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What to do When Your Boyfriend is Controlling

What to do When Your Boyfriend is Controlling

Do you know what to do when your boyfriend is controlling? Are you wondering how you can make this situation better?

People act in a controlling way for several reasons, most of which have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. For today’s purposes, we’re discussing a boyfriend who is controlling on occasion, but not 100% of the time.

Every relationship dynamic has its nuances. What worked for your parents or his might not work for the two of you. Your friends might have a relationship you just can’t figure out, but it’s working for them.

Recognizing whether your relationship is healthy and needs tweaking or is unhealthy is the goal of today’s post.

boyfriend is controlling

Do You Know if Your Boyfriend is Controlling?

First, let’s look at whether the behaviors your boyfriend is exhibiting are truly controlling. It’s human nature to want to control your environment, but someone who wants to control everything all the time might have something going on.

He Seems Paranoid and Insecure

The need to be in control is almost always rooted in insecurity. Most often, these insecurities center around:

  • Physical appearance – yours or his
  • His job security or performance
  • How do others view the two of you
  • Whether you might be getting the attention of other men
  • If he’s getting enough respect

These insecurities were around long before you came on the scene, so none of this is your fault. His emotions and self-image are fragile, and those things built up over many years. You may find out he was bullied at home or in school, or he was always told he was worthless, nothing. It’s sad, but it happens.

What Does it Look Like?

If he’s doing any of these things, this might be the problem:

  • Judgmental of others
  • Jealousy of other men, constantly critiquing them
  • He tests and questions your loyalty to him
  • He’s always looking for validation
  • While he can dish out the criticism, he can’t take it…at all
  • He showers you with gifts, to make up for what he perceives to be his failings
  • He always imagines he’s being disrespected

What Can You Do?

If his insecurity is minimal, like his performance in bed, for example, you can reassure him that he’s doing a great job. Men worry a lot about this, so it’s pretty normal insecurity. He might also feel insecure about his job, especially if he’s bucking for a promotion. Assure him that you love him just as he is, promotion or not.

If he seems to be paranoid, always questioning if you’re cheating on him or if another guy looked at you with too much interest, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart chat. Choose a time when things are going well between you, not a time when tempers are already flaring. Then, sit him down and explain that you aren’t interested in another guy and his paranoia is causing a problem between you. If he can control himself and his emotions, he’ll see the light and try to fix it, but if he denies it or gets angry, this might be the time you say goodbye.

Understand that you can’t fix this. Yes, your words of reassurance might help, but he needs to fix his stuff. Many women try to step in and smother him with reassurance, affection and appeasing actions, but this won’t work. If he’s acting in the extreme, you need to establish boundaries and stick to them.

It’s not okay for him to put trackers on your phone and car. It’s not normal to allow him to read your texts and emails. If you want him to, that’s one thing, but it’s not something he can demand. It’s okay for you to say no and if he can’t accept no, it’s time to leave.

He Feels the Need to Criticize You – All the Time

It’s fine for someone to say, “I’m not sure that shade of blue is the best color for you, babe,” because it’s once in a while and, odd as it might seem coming from a guy, it’s still harmless.

When the criticisms are constant and are intended to cause you to change your behavior, it’s problematic. When someone criticizes you all the time, the goal isn’t to help you better yourself with a new shade of blue, it’s to make you feel small, dumb, incompetent, and helpless. Chances are he feels that way and he doesn’t want to be with someone who feels better about themselves than he does.

What Does it Look Like?

Again, one comment every now and then is fine, but it’s the constant criticisms that are a problem. They might include:

  • Criticizing your physical features – you’re fat, you need a nose job, your boobs are too small, that sort of thing
  • He criticizes the way you pronounce things; we all come from different places and words are pronounced differently, or we learned to pronounce them incorrectly; it’s all good and we learn from hearing others, but his need to constantly correct you is no good
  • Your cooking is a constant bone of contention; of course, it’s not that he wants to cook, but he always has criticisms for yours – too much salt, too bland, too spicy, it won’t matter what you do, it won’t be good enough
  • He forces you to question your decision-making and your intelligence; he’s doing it to himself too so why not make you feel bad as well
  • You can’t do anything right, ever

These types of criticisms are meant to pull your power away from you, but I encourage you not to give anyone power over you and how you feel about yourself. This is all on him.

