness, dependency, selfishness, habit or pathological attachment.
What are the attitudes and behaviors of a controlling partner?
- he/she induces you feelings of guilt and shame – he/she accuses you of things that you didn’t do or of things that you are responsible for to a very small extent, he/she tries to make you feel bad for you to strive to get back in their good graces, to please them; he/she victimizes himself to make you feel guilty about what is happening to him/her;
- he/she constantly criticizes and devalues you - over time you start feeling less confident, you doubt yourself and your ability to make decisions and do things, so you become much more submissive, easier to be manipulated and controlled;
- he/she tries to isolate you – from friends, family, colleagues (he/she may directly or indirectly ask you to quit your job or career) in order for him/her to be the center of your attention - your anchor, the only person who should matter and whom you should listen, believe and follow;
- he/she doesn’t respect your privacy, time and personal space – he/she is constantly calling you to check where and with whom you are, he/she checks your phone, your social media accounts, he/she goes through your stuff and thinks such a behavior is normal, as if he/she has the right to know absolutely everything about you, and you don’t have the right to privacy. But every person is, in fact, an independent being, a unique individual who has their own personal limits and boundaries and who has the right to make these limits known and to demand that they be respected, regardless of whether or not he/she is in a relationship;
- he/she is possessive and jealous – he/she tries to control the relationships and interactions you have with other people because he/she is afraid of losing you. He/she sees "dangers" where they aren’t and is always suspicious;
- he/she doesn’t respect your needs, desires or point of view - it is as if he/she doesn’t want to see that you also have your own needs and desires, as if only his/her are important. Your own opinions will be disregarded or ignored, he/she will interrupt you while you are talking, he/she will make fun of you, he/she will make you feel bad, he/she will criticize you. In a way, this thing can be translated as: “I have control over your mind, over your thoughts; you have to think the way I want and feel the way it suits me better”;
- he/she tries to make you believe that something you know to be true is not true or tries to make you doubt yourself and your inner truth - for example, he/she has an abusive behavior and when you confront him/her, he/she completely denies it, minimizes the importance of their actions, he/she tells you that you are crazy and that you see things, exaggerate or he/she even tells you that you are the abuser;
- he/she insists and persists by any means to get what he/she wants from you to the point where you feel drained of energy and willpower and you give in - whether he/she wants to be right or whether he/she wants you to meet them certain needs and desires, he/she doesn’t give up until they get what they want (regardless of the costs you have to bear) - by getting on your nerves, by completely ignoring or distorting your point of view, by intimidation and threats, by aggression or endless victimization, by sabotaging certain plans that are important to you, by using your children or other important beings (including pets) as means of emotional blackmail;
- he/she feels entitled to make decisions in your place – a person who thinks he/she knows and is better than you, won’t see their lack of respect as being abusive, but they will think they are doing you a favor - "you don't know better / you can't / you are wrong, so you better leave your life to me";
- he/she finds excuses and doesn't admit when he/she's wrong - if he/she has emotional outbursts or becomes aggressive, he/she'll tell you "you provoked me", if he/she doesn't keep his/her promises, he/she'll tell you “this is how I am, a little bit distracted”, if he/she has certain behaviors that are harmful to both him/her and you, he/she’ll tell you “it’s not my fault I am like that. My parents are to blame for how I behave now/I had an unhappy childhood”;
- he/she has two "faces" - in public or when others are around he/she seems the most loving and caring partner, the most empathetic and charming, but when he/she is with you this mask falls and he/she returns to their old habits and their true way of being. He/she is the good one and others can confirm that, why do you insist on believing otherwise? This technique of distorting your reality makes you doubt your own perceptions and keeps you in a place where you hope that maybe if you are “good” enough (but you are never good enough for him/her) he/she will also treat you right;
- he/she is physical abusive, aggressive, threatens, makes you feel scared - if you are paralyzed by fear, if you fear for your safety and life, you will do anything to avoid repeating such an episode. The solution, however, is not to continue to accept this kind of behavior, but to seek help to get out of the situation;
- uses sex or affection as means of emotional blackmail - his/her love is conditioned by how well you manage to submit to their needs, desires and demands. For example, if you don't please him/her when he/she wants to, he/she will withdraw their affection and sulk for days. If you do something he/she doesn't want you to do (for example, go out with your friends one night), he/she will refuse to have sex with you;
- he/she uses money in order to create a financial dependence on him/her - at the beginning he can tell you that he loves you, that he wants the best for you, that he wants to give you everything, that you don't have to worry about anything anymore, that you don't need to work anymore. In general, we are talking about men who want to dominate their partners, make them dependent on them, and then lose their interest and respect towards them and become reckless, aggressive, or ignore, neglect, and treat them as "properties".
What you can do if you are in such a relationship?
If you notice that this type of behavior doesn’t tip the balance so much that you make the decision to leave the relationship (for example, you just started the relationship and you don't know each other well enough) be honest and ask your partner to have an open conversation about what is happening. Sometimes it can be about misunderstandings or misinterpretations (we all have our triggers and sometimes a minor behavior can trigger us some exaggerated reactions) caused by a lack of communication, a lack of clarification of our personal limits and boundaries, an insufficient knowledge of each other. Notice if things are really changing or if we are just talking about broken promises and repeating problematic behaviors. Stand up for yourself from the beginning, because only this way you will be able to find out what is really going on there. Don't ignore these things and don't delude yourself that he/she will change sometime in the future...
And if time has already passed and there weren’t just misunderstandings, but really abusive tendencies and controlling behaviors and you hoped that he/she would eventually change, I invite you to think about how this option worked for you. Has he/she changed? And if he/she hasn't changed so far, what do you rely on when you hope this will happen? People change first of all when they realize that they have a problem and are willing to make the effort to solve it. A person continues to try to control others because he/she has certain benefits from this behavior – he/she feels powerful, things happen as he/she wants, others don’t fight back etc., and evolving from this type of relationship that is, in fact, a one-sided relationship, to a mature and empathic relationship requires a process of self-knowledge and awareness for the change to be real and lasting. Does your partner want to start this process? Does he/she think he/she has any reason to start this process or does he/she think he is perfectly ok as he is now and doesn’t want to change anything?
If you feel that you are no longer ok in that relationship, but you don’t have the courage to leave, and the discussions and your way of fixing things have been unsuccessful, start approaching people who could help you - seek the help of a psychotherapist and / or talk to people you trust about what is happening to you, stop keeping everything hidden because this only deepens the confusion, shame and distrust you are most likely to feel.
Control and love are incompatible - love can only exist when there is freedom (the freedom to be yourself and the partner's freedom to be as he/she wishes to be) and mutual acceptance. In any functional relationship, each partner chooses whether or not to remain in that relationship.
When you are forced to be with someone (because that person uses manipulation, emotional blackmail, threats, because you feel compelled or constrained etc.) there can no longer exist desire, because desire is fueled in turn by the freedom of choice.
No one but you should be in control of your life. Take your strength back and in your journey through life be with people who are willing and able to respect your authenticity, limits and boundaries, decisions and freedom of choice.
Dr. Ursula Sandner