Five Signs You Have A Controlling Boyfriend And What To Do About Him

Updated April 07, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock

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Signs Of A Controlling Boyfriend

Signs And Red Flags

One red flag is if your boyfriend doesn't trust you and looks at your phone constantly. They monitor who you talk to or text and may even look at your phone bill to see who you called. If your boyfriend doesn't ask for consent to see your phone and just takes it, that is not, acceptable, and it is controlling. A controlling boyfriend will interfere with your independence and will dominate until they assume complete control over the relationship. In a healthy relationship, people have their own separate lives. They have their own hobbies, their own jobs, their own friends, and so on, and each person trusts the other to be with those friends or at that job on their own without needing to review and give their approval for every little detail. Of course, the dynamic of a relationship varies from couple to couple, but one thing is always true in a healthy relationship - there is trust and care rather than control or domineering.

Dealing With An Emotionally Abusive Or Manipulative Boyfriend

Emotional abuse is a pervasive form of mistreatment in relationships. It happens when a person actively tries to humiliate, belittle, or hurt their partner through tactics such as name calling, insults, victim blaming, and gaslighting. They'll often try to decrease your self-worth or self-confidence. The abuser uses emotional abuse to wear their victim down so that they can maintain control over the relationship. This may be particularly true in a dynamic where the partner has healthy self-esteem to start out because the controlling boyfriend wants to tear it down to make sure that they can assume control over their partner. They want to tap into your insecurities. Abuse is a perpetual cycle and the reason that people stay in abusive relationships is that the partner isn't outwardly abusive all the time.

The Toxic Cycle Of An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

You may be wondering why someone would stay in an abusive relationship. If you're in an abusive relationship, it's likely that your abuser isn't always unkind because in abusive relationships, the abuse presents itself in a cycle. For example, the controlling boyfriend isn't always cruel; he'll go from being manipulative, gaslighting, and name calling to being kind and apologetic afterwards. Their partner will be confused and not know how to deal with the behavior, and they'll stay in this cycle of abuse because their significant other appears remorseful.

Negative Effects Of An Emotionally Abusive Marriage

signs of a controlling boyfriend
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Being with a controlling partner or boyfriend can have a long-lasting negative impact on an individual's self-esteem and mental health. It's been scientifically proven that abuse profoundly impacts the victim's brain. Trauma literally changes people's brain, and if you live or have lived with the trauma and stress of emotional abuse, your brain will suffer. You may experience symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Stomach pain or other GI issues
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

The effects of emotional abuse over time are detrimental to your mind and body.

Recognizing a Controlling Relationship And Improving Mental Health

Once you recognize that you're in a controlling relationship, it's time to get out of it. It's not a situation in which you want to stay because the abuser has psychological problems and they need to change; you cannot change them. Once the controlling boyfriend realizes that their partner wants to leave, they'll do anything to make them stay. They beg for forgiveness or become crueler. They threaten their person to stay. They try to remove their girlfriend's support system so that they feel isolated and can't leave the relationship. They may deter them from seeking help or getting a clinical professional to assist them.

You might also see attempts of financial abuse in this situation. Financial abuse is present in many abusive relationships. It's where your partner makes it difficult to leave a relationship by hindering your access to financial resources. They directly steal your money, bully you to bail them out of financial problems, control financial assets, or open your documents such as bank statements. Your boyfriend feels entitled to the money you have. They are consistently interfering with your work or ability to perform a job. If these things are happening, it's a major problem in abusive relationships and it's something that you need to look at.

Five Signs That You Have A Controlling Boyfriend

Here are five signs that you have a controlling boyfriend:

  1. Social Isolation

Your controlling boyfriend is actively trying to isolate you from your support system. You find that you're not spending much time with your loved ones and your boyfriend may be implementing rules for when you need to be home. He may not allow you to spend time with anyone at all, and he may put negative things about your support system into your head.

  1. He's the Center of your World and Doesn't Allow Others to Infiltrate It

In anyone's life, they shouldn't be surrounded by only one person. If your boyfriend wants to be your everything, and gets jealous of other people, that's a big red flag. If you find that you're isolating from the people that are close to you, like your best friend, that is a sign that you may have a controlling boyfriend. Your boyfriend shouldn't be the only person in your universe.

You Deserve A Healthy Relationship
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  1. Constantly Saying "Sorry"

When you're apologizing constantly to your partner or boyfriend, it's a sign that you have an unhealthy dynamic. He is allowing you to feel like you're doing something wrong. Many people with anxiety disorders find that they apologize due to their fears. However, if your boyfriend is enhancing your insecurities by being controlling, those apologies are coming from a different place inside of you. They stem from pain or the need for love and validation that you are not receiving in your relationship.

