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. Until he became one of those controlling men.
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 toeing the line.
It turns out, your perfect guy is a control freak who demands that everything is his way or the highway. You've witnessed the early signs of a controlling man.
He has an 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.
What Is Too Controlling in a Relationship?
We all have our particular needs and desires in a relationship. We have our own ways of doing things that we develop long before we met our partners. And we have opinions, beliefs, and assumptions formed over years of life experience.
When we become part of a couple, it's natural to want our partners to view the world in the same way. In fact, sometimes we subtlety or overtly attempt to coerce our partners that our way is the best way.
So if this is natural, when does it become a problem? How do we know when our partner's attempts to coerce become efforts to control? Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you sort it out:
- Do you feel your guy will punish you in some way if you don't do what he says?
- Do you feel your partner ignores or dismisses your opinions or feelings?
- Have you changed many of your opinions or beliefs to match his?
- Does it seem you've lost a lot of your autonomy?
- Do you hold back saying what you think for fear of making him angry?
- Do you analyze everything you do (in a way you didn't before) because you're unsure of yourself and what's appropriate in a relationship?
- Does your guy treat you more like a child or a subordinate than a true partner?
- Have you lost your identity and sense of self?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, there is too much control from your man.
Controlling Men Characteristics
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 extrovert. They can come from just about any background and socioeconomic status.
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 or she has married him.
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 of a controlling relationship and learn how to deal with a controlling man or controlling spouse.
Why Are Men Controlling?
What's going on inside the head of that man of yours and why does he treat you this way?
Some of the common reasons men control include:
- Traumatic past experiences
- Insecurity and low self-esteem
- Being controlled themselves currently or in the past
- Anxiety about feeling “out of control”
- A need to feel superior or better than someone else
You can sympathize with many of these reasons, but you can't excuse them. Past trauma and insecurity don't give a man the right to exert pressure and manipulation on you. It's his responsibility to heal himself so he's ready for a real relationship.
Research underscores that these men often deal with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, suggesting on some level they recognize their behavior is harmful to the relationship.
Controlling men often have faulty thinking about their place in a relationship. They see themselves as entitled and feel they are owed something from their partners.
These men have low levels of compassion and don't view their partner's needs and feelings as important as their own. They may have narcissistic tendencies, or they may be otherwise psychologically normal.
But their skewed thinking around entitlement makes them believe they know best even when their behaviors are hurtful and unkind.
It's hard to know the exact reason some men need to control the woman in their lives. Unless your guy opens up to you and reveals his vulnerable inner world, you may have to read the tea leaves to figure it out. Unfortunately, most controlling men aren't good at opening up and risking appearing weak.
Quick note: Are you feeling drained and worn down from living with a verbal abuser? Check out this resource that can help you discover all the signs of emotional abuse.
- What Is Too Controlling in a Relationship?
- Controlling Men Characteristics
- Why Are Men Controlling?
- 19 Signs of Controlling Men
- 1. They demand what they want.
- 2. They criticize you constantly.
- 3. They try to isolate you from others.
- 4. They attach conditions to love and affection.
- 5. They are master guilt-trippers.
- 6. They constantly snoop and check up on you.
- 7. They are possessive and jealous.
- 8. They don't care about your point of view.
- 9. They have little respect for any of your needs.
- 10. They gaslight you.
- 11. They wear you down to a nub.
- 12. They view abuse as love.
- 13. They are manipulative.
- 14. They won't admit fault.
- 15. They look like great guys to others.
- 16. They think you're never enough.
- 17. They keep score.
- 18. They make sex weird or unsettling.
- 19. They will undermine your goals and values.
- Can Controlling Men Change?
- How Do You Deal with a Controlling Man?
19 Signs of Controlling Men
You may be confused about whether or not you're involved with an overbearing man who wants to control you. Perhaps you've wondered if his behavior is a normal part of relationship dynamics.
We all exhibit controlling behavior from time to time, but it's important to know the signs of a controlling husband or boyfriend that suggest the behavior is more than just occasional.
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 heel 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 look through your purse, snoop through your email, sneak peeks 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 dark 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 gaslight you.
Gaslighting means he attempts to make you believe something you know is not true or not right or twists things to confuse you into questioning yourself.
You may complain about his put-downs or hurtful behaviors, and he completely denies them or suggests you're the one who's been hurtful. Or he may suggest you're crazy and imagining things that aren't real.
If he can make you lose your emotional and psychological footing, he gains more control over you. You begin to question your own judgment, sense of right and wrong, and reality.
11. 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 the 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.