What Can You Do?

There’s no way everything you do is wrong; don’t allow someone to make you think that about yourself.

When I coach women who’ve experienced a breakup, I know she needs confidence building, and this is why. Breakups bring out the worst in people; often one partner tries to make the other feel small, dumb, and incompetent. Never allow someone to have that kind of power in your life.

Don’t rationalize his bad behavior. There’s no rational explanation for it other than his insecurities. Don’t explain it away or think he’s right. Sure, you might not pronounce a word properly, but who cares? It doesn’t change who you are.

While he might say he’s trying to help you be a better person, it’s a lie. If he were truly being a loving partner, he would provide constructive criticism like, “While I love this dress on you, I think the emerald green one really brings out the color of your eyes. You should wear that one more often!”

“Don’t you ever wear that ugly red dress again. It makes you look fat!” This statement is not helpful or constructive. It’s mean and controlling.

Having an open discussion might help. The best time to discuss something difficult is when you’re both happy and things are going well. Explain that you can’t constantly change every small thing about yourself, and you feel that’s what he’s asking you to do. This discussion will probably contain a breakup discussion, so be prepared to raise that possibility.

Know that you aren’t the one who needs to change. While he might be telling you how inadequate you are, these are his feelings about himself. If you can’t do anything right as far as he’s concerned, you’re not the girl for him. Period.

boyfriend is controlling

He Uses Threats and Ultimatums to Control Your Behavior

You don’t need to be threatened or manipulated. Nobody does, but a controller may use threats and ultimatums to try to control you.

What Does it Look Like?

Often, the threats center around him breaking up with you if you don’t do something his way:

  • If you don’t stop hanging out with your work friends, I’ll break up with you
  • If you don’t agree to marry me, I’ll kill myself – it’s extreme, but I know of someone who got married for just this reason
  • You need to go out with me Saturday night or I’ll post crap about you on social media
  • If you don’t make my dinner on time, I won’t take you to work tomorrow

Some of these sound utterly ridiculous but notice that they’re all ways in which he might feel out of control of a situation. When you’re with your friends, he can’t control you because you aren’t there. If you don’t marry him, how can he keep controlling you? He doesn’t want to lose another relationship.

He wants you to go out with him so you aren’t going out with someone else. If you’re making dinner on time, he knows where you are and what you’re doing. It goes on and on.

What Can You Do?

Dealing with threats and ultimatums can be scary, depending on the thread or ultimatum being issued. Someone threatening your life should be extricated from your life immediately. For some of these other threats, there are things you can try.

First, don’t give in. If you want to hang with your friends from work, do it, and if he breaks up with you over it, see ya later pal. You might think that agreeing with him or giving in will make him stop, but he’ll just find something else since the first time worked well for him. All you’re doing is giving up power. Nothing more.

Next, and this is a hard one to read I know, understand that someone who’s issuing threats and ultimatums doesn’t love you. If he did love you, he would turn himself inside out to show his love for you. These behaviors aren’t loving. Not even a little bit.

Lastly, get out of the relationship. This isn’t a fixable situation. Find a friend, a family member, or, an authority figure who can help you safely remove yourself from this relationship. You deserve someone who truly loves you for the wonderful person you are.

Your Boyfriend is Controlling You with Social Isolation

This is a classic control move. It’s little things at first, and it seems sweet. He’ll say, “Gee Babe, I’d really appreciate it if you’d cancel your plans with Sarah and spend the evening with me.”

The next thing you know, you never have plans with any of your friends or family. He either lies to you about them to make you believe they don’t want to hang with you, or he makes sure you can’t hang out with them.

