17 Ways To Stop Being Controlling In A Relationship

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Do you find yourself constantly trying to control what your partner does? How they do it? When they’re doing it?

Do you get upset or angry if things are not done specifically how you want them done?

Is this behavior undermining or destroying your relationships with other people?

Do you want to change this behavior and grow as a person?

You’re not alone.

A person who is controlling may find it difficult to maintain friendships and relationships because people generally don’t want to be micromanaged.

It feels stressful, oppressive, and approaches the line of abusive behavior that no one should have to put up with.

But this type of behavior doesn’t always manifest as just being controlling. It can take the form of excessive worrying, constant unasked for advice, meddling, or trying to fix the problems they see around them.

Identifying that there is a problem in the first place is a big step in the right direction. That level of self-awareness is difficult.

But how do you stop being so controlling in a relationship?

Speak to a certified relationship counselor about this issue. Why? Because they have the training and experience to help you with your control issues before they push your partner away. You may want to try speaking to someone via RelationshipHero.com for practical advice that is tailored to your exact circumstances.

How To Stop Being Controlling In A Relationship

1. Identify where your need for control comes from.

The need for control often stems from different types of anxiety and fear.

A person may be trying to control others to fall into predictable patterns and behaviors so that there are no unexpected surprises or deviations from what they expect.

The person may have a hard time with these disruptions because their mind is constantly working in overdrive to head off any present or future problems.

They may feel that so long as things are done their way, when they want them done, how they want them done, that there will be less disruption.

They may try to influence or control the behavior of the people around them so that their relationships are predictable and do not fuel their own anxious thoughts.

That may not always be the case though.

There are times when partners, friends, and family contribute to that anxiety by being incapable, feigning incapability, or offloading their responsibilities onto the controlling person.

The controlling person becomes that way through this shift in responsibility because without someone taking action and conducting the chaos, nothing would ever get done.

Still, controlling behavior can come from deeper places too.

It’s not unusual for people who had a hard upbringing to develop controlling tendencies and anxiety about maintaining their life.

A child that grows up in this situation may try to fill the gaps left by parents that couldn’t fulfill their role well.

Things that remind them of the way they grew up, like certain behaviors or situations in their life, can cause their anxiety to escalate. As such, they try to exert control over what’s happening around them to keep their mind settled.

The way to end controlling behavior starts with getting to the root of what is causing it in the first place.

That can be hard to figure out on your own. If you can’t, it would be a good idea to talk to a certified mental health counselor about the behavior, the circumstances that drive it, and how to correct it.

Realistically, changing one’s behavior is hard and you will likely need professional help.

Once you can identify what the reasons are for feeling the need to control, you can more on to the following steps to help loosen the reins and improve your relationships.

2. Find ways to trust your partner.

Relationships with no trust are doomed to fail eventually. And controlling behavior often comes from a place of mistrust in your partner.

Even if your trust issues stem from past experiences, you will have to work with your current partner to overcome them, as well as working on them by yourself too.

Perhaps you have a fear of abandonment due to an ex suddenly leaving you for someone else, or from a parent leaving you as a child.

Perhaps you are extremely jealous of every other person in your partner’s life, regardless of who they are or what gender they are. This may come from an ex who cheated or flirted with everyone other than you.

Maybe you go snooping on your partner’s phone to see if they are talking to other potential love interests or moaning about you behind your back.

These all come back to a lack of trust in your partner. A lack of trust can lead to irrational thoughts that our partner must be doing something that will hurt us, and so we become controlling to make sure they don’t do those things.

But you aren’t going to be with your partner 24/7 and you can’t be privy to their every communication. If you can’t learn to trust them, those irrational thoughts will get out of hand, leading to you trying to exert even more control over them.

You’ll become possessive, needy, clingy. You will try to manipulate them into not seeing people, using emotional blackmail to get your own way.

None of this is healthy. None of this will be good for you, your partner, or your relationship in the long run. You have to learn to trust them, come what may.

