Relationship red flags can be easy to miss (or easy to ignore) but if you think there might be signs your partner is controlling, you should be on high alert. The more involved you get with a controlling partner — the deeper your emotional connection to them and the lower your inhibitions — the more difficult it will be to get out of a potentially dangerous situation. Someone who seeks to control you can also act manipulatively. They can try to convince you that their demands of you are for your own good, as well as for the good of the relationship. When they're around your family and friends, they may be on their best behavior, but privately, they may attempt to gaslight you (by making you doubt yourself, your intuition, or your reality), making you question your entire relationship.
I spoke with Dr. Lata McGinn, a clinical psychologist who specializes in cognitive behavior therapy, about how to identify signs that you might be dating an over-controlling partner. An expert on vulnerability, anxiety, and depressive disorders, Dr. McGinn says there are nine red flags you should be wary of. Individually, each of these nine signs doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re in a toxic relationship. However, if you recognize one or more of these red flags in your own partnership, and communicating about them directly with your partner hasn’t resulted in any behavioral change, reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional right away.
Read on for the nine red flags that you’re in a controlling and toxic relationship, according to Dr. McGinn.
They Don’t Like When You Make Plans Without Them
According to Dr. McGinn, if your partner often gets frustrated when you make plans that don’t include them, that may be cause for concern. Additionally, when you do go out without them, a toxic partner may call and text you repeatedly. If your partner can't allow you to engage in a life outside of your relationship, they may not trust you. This behavior is especially concerning if they get upset when you don't check in with them or refuse to use a location tracker such as Find My Friends, which can reveal a desire to know where you are at all times.
They Threaten To Hurt You Or Themselves If You Don't Do What They Want
Anyone who threatens violence doesn't care about your mental, emotional, or physical well-being, Dr. McGinn says. This behavior is considered both physically and psychologically abusive because it demonstrates that your partner is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure things go their way.
They Constantly Accuse You Of Cheating
Dr. McGinn shares that if your partner always seems sure that you're cheating on them, even without provocation or evidence, that’s another red flag. While they might be battling their own insecurities or were affected by infidelity in past relationships, it's unfair of them to continuously question your commitment to the relationship without any real reason to do so.
They Ask You To Prove Your Love For Them
If your partner has a habit of asking you to prove your love for them — by, for example, cutting your friends out of your life or moving in with them before you're ready — Dr. McGinn says that they may be more interested in their ability to control you than they are in your actual dedication and love for them. In fact, they may be testing your limits while their demands become increasingly frustrating.
They "Surprise" You When You Go Out Or Travel Without Them
A partner who surprises you with a bouquet of flowers at the end of a long day is totally different from a SO who shows up to your family vacation or girls' trip unannounced. Dr. McGinn shares that if your partner frequently makes unwarranted grand gestures, they may be using romance as a poorly disguised excuse to check up on you when you least expect it.
They Look Through Your Phone And Your Belongings
According to Dr. McGinn, if your partner ever looks through your possessions without your consent, it is a clear violation of your privacy, personal space, and trust. Someone who doesn't respect your space is someone who doesn't respect you or your boundaries.
They Speak In Directives Or Commands
If every sentence your partner says to you sounds like it ends with an exclamation point, they may not see you as their equal, Dr. McGinn says. Additionally, look out for hints of condescension or contempt in your conversations with them, which could suggest that they are intentionally trying to belittle you, an extremely toxic behavior.
They Make You Feel Guilty About Spending Time With Your Friends And Family
Even if your partner encourages you to hang out with your friends and family, their behavior can be controlling. According to Dr. McGinn, even the act of your SO intentionally guilting you into feeling bad about it when you get home is a toxic behavior. Any belittling questions or taunts could be an indication that they are not OK with it. Ideally, your partner should support you having a life outside of your relationship. If they attempt to keep you within the confines of your partnership, that’s a major red flag.
They Criticize You Constantly, Even If It Seems Like They Want The Best For You
If your partner always seems to have something negative to say about the clothes you wear, how you spend your time, or who you hang out with, Dr. McGinn says that might not actually have your best interests at heart. Instead, this tactic may serve as an intentional, constant reminder that you will never be good enough. In this case, their primary objective is for you to start to doubt yourself, too.
While allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your relationship can strengthen it, you should never feel like your vulnerability is a liability. If your partner's actions, words, and behavior are starting to make you feel overwhelmed and powerless, they are too controlling. Don't be afraid to ask for help from a friend, relative, or professional (like a relationship therapist or mental health expert). According to Dr. McGinn, the best way to deal with a toxic relationship is to get out as early and as safely as possible, and begin the healing process.
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.
This post was originally published on Feb. 23, 2018. It was updated on Sept. 11, 2019, by Iman Hariri-Kia.
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