This is done to avoid other people knowing how controlling he either is now or plans to be. He doesn’t want someone telling you that he’s wrong. He wants you to hear his voice and only his. That way, he can control every single aspect of your life.

Many controllers will also keep you from working an outside job, going to church, or participating in any sort of social group. He doesn’t want anyone to see the vacant look that you have, indicating how much of you he’s already sucked away.

What Does it Look Like?

At first, he’ll just complain about how much time you’re spending away from him. Then, if that doesn’t work, he’ll move on to criticizing your friends and family members. His goal is to get you to distrust the people you should trust the most and those you’ll lean on as he gets worse.

Then, he’ll make you feel guilty if you speak to those people and may even exact punishment. He doesn’t want others to see how he’s treating you. He wants full control.

Finally, he’ll threaten to either physically hurt you or leave you if you continue to contact the people he’s deemed unacceptable. He hopes that he’s made you rely on him enough that the thread of living without him will scare you into submission.

What Can You Do?

Don’t believe what he says about your friends and family. He might say your sister doesn’t want to talk to you anymore, but that’s a lie to distance you from her.

Your only real option, aside from not believing his lies, is to leave the relationship. If he’s trying to distance yourself from the people most important to you, he doesn’t have any great plans for your life together other than for him to demand and for you to obey. Do you want to lose all the important people in your life to live with one controlling individual? No, of course not.

There is no Trust

Trust is at the root of a great relationship. It’s something you earn and then strive to keep between you. While it’s normal not to fully trust someone you just met, you should allow a partner to earn your trust and vice versa.

What happens with a controller, however, is that he can’t trust you or anyone else. If you say you’re going to have ice cream with your bestie and you see him drive by, he doesn’t trust you. Wanting your passwords to your phone and email is another sign of distrust.

The thing is you probably haven’t done anything for him to distrust you. These are his insecurities, not your actions that are driving his behavior. He knows he’s not good enough for a great woman like you. His confidence, self-worth, and self-esteem are very low, and he knows you can do better.

What Does it Look Like?

You say you’re out with your friends for a girls’ night and he calls, constantly, to check up on you. Or, he might have a friend of his happen to show up where you’re supposed to be.

He might drive by to see if you’re where you said you would be or put tracking devices or apps on your car and phone.

You might catch him eavesdropping on your phone conversations or standing over you while you text or compose emails. You may even notice cameras hidden around your home as a way for him to watch you.

What Can You Do?

While you might be able to have a conversation about this with him and get him to stop. It depends on the level of behavior he’s exhibiting.

Again, have this conversation when things are happy and good between you. Explain to him that he’s making you uncomfortable by constantly spying on you and asking him what you’ve done to make him distrust you.

If this isn’t happening often or if this is the only thing he’s doing, he might not even realize the impact it’s having. He gets anxious because he can’t see you. His insecurity about himself tells him you’re out there and other men can see how great you are. In his mind, he’s about to lose you.

He needs to work on things, but pointing out to him that every time he’s checked up on you, you were where you said you’d be might help him realize he’s distrusting you for no reason.

Also, don’t lie to him about where you are going. That just confirms what he believes. Don’t lie about who you’re going with either. If you’re going out with three of your friends, say so. Don’t say, “I’m going out with Meg” if you’re going out with Meg, Sarah, and Elle. If he’s looking for a reason to distrust you, he’ll see that as a lie.

boyfriend is controlling

Your Boyfriend is Controlling When He Wants You to Feel Indebted to Him

A relationship doesn’t involve currency. What I mean by that is that he can’t buy you flowers and expect sex in return. Just because he bought you new earrings doesn’t mean he gets to tell you what to do.

What Does it Look Like?

Currency in a relationship comes in all shapes and sizes. Usually, however, in a controlling situation, it involves him buying you something that’s either just what you’ve been wanting or uber extravagant.

