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Do You Recognize the Warning Signs of Controlling Relationships?

Paula Gurnett, C.C.C. November 17, 2021

You could be in a controlling relationship without even realizing it. Manipulative and dominating behaviour can sometimes be subtle, but the effects are still deep.

Common warning signs include a partner who tries to isolate you from your loved ones and often seems jealous and possessive. Their chronic criticism may whittle away at your self-esteem or you may feel pressured to stay on their good side because you know they’re keeping score.

By contrast, healthy love makes you feel strong and supported.

If you suspect that your relationship may be tearing you down, consider these steps for turning things around and taking back your power.

Steps to Take by Yourself:

1. Stay calm. Managing your emotions will help you to think rationally and stay in control. That way, you’ll be able to deal with the facts of the situation instead of being lured into irrational behavior.

2. Understand your options. Regardless of what your partner does, you are in charge of your own decisions. Stick to your values and own your choices.

3. Build your confidence. Give yourself a boost by reflecting on your talents and achievements. You are worthy of love just the way you are today.

4. Pursue your goals. Stand on your own two feet even if your partner encourages you to depend on them. Make plans for your financial security. Devote your time and energy to projects you care about.

5. Set boundaries. Clarify your values and expectations. Define your limits so that you’ll be able to communicate them to your partner.

6. Socialize more. Hang onto your support system. Spend time with family and friends on a regular basis.

7. Evaluate your situation. Ask yourself how your relationship is affecting your life. Maybe your relationship is worth working on or maybe it’s time to move on. Be willing to walk away if your wellbeing is being compromised.

Steps to Take with Your Partner:

1. Watch for patterns. Almost anyone can succumb to a bit of manipulation when they’re trying to get their own way. Pay attention to how your partner behaves most of the time.

2. Encourage intimacy. A controlling partner may be trying to cover up their own insecurities. Reassure them by demonstrating your commitment and trustworthiness. Develop rituals that draw you closer together, like shared hobbies and in-depth conversation.

3. Be honest. Think twice if you’re tempted to withhold information that is likely to upset your partner. In the long run, your relationship will be stronger if you’re transparent.

4. Speak up. Do you feel like you rarely get to talk about what’s going on with you? Let your partner know that you enjoy listening to them, but you need to share too.

5. Face conflicts. If a controlling relationship is wearing you down, you may feel like it’s safer to stay silent and avoid disagreements. Unfortunately, that will cause more resentments and misunderstandings. Try to resolve your conflicts respectfully instead.

6. Switch the focus. There is an alternative to being scrutinized and criticized. If you think your partner is trying to blame you, change the conversation around to examine their contribution to the situation too. Even better, team up on finding solutions that satisfy both of you.

7. Seek counselling. If you’re having trouble making progress on your own, joint counselling may help. You can also benefit from seeing a therapist on your own if your partner resists.

Unhealthy relationships can sneak up on you. Learning to spot the warning signs will help you avoid controlling patterns and develop a balanced and loving connection that celebrates both your individuality as well as your commitment.

“The longer we ignore red flags, pretend they don’t exist, the more we disconnect from ourselves.” - Sherrie Campbell -

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