When you’re deeply in love with someone, it can be easy to overlook details that might make them the wrong match for you. Red flags in a relationship often start out small and subtle, and by the time you realize the extent of the concern, you’re entrenched in romantic feelings for that person. If you start to feel like your partner is controlling you, it can be scary, and it’s not always obvious where you can turn. But rest assured, there is a way forward, and it starts with finding people and resources you can rely on. You don’t have to go through this alone.
A healthy, loving partnership should make both people feel strong and sure of themselves. If at any point you feel like your opinions are being diminished by the person you’re dating, or if you notice this person is trying to assert power over you, that’s a sign something’s not OK. As domestic violence awareness advocate Laura Holtz previously told Elite Daily, a controlling partner is someone "who actively seeks dominion over his or her mate through the use of tactics such as criticism, withdrawal, shame, isolation and threats." You may notice them badgering you about where you’re going and who you’re hanging out with, or asking to see your private text messages or internet history. It can even be as subtle as your partner trying to dictate what you wear on any given day.
This behavior can sometimes be disguised by overly romantic gestures and professions of love, which make it easy to dismiss the bad behavior altogether. But family and relationship therapist Nicole Richardson tells Elite Daily that if you fear retaliation when you disagree with your partner, or if you don’t feel like they welcome your opinions, this is a sign they’re exhibiting controlling behavior. She also notes that it’s a red flag when they’re constantly convincing you to see things their way.
If you’re absolutely sure you can talk to your partner about this safely, Richardson says you can try to have a conversation about your concerns. “If you can get clear about what your needs are and communicate them to your partner without retribution, there is hope for the relationship,” she explains. “If your partner shuts you down, gives you ‘I'm sorry but,’ or says they’re sorry [and] then exhibits the same behaviors, the relationship is unlikely to get healthier.” At that point, it’s time to extricate yourself from the relationship before it gets worse.
To move forward, don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. Friends and family are there for you to confide in and rely on. “Often we hide how bad things are from our friends and family because we don't want our tribe to dislike our partner, [but] it is really important to ask them for help,” Richardson says. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 to talk with an advocate about your situation. This person can help you decide whether it’s safe to end the relationship face-to-face. In some instances, if you’re afraid of your partner’s reaction, you might need the help of a trusted friend or professional at your side. You could also choose to break up over text to minimize the danger of retaliation.
Once you’ve broken up, experts recommend a no-contact period of at least three months to allow space to heal. If you have to block your ex to do this, so be it. “It's normal to doubt yourself,” Richardson explains. “Your brain plays tricks on you when you're sad and missing the good parts of the relationship. That is not a good reason to get back into something unhealthy.” To keep yourself on the right path, Richardson suggests making a list of all the reasons the relationship wasn’t working. “Make a list of all the things you don't like about your relationship and keep it somewhere you can easily access,” she says. “When you second guess yourself or miss your partner, pull the list out.” You can also lean on your friends to distract you when the days get really tough.
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t have to handle this by yourself. Though you may feel isolated and alone in your struggles, plenty of resources exist to help you navigate this situation and find your own happiness again. “You can and will find a relationship that will allow you to be who you are, and you deserve to wait for that,” Richardson says. Even when it seems daunting, there’s always a pathway forward with the right people at your side.
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.
Nicole Richardson, marriage and family therapist
Laura Holtz, author and domestic violence awareness advocate