Am I in a controlling or toxic relationship?
Sometimes it’s not easy to tell you are in a toxic relationship until it is too late. One Divorce Clubber shares her experience:
“Everyone likes to have a sense of control over life; it can enhance feelings of stability and security. But some people seek to excessively control others which can have a devastating impact on relationships.
Typical areas in which people seek control over their partners are friendships, career, money, socialising and sex. Ways of controlling can be overt such as “I don’t want you going out in that dress” to more covert tactics such as engineering a move to a new area with the (unstated) intention of ensuring you cannot easily access friends and family.
Controlling behaviour by one spouse or partner towards another is often indicative of deep rooted feelings of insecurity on the part of the controller.
Taken to the extreme, some controlling people will only feel loved within a relationship if there is full compliance with their wishes, needs and opinions.
Unable to attach to people in a healthy, interdependent way, they instead rely on feeling in control. Along with selfishness, control often creates a toxic relationship that leads to the spouse or partner being poorly treated and emotionally abused.
The controlling relationship I found myself in was quite typical. At the start my ex husband was the most wonderful, loving and caring partner. He was everything I had ever dreamed of and then some.
Clever, talented and funny, I thought I was the luckiest women alive. How could his first wife ever have let this man go I thought to myself. We moved in together two years into the relationship and it was then, slowly, over the next few years I came to realise that this was not a relationship of equals, that he needed control and his needs were more important than anyone else’s.
Even having a different opinion about where a set of speakers should go, brought out such anger in him that I ended up sleeping on the sofa for two nights.
Asking him, gently, could I move his paperwork from the kitchen table in order that the family could all eat dinner was met with hostile refusal.
He was also highly sensitive to any criticism whether real or perceived, no matter how delicately or carefully it was delivered. Of course no one likes to hear criticism from their partner but in this case even the suggestion that things would be easier between us if we talked kindly to each other led him to drive off in a rage.
I learned to walk on egg shells and defer to him for many everyday decisions.
Subjected to the ‘silent treatment’ every time I tried to stand up for myself or showed hurt and distress, I was also chided for my difficult behaviour. Yet more was to follow, now married, control was joined by its equally unattractive cousin, jealousy.
Looking back I wonder how I found myself in this crippling situation. Although love famously supplies you with a pair of rose coloured specs this was not the only explanation for my marriage. As a highly empathic woman, I felt that my love for him would ultimately help him recover from his difficult childhood.
I was inexperienced and as someone who does not lie, control or manipulate I was not watching out for it and simply didn’t see it. The initial stages of the relationship and the reinforcing bouts of ‘love’ gave me hope that a normal loving relationship would be possible.
Lastly, I had invested in this relationship and rather like a gambler playing a slot machine, I did not want to give up until I got the ‘jackpot’.
Controlling people often have a greater sense of entitlement than most.
They may continue to control and inflict emotional pain on those around them because their behaviour works; they get their own way. But in the long run it is unrealistic to expect a partner to always agree with you and for your needs to be more important than everyone else’s.
This behaviour is self-sabotaging and will make it difficult to sustain a meaningful long-term relationship. For the partners of controlling/selfish/manipulative people the long-term consequences include feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression are even post-traumatic stress.
For me, recovering from a traumatic relationship and the subsequent divorce has been one of the most challenging things I have ever experienced. Still recovering many months later, the thought of my soon to be ex husband makes me feel sick.
Funnily enough I know I am not alone in this regard. Ex wife number one and I have since become friends and have had many a cuppa sharing stories of our ex’s lies, manipulation and control. One of the things that struck us both as we swopped horror stories is how we each believed his behaviour was our fault; what a consummate manipulator! How comforting that we now have each other and know the truth.”
Some signs that you could be in a toxic controlling relationship:
- Silent treatment. (This is different from cooling off after an argument)
- Commenting on your clothes and in particular telling you can’t go out in certain clothes because they are too provocative
- Overactive jealously and accusations
- Controlling the finances
- Isolating you from friends or family
- Veiled threats
- Spying, snooping or requiring explanations for your time spent without them
- Belittling your beliefs and goals
- Teasing which has an uncomfortable undercurrent
- Sexual behaviour which makes you feel uncomfortable or where you are unable to say no to having sex
- Unwillingness to hear or take account of your point of view
- Never agreeing with you. This may controlling where you are aware the person has contradicted his/her previous opinions.
- Using black and white thinking (things are either all good or all bad which leaves no opportunity for discussion or negotiation)