Now, in his mind, you owe him something in return. This is a nifty way to make someone dependent on you. You won’t feel you can get out of the relationship because you feel too guilty. Look at all the stuff he’s gotten for you or the things he’s done for you.

Poppycock! Those are all control maneuvers meant to make you feel exactly that way!

Things you never owe another person include sex, time, and the ability to express your opinion without fear of retribution.

You control who, when, and where you have sex with him or anyone else. Always. There is never a time when you owe someone sex. Read that statement a few times so it sinks in.

Time is a precious commodity, and in a relationship, you should make time for one another, but not at the expense of your life outside the relationship. Don’t give up your relationships with friends, family, or coworkers in lieu of time with him. You both need to maintain outside relationships to be healthy together.

Finally, you have and are entitled to your own opinion, and you should be able to express it, as long as you’re being calm and reasonable, without fear of being harmed.

What Can You Do?

There isn’t a way to fix this. He’s attempting to take away your freedom and that’s not something you should ever give away to anyone.

He’s Gaslighting You

This term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight where a man tries to make his wife think she’s going insane so he can steal her fortune.

People do it today and it can really be harmful.

What Does it Look Like?

You won’t see gaslighting coming. Some, but not all who use this tactic are true narcissists and professionals at manipulating people to get their way.

An example of gaslighting might be if your partner agrees to meet you after work at a local hangout. You show up and wait, but he never shows. You call and text and he finally tells you that he never agreed to meet you. You know you made a date, but he’s making you second-guess yourself.

Another example is name-calling. It sounds basic, but this gets you to believe something about yourself that isn’t true. He might call you manic-depressive or crazy because you got a little moody. Since when did he get a license to diagnose?

He might question your decisions, and make you question them as well. Of course, he’ll shoot down any explanations you come up with, so don’t waste your time.

Anything a gaslighter does is meant to get you to question yourself and alter your perception of reality. In the movie, the man dims the lights, but when the woman asks if the lights just dimmed, he says no, making her believe she’s losing her mind.

What Can You Do?

Gaslighting is emotional abuse. Your only true recourse, once you realize what’s happening, is to end the relationship.

This is not a person who is invested in a relationship with you because he loves you. These aren’t loving behaviors.

Once you recognize that someone is doing this to you, and it’s probably been going on for months or even years, you stop sharing your thoughts and feelings with him. Disengage and work on getting out. He’ll continue to try and make you feel like you’re wrong and you’re crazy, but you aren’t. Sanity is beginning to emerge again for you and you’re seeing very clearly now.

He Makes Your Life Miserable when He Doesn’t Get His Way

If you stand up to a boyfriend who is controlling and go out with your girlfriends after he told you not to, expect the silent treatment or worse.

How dare you stand up to him! What on earth were you thinking?

What Does it Look Like?

It looks just like that. You did something that didn’t fit into his model for your life and he’s pouting. Other ways this might show up include:

  • Him flirting with other women if you don’t wear what he told you to on a date
  • Blaming you because he didn’t get the promotion he wanted
  • Any form of physical abuse for something he claims you did wrong

What Can You Do?

This is not a sign of a healthy and happy relationship. You can try to discuss his behavior with him by telling him that his revengeful behavior hurts you and your relationship. If this is the only thing he’s doing or if he’s just starting this behavior, he might recognize his bad behavior and try to stop.

More likely, he’ll refuse to discuss this with you because deep down, he knows he’s wrong. He’ll never admit it and therefore you won’t make any headway in having a discussion.

Your Boyfriend is Controlling When He’ll Love You – Conditionally

If a guy loves you, he loves you for who you are today and who he thinks you have the potential to become. Sometimes, when you meet someone, you can see they’re working toward something, and you can see their potential. That ambition can be sexy and attractive.

If a guy only loves you if you lose weight or if you stop going out with that one friend of yours, he doesn’t truly love you to begin with.

What Does it Look Like?