Here’s an article of ours that can help: 8 Ways To Build Trust In A Relationship (+ 8 Trust Exercises)

3. Don’t try to solve your partner’s problems or make choices for them.

A big way that control can be seen in a relationship is where one partner tries to solve the problems of the other. If this is you, you need to stop.

You may do this because you feel small, and by solving your partner’s problems, you give yourself a bigger role in their life. You take on responsibility that should be theirs and you try to make decisions for them because you think you are helping.

What you have to remember is that they are their own person. As much as you may be a part of their life, you are not the only part. Quit making their problems and their choices about you – for the most part, they are not. They are your partner’s problems and choices and you should allow them to be responsible for them.

The more you try to control their life, the more they will pull away and try to assert their own independence. This may then mean you try to control even tighter because you worry they are ‘getting away’ from you. Your partner will end up feeling suffocated and micromanaged to the point where they view the relationship as unhealthy, or even toxic.

If you disagree with a choice your partner is making, and think they are going to regret it, sit down with them and express your concerns. Do so respectfully and make it clear that, ultimately, you will support them whatever they choose to do. They may take your opinion on board, or they may not.

Of course, if you cause or contribute to a problem in their life in some way, you should apologize where appropriate and offer to help them fix it. But they have to be the ones to decide how to do that. You should always encourage them to do what is right for them.

4. Consider the way you are communicating with others.

man and woman talking in a cafe

The way you speak to others matters a lot.

The way we communicate drastically colors the perception of the message being delivered.

A person who is curt, direct, and unyielding is going to be perceived as controlling, whether they are or not.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and a place for such a delivery, because there certainly is.

But if that’s your primary method of communication, the people around you will come to resent you for it.

A better approach is to simply include more polite language, like please and thank you.

Make requests, suggestions, or ask for help if you need something done instead of dictating.

By softening your approach, you’ll influence not only how people perceive you, but the way you think about the message you are delivering.

5. Relinquish control of the outcomes of activities.

Control tends to rear its head when things need to get done. The problem is that everyone has different standards on what constitutes a successful resolution of an activity.

A controlling person may not just want something done, but they want it done to their standards or how they do it.

That isn’t always the best way to get things accomplished. Sometimes it’s better to just let things go as they go and trust that the other person is going to get it done.

Sometimes that direct control isn’t the responsibility of the person who is perceived as controlling.

Sometimes it’s the other person who feigns incompetence or refuses to do anything of quality so that they can shirk their own responsibility.

That’s a more difficult situation because you can’t really control what other people choose to do.

A conversation about helping out more and meeting them halfway can sometimes be productive, but a lot of times it ultimately comes down to no longer doing things for that person so they can realize that you won’t be taken advantage of.

6. Seek professional help.

man talking to a therapist

You will likely find it easier to change with professional help.

If you have reached the point where you are searching for information on how to be less controlling, it’s almost certainly having an impact on your relationships and your life in general.

Whilst it’s possible for someone to overcome their issues by themselves, going it alone means there’s a greater chance of not fully laying your ghosts to rest and slipping back into your old, overbearing ways. Seeking expert help should mean you can manage or overcome your control issues for good.

There are two types of help you should consider.

If you think your control issues stem from trauma or abuse in your past, you should look into getting yourself a personal counselor or therapist. They will help you unpack those events in a safe way and give you coping mechanisms to deal with their legacy on you.

If you are currently in a relationship and just want to discuss your control issues and get some specific advice on how you can stop controlling your partner, a relationship expert is a wise investment. You can speak to them by yourself to get additional tools that go beyond the scope of this article. You can also speak to them as a couple (if you wish) in order to give your partner a say and to lay all your problems out and face them together as a team.

If you want to speak to a relationship expert, you should consider the services of Relationship Hero where you can connect with someone who knows how to help you and can potentially save your relationship. Here’s that link again to start the process of getting compassionate but effective advice for your control issues.

7. Think about your partner’s needs.

When you are in a controlling mindset, you have to ask yourself whose needs you are really thinking about. Give yourself a moment to reflect on the situation and you’ll often find that it’s actually your needs that you are most concerned with.