  1. Conditional Love

In a relationship, you should have unconditional love. You have agreed to love each other for who you are. That doesn't mean that you get to treat someone poorly; it indicates that you respect each other and accept each other for who you are. Conditional love, on the other hand, means that he only loves you if you behave or look a certain way. That's a major sign that a controlling boyfriend might be at play here; you feel like you must please him all of the time and like if you don't, he won't love you.

  1. Infantilizing or Treating You Like a Child

Your partner treats you less like an independent adult and more like a child. So, he infantilizes you, tells you what to do, makes you feel like you don't know what you're doing or how to make your own choices, condescends or patronizes you, and tries to organize your life. You are not a child, and you don't deserve to be told what to do. If you find that your boyfriend is behaving this way - trying to tell you what to wear, who to see, if he condescends to you - that's a sign that he's controlling.

Controlling Behavior Is Destructive And Toxic

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If you find that you're in a controlling relationship, it can be emotionally destructive and detrimental to your life. It's important that you confront this issue and deal with the problems that can ensue. Look at the relationship and determine what parts are controlling so that you can understand that you need to do to get out of the relationship or make it healthier. One of the ways to deal with these issues is by going to therapy with your partner. In some cases, it's not hopeless; maybe he's behaving in a jealous way because he doesn't know how to handle a relationship and may be scarred from the past. The key in this situation is that you feel fully safe and that he shows a genuine, consistent effort to change. If this is the case for you, one thing that you can do is go to couples counseling. Online counseling can help, and the trained counselors at ReGain are here to help you work through these problems and make sure that you get the most out of your relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are the Warning Signs Of a Controlling Boyfriend?

There are many signs of a controlling boyfriend or controlling partner. Some of these include:

  • Talking bad about your friends and family and making you feel like you must agree with him
  • Not letting you feel free to leave the house by yourself
  • Making you feel bad for not including him in a night out with the girls
  • Forcing you into spending time with him instead of with friends and family members
  • Prohibiting you from having male friends
  • Body language that clearly shows he is upset when you want to do things without him
  • Saying you can’t meet with male coworkers for meetings outside of the office
  • Controlling your food and other health topics
  • Not allowing you to wear short skirts outside of the house
  • Saying you can’t hang out with your friends because he will be home all alone
  • Insisting that you spend all your free time with him
  • Not letting your go to happy hour after work without him
  • Feel like you’re living with your parents
  • When long distance for any period of time (for example, when you’re on vacation), he calls constantly and tries to take away from time with family and friends

Why is My Controlling Partner Taking Over My Life?

When you have a controlling partner, they will exhibit controlling behavior on a mild to extreme scale. Controlling behavior often stems from your controlling partner having a lack of control over something in his own life. In turn, your boyfriend is controlling your life so that he feels he’s controlling something significant. However, this scenario often backfires when your controlling partner tries taking over your entire life and decision factors.

Sings of a controlling partner can be small at first. He may say he will miss you and wishes you didn’t have to leave or insist you cancel plans with a friend to be with him.

Much large and more significant controlling behavior would be refusing to let you leave the house without him or controlling your food and clothes choices.

My Boyfriend Loves Me But Is He Emotionally Manipulative?

True love consists of trust. It’s important to understand that if it feels like he’s controlling your love life and personal life, you may have a controlling partner. You should never feel like your boyfriend is controlling you. That is not true love.

Controlling partners make you feel like you’re in debt to them all of the time, and they want to handle all of your decision-making abilities. If you see signs you’re in a controlling relationship, you may want to leave before the signs of a controlling partnership become much worse.

There are always signs your partner is over controlling; however, you may not pick up on them right away. The National Domestic Violence Alliance says that most domestic violence relationships start with subtle signs your partner wants to control you.

These signs of a controlling romantic relationship can be scary, but if you feel like your partner is already trying to manage all of your affairs, it may be time to walk away from the partnership before it is too late.

What is being controlling in a marriage?

A controlling person is someone who exerts dominance over another individual in an unhealthy and self-serving manner. The dominance of controlling people is toxic, and it is for their own gain. Be assured that controlling people don’t just “want what’s best for you,” no matter what they say. Controlling people want to feel a sense of power. Controlling people might try isolating you from friends and family or deciding who out of your family and friends you can talk to, try to change or micromanage the way you look or dress, and keep constant supervision over what you’re doing and who you’re talking to. Controlling people might try to manipulate you into believing that they’re always right (with regard to their control). For example, if your partner is controlling, they might say that they’re only telling you to act, behave, or make a choice according to what they think because they, “know what’s best for you.” Controlling people might even use gaslighting as a tactic, making you feel as though you’re crazy. Additionally, a controlling partner might make them feel like you owe them something or make you feel guilty in order to get what they want. Especially if your partner is controlling and you’re in a long term relationship, this can have negative mental health implications over time. If your partner is exhibiting a smaller sign of controlling behavior that may be unintentional, have a conversation about it. For example, if your boyfriend needs to check your phone constantly, talk to your boyfriend. If he understands, apologizes, and stops, or agrees to go to couples therapy and this was the only present sign of controlling behavior in your relationship, it is likely something you can work through. However, if your boyfriend won’t stop, it is time to leave. 