  • My friends would probably like you more if you were smarter
  • I’d love you more if you’d stop wearing your hair that way
  • I love you so much when you wear that skirt
  • If you took better care of yourself, you might be attractive

This way of trying to mold you into someone else is mean and abusive. Sure, he’s not physically hurting you, but emotional scars last longer. Someone saying this to you all the time makes it sink into your subconscious and you begin to say it to yourself.

What Can You Do?

When he says something like that to you, call him out on it. Make sure he knows that saying those things is hurtful. Be careful how you word things, though, or he’ll just have room to argue with you.

If you say, “I don’t like it when you call me fat”, he’ll just say that he doesn’t call you fat. Of course, he’s using other types of statements to call you fat, but that’s beside the point.

Instead, say, “Josh, when you tell me I look fat, it makes me feel really bad.” It’s harder to argue with a statement when you say it’s your feelings. He can’t tell you how you feel. Oh, he might try to, but it’s harder.

Hurtful statements like those aren’t loving and they aren’t meant to be. This is a direct attempt to make you feel as small and worthless as he does.

Your best option is usually to end the relationship. If you’re just there to help him feel a little bigger by making you feel small, you can do better! You deserve better!

boyfriend is controlling

His Favorite Weapon is Passive Aggressive Behavior

Ahh, an oldie but a goodie, passive-aggressive behavior is yet another way to control someone.

What Does it Look Like?

“This is my girlfriend, Stacy. She talks like a hillbilly but she’s a great gal. Heh heh heh.” Okay, so he just introduced you to his friends and injected a criticism disguised as a cute little joke. That’s passive-aggressive.

“Boy you sure can cook,” said right after you accidentally burned the rice with dinner. Sarcasm is another form of passive-aggressive behavior.

If something is followed by, “Hey, I’m just kidding,” know that he isn’t. It’s a criticism disguised as what he thought was a joke.

While this doesn’t seem to be a controlling behavior, what he’s doing is trying to make you feel badly about yourself, just like he does. He’s trying to control your self-esteem and self-worth and that’s the worst way to control someone.

What Can You Do?

This is another instance where you might be able to call him out on his behavior. “Hey Jim, when you introduced me to your friends and then said I talk like a hillbilly, I felt really embarrassed.” Again, by telling him how you felt, and not using an accusing tone, you change his ability to reply in a snide or hurtful way.

He wasn’t kidding and you both know it, as do his friends, who also probably felt embarrassed. He may come back and tell you to lighten up or learn to take a joke but keep pointing out to him how hurtful his comments are.

If he refuses to stop, he doesn’t respect or love you and it’s time to end things.

Your Boyfriend is Controlling | Why is He Acting This Way?

He’s Narcissistic

Narcissism is not a choice people make but an actual psychological diagnosis. NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder affects many people and hinders their ability to have healthy relationships.

Many narcissists carry a higher-than-average opinion of themselves. They believe they’re more important than everyone else, more powerful, more intelligent, more capable, and so on. To make sure you believe it, they’ll exaggerate their accomplishments and abilities.

This type of person needs to make sure you know how special and unique he is, compared to other men. Of course, since he’s so special and unique, there’s no way you can understand him. He’s too far above you and everyone else for that to happen.

He needs lots of praise and positive attention, to be sure you know how important and special he is. He feels that he deserves special treatment. For example, if you go to a restaurant, he might feel he should always get the best table.

His need for personal gain outweighs everything else, so he takes advantage of people and situations to make sure they benefit him. His goals are the only important goals. He might use tactics like telling lies about someone to make sure they don’t get what he wants, or he may treat someone very badly.

Unable to see your needs or connect with you on an emotional level, he’ll come off as lacking compassion or selfish. He also envisions himself in competition with, well, everyone. He imagines that people envy him for all his great traits and that they’re jealous of him.

