5 Signs Your Partner is Controlling

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We’ve all heard terms like ‘control freak’ and ‘dominating type’ — but what exactly is it that makes a person a controlling type of personality?

Some would say that being a controller is all about the person’s penchant for manipulation. Others would say it’s about the person’s determination to have their way with things. But the common factor behind all controlling behavior is the determination to be in the power position in a relationship. Controllers don’t want to be equal partners. They always want the upper hand. They’re determined to have a position of dominance. And many are skilled at using a variety of tactics to secure that very position and bring those who might oppose them to their knees. In the controller’s world, all is well when they’re calling the shots and everyone else around them is subordinate. That’s what makes living or working with these personality types such a painful experience.

So how do you tell for sure that your relationship partner is a controller? Here are some of the telltale signs:

They’re forever criticizing.
Controllers tend to be self-assured folks who always think they know better. There’s rarely anything they don’t think they have a better way to accomplish, and that makes everyone else’s way’s of approaching things inferior. Controllers can’t hide this attitude, so they’re always finding fault with your opinions and your solutions. They’ll criticize even the littlest things, just so you know they have a superior way. For the controller, it’s “my way or the highway.” And the more forceful and inflexible they are in this manner of behaving, the more excruciating it is to deal with them.
They emotionally manipulate.
Controllers are often astute covert-aggressors. Like any aggressive personality, they want to dominate and have their way — but they also know how to go about it in subtle, devious, and underhanded ways. They’ll prey on your emotions, especially shame or guilt. They know how to push your guilt and shame buttons to get you to see things their way. Challenge them and they know just how to make you feel bad about it. Controllers manage to stay in charge and call all the shots because they know how to make you feel at fault for thinking about or doing things differently from them.
They intimidate.
Controllers are not above making overt threats, but most of the time, they prefer a more veiled approach. In their dealings with others they know how to sent the message loudly and clearly that there will be some sort of hell to pay or some undesirable consequence for not going along with their demands. Sometimes, relationship partners accede to the controller’s demands just to keep the peace. Other times, they reluctantly give in out of fear of what might transpire if they don’t. Doing what you think you have to do to avoid their wrath is exactly how relationship partners end up being controlled by these personalities.
There are “strings attached” to everything.
Bearable relations with a controller always come with a hefty price tag: compliance. Go along with them, and they might do anything for you. Get in their way, offer some resistance, or worse, disagree and challenge, and you’re immediately out of their good graces. Everything is conditional in a relationship with a controller. If you see things their way and show deference they might even act like your best friend. Sometimes, they might even seem to be willing to go out of their way for you. But when they do, there will always be an expectation of something from you. Controllers don’t do anything freely or merely out of good heart. They always want something in return. Sometimes, the weight of their expectations can become truly oppressive.
Things always have to be a certain way.
Controllers are nit-picky, even about seemingly minor things. They don’t feel in control unless everything around them is in just the order they want it, so they’re intolerant of situations that challenge the order they want to impose. Sometimes, there’s insecurity and fear underlying a compulsive need to have everything in the place they expect, but other times, they’re simply driven by the desire to have everything their way. It makes them feel powerful and dominant. But either way, there is an inherently tyrannical and dictatorial character to their compulsivity, and that can make living or dealing with them an emotionally draining experience.

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It’s impossible to list all of the ways controlling personalities exercise their influence over you or all the signs you might need to watch out for. But it really helps to heighten your awareness about personality dynamics to start with, and especially to know what makes the more “aggressive personalities” tick. (For more on the topic, see my article series on aggressive personalities and my book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?).)

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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