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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?

Other people don’t want to be micromanaged, so if you’re a controlling partner, you may find it difficult to maintain a relationship.

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 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. Let’s explore some potential causes.

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

    That person may have a hard time with surprises because their mind is constantly working to head off any present or future problems.

    They crave predictability and hate disruptions to their routines or expectations.

  • Partners, friends, and family may 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.

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

    A child who grows up in this situation may try to fill the gaps left by parents who 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.

It would be a good idea to talk to a certified mental health professional 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.

2. Find ways to trust your partner.

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 on them by yourself AND with your current partner to overcome them.

That lack of trust may stem from circumstances involving abandonment, infidelity, or anything that caused you to have low self-worth and feelings of insecurity as a result.

A lack of trust can lead to irrational thoughts that your partner must be doing something that will hurt you, and so you become controlling to make sure they don’t do those things.

But if you can’t learn to trust them, those irrational thoughts will get out of hand.

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

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.

Another way that control can be seen in a relationship is where one partner tries to solve the problems of the other.

You may do this because you feel small, and by solving your partner’s problems, you give yourself a bigger role in their life. Heck, you probably think you are helping.

But they are their own person. Quit making their problems and their choices about you. 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. Your partner will end up feeling suffocated and micromanaged.

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 you will support them whatever they choose to do.

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.

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 blunt and unyielding is going to be perceived as controlling, whether they are or not.

There is a time and a place for such a delivery, 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.

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

Sometimes it’s better to just trust that the other person is going to get it done in a way that is sufficient.

Unless there is a critical need for something to be done a certain way or at a certain time, try to accept outcomes that are different than you envisaged.

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.

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, ask yourself whose needs you are really thinking about. You’ll often find that it’s actually your needs that you are most concerned with.

You must 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 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 and your need for control 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.

For example, 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?)

So, when you notice yourself thinking in terms of right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, 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.

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 to 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.

Those insecurities may have been caused by past experiences such as infidelity, bullying, or abuse. You try your best to control your life and the people in it to avoid being hurt again.

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

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

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

This is unfair because you are making your current partner pay for something they did not and have not done.

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.

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 bit hurt now and again.

That doesn’t mean 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. You must allow other people to be the architects of their own destiny.

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

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

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

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 focus on yourself.

Neither of you should be worrying about every tiny detail of the other’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. And anxiety can stem from poorly handled stress.

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

Are you handling stress 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 better, 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.

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.

Accepting that sometimes things need to change can 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 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 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 you think they should be.

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.

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 partner is because you feel out of control in general.

You desperately seek 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.

Working toward something will make you 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 view it as this all-important aspect of your life that you have to protect at all costs.

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.