12. They view abuse as love.
Because controlling husbands have a sense of entitlement, they see their abusive behaviors as appropriate and even loving. Since they know best, they are doing you a favor by making all of the decisions about you and your lives together.
Your controlling guy may say things like, “You don't need to see your family because I love you more than all of them,” or “You better not leave me because I love you so much I might die.”
13. They are manipulative.
All of the controlling behaviors listed here are manipulative, but often men who control women take manipulation to an extreme level.
When a woman tries to confront a controlling abuser, he will use tactics like diverting the conversation from your pain to his. “I act this way because my father abused me when I was a kid.” “You wouldn't complain so much if you had an ounce of understanding for how much I do for you.”
They are masters at turning your concerns into their pain and suffering.
14. They won't admit fault.
One of the reasons for this manipulation and deflecting is to protect themselves from blame. Men with control issues don't want to accept fault or responsibility for their hurtful behaviors.
They refuse to look at themselves and see that they are the source of the difficulties between you. In fact, they turn the tables and make you the reason for their hurtful actions and words. “She makes it impossible not to get angry!”
Taking responsibility, in their minds, means losing control and admitting they aren't entitled to special rules related to their behavior.
15. They look like great guys to others.
A controlling man may behave one way when he's with his partner, but he's Prince Charming in front of his friends and family. His control of you extends to how others perceive him and the two of you as a couple.
In group settings, he'll exhibit the charisma and magnetism that first drew you to him. But once you're alone together, that shine wears off and it's back to his bullying and demanding alter ego.
Seeing his good qualities exhibited in front of others confuses you and makes you wonder if it's you who has the problem. You may think you should hang in there because he does have this positive side to him. Except when he's with you.
16. They think you're never enough.
At first, it was subtle suggestions, like, “Let's exercise together and lose ten pounds.” Now it's outright ugly — “You're getting fat, and you need to do something about it if things are going to work between us.”
Even the smallest things are subject to his unkind assessments and displeasure. He doesn't like the way you load the dishwasher. He lets you know when he hates your outfit. He makes snide remarks about small mistakes.
It's hard to feel loved and validated when you are on the receiving end of daily put-downs and negativity.
17. They keep score.
But mostly he keeps score on what he's done, the efforts he's made, the sacrifices he's had to endure. Your scorecard is always behind his, because, in his mind, what you contribute to the relationship counts less.
In his self-focused efforts to feel superior, he can only see what it's costing him to be in the relationship. And it's pissing him off. You could do backflips around the house 24/7, and it still wouldn't be enough.
18. They make sex weird or unsettling.
Physical intimacy with your controlling man can be all sorts of weird. Your particular guy could be demanding of sex but indifferent to your sexual and emotional needs.
Or he might be so out of touch with emotional intimacy that sex is perfunctory and just a physical release for him.
Some controlling men use sex as a means of control. If you don't appease him in some way, he will withhold it or threaten to get it elsewhere. Whatever's going on with him, it's playing out in the bedroom, and it doesn't feel good to you at all.
19. They will undermine your goals and values.
If your guy feels insecure that you are doing well in your career or achieving something in your personal life, he will do what he can to throw cold water on it.
Let's say you want to start your own business, but he lets you know that you don't have what it takes. Or you've just gotten a promotion at work, but he demands you turn it down so you aren't spending so much time at work.
He may also attempt to sabotage some of the things you value in life. If you are a vegetarian, he's constantly mocking you and making meat-centric meals for you. If you love to dress well, he tells you you're being snooty or showing off.
If any of these controlling 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 a controlling boyfriend or husband.
Can Controlling Men Change?
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?
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.
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.
How Do You Deal with a Controlling Man?
Here are some ideas if you now think, “My husband is controlling” or “My boyfriend is controlling.”
- 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 and decisions going forward.
- 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 couples' 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.
- A good counselor will quickly figure out what the problem is. Unfortunately, many controlling men refuse counseling because they fear having their behavior exposed. But it's really the way how to stop a controlling husband and redirect his attitudes.
- Try not to point the finger of blame directly at him, even if his control problems are the primary reason you want to go.
- 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. The best thing you can hear is your spouse sincerely asking, “Am I controlling?”
- 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.
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- 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.
Stand up for yourself with controlling guys.
Whatever you do, don't allow his 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.
You deserve a love partner who recognizes your value and equality in your marriage or relationship. You have a right to your own choices, actions, opinions, and beliefs.
Don't be fooled by a domineering man who wants to keep you under his thumb. Recognize the behavior for what it is and empower yourself.