He was charming, attractive, intelligent, funny, and kind.
He knew just the right words to say to make you feel special.
He was the perfect guy for you — until he wasn’t.
It didn’t happen right away. At first you thought he was being overly-attentive and helpful. He just wanted the best for you. He’s a strong, decisive man who knows what he wants and says what he means.
But as time went by, the suggestions and friendly tips morphed into criticisms and demands. The charm turned into manipulation, and his kindness hinged on your towing the line.
It turns out, your perfect guy is a control freak who demands that everything is his way or the highway. He has array of psychological tools at his disposal to ensure you do what he wants or suffer the consequences.
The consequences range from ultimatums, manipulation, and threats to shaming, blaming, and shutting you down.
Controlling men aren’t always the beefed up tough guys you see in the movies who yell and scream to get their way. They can be the soft-spoken boy next door or the well-educated, amiable extravert.
They can come from just about any background and socioeconomic status.
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What they have in common is the need for control and the compulsion to exert that control in their intimate relationships. They have learned how to fool the smartest, most capable woman, only to reveal their true natures once the woman is hooked.
The change can come on slowly like a low-grade fever that turns into a full-blown virus, or it can happen with such sudden intensity that you wonder if his body was invaded by an alien overnight.
The most difficult part in the beginning is the confusion and shock. He was so nice. He was so loving. What happened? Did I do something to bring this on?
The short answer is no, you did nothing wrong — except maybe fail to see the early warning signs and run for the hills.
Controlling men exhibit some typical behaviors that you might recognize in your relationship.
1. They demand what they want.
If they want to do something and you don’t — too bad for you. If you want to do something and they don’t — too bad for you.
Their desires, needs, and decisions trump yours (unless they simply don’t care), and if you try to argue or press your case, you’ll get an ear full.
They will bully you, pout, try to make you feel guilty, or refuse to acknowledge your request. They will make your life so miserable that you simply give in.
Over time, you learn to just go along, which unfortunately trains the controlling man to tighten the reins.
2. They criticize you constantly.
They don’t like what you’re wearing or how you speak. They make “jokes” at your expense. They always find the error or flaw in your successes.
You rarely feel good enough around this person because they always have something to correct, something you could be doing better.
Often a controlling man will try to deflect their critical comments to make you feel overly sensitive or whiny. “Why do you have to make such a big deal about it. I’m only trying to help you.”
Over time, you feel unloved and always lacking.
3. They try to isolate you from others.
By using subtle negative comments or overt criticisms, these men attempt to put a wedge between you and the people you care about and who love and support you.
This bully wants you to rely only on him and him alone so you become dependent on his decisions and demands. Without a support network of friends and family, you only have this man to turn to, and he wants to make sure you pay full attention to his needs.
4. They attach conditions to love and affection.
A controlling man uses love as a tool for manipulation. He knows you crave love and affection, so he doles it out based on what he wants from you.
He won’t say “I love you” unless you give in to his demand for a new car. He withholds sex because you spent the day with your sister. He gives you the cold shoulder and the steely-eyed glare because dinner was served too late.
He uses these methods to train you like a puppy. When you obey, you get a treat. When you disobey, you get nothing — or worse.
5. They are master guilt-trippers.
Guilt-tripping is a favorite tool of controlling men. They find your emotional Achilles heal and play you like a fiddle once they do.
Caring, sensitive people don’t want to feel like they’ve caused someone pain or anger, especially someone they love. They want to get back into their loved one’s good graces. This is fine if the guilt is merited, but with a controlling man it rarely is.
They will find a way to make you feel bad about something you didn’t do or have no responsibility for, and you’ll do just about anything to escape that guilty feeling.
Controlling men have a masterful way of making you believe you are responsible and that only you can make things right by doing his bidding.
6. They constantly snoop and check up on you.
They want to know where you are going, when you’ll return, who you are texting, what you are saying, and every plan you are making.
They will look through your purse, snoop through your email, sneak peaks at your phone, and rifle through your stuff. They feel they have the right to know everything about you, and believe you have no right to privacy.
They are looking for ways you might be exerting control over your own life. If they find something that potentially undermines their control, you’ll hear about it.
7. They are possessive and jealous.
Part of their snooping and isolation efforts come from feelings of intense jealousy. At first their jealousy is appealing because it shows how much they must love you, but over time it turns darks and twisty.
They are constantly suspicious of your motives and actions and view the most innocent interactions as flirting.
They want to control any interactions you have with others because they are paranoid about your straying away.
8. They don’t care about your point of view.
If you express an opinion or belief, they will shut you down or ignore you. Nothing you say is relevant unless you echo your controlling partner’s exact opinions or thoughts.
He will dominate a conversation, interrupt you, or make snide comments about what you have said. If you try to point this out to him, he’ll dismiss your concerns or turn the tables to make you feel guilty or wrong.
