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Controlling relationships

controlling relationships
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Who’s in control?

In every relationship, there will inevitably be a struggle for control at some point. Many couples argue about money, for example, or how to discipline the children. Even day to day routines, such as housework, can be a source of conflict, with two people having totally different ideas about what needs doing, when and how.Controlling relationships are distructive and need to be recognised.

So far, so normal. We all have areas in which we like to be in charge, and most healthy relationships will include a few tussles, most of which will get resolved in one way or another over time. But how do you know when the control issues in your relationship are tipping over into something more worrying? Is there a reasonable balance of power in your relationship, or does your partner have to be in charge of absolutely everything? If that description rings a bell with you, then it might be time to face what is really going on.

Recognising the signs

There is a huge amount of information available out there about controlling relationships, and especially about how to recognise them. The material may seem overwhelming, but what it really boils down to, in simple terms, is this  – are you able to be yourself around your partner? Of course, we all have to make adjustments in order to maintain a relationship, and the ability to compromise is both normal and healthy. But if you are often left feeling that something about you is ‘not quite right’, or if you have changed something fundamental about yourself in order to appease your partner, to keep the peace or to make them happy, then in all likelihood you are being controlled.

Does this sound familiar?

It is notoriously difficult to face up to the idea that your partner is controlling you, so let’s put it in more concrete terms. When you have problems in your relationship, does he or she always insist that those problems are your fault? Have you given up some of your friends, or your hobbies and interests, to please your partner? Perhaps you are even seeing less of your family, because your partner dislikes them or discourages you from making an effort to visit? Have you toned down or altered aspects of your personality because your partner is critical of them? And, most tellingly of all, is your partner very possessive of you, and unreasonably jealous, so that an innocent relationship with, say, a work colleague can spark off a major row or a sulk? Perhaps you have even learnt to ‘play down’ work relationships and friendships, not mentioning them when you talk about your day, so as to avoid a bad reaction from your partner.

controlling relationships

What next?

The bottom line is that if you are being controlled, it is because you are afraid. Something about this person is making you uneasy, and this can be the case even when there is no physical violence or threat of violence involved. That may not make sense to you at first, but in fact there can be many reasons why you may be afraid of your partner. Verbal abuse, for example, can be intimidating and upsetting in itself. If you have put up with it, or with extremely angry reactions, for some years, then you may be worn down by it all and may feel fearful of provoking more of the same. Or perhaps your partner is in control of your finances, and so you fear that you could not survive if they left you. Whatever the reason, you may have completely lost sight of the fact that a healthy relationship is one in which you are never afraid of your partner, for any reason.

Getting  help

You are likely to be feeling very isolated by your partner’s behaviour and so the next step is to seek some help. Family and friends may be your first port of call, but be prepared – controlling and abusive partners are often very good at appearing charming to others and you may find that people are astonished to hear what you have to say, and may even reject or minimise it. If it turns out that family and friends cannot help, then it may be time to seek professional support. Women can turn to Women’s Aid at http://www.womensaid.org.uk  and men can contact the Mankind Initiative at http://www.mankind.org.uk.Contrary to their image, these organisations do not just deal with physical abuse, but also provide information and support about psychological abuse and controlling relationships. They won’t minimise your situation or tell you it’s your fault, and they will be able to help you to start to work out what to do in order to regain control of your life.

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About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

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