What is a toxic marriage?

Simply put, a toxic relationship is one that isn’t good for you. Controlling partners are one thing that can make a relationship toxic, as can volatile arguments, an unhealthy sense of competition, lack of support, undermining, or partners that seem to be dedicated to making you feel bad about yourself - even if it isn’t always overt. Note that abusive and toxic aren’t the same thing. A toxic relationship might include quarrels and less than healthy patterns, but abuse is beyond that. A toxic relationship won’t always be abusive, but an abusive relationship is always deeply toxic. If emotional abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse are present, it is time to go. Abuse is about power and control. If your partner is controlling, it is a giant red flag that you shouldn’t ignore. Again, when it comes to controlling people and controlling partners, get out before it gets worse. Abuse and control may worsen over time, and you want to leave now. 

Being emotionally abused can leave emotional scars long term. Being emotionally abused may entail control, blackmail, making you feel guilty so that you’ll do what they want, name calling, nitpicking, picking fights, making you feel less than, isolating you from friends and family, manipulation, and making you feel as though you are walking on eggshells. Physical abuse and situations where you’re being emotionally abused often progress over time. A relationship with an abusive, controlling person might start out romantic with a lot of love bombing present. Over time, abusive, controlling people tend to start to exert more and more power over you. When you’re going through it, the cycle may be making you feel confused (“why are things good sometimes and bad at others?”) or like their emotionally abusive behavior isn’t “that bad” (“things aren’t always bad, so I’ll stay”). Again, controlling people have a way of making you feel as though their behavior is justified. If you’ve been emotionally abused in the past, seeing a counselor or therapist may help you through the healing process. 

It’s normal to feel guilty or to feel like you’re “overreacting,” as a controlling person may exhibit covert controlling behaviors or manipulate you, sometimes very sneakily, not to see how bad things truly are. No one deserves abuse. If you have an abusive or controlling partner, you may want to check out the national domestic violence hotline website, use their web chat option, or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

Deep down, you may have a feeling that something’s wrong, and if you have that feeling, it’s likely that you’re right. Don’t hesitate or delay calling the hotline, making a safety plan, cluing in friends and family, if applicable, or leaving your abusive partner safely. Listen to your gut. You can break free, and there is hope.

Why do I use controlling behavior in my marriage?

A controlling person or controlling people might vie for control for a number of reasons. If you know you’re controlling, you might spend a lot of time feeling embarrassed, guilty, or wondering why you do it. It’s not your zodiac sign or a trait that can’t be worked on. Common psychological reasons for controlling behaviors are low self-esteem, whether the controlling person has secret low self-esteem or known low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and situations in one’s past where they felt as though they had no control. Controlling behaviors or controlling ways can sometimes be a symptom of a mental health condition, such as specific personality disorders. Personality disorders are treatable, so if you do think that you’re struggling with one, or if you know that you have a personality disorder or another mental health concern that’s preventing you from having healthy relationships in any way, reach out and get support. You’re not “just a control freak” or someone who’s going to be a “control freak” for the rest of your life. If you are controlling, or if you’re exhibiting controlling behavior, a counselor or therapist can help you get to the root of the problem so that you can address it and stop using these behaviors. 

Is my boyfriend exhibiting controlling behavior? 

If you relate to the telltale signs listed in the article above, it’s likely that you’re dealing with a controlling boyfriend. Again, signs of control often start subtly. When you’re dealing with a controlling man who checks your phone, makes you feel small, even if covertly or subtly, it’s not something that you have to put up with anymore. You don’t need to deal with a controlling partner, and it’s very likely that controlling men, and controlling people in general, will continue to exhibit worse and worse behavior over time. Even if it’s hard to believe right now, it is an experience of so many people, and behavior that starts subtly or doesn’t seem “so bad” at first is one of the reasons why many people stay. Tell a trusted friend or family member about what’s going on. It is possible to leave a controlling boyfriend and break free. Depending on your circumstances, you may very well need a safety plan, and it is a good idea to have one regardless just in case. Your safety is the most important thing, and no matter what someone says, control is not love. Call the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website for information about making a safety plan, dealing with a controlling partner, and leaving a controlling partner. 


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