But you have to find a way to make both of you happy where possible because they are an equal partner in the relationship and deserve to have their desires met.

You won’t always agree, and you will have to find ways to compromise from time to time. Let them express their opinion. Consider that opinion and ask whether their needs, in this instance, should take priority. Sometimes you have to put your partner first.

Part of this is to remain rational about their needs or preferences. For instance, just because they want to take up a hobby that you don’t want to do, it doesn’t mean they hate you and want to spend time apart. You don’t have to see that hobby as a threat to your relationship and try to control your partner to neutralize that threat.

8. Try to avoid judging your partner.

Your insecurities may be made worse when you judge your partner for the things they do or do not do. This is because every time you judge them, you may judge yourself too – doubly so. When you focus on what you see as someone else’s flaws, you give your mind permission to reflect on your own flaws too.

If you judge your partner for spending ‘too much’ time with their friends, you may judge yourself for not being much fun to be around (because why would they not want to spend that time with you?)

If you judge your partner for the way they spend their money, you may judge yourself for being such a scrooge (which may feed into the belief that you’re not much fun).

If you judge your partner for leaving a cereal box on the counter top when they could have easily put it away, you may then judge yourself for being so pernickety about things or for allowing such a small thing to get to you.

So when you notice yourself think in terms of right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, you need to pause and reflect on the situation or the actions of your partner from a more loving light. That will help prevent your mind from turning to such negative thoughts about yourself and your relationship.

What’s more, if you judge your partner openly, it can harm their self-esteem. If you are hypercritical of the things they do or the choices they make, you sow the seed of self-doubt in their mind which is not a thing you should wish for the person you love.

And the less critical you are about your partner, the less self-critical you will be too, which will help your self-esteem.

9. Address any insecurities that might be contributing.

controlling man with hand on woman's neck, but not in a violent way

Your insecurities could be a key cause of your control issues.

Insecurity contributes to controlling behavior because it causes us to not value ourselves the way we should and question the intentions of others.

Do you find yourself wondering who your partner is talking to? Who is messaging them? What they are doing when they are not around?

These behaviors point to the kind of insecurity that facilitates controlling behavior.

The caveat is that not all insecurity is unfounded. People who have been cheated on or hurt badly in the past may be seeking to limit their exposure to being hurt that way again.

The problem is that choosing to stay in the relationship with the person means there is always the question hanging over you of whether or not it will happen again.

Other people don’t bother addressing and working on that hurt at all. They just let it fester quietly until it messily explodes into their life.

Quieting those insecurities is of vital importance. They will fuel controlling behavior and ruin healthy relationships.

10. Don’t punish your partner for your ex’s crimes.

If you were in a relationship where your partner lied or cheated or betrayed you in some other way, you might have adopted a controlling approach to subsequent partners in an effort to stop them from doing the same thing.

This is unfair because you are making your current partner pay for something they did not and have not done. You are punishing them for the actions of your ex. You are allowing old wounds to resurface and infect your current relationship.

Similarly, if you were the person who was controlled by an ex-partner of yours, you may seek to never let that happen to you again. One way that can manifest is that you become the one who controls your new partner. After all, control can only go one way – if you are controlling them, they can’t control you.

Either way, you try to control the outcome of the relationship by controlling your partner’s every move.

A good way to stop your behavior before it turns into a moment of control is to ask whether it is something your partner has done that has upset you, or whether you are being triggered by something your ex did.

11. Don’t punish your partner for their own crimes.

angry looking woman talking to man

Don’t take your partner’s mistakes out on them.

People make mistakes. And it’s impossible to be in a relationship with someone without getting at least a little but hurt now and again. That’s normal and it doesn’t mean that your relationship is unhealthy.

But when we get hurt, it’s natural to try to stop that from happening again. This can result in controlling tendencies.

If your partner has done something that might have caused or contributed to your current insecurities about them and your relationship, give them the chance to redeem themselves and change.

