How to Stop Being Controlling in Your Relationship (27 Ways + Expert Insights)

Do you often find yourself telling your partner what to do or how to do it? Do you feel uneasy when they make decisions without consulting you first? If these behaviors sound familiar, you might be exhibiting controlling tendencies in your relationship.

While it’s natural to want the best for your partner and your relationship, excessive control can lead to problems and unhappiness for both of you.

I understand that changing controlling behavior isn’t easy, but it is possible! In this article, I’ll share some effective strategies to help you on this journey. Are you ready to make a positive change?

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. If you are experiencing severe or persistent issues with controlling behavior, it is recommended to seek the guidance of a qualified therapist or counselor.

Recognize Your Controlling Behavior

Think about the last time you suggested something to your partner. Was it just a suggestion, or did it feel more like a command?

Let’s break it down with some examples:

  • Insisting on handling the finances exclusively, down to the last cent.
  • Making decisions about social plans without asking for your partner’s input.
  • Criticizing your partner’s choices in clothes, food, or hobbies because they’re not what you would choose.
  • Checking your partner’s phone or email without permission, ‘just to be sure.’
  • Becoming upset if your partner makes a decision independently, whether it’s a small purchase or a day out.

Recognizing these controlling behaviors is the first crucial step in changing the dynamic.

Now, you might think, we’re all human – sometimes we get a bit too invested in wanting things done our way. But remember; your partner is your teammate, not your puppet.

"Once they can admit that they do make attempts to control people around them there are many things they can do to change it. One of the big things is to make amends with the people they have been attempting to control."

— Dr. David Simonsen, Ph.D., LMFT | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Creative Solutions Counseling

Identify What Causes Your Need for Control

Our need to control can often come from a place of fear or insecurity.

  1. It could be that you’ve been let down before, and now, it feels safer to keep tight reins on your relationship.
  2. Maybe it’s that sinking feeling of uncertainty that gets you; not knowing what might happen if you’re not the one in charge.

To address this, reflect on when you feel most compelled to take control. Is it in moments where you feel unsure of yourself or the situation?

By pinpointing these triggers, you can learn to respond rather than react, and find healthier ways to engage with your partner.

"...identify where the root of the controlling behavior comes from. Oftentimes, the person who seeks to control has been controlled in the past or has lost a sense of control in some aspect of their lives."

— Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS | Author, The Dumping Ground  | Individual, Couples & Family Therapist, Illumination Counseling and Coaching, LLC 

Work on Your Self-Esteem and Confidence

Self-assurance isn’t about being right all the time; it’s also about being okay with being wrong sometimes.

Here are some tangible ways to work on that:

  • Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Finished a difficult project? Fixed a leaky tap? That’s worth acknowledging.
  • Take on new activities that interest you. They’ll teach you new skills and show you that learning and growth are within your reach.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people who lift you up rather than tear you down.

As you cultivate these habits, you’ll notice a shift. You won’t feel like you need to clutch the steering wheel so tightly because you’ll trust yourself to handle the bumps in the road, together with your partner.

"Work on building your confidence and tackling low self-esteem issues. Oftentimes if you don’t feel good about yourself you will begin to project those feeling on your mate."

— Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS | Author, The Dumping Ground  | Individual, Couples & Family Therapist, Illumination Counseling and Coaching, LLC 

Practice Mindfulness and Self-Awareness

Being mindful means being in the moment, fully experiencing the here and now without judgment. This awareness can help prevent you from slipping into controlling habits, which often come from dwelling on past woes or future worries.

What you can do: Start with simple breathing exercises or a daily moment of reflection. Be fully present and aware of your thoughts and feelings without letting them drive your actions.

Recognizing when you’re stressed or anxious is half the battle, as these emotions can often cause controlling behavior.

Encourage Open and Honest Communication

Now, when it comes to fostering a healthy dynamic, you’ll want to lay the groundwork for open and honest communication. I’m talking about creating a space where you and your partner can lay your cards on the table, without fear of judgment or retaliation.

It might seem difficult at first, but the more you do it, the more you’ll appreciate the safety net of trust you’re building together.

What it looks like:

  • Share your thoughts and feelings clearly and kindly.
  • Ask your partner for their perspective instead of assuming you know what they think.
  • Accept that some conversations may feel uncomfortable, but they’re crucial for growth.
  • Resist the urge to interrupt or plan your response while your partner is talking.

Practice Active Listening and Empathy

Still in the topic of communication — active listening is highly crucial in understanding your partner. Don’t just nod along to their words; be engaged with their emotions and really see things from their point of view.

Listen to your partner without always trying to fix the problem right away.

  • Give your full attention — no half-glancing at your phone or the TV.
  • Paraphrase what they say to ensure you’re on the same page.
  • Validate their feelings, even if you have a different perspective.

When you really listen, you give your partner the respect they deserve, and they’re likely to extend the same courtesy to you.

Learn to Trust Your Partner

Trusting your partner is about letting go of the need to control every situation. When you trust them, you believe in your partner’s ability to make sound decisions, to handle their own life, and to care for the relationship just as much as you do.

But how do you start to trust more? It begins with being vulnerable. Share your fears and insecurities, and let your partner in.

Have faith in their judgment; assume they want the best for both of you. Give them the chance to handle tasks and decisions on their own. Also, resist the urge to offer ‘helpful’ advice unless they ask for it. Lastly, reflect on past instances where your partner has proven trustworthy.

Set Healthy Boundaries and Respect Each Other’s Space

Setting boundaries can be about inviting your partner into a healthier, shared space; not keeping them out.

