Recognising and Addressing Controlling Behaviour in Relationships

Addressing Controlling Behaviour

Controlling relationship behaviour can be challenging to recognise, especially when it’s subtle or disguised as caring or protective behaviour. However, it’s crucial to identify and address controlling behaviour because it can lead to emotional abuse, isolation, and an unhealthy power dynamic in the relationship. 

Understanding Controlling Behaviour

One person uses controlling behaviour to maintain power and control over another person in a relationship. It can manifest in different ways, such as emotional manipulation, physical violence, financial control, or isolation. Controlling behaviour can be a symptom of an underlying psychological issue, such as insecurity, anxiety, or trauma. However, it’s important to note that having a mental health condition doesn’t excuse controlling behaviour and the harm it causes.

Signs of Controlling Behaviour

Controlling behaviour in relationships can be challenging to recognise, especially if disguised as concern or care. However, it’s essential to be aware of the signs of controlling behaviour to identify it early and take steps to address it. 

General signs of controlling behaviour

Here are some general signs of controlling behaviour:

  • Dictating what the other person can or cannot wear, eat, or do
  • Criticising the other person’s choices or behaviour
  • Ignoring the other person’s feelings or needs
  • Monitoring the other person’s activities, such as their phone or social media
  • Limiting the other person’s contact with friends and family
  • Making all the decisions in the relationship
  • Belittling or insulting the other person
  • Refusing to compromise or negotiate in disagreements
  • Using guilt or manipulation to get their way
  • Refusing to take responsibility for their actions and blaming the other person instead.

Specific examples of controlling behaviour in relationships

Here are some specific examples of controlling behaviour in relationships:

  • Isolation: A controlling partner may isolate the other person from their friends and family by limiting contact or criticising their relationships. They may try to convince the other person that they are the only one who truly cares for them and that other people threaten the relationship.
  • Financial control: A controlling partner may try to control the other person’s finances by limiting their access to money or demanding that they account for every expense. They may also try to limit the other person’s employment opportunities or force them to quit.
  • Jealousy: A controlling partner may be excessively jealous and accuse the other person of cheating or being interested in others. They may try to limit the other person’s interactions with others, including friends and co-workers.
  • Manipulation: A controlling partner may manipulate others to get their way, such as through guilt, threats, or emotional blackmail. They may also make the other person feel responsible for their happiness or well-being.
  • Physical violence: In extreme cases, a controlling partner may use physical violence to control the other person. This can include hitting, slapping, or pushing, as well as sexual assault or rape.

Differences between healthy and unhealthy control

In some cases, control can be healthy and necessary for the well-being of both people in the relationship. Here are some differences between healthy and unhealthy control:

  • Respect: Healthy control is based on mutual respect and consent. Both people in the relationship have a say in decisions, and neither person belittles or insults the other.
  • Communication: Healthy control is based on open communication and understanding. Both people in the relationship can express their needs and feelings and work together to solve problems.
  • Autonomy: Healthy control allows for individual autonomy and independence. Both people in the relationship can pursue their interests and maintain their relationships outside the relationship.
  • Boundaries: Healthy control respects boundaries and personal space. Both people in the relationship can set and enforce their boundaries, and they respect each other’s boundaries.

Controlling relationship behaviour can be harmful and lead to emotional abuse and isolation. It’s essential to be aware of controlling behaviour, including general signs and specific examples. It’s also important to know the differences between healthy and unhealthy control based on respect, communication, autonomy, and boundaries. If you recognise signs of controlling behaviour in your relationship, addressing them is essential.

Controlling Behaviour And Therapy Help: Addressing Controlling Behaviour

Addressing Controlling Behaviour

If you recognise signs of controlling behaviour in your relationship, addressing it before it escalates is essential. Here are some methods for addressing controlling behaviour in relationships:

  • Identify and name the behaviour: Start by naming the controlling behaviour. For example, you can say, “When you tell me what to wear, it feels like you’re trying to control me.” Naming the behaviour helps to bring awareness to it and shows your partner that you’re not okay with it.
  • Set clear boundaries: Communicate your boundaries to your partner and enforce them. For example, you can say, “I need to spend time with my friends on the weekend, and I won’t let you tell me otherwise.” It’s essential to be firm in your boundaries and not let your partner cross them.
  • Seek support: Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist about your situation. They can provide emotional support, practical advice, and a different perspective on the situation.
  • Practice self-care: Caring for yourself is crucial, especially in a controlling relationship. Take time for yourself, engage in activities that make you happy, and prioritise your mental and physical health.

Seeking Professional Help

In some cases, seeking professional help to address controlling behaviour in relationships may be necessary. Here are some types of therapy that can be helpful:

  • Couples therapy: If both people in the relationship are willing to work on the issue, couples therapy can be a helpful way to address controlling behaviour. A therapist can help the couple communicate more effectively, identify and change behaviour patterns, and rebuild trust and intimacy.
  • Individual therapy: If the controlling behaviour is rooted in an underlying psychological issue, individual therapy can be helpful. A therapist can help the person identify the source of their behaviour, work through any trauma or past experiences contributing to it, and learn healthier ways to relate to others.
  • Group therapy: Group therapy can be helpful for people who feel isolated and alone in their experience of controlling behaviour. In a therapy group, they can share their experiences, gain support and feedback from others going through similar issues and learn new skills for communication and boundary-setting.
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is a therapy that helps people redirect their negative thought patterns and behaviours. It can be helpful for people who struggle with controlling behaviour because it helps them identify and challenge their beliefs about control and power.

Benefits of Therapy

Therapy can be a powerful tool in addressing controlling behaviour in relationships. Here are some benefits of therapy:

  • Increased self-awareness: Therapy can help people become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, leading to greater self-understanding and self-acceptance.
  • Improved communication: Therapy can help people learn new communication skills, such as active listening, expressing emotions, and setting clear boundaries.
  • Reduced stress: Addressing controlling behaviour in a relationship can be stressful and emotionally draining. Therapy can provide an environment to process these feelings and reduce stress.
  • Healthier relationships: Through therapy, people can learn healthier relationships based on mutual respect, communication, and trust.


Controlling relationship behaviour can be harmful and lead to emotional abuse and isolation. It’s important to recognise and address controlling behaviour before it escalates. Methods such as identifying the behaviour, setting clear boundaries, seeking support, and practising self-care can be helpful. Therapy can also be a powerful tool in addressing controlling behaviour, whether through couples therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, or CBT. Change takes time and effort, but having healthy and fulfilling relationships is worth it.


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