Is My Partner Too Possessive? 8 Signs Of Controlling Behavior

By Abigail Boyd|Updated June 20, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Chante’ Gamby, LCSW

Nobody's perfect, as the saying goes, and all of us have had moments of jealousy, emotional immaturity, or possessiveness somewhere in our dating history. But some people never grow out of these immature patterns, which can lead to controlling behavior. These people form unhealthy, unbalanced relationships that don't succeed if this behavior is not addressed and changed.

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An overly controlling boyfriend or girlfriend (or spouse) can be poisonous to your mental and emotional health, no matter how much you care about them. Learn how to recognize a possessive partner and what to do about it if your partner has been keeping you under their control.

Characteristics Of A Controlling Personality

The stereotype of a controlling personality is a domineering tyrant that demands everyone submit to their will. Examples include a hellish boss, a physically abusive husband or wife, or a demanding professor. In reality, those with controlling personalities can be more subtle in their behavior. In some cases, the person may not realize their actions are motivated by a desire to control a situation or another person.

A controlling person acts in this manner to gain power over someone else. This usually stems from deep-rooted insecurity that the person attempts to deny or suppress. Instead of reflecting and working on this self-doubt, they try to control others to make themselves feel the power they lack.

Some controlling partners start by acting overly interested and attracted to you, wanting to spend time with you as much as possible. This can feel flattering and exciting, especially if you feel the same. However, once the rosy tint of romance begins to wear off, this kind of behavior can be suffocating instead of sweet. If he or she always insists on knowing your whereabouts, messages you incessantly, or shows up at your work repeatedly unannounced, those are all signs of controlling behavior.

Signs Of A Possessive Partner

Controlling behavior can be insidious and surprisingly hard to spot when you're in a relationship. These subtle signs can make you question your perception and beliefs. The actions of a controlling husband or controlling wife may start to chip away at your self-esteem. You may not realize the extent of their attempts at control unless you take a step back and consider the situation like a third party would.

Signs of a toxic partner who is trying to control you may include:

  • Isolating you from family, friends, and others in your social circle.
  • Frequently criticizing your actions and overall behavior, no matter how small.
  • Deflecting any criticism of him or herself, no matter how significant.
  • Prying into your private business while keeping his or her own strictly off-limits.
  • Displaying jealous behavior and accuses you of being unfaithful with little to no evidence.
  • Insisting on knowing where you are or what you're doing at all times.

One or two of these signs may not mean that your partner is controlling, just that it's an area they need to work to improve. However, if you recognize your partner's behavior in several of these signs, that is a red flag that things may have escalated to emotional abuse. If you suspect this is the case, speak to a mental health professional or someone else you trust about the issue.

Types Of Controlling Behavior

1. Cutting You Off From Your Support Network

One of the most common and toxic signs of a controlling boyfriend or girlfriend is attempting to cut you off and isolate you from your family and friends. This shift happens subtly over time. Maybe they express distaste for one or more of your close friends and "suggests" that you spend less time with them. Or they cause tension between you and your family members. This type of behavior aims to weaken your other social ties enough so that they'll have more power over you and that you'll rely on them more.

2. Manipulation Using Guilt And Shame

Shame and guilt are emotions that can leave scars on a person's psyche. As such, they are powerful tools when wielded to manipulate others. Guilt trips are a common technique of possessive partners to manipulate you into behaving in a manner they want. Shame is the same way-a a possessive partner may harangue you for mistakes if they have low self-esteem to gain control over you.

3. Expecting Something In Return For Every Favor

When you do something selflessly for someone else you care about, you do it just because you care about them. You want to help them have and do what they need to be happy, safe, and comfortable. Controlling partners only do favors when they think that they can get something back from their efforts. They use the favors they perform as leverage to get you to do what they want but usually don't inform you of this beforehand. You can be sure this is one of the signs of a controlling man or woman.

4. Restricting Your Finances

If your partner has taken full control of your finances under the guise of helping you manage your money, but you feel like unnecessary restrictions keep you from it, it may be financial abuse. Financial abuse is a very common way that one partner dominates and holds power over the other. Research has suggested that it is present in up to 99% of domestic violence cases.

Financial abuse is a serious problem and requires immediate attention. Speak to a therapist or the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance.

5. Deliberately Obstructing Conversations

A successful, healthy relationship depends on both people being able to communicate their needs and concerns and to feel understood and heard. This give-and-take extends to every area of the partnership. Every once in a while, one of you might miscommunicate-that's normal. If you explain yourself and your partner is open to hearing from you, it can strengthen the bond.

On the other hand, a controlling partner is an expert at shutting down the conversation and putting up a wall so they can't hear you. If you feel that your partner never listens to you, doesn't address your concerns no matter how much you repeat them, or misunderstands you even when you word things carefully, then it could be a sign of manipulation.

6. Giving You The Silent Treatment

Related to the previous type of controlling behavior, the silent treatment is the adult equivalent of someone sticking their fingers in their ears and saying, "la la la, and I can't hear you." It's a sign of emotional immaturity. With the silent treatment, your partner completely shuts you out and refuses to talk to you.

The silent treatment often follows a disagreement. Instead of working together to fix the situation, employing the silent treatment drives a wedge between the two of you, allowing the other person to avoid confrontation and feel like they have the upper hand. If you're constantly getting silent treatment, it can be one of the signs of a controlling woman or man as your partner.

7. Spying On You And Invading Your Privacy

You may catch them snooping through your purse or trying to read the messages on your phone. If you get upset at the intrusion, they might blow it off as being no big deal since you're in a relationship together. They may even accuse you of having something to hide.

Even in a long-term relationship or marriage, both people have a right to a certain degree of privacy. When this privacy is invaded, it can erode trust on both sides. A lack of privacy or outright spying is one of the clear signs of a controlling girlfriend or boyfriend.

8. Offering Only Conditional Love

Unconditional love means loving someone without any expectations or limitations. You love the person not only for what's beautiful about them but also for their dark, raw, sometimes ugly parts.

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On the other hand, conditional love means that a person only loves someone if they look or act the way they want. It sets a bar that you have to be reaching for to earn their love constantly. It allows the controlling partner to hold judgment over the other person and essentially put themselves up on a pedestal. This kind of love never lasts.

Usually, a person who only offers conditional love was the recipient of only that type of love when they were younger and just repeated what they knew. But passing along this behavior is not beneficial to either partner.

What To Do If Your Partner Is Controlling

If your partner is insecure and struggling with falling into controlling patterns, but admits this when you talk to them about it, then there's nothing to worry about. You can make both works toward a healthier dynamic in the relationship.

Strongly controlling partners often have great difficulty admitting there is a problem and may refuse to attend couples therapy. Even if you do get into therapy, your partner may blame you and focus on changing only your behavior. If your partner is genuinely willing to work on their behavior, a therapist is an essential part of the process to play the role of a third-party mediator.

If your partner is controlling to the point where it's crossed the line over to emotional, mental, or physical abuse, you should strongly consider whether you should end the relationship. If you keep hoping things will change, but they never do, there's no reason to expect they will in the future.

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