Most of those are signs of what professionals call overt narcissism. Covert narcissism is a little harder to detect. Those behaviors include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insecurity
  • Being overly sensitive, unable to handle criticism
  • Feeling defensive
  • Acting withdrawn or depressed

He Has High Anxiety

Anxiety is a symptom of many other disorders, but it’s at the root of controlling behavior. There is a strong need to control their surroundings and maintain some sense of order, however harmful and ineffective their efforts truly are.

Many people experience anxiety every day and there are varying degrees and abilities to cope with it. When hurricane Ian came through Florida, I had a lot of anxiety about being able to get there and check on my mom. I managed my anxiety easily and was able to get down there to help her without issues. That’s normal anxiety. You don’t know what you’re facing, and your mind plays out scenarios.

Often, when we’re otherwise healthy, we recognize what’s happening and put a stop to it.

Still, for some, anxiety is crippling and can force them into undesirable behaviors, like being a controlling boyfriend.

He Has Low Self-Esteem

When your self-esteem is low, you don’t think good thoughts about yourself. You don’t value yourself or even like yourself.

If your boyfriend has low self-esteem, he thinks very little of himself. He believes he’s not worthy of you and is in constant fear that two things will happen.

First, you’ll figure out what a schmuck he is, and second, you’ll leave him because he’s a loser. That fear or insecurity drives him to try extra hard to keep you from discovering he’s the person he believes himself to be and leaving him.

His low self-esteem also makes him sensitive to what he might perceive as attacks. You might say something you don’t think of as mean or harmful, but due to his low self-esteem, he takes it that way. The problem is that he already thinks those things about himself, but hearing someone else verbalize them brings his insecurities to life and confirms his beliefs about himself.

He Has Difficulty Trusting

If your boyfriend is controlling, he probably has difficulty trusting people. Someone in his past broke his trust in all people so much that he finds it difficult to trust anyone now.

It doesn’t matter what you think you’ve done to earn his trust; he can’t give it so it’s never enough.

Trust issues usually stem from something that happened in childhood, although not always. Someone close to him broke his trust and did a good job of it. His trust was shattered to the point where he decided nobody can be trusted, regardless of what they said or did.

This is something he can work on and overcome, with professional guidance, but it’s not something you can fix.

He Has a Fear of Abandonment

Imagine you’re a young child and someone very important to you leaves, either by death or physical separation. A mother dies, a father leaves the home never to be seen again, or something similar.

This creates a fear that everyone important to you leaves and never comes back. It’s not logical, but your young mind can’t yet figure out the logic behind death or separation.

You grow up and your grandparents die. Your dog runs away and never returns. A favorite teacher doesn’t return the following year. These things all shore up your belief that people leave and never come back.

If your boyfriend is controlling, this might be part of the issue. He lost one or more important people or even animals in his life and he’s developed a fear of abandonment. This displays in the same way low self-esteem does. He lives in constant fear that you’ll leave, just like everyone else in his past.

Again, this is something he can work on and overcome, with professional guidance. And again, it’s not something you can fix.

Your Boyfriend is Controlling | Now What?

The bottom line is that if your boyfriend is controlling, he needs to take a relationship break and work on himself if he’s willing. Some people are and some aren’t. Some controlling individuals grew up in a similar environment to the one they’ve created, and they don’t see their own failings.

Either way, it’s time for you to exit the situation. In many instances, if he does some work with a professional counselor, he can overcome the issues. But this is like alcoholism. He must first be able to see that he has a problem that requires help.

More people than you can imagine grow up believing that mental problems are poppycock and don’t exist, therefore you’ll never get them to seek help. Other people can see that they have an issue if you bring it up during a time when you’re getting along, and things are good.

As you learned above, how you approach a conversation is mostly about the words you use. Discuss how his behavior makes you feel without using accusatory language.

Bob, it makes me feel angry when you call me names” instead of, “Stop calling me names! It’s mean and rude.” It’s hard for someone to argue with how you feel, but he for sure can argue with whether he thinks he was mean and rude.

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