Controlling Behavior: Exploring Signs Your Partner Is Too Possessive

Updated April 11, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

While many people may feel jealous if someone else shows their partner attention or act possessively if they feel threatened, those emotions and behaviors can grow into controlling behaviors and lead to unhealthy, unbalanced relationships. Read on to explore how to recognize and address possessive, controlling behavior in your partner and how therapy can provide support and guidance. 

Does your partner show possessive, controlling behavior?

What is controlling behavior, and why is it a problem?

Controlling behavior is generally the words and actions a person uses to assert power or control over others. This behavior can lead to numerous problems in a relationship because it promotes an unhealthy balance of power and can make one partner feel unseen and ignored or as if their wishes don't matter. 

Recognizing a controlling partner isn’t always a simple matter either. Their behavior may have been extremely different at the start of the relationship, and they may not use overtly menacing methods to control you. Manipulation can be subtle and grow more intense with time. 

“At the start of a new relationship, it’s not always easy to tell if it will later become abusive. In fact, many abusive people appear like ideal partners in the early stages of a relationship.” — Signs of Possessive and Controlling Behaviors, Blinn College

Understanding the characteristics of controlling personalities

While every relationship is different, controlling behavior is generally a pattern of using manipulation or threatening actions to exert control over a partner. Through decades of research, psychologists have determined common patterns often correlating with controlling, possessive relationship behavior. 

How a possessive partner affects a relationship

Possessiveness can negatively affect your relationship, shifting the balance of power to unhealthy levels, and can often lead to other harmful behaviors, such as anger, paranoia, or violence. The controlled partner may feel smothered and progressively isolated from their friends and family. Possessive behaviors can escalate to control and abusive habits that grow worse with time. 

Signs your partner is possessive

  • Constant criticism of everything you do
  • Deflecting any criticism away from themselves, no matter how small
  • Demonstrating jealous tendencies
  • Accusing you of unfaithfulness with no evidence
  • Insisting on knowing where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with at all times
  • Subtle or overt threats against you or themselves
  • Making their love or affection conditional
  • Being vindictive and keeping score in the relationship
  • Presuming you are guilty until proven innocent
  • Threatening to hurt themselves if you leave them
  • Blackmailing you with personal secrets
  • No respect for your personal space
  • They want to be with you every second and feel you can’t be trusted alone
  • They have issues with every person in your social circle
  • Anger over the slightest delay in answering texts or calls
  • Trying to control what you wear or how you act
  • Cutting you off from your emotional support network or insisting they should be the only support you need
Ilona Titova/EyeEm

Exploring different types of possessive controlling behavior

Controlling or possessive behavior can look different for everyone, but researchers have noted common behaviors often seen in partners trying to control their significant other. Many of these are not overt behaviors but patterns you may observe over time. 

Isolating you from friends, family, and outside support

You may notice that your social circle has grown smaller throughout your relationship, possibly because your partner seems to have an issue or an unpleasant confrontation with them. Reducing your other methods of support can be a controlling tactic. 

Using guilt and shame to manipulate you

Some possessive partners use guilt or shame to manipulate you into acting how they want you to. Making you feel guilty can control your behavior, and they likely know exactly what to say to make you feel bad. Shame works the same way. Someone with low self-esteem may focus on their partner’s flaws or mistakes to control them and make themselves feel better.

Expecting a reward for every favor

In most relationships, one partner can expect the other to occasionally do something selfless to help the other simply because they care for one another. You may find that over time, your partner expects a reward or special treatment for every favor or nice action, giving the relationship a transactional feel. 

Restricting your financial freedom

Some controlling partners will assume financial responsibility with the justification of helping you manage your money. However, if you feel unnecessarily restricted or can't use the money you earn, it may be financial abuse, which research shows is a component in as many as 99% of domestic violence cases

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7223) or visit the website to learn more about the best methods to get help for domestic abuse. 

Refusing to listen or engage in productive conversation

It could be a controlling tactic if you can't engage in healthy, productive conversation with your partner because they don't listen or deliberately work to obstruct any discourse. 

Leaving you so exhausted from constant conflict that you relent

The conflict and arguments about your partner's controlling behavior may be so constant that you become numb and relent to their demands to have some peace. 

“Some couples become so exhausted by fighting that they simply stop, but that doesn’t mean that all is well—far from it. In these cases, they often stop sharing things with each other altogether, and have zero ability to bring up any sort of disagreement because they know that it will just spiral out of control.” — Psychology Today

What to do if your partner is controlling

If you’ve noticed your partner starting to show controlling or possessive behavior patterns, there are ways you can work through the issues together and build a healthier relationship dynamic. 

Talk to your partner

One of the crucial steps in the process of building a healthy, practical, balanced relationship is talking to your partner. Calmly express your concerns about their behavior and how it makes you feel. If they recognize the problematic behaviors without conflict, there’s a good chance you can work through it and reshape those habits to something that makes you both feel comfortable. 

Set healthy boundaries—and stick to them

It can be challenging for someone with controlling tendencies to know what crosses the line into inappropriate behavior if you don’t set clear boundaries. Sit down and talk about your concerns and set boundaries you are both comfortable with to meet everyone’s needs while respecting the need for individuality. Sticking to your boundaries and not allowing your partner to violate your limits can be crucial. 

Define and address controlling behaviors

It may help to define the controlling behaviors you have an issue with so your partner knows which actions to address. If they didn't grow up with healthy relationship examples, they might need to adjust their habits of expressing affection and care. Identify the underlying need your partner is attempting to meet with controlling behavior and develop practical, positive alternatives. 

Talk to a professional

You may find that your partner is willing to seek help, but neither of you knows where to start. In that case, you may benefit from speaking with a qualified therapist or counselor to help them learn to identify, understand, and express their emotions with the support and guidance of a mental health professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is frequently used to help patients recognize and reshape harmful thought and behavior patterns. 

What causes controlling behaviors?

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Emotional Attachment Issues
  • Previous Relationship Experiences
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • An Overwhelming Need To Be In Control

Prevalence and Typologies of Controlling Behaviors

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Does your partner show possessive, controlling behavior?

How therapy can help couples work through controlling behavior

Possessive or controlling behavior can lead to numerous mental and emotional reactions and affect your relationship in many ways. If you or your partner exhibits concerning habits, consider working with a licensed couples therapist through a virtual relationship therapy platform like Regain. Couples therapy can help you identify and reshape possessive, controlling behaviors, foster open and honest communication that allows both partners to express their feelings and needs, and develop healthy conflict-resolution skills that help you work through problems together. Individual therapy can also help you explore how you react to your partner’s behavior, how to set and maintain healthy boundaries, and when to recognize that their actions cross the line into abusive territory. Parents or guardians seeking emotional support for kids from 12 to 19 in controlling relationships can contact TeenCounseling for assistance. 

Researchers at the American Psychological Association have been studying the effectiveness of virtual therapy delivery methods, particularly since the isolation of the pandemic brought remote treatment to the forefront of the mental healthcare community. Studies show that both couples therapy and individual therapy offer comparable outcomes in both online and in-person formats. 

Counselor reviews

“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”

“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”


Noticing signs that your partner is acting possessive can be cause for concern in a relationship. The information in this article offers insight into recognizing the signs your partner may be showing controlling behavior, what you can do about it, and how therapy can help you through the process. 

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