9. They have little respect for any of your needs.
If you want to be alone, he’ll barge in and demand your attention. If you want to talk, he’ll turn on the TV and ignore you. If you’re tired, he’ll complain he’s hungry and needs dinner right now. If you need a hug, he’ll tell you to get a grip.
The idea that you have individual needs beyond responding to his needs rarely occurs to him. If it does, he uses your needs as a tool for manipulating you.
10. They wear you down to a nub.
Controlling men can be relentless in their tactics. They will argue until your eyes roll back in your head. They’ll steamroll you with their demands ad nauseam. They can turn the screws of guilt so tight you’ll beg for relief.
Most controlling men have much more stamina for their shenanigans than you have energy to put up with them. Eventually you go belly up and allow them to have their way 24/7. This is the perfect scenario for the controller. All me, all the time.
If any of these behaviors are familiar in your relationship, and you see them happening on a regular basis, well, I’m truly sorry. It’s hard to have your hopes and dreams dashed by the insidious poison of controlling behaviors by the man you love.
What happens next?
The next two questions that often come up when women realize they are involved with a controlling man are these:
#1: What do I do about it?
#2: Can he change?
In answer to #1, if you are not married to this person or otherwise committed (financially, with children, etc.), then the answer is leave now. Get away from this person as fast as you can.
Yes you may still love him and think he has tons of potential if only he didn’t show his “bad side.” But that leads us to question #2, and the answer is not likely.
A controlling man must be highly motivated to change his behavior, and he must be highly motivated to maintain new healthy behaviors once he acknowledges his controlling personality.
Why would a controlling man change when he has all of the perks of being controlling?
- He has the feeling of power that comes with control.
- He gets his way on just about everything.
- He has “trained” you and your kids to do his bidding.
- He’s the center of attention.
- He controls the finances.
- He looks great to friends and family who don’t know about his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behaviors.
It isn’t impossible for a controlling man to turn things around and learn mature, loving relationship skills, but it doesn’t happen often, and it requires some serious self-awareness and counseling.
If you are just dating this guy, why waste time waiting around to figure it out when you can cut bait and find someone who isn’t controlling?
If you are married or living with a controlling partner, it is much harder to end the relationship, especially if children are involved.
Aside from the practical reasons for staying in the relationship, there are many conflicting emotional considerations such as fear, low self-esteem, and an unhealthy attachment issues. You might want to read this post about the reasons women stay in these bad relationships.
Whether you decide to stay with your controlling partner or leave the relationship, there are actions you can take to feel more empowered and lessen the grips of control from this bully. Here are some ideas:
Rebuild your support group of friends and family. Let a few trusted people know what’s going on with your partner, and tell them you need their support and listening ear. If you can’t find someone, hire a counselor. You’ll probably need one anyway to help you navigate your feelings.
State your case calmly with your partner. Unless you fear for your physical safety, sit down with your partner and let him know how negatively his behaviors are impacting you. Give some examples of what you are talking about, how the behaviors are damaging your relationship, and how they make you feel. He will surely argue or defend himself, but at least you have put him on notice that you’re on to his shenanigans. Be sure you keep your cool even if he starts to get angry.
Suggest couple’s counseling. During your conversation with your partner, ask if he’d be willing to go to a couple’s counselor to work on your marriage. Try not to point the finger of blame directly at him, even if his control problems are the primary reason you want to go. A good counselor will quickly figure out what the problem is. Unfortunately, many controlling men refuse counseling because they fear having their bad behaviors exposed.
Reward positive behaviors. If you see any positive changes in your partner, be quick to acknowledge and praise them. You want to reinforce loving, mature words and actions. But remember, a few positive behaviors don’t mean the control is over. It is a step in the right direction, but you need to see a pattern of consistent effort and positive change.
Set some new boundaries for yourself. For as long as you remain in the relationship, protect yourself from further emotional abuse by this controlling man. You may not be able to stop his controlling behaviors or words, but you can stop how you react to them. Call him out when it occurs, and say something like, “This is a perfect example of the controlling behavior I’ve been talking about. Your guilt trips will not work with me any longer.”
Follow through consistently. If you tell your partner your plans or make a decision about something, and he is unhappy or tries to control you — don’t give in as you’ve done in the past. Try to ignore or sidestep his nonsense. If you give in, he’ll see that you don’t mean business, and he’ll escalate his behaviors.
If you decide to leave, make a plan. You may ultimately decide the relationship isn’t fixable, and your partner will never change. For him, the ultimate lack of control is watching you walk out the door. Make a plan in advance of ending the relationship with the steps you must take to leave. Consult an attorney, have a support team of friends available, work with a counselor on your exit strategy, think through your finances and living arrangements, and make sure you have a plan for your kids if you have them.
Whatever you do, don’t allow controlling behavior to continue unchecked. The longer it goes on, the more your mental and emotional health suffers. As your confidence and self-esteem ebbs away, it becomes harder to stand up for yourself and reclaim your power in the relationship.