Have you ever heard of the boiling frog analogy? It describes how, if you were to put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it would immediately jump out. However, if you put it in cold water and slowly raise it to boiling, it won’t recognize the danger until it's too late. It's very gross and upsetting, but it's actually an apt comparison to how controlling relationships can often begin. They start with subtle signs your partner is controlling that can easily be dismissed. But then, without you even realizing it, the controlling behavior escalates and becomes toxic and unbearable.
But what exactly is a controlling partner, and why are they so dangerous? Laura Holtz, writer and advocate for domestic violence awareness, tells Elite Daily that a partner who's controlling is someone "who actively seeks dominion over his or her mate through the use of tactics such as criticism, withdrawal, shame, isolation and threats." Relationship expert and author Alexis Nicole White warns Elite Daily that “controlling partners often try to dominate what you do and how you do it. Individuals who are controlling often try to dictate your relationships with friends, family, finances and even career." This is why it’s so essential to know the behaviors to look out for early on in a relationship that are actually red flags the person you're dating is trying to control you. Here's what the experts say should be on your radar.
1. Being overly chivalrous.
It’s easy to miss some early controlling behavior when it’s disguised as romance or chivalry, but Holtz warns that sometimes things like ordering for you in a restaurant or selecting your outfit for the night may be “subtle power-play” — and that it may even feel loving and attentive at first. However, if “gallant overtures morph into suggestions about the types of clothes you should wear, or the sorts of friends with whom you ought to be associating, recognize that your partner is quietly trying to assert control,” she says.
2. They are possessive of you and your time.
Does your partner get jealous when you spend time apart? Do they always want to be included in everything you do and everywhere you go? If so, Holtz says that’s a red flag, as “controlling intimate partners often exhibit jealousy, which can be flattering early in a relationship, but beware: Jealousy is a sign of insecurity and possessiveness.”
3. They punish you with the silent treatment.
Holtz says you should pay close attention to a partner who gives you the silent treatment to punish you for disagreeing with them. “This tactic, also known as withdrawal, is intended to swing the power pendulum toward the controlling partner by causing the victim, desperate for reconciliation, to grovel for forgiveness,” explains Holtz. In other words, if your partner withholds affection or communication until they get their way, that is them actively manipulating you. Not cool.
4. They disapprove of your friends and family.
A classic sign of a controlling partner is that they “attempt to shrink their mate’s social sphere by isolating them from trusted friends,” says Holtz. The reason they do this, she explains, is because “It’s easier, after all, to assert control and to indoctrinate a partner who has abandoned their network of support.”
This is why you should always be on the lookout when your partner doesn’t like your best friend without good reason or, as Monica Parikh, dating and relationship coach at School of Love NYC, told Elite Daily, they “complain you talk to your family too often.” She adds, “The goal is to isolate you from your support network, making you an easy target for emotional manipulation and abuse.”
5. They don’t respect your privacy
A controlling partner wants to take away your autonomy, and part of of doing that is by preventing you from having any privacy. This is totally unacceptable. As Parikh explained to Elite Daily, "We are all entitled to our private thoughts. A controlling partner may feel entitled to have access to your email, phone, or internet history,” says Parikh. But this behavior is “a violation of your privacy. More importantly, this behavior — if not stopped — will make it hard for you to feel safe and secure within the relationship.”
What to do if your partner is controlling.
Can a relationship with someone controlling be salvaged? Holtz says it's possible, provided you can set solid boundaries. “If a partner’s controlling behavior makes their mate uncomfortable, then the matter needs to be openly addressed,” she says. “Unchecked controlling behavior can escalate, leading to more serious physical and/or psychological abuse.”
White’s take, on the other hand, is more cut and dry, saying that the way to deal with a controlling partner is to simply “dissolve the relationship as soon as possible.” However, it's essential that when you do so you protect your safety. If you are worried about leaving because the relationship is dangerous, make sure you get the support of your friends and family. October is National Domestic Violence Month, and you can always reach out to the folks at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 24/7, for advice and support.
No matter what you decide the right course of action is for you, just know that you do not have to stay in a relationship with a controlling partner. You deserve to have full autonomy and a partner who supports that. Period.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
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