Respecting each other’s space could mean different things to different couples, but here are some common factors:

  1. Respect personal time: Your partner needs time for themselves, just like you do.
  2. Don’t try to control their friendships or hobbies: It’s essential for both of you to maintain individual interests and connections.
  3. Physical space matters: Sometimes, we all need a little room to breathe, so give each other that space without feeling threatened or ignored.

Healthy boundaries are essential because they help prevent resentment and maintain a sense of individuality within the relationship.

Embrace Compromise and Flexibility

Relationships are not a one-way street, and they’re certainly not about having your way all the time.

To stop being controlling, consider embracing compromise and flexibility. This means being willing to meet in the middle and to understand that the strength of your relationship comes from balancing each other’s needs and wants.

What you can do: Offer solutions that work for both you and your partner. Be willing to adjust your plans when unexpected things come up.

Prioritize Mutual Decision-Making

When it comes to decision-making in a relationship, it’s not about your plan or my plan; it’s about our plan.

This is where you can really show your partner that you value their opinions and desires as much as your own. Prioritizing mutual decision-making means you both have an equal say in the choices that affect your lives together.

How to get started:

  • Always ask for your partner’s input before making decisions that impact you both.
  • Discuss options openly and consider each other’s viewpoints thoroughly.
  • Strive for solutions that bring you both satisfaction, not just a win for one side.

Celebrate Your Partner’s Individuality and Independence

Celebrating your partner’s individuality means supporting their personal growth and passions, even when they don’t align perfectly with your own.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Show genuine interest in their hobbies and encourage them to pursue personal goals.
  • Applaud their achievements, whether big or small, and acknowledge their efforts.
  • Honor their choices and preferences, even if they’re different from yours.

Shift Your Intent from Controlling to Loving

Shifting your intent from controlling to loving is like changing the filter through which you view your actions within the relationship.

This doesn’t mean losing your influence or becoming passive. Instead, it’s about ensuring that your actions and words come from a place of love and respect, rather than a need to dominate.

Consider this: Each time you’re tempted to control, pause and ask yourself, “Is this coming from love?” Look for ways to show affection and support that don’t involve directing or overseeing your partner’s activities.

"...You will not be able to stop controlling until you shift your intent from controlling to learning to value and love yourself and learn to take responsibility for your own feelings of self-worth, well-being, and safety...

When you shift your intent inward to learning about who you really are and what is wonderful about you, you will gradually stop trying to control your partner, which will greatly improve your relationship."

— Dr. Margaret Paul | Psychologist | Relationship Expert | Co-creator, Inner Bonding

Talk to Your Partner About Your Expectations

Laying out your expectations in a relationship is not about dictating how you want things to be. Instead, it’s about sharing your vision and understanding your partner’s perspective.

Openly talking about what you both expect from each other and life together can prevent a lot of misunderstandings and controlling impulses. (Remember what we discussed earlier in open and honest communication?)

A few reminders: Be clear and kind with your words, focusing on your feelings and needs. Also, don’t forget to listen actively to your partner’s expectations and be ready to find middle ground.

"Talk to your make about your expectations to ensure that he or she understands them and can meet them. Unmet needs can lead to controlling behaviors."

— Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS | Author, The Dumping Ground  | Individual, Couples & Family Therapist, Illumination Counseling and Coaching, LLC 

Work With Your Partner

Building a healthy relationship requires team effort. Work with your partner to create a partnership where decision-making and responsibilities are shared.

Here’s what working together might include:

  • Setting mutual goals for your relationship and working on them side by side.
  • Acknowledging each other’s strengths and leveraging them for common good.
  • Regularly checking in with each other to make sure everyone feels heard and respected.

Use XYZ Technique

The XYZ technique is a powerful communication tool that can help minimize controlling behavior by expressing your needs and feelings without placing blame. Let’s break it down:

“X” stands for the situation:Describe the situation that’s affecting you.
“Y” for action: Talk about the specific action or behavior that is occurring.
“Z” for feelings:Share how the action or situation makes you feel.

For example: “When X (the situation – you don’t text back quickly), I feel Z (the feeling – anxious), because I think Y (the action – you might be in trouble or ignoring me).”

It’s a simple formula that can help both partners understand each other better and move toward a dynamic of loving communication instead of control.

"...make your communication organized by stating a reason for a thing and including the feeling as well. For example, "I want to dine out with you because I think we should give quality time to each other."

If we remove the feeling or logic part, then it might sound like the order, “I want to dine out with you.” When you include the feeling in your communication, it doesn't merely feel like a command; you're giving them a proper reason to do something."

— Sonya Schwartz | Relationship Expert, Her Norm

Replace “I Want” With “I Like to Listen”

In a relationship, the words we choose can set the stage for either connection or conflict. Typical controlling language often starts with “I want” – implying a demand rather than a request or discussion.

Try this simple switch: Begin your sentences with “I like to listen” instead. This phrase invites dialogue and shows your partner that their thoughts and feelings are important to you.

For instance, rather than saying, “I want you to spend more time at home,” you could say, I like to listen to your thoughts on how we can spend more quality time together.”

The power of this phrase lies in its openness and willingness to engage without imposing your will. Which takes us to my next point.

"...You can say, “I like to listen to your point of view about doing a job” instead of saying “I want you to do a job.” By doing so, you both would reach the mutual decision instead of a decision being imposed by one partner.

— Sonya Schwartz | Relationship Expert, Her