Don’t try to force that change – let them be the ones to take charge of their own behavior. In the grand scheme of things, you can only control your own thoughts and actions. You must allow other people to be the architects of their own destiny.

And if you’ve give them that chance and they continue to break your trust or act in a way that is not becoming of a healthy relationship, it’s time to leave that relationship rather than thinking you can control them more to stop them from hurting you again.

12. Be sure that everyone has appropriate time and space.

A relationship or friendship can start to feel oppressive if people don’t have enough space to move and breathe.

Everyone needs time to themselves to recharge their batteries, even the most extroverted of people.

In a relationship, you should be functioning as a team. Ideally, you should be lifting one another up and creating a formidable partnership to take on life.

But this can become a problem if you don’t ever stop to take a breath and really focus on yourself.

Neither of you should be worrying about every tiny detail of their partner’s day and life all the time.

Sometimes? Sure. If you love someone, you’ll worry about them and want the best for them so they can be happy and have a good life.

But you can’t do that all the time, nor should you.

Take time for yourself, let your partner have time for themselves, and give each other room.

13. Manage your stress in healthy ways.

woman with boxing gloves on hitting something out of shot

Releasing your stress can ease your need for control.

Controlling behavior often comes down to anxiety. Anxiety often comes from poorly handled stress.

So, if anxiety is fueling your controlling behavior, you can alleviate it by working on your stress management skills.

Poorly handled stress tends to be messy and bleeds over into other areas of your life.

If you have a hard day at work, it’s really easy to take that home if you can’t compartmentalize or have a release valve for it.

It may be time to take a close look at the way you manage the stress in your life.

Are you handling it well?

What stresses can you reduce or remove from your life?

Is it time to change something up in your life? Find a new career? Hobby? Maybe start exercising, eating, or sleeping more?

Improving your stress management skills will improve your mental and emotional health all around.

14. Open yourself to new experiences and changes.

The greatest gift you can give yourself is to be open to new experiences and change.

Controlling behavior is sometimes about trying to maintain a status quo. The problem is that the status quo may not be something worth hanging onto. Sometimes things aren’t as good as they should be.

The way to improve them is to accept that sometimes things need to change, which can also help you manage stress and grow as a person.

Relationships evolve with time. It’s far better to actively nurture and grow that relationship together with your partner for a healthier future instead of trying to keep things as they are.

Part of this involves realizing that you can’t always be right. Your partner will have good ideas or suggestions and you should be willing to consider these and take them on board where appropriate.

15. Appreciate the differences between you and your partner.

You are not your partner. Your partner is not you.

They aren’t going to look at life through your eyes. They will have their own thoughts, opinions, preferences, and beliefs about life and how it should be conducted.

When you learn to accept and celebrate these differences, you can start to better understand and appreciate what you both bring to the relationship.

A healthy relationship includes respect for a person’s flaws and quirks just as much as it honors their more positive qualities and abilities.

By accepting these differences, you can demonstrate that you respect and value your partner instead of trying to dictate how they perceive and move through life. Always remember that you cannot change your partner into the person you want them to be. They are who they are.

And when you can accept them for who they are, you open up to self-acceptance of who you are, flaws and all. This, in itself, can be liberating and help you to lower your need for control.

16. Be single for a while.

If you’re in a relationship, this advice won’t apply to you. But if you’re currently single, stay that way for a period of time.

Perhaps you’re reading this article because your controlling ways contributed to the breakdown of your past relationship and you don’t want to risk that happening again. If so, don’t rush into a new relationship just yet. Be single and learn to enjoy it as much as you can.

Being alone for a while gives you the opportunity to work on yourself without the added complication of a relationship confusing things or hindering your growth.

By remaining single and putting in the work to overcome your controlling behaviors, you will learn to love yourself first. You will realize that you can fulfill your own needs and don’t need someone to fulfill them for you, or to validate you as a person by virtue of being in a relationship with you.

