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Published on November 8, 2018

How to Recognize a Controlling Relationship and What to Do About It

How to Recognize a Controlling Relationship and What to Do About It

A controlling relationship is not pleasant to be a part of. But the tricky part is that most people don’t realize when they are in a controlling relationship. The controlling behavior of a partner is often confused with “caring”, “protective”, “jealous” or “old fashioned”.

In this article, we will discuss what to look out for when a partner is controlling and when he/she just “cares” about you. We will also discuss what you can do if your partner is controlling.

Signs Your Partner Is Controlling

They try to keep tabs on you all the time.

You need to understand the difference between a controlling partner and someone who just really misses you and wants to interact with you throughout the day.

Someone who genuinely misses you and wants to speak with you throughout the day will text you often and get on a phone call whenever they can. They will text you the first thing in the morning (if you are not staying together) and share the day with you. They will take time from their busy day to reach out to you and ask you how you are. They will be excited to meet you at the end of the day.

On the contrast, a controlling partner will ACT like they want to share every living moment with you. But they will be acting out of fear and insecurity instead of the desire to interact with you. An interaction with you is a drug to them that constantly reassures them that they still have you.

A caring partner will give you space when you are busy or out with friends. But a controlling partner will text you more when he/she feels like you are in a situation that threatens the relationship; situations such as going to a bar with friends or at a social gathering.

The controlling partner will reach out under the disguise of missing you. But an easy way to find out if they are controlling is to tell them something like,

“I miss you too. I am busy right now and can’t talk. Can we speak later?”

They will most likely agree. But if they are controlling, they will be upset later when you speak. A caring partner will understand and just be cool about it.

Essentially, a controlling partner will try to affect your behavior by negative reinforcement. Every time you are not giving them full attention, they will get upset and it will most likely lead to a fight or argument. A caring partner will most likely be honest about their concerns instead of doing it indirectly with negative reinforcement.

You will slowly start alienating your friends and family.

This negative reinforcement usually takes a toll on you mostly because it is followed by positive reinforcement when you give them attention. They give you the love and attention you crave in a relationship. You feel intimacy and you get approval from the person you love. What more could you ask for?

Slowly, after being in this negative and positive reinforcement cycle for months (or years), you start craving the positive reinforcement and avoiding the negative reinforcement.

Every time you go meet your friends and can’t give him/her your full attention, there is a fight later. So, you slowly start avoiding your friends. You only do it when it’s convenient for your partner. And you make sure that they have something to do while you are busy with your friends or family.

You will soon realize that you are walking on eggshells. And that’s really no way to live a healthy life.

They criticize you – a lot.

A controlling partner will criticize you a lot. It can be something as little as the way you drink coffee or as big as your career choice. They will criticize you in a way that hurts.

If the partner is controlling, this criticism will usually start after you have been together for a while, well after the honeymoon phase is over and after they are sure you love them and can’t leave them easily.

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The criticism can also come in the form of backhanded comments or playful jokes about things they know you are sensitive about.

In contrast, healthy criticism is often said in an attempt to improve your partner’s life and self-esteem. For example, if your partner wants to criticize your career, they will sit down and have a real conversation with you. They will try to understand your aspiration and goals and tell you where they think you are going wrong.

A controlling partner will try to brush it off in a sentence to put you down: “What are you worried about? Playing guitar is not even a real career.”

You may end up in a codependent relationship without even knowing it.

If your partner is controlling and you don’t end the relationship in the initial stages, it’s likely that you will end up in a co-dependent relationship. Whereas before, you were an independent and well-rounded individual who was going through each day with pride and gusto.

Now, you are reduced to someone who often fights with their partner, is constantly stressed and is always walking on eggshells. You are no longer the person who was growing in life. Now you need your partner’s permission to grow.

Co-dependent relationships can range from extreme to mild depending on how severe the codependent dynamics is and how long you have been together. If you think you are in one, you should watch out for these signs of an unhealthy co-dependent relationship .

What Should You Do If Your Partner Is Controlling?

1. Watch out for early signs and take things slow.

The best way to deal with a controlling partner is to find out about it early. As discussed before, controlling behavior does not always how up until the later stages of a relationship.

A lot of people hide their true nature until they feel a bit secure in the relationship. This is why it’s important to take things slow whenever you start a new relationship.

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Take your time to get to know the person before making any huge commitments. If there are signs of controlling behavior, take your time to decide if it’s something you can live with and how severe it.

2. Figure out the severity of the controlling behavior and if it can be fixed.

Like everything else in life and relationships, controlling behavior is not just black and white. Someone with a controlling behavior can still become a good life partner if they are willing to learn and are compatible with you. Don’t immediately reject someone just because they have some controlling behaviors.

It’s important to know what’s important to you in a relationship. In my opinion, most problems in a relationship, including controlling behavior, can be solved with proper communication and understanding. Even if your partner shows some signs of controlling behavior, you can learn to deal with it if they are willing to communicate and understand.

For example, your partner may have some left-over from a past relationship or a bad breakup. One such common issue is when they went through betrayal or when an ex cheated on them. The scars from that betrayal can be the reason they are trying to control you. It might be the reason they get insecure every time you go out with friends.

It’s not necessarily a good reason to breakup with them. Not if it can be fixed. If you speak to them about it, you can come to a reasonable conclusion where you can live your life freely and don’t press any triggers that cause them to panic and become controlling.

If you can’t figure it out yourself, get help. Learn communication skills in relationships or consider getting couples therapy.

3. Be willing to walk away no matter how you have invested in them.

It’s easy to leave a relationship if it’s only been a few months. But what if you have been with your partner for years? What if you just realized how controlling they have been all these years? You were blinded by love before, but you just can’t take it anymore. At the same time, you can’t get yourself to leave them because you are so attached to them. What do you do then?

Again, it’s not always black and white. But you need to figure out your boundaries and what you need in a romantic relationship. It may be a good idea to take a break for a short while to think things through.

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Once you understand yourself, your boundaries, your needs, your expectations and your goals, you should get back in touch with your partner and try to speak to them. Explain to them how their controlling behavior has been toxic and what you need from them to make the relationship work.

If they think they can do it, if they are willing to learn and grow, then try again. But take things slow this time.

Just like you are starting a new relationship. Watch out for red flags and try to figure out if they are sincerely making an attempt to improve or are just faking it.

Someone who sincerely wants to learn and improve will be open to listening and understanding. They will try to make serious changes in life like going to therapy or reading self-improvement books. They will not agree with you about everything and won’t act like a doormat.

On the contrary, someone who is just faking it will most likely do things that they think you want to see. They will agree with what you see and, in some cases, let you walk all over them.

Final Thoughts

A controlling partner is not always a deal breaker. In many cases, the controlling behavior can be the result of a past trauma or childhood issues. And in most cases, it is fixable if the controlling person is willing to accept it and work on themselves.

Learning these behaviors and communicating with your partner can help you avoid a toxic codependent relationship and a lifetime of misery.

But if they are not the type of person who want to learn and grow, you should most definitely leave them and move on.

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Featured photo credit: S A R A H ✗ S H A R P via unsplash.com

More by this author

Kevin Thompson

A breakup and relationship expert who writes about reconciliation and becoming a better person

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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