13 Signs Of A Controlling Girlfriend And How To Address It

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated November 20, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

A controlling girlfriend or partner can lead to tension in romantic relationships. Several signs that your girlfriend may be displaying controlling behavior can include isolation from your family and friends, frequent criticism, threats and ultimatums, keeping score, snooping, and making love and acceptance conditional. If you or your girlfriend tends to be controlling, your relationship may benefit from couples therapy, whether you choose to complete it in person or online.

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Signs Of A Controlling Girlfriend

Please note that the following signs of controlling behavior can apply to anyone of any gender and are not limited to women. Any controlling partner may show some of these signs.


Does your girlfriend try to isolate you from friends and family? It may seem to start innocently enough, with your girlfriend finding reasons for you not to go out with your friends or attend family events. But eventually, this can snowball until you rarely see your friends and family, and never without your girlfriend. This is usually because your girlfriend feels insecure and worries about what others will say to you about her.

Frequent Criticism

You may notice that nothing you ever do seems to be good enough. If your girlfriend is constantly criticizing you so that you feel as though you are far from perfect, this can be a sign of very controlling behavior. This is often an indicator that your girlfriend wants to control every detail about you and change you to suit her desires.

Threats And Ultimatums

When most people think about someone making threats, they think about threats of physical violence or aggression. In reality, threats and ultimatums of a more personal and emotional nature are often much more common, much more frequent, and much more effective, which is why controlling girlfriends often use them.

Making Acceptance And Love Conditional

Does your girlfriend only make you feel loved and accepted when you do something to please her? If she only shows affection when you do what she wants, and withholds it when you don't do as she desires, it can be a sign that she is very controlling.

She Keeps Score And Uses It

It can be natural in a relationship for there to be a certain amount of give and take. It is generally accepted that the ratio of giving and taking can vary from time to time, but both partners should be committed to making an effort. But a controlling girlfriend may keep score, and when she's ahead, she may make sure that you know it. 

Uses Guilt Against You

If you have ever done something to upset a controlling girlfriend, you have probably noticed that you will never be allowed to forget it. A controlling girlfriend might bring up past transgressions and make you feel guilty about them to get you to do what she wants.

Creating A Debt-And Making You Pay It

This sign of a controlling girlfriend usually goes hand in hand with #5, keeping score. A controlling girlfriend may do her best to do something that creates a debt against you, and then she may bring it up and use it to get what she wants when you least expect it. She may try to get a lot of mileage out of just one debt as well, bringing it up again and again.


Some people do not consider snooping to be controlling behavior, but in reality, snooping can be a sign of a very controlling girlfriend. While you should never try to hide anything from your partner, and you should always be honest and truthful, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to tell your partner every little bit about every single day. If your girlfriend is so controlling that she snoops on your phone or goes through your things to find out what she missed, that can be a sign of controlling behavior.

Accusations And Jealousy

Do you have a jealous girlfriend who tends to get upset whenever your attention goes elsewhere? Jealousy can sometimes set in over friends and family, not just over other women that you might come into contact with. A controlling girlfriend may frequently make accusations and use her assumptions as grounds for isolation from your friends and family. This behavior is often seen in insecure women who feel inadequate, unloved, or very uncertain of themselves.

Getty/Carles Navarro Parcerisas

Not Respecting Alone Time

Although partners often spend a lot of time together, it can also be important to spend time alone as individuals. Alone time can be a vital part of maintaining your mental health. Even if it is just for an hour a day, it can be healthy to spend some time alone with your thoughts or doing something that you enjoy. A controlling girlfriend may not allow you to have alone time for fear of what you are doing while she's not around.

Making You Earn Good Treatment

Does your girlfriend only treat you well when you have done something she wanted? Being treated with respect and care, going on dates, showing affection, or having trust between you should not be dependent on what you do for your girlfriend. If your girlfriend makes you earn the kind of treatment that you deserve all the time, she may be using it to control you.

Relentless Arguing

A controlling girlfriend may always pick fights and start arguments, then try to "play the victim". The idea behind frequent arguing, even if it is over something minor that seems unimportant, can be that you will get so tired of arguing all the time you will start to give in more and more until your girlfriend is controlling everything you do in an effort not to argue.

A Therapist Can Help You Assert Yourself

Unwillingness To See Your Point Of View

In a healthy relationship, both partners usually try to see each other's points of view in situations to negotiate problems and find compromises and solutions. If your girlfriend is completely unwilling or unable to see your side of things and constantly demands that her side is the only side, that can be a sign of a very controlling relationship.

Why Girlfriends Can Be Controlling

There can be many different reasons that girlfriends and partners in general might be controlling. Psychologists have tried to understand controlling behavior in the context of romantic relationships for many years. With the research that they have done, they have discovered a few different reasons that you might have a controlling girlfriend.

Some women can be controlling because they can't control themselves or their environments, while other women may be controlling because they have a fear of being betrayed or abandoned. In some cases, controlling girlfriends may live with narcissistic personality disorder. Regardless of the underlying reason for controlling behavior, experts agree that controlling girlfriends tend to be after the same things. 

What To Do When You Notice Signs Of A Controlling Girlfriend

Before you entertain the idea of marriage to a controlling girlfriend or partner, it can be important that you set some hard boundaries about what behavior will and won't be accepted. You might sit down with your girlfriend and let her know what behavior is controlling and troubling for you, and what you are willing to accept. If your girlfriend loves you and wants the relationship to move to the next level, she may be willing to make changes.

Of course, these conversations are not always easy to have. It can be difficult to articulate into words how you think and feel in a way that your girlfriend can understand. In these situations, it can be a good idea for you and your girlfriend to go through relationship counseling. Especially if you are planning on eventual marriage, you may want to talk to a licensed therapist to address these issues beforehand.

If you cannot find an affordable relationship counselor near you, there are other options, such as online therapy platforms that specializes in relationship and marriage counseling. Working with a licensed therapist online can help you and your controlling girlfriend or partner communicate better, learn healthy habits, and set important boundaries.

The great thing about online therapy is that it is often an affordable and convenient solution, as most health insurance policies do not cover relationship counseling. It can also be difficult to find a day and time when both you and your girlfriend are available with the therapist's schedule if you are working with a traditional counselor. As this study explains, online couples therapy can be as effective as traditional face-to-face couples therapy, so please don’t hesitate to reach out and get the help you deserve.


Although controlling behaviors don’t always come from a malicious place, they can still be harmful to romantic relationships. If your girlfriend or partner keeps score in the relationship, doesn’t respect your alone time, makes you “earn” good treatment, is extremely jealous, or makes frequent accusations, they may be displaying controlling behavior. Often, couples therapy can be helpful in getting to the root of the problem and alleviating these unhealthy behaviors. You can attend couples therapy sessions in person or online.

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