17. Challenge yourself and set big but realistic goals.

Part of why you may seek to control your significant other is the feeling you have of being out of control. You need to gain some control over something and your partner offers a solution to that.

So, if you can find a different outlet for your control, you will ease up on the controlling behaviors in your relationship.

One way to do this is to set some goals and work toward them. When you have something in your life that you are working toward – some challenge you have set – you will feel more in control of your life and of the outcome of that goal.

Not only that, but it will put your relationship in perspective so that you don’t see it as this all important aspect of your life that you have to protect at all costs. Of course you want that relationship to continue, but you now have other things that are important to you and that you have some control over.

Still not sure how to curb your controlling ways? It’s not an easy situation to be in, and it might be all the more difficult if you don’t have anyone to talk to about it. Talking to someone is a great way to get your thoughts and your worries out of your head so you can work through them.

Speak to an experienced relationship expert about it. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can be the ear to listen to you and the voice to offer well-considered advice to help you explore your control issues and gradually overcome them.

Relationship Hero is a website where you can connect with a relationship counselor via phone, video, or instant message.

While you can try to work through this situation yourself or as a couple, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can fix. And if it is affecting your relationship and mental well-being, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.

Too many people – both couples and individuals – try to muddle through and do their best to solve problems that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, speaking to a relationship expert is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service Relationship Hero provide and the process of getting started.

You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I tell if I’m being controlling in a given situation?

upset woman looking away from man while they sit in the car

Knowing when you are being controlling allows you to act.

There are a number of ways to identify when you are being controlling. The first is to stop for a moment and ask whether what you are about to do is for your partner’s benefit or for you own. If it’s for your own, you are exerting control over your partner.

When you want to control a situation to protect your partner, ask whether you are, in fact, protecting yourself. Maybe they want to go out to a bar with friends but you don’t think it’s a good idea because they might get taken advantage of whilst drunk. Is the real reason you don’t want them to go because you are insecure and jealous and you worry they might meet someone else? Your control is how you prevent yourself from getting hurt or betrayed.

In a wider context, there might be certain situations that trigger your need to control. If you can identify what these situations are, you can be mentally prepared to stop yourself from being manipulative or overbearing. You’ll know your emotions might run high but you’ll be more able to keep a lid on them.

When in doubt, pause before acting. Allow your mind to dwell on what you are about to do and examine it fully from every angle before deciding whether to proceed.

What other forms of control should I be aware of?

Sometimes you may try to indirectly control and manage your partner’s behavior or choices. This includes things such as getting defensive, giving the silent treatment, being passive-aggressive, or attention seeking.

Lying can also be considered a way to control a situation and your partner’s actions. Your little lie may not seem like much, but if it changes a choice they make to better suit your preferences, that’s manipulation.

Even your emotional response to things can be a form of control. If you get sad whenever your partner is away from you, it encourages them to spend more time with you. Or if you get angry or moody when they suggest visiting their family, they’ll be less inclined to suggest it in future.

Of course, there are even more destructive forms of control that include abusive behavior, bullying, and gaslighting, among other things.

What else might my controlling behavior point to?

The need to control a romantic partner might be related to other issues, the first of which is codependency. Quite often, one person in a codependent relationship will be controlling. You might depend on your partner to accept your control, whilst they could be someone whose own upbringing or past experiences makes them yield to that control in order to earn your love. It’s a toxic dynamic that doesn’t do either of you any good.

Another possibility is that you have an anxious attachment style. You worry about the state of your relationship and believe that it’s always on the brink of collapse. So you use control to prevent that from happening.

Your controlling tendencies might also be a part of your self-sabotaging mindset. You don’t want the other person to hurt you, so you sabotage the relationship with overbearing behavior in order to end it before they can.

Then there is something known as obsessive love disorder. This is how it sounds – you become obsessed with the person you are in love with (or think you’re in love with). You may feel you need to protect them and have obsessive thoughts about them. If this is the case, you probably struggle to maintain relationships with others, you suffer extreme jealousy, you like to be in near-constant communication with your partner, and you seek constant reassurance from them.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.