5 Subtle Signs Your Partner Is Controlling and What to Do About It

Most of us would like to think that we’d be able to spot a controlling person if we met them.

Couple-embracing

We think that there’s no way we’d ever get together with someone that would seek to use and abuse us.

And you’d be right. If you knew it was happening to you.

More often than not, controlling people have been that way for some time, and sometimes they learned from someone else who was very good at it, so they’re very good themselves at covering up their behavior.

Some take control in a very subtle way, gaining a few inches here and there over time through the power of persuasive suggestion. Others are so good they make you think that you’re the messed up one and that they’re fixing or supporting you.

Sure, a controlling person can be more overt about things. However, there’s a very good chance that their plays for power are completely unassuming and difficult to detect.

If you think your partner might be controlling, it’s important to look for the signs now. Whether a narcissist, sociopath, or simply a power-hungry leech looking to make up for their own feelings of inadequacy by taking control of another human being, dealing with a controlling partner can be downright dangerous, so you need to look for the signs and take action if you believe you’re being manipulated.

Fortunately, while they may be slick about things there are some clear signs you can look for to identify controlling behavior.

Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom.

– Rabindranath Tagore

Here are five signs your partner is controlling (along with what to do about it).

1. The Toxic Scorecard

The “Toxic Scorecard” is a phrase meant to help you remember one of the most common forms of controlling behavior. It refers to the practice of keeping tabs on every single tiny interaction in a relationship and it’s one of the most head-spinning forms of control.

Every relationship has an ongoing trading of favors. After all, you should presumably love and care for each other and be doing little “favors” for each other all the time like taking out the trash, cleaning up after dinner, picking something up for the other person, etc.

However, the Toxic Scorecard is a way for a controlling person to keep tabs on what you “owe” them. By keeping track of every little behavior– and you can be sure they aren’t keeping score fairly– they attempt to manipulate you by making it appear as though they’re doing more for you than you are for them.

It’s a positively exhausting behavior to be subjected to and complete BS. Fortunately, once you know about the trick it becomes much easier to notice.

2. They’ll pepper you with criticism

A controlling person often doesn’t just want to control your where and when, they also want to control your who, what, and why.


By that I mean they don’t only want to control where you go and what you do with your time, they want to change and mold you into a person of their own image who does what they want and believes what they believe.

One of the ways they do this is by peppering you with criticism constantly: the way you dress, stand, sit, talk, what you watch, do on your free time, do with your friends, your job, the way your hair looks, etc., etc. These criticisms might start out small and sparse but they can quickly become a barrage if you succumb to them.

And the worst part is a controlling person usually offers a pretty compelling argument, so the criticism seems masked in logic and reason and therefore can be very convincing. After all, they’ve had practice.

Ultimately, you need to be more certain than the other person. Certainty and self-confidence are critical in dealing with– and protecting yourself from– controlling people. They won’t be able to crack your shell if you don’t succumb to the criticism they’re offering.

3. They make you appear guilty when you’ve done nothing wrong

A controlling person is often extremely skilled at making you feel as though you’ve done something wrong when, in fact, you’ve done nothing.

They’ll make you think you always leave messes everywhere and are a slob, that you always sabotage your professional success when it’s really them, and that the time you spoke with that one client was flirting and not business even if it was always anything but.

Even if you know these accusations are completely false, having accusations thrown at you relentlessly can be very tiring and eventually make you question yourself in a twisted way. Just as when a chronic liar becomes confused with what is the truth and what is a lie, you begin to confuse what is the truth and what is their lie.

To control you they need leverage and this is one of the most common ways a controlling person will seek to gain exactly that.

4. Veiled threats

The first time it happens can be very unsettling, even terrifying.

I’ve experienced some very manipulative people in my life and one of the scarier aspects of their personality is that they can and will become very threatening if you don’t immediately play along with what they’re saying.

This is often a sign of narcissism as the narcissist can go from calm one moment to a furious and violent outburst the next.

However, it starts with veiled threats. The controlling person can let slip comments nonchalantly that appear conversational but which the person is entirely serious about, whether it’s a threat of physical mutilation by the controlling person, cutting the person off financially, leaving you for another, leaving in general, taking your kids away, or something else entirely.

5. They’re attempting to isolate you from your loved ones

The only way a controlling person can truly gain full, unquestioned control over another person is by isolating them from their allies (i.e. their loved ones).

Doing so is one of the clearest signs of a controlling person and it’s also one of the most dangerous as it shows a high degree of manipulation.

Whatever you do, don’t ever let someone isolate you from those you love. The people in our life give us strength and offer unrelenting support and losing those people can mean real trouble, especially if you’re dealing with such a controlling, manipulative person.

The right person will fully accept your family and friends. If they don’t, there’s nothing to do but get the hell out of there.

What to do about it

We’ve touched on several signs to help you identify a controlling, manipulative partner as well as a few things you can do about some of those behaviors.

In addition to what was mentioned earlier, here are a few points to follow to help you deal with any controlling person:

  1. Keep your friends and loved ones close: More than anything, when dealing with potentially dangerous and manipulative people you need to keep those who love and care for you as close as possible.
  2. Self-care is a must: You need to have a plan for daily self-care in place, whether that’s simply daily exercise and reading a good book under the light of your porch or an entire regimen including meditation, exercise, and even therapy if you deem it fit.
  3. Create a plan: What is your plan for getting out if that’s what you’ve decided? Make sure you think a few steps ahead as they’ll be likely to have their own tricks in play to keep you around.
  4. Take the potential danger of the situation seriously: A controlling person, especially one with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies, can become dangerous if pushed far enough, even if they’ve never been violent before. Don’t roll your eyes at this and think that it won’t happen to you. Take the potential danger of the situation seriously and do what it takes to keep yourself safe.

Ultimately, don’t be afraid to ask those closest to you for help. A controlling person is only as powerful as you are isolated.

Keep yourself surrounded by love, remember to take care of yourself daily, and it will be very difficult for them to gain, or maintain, a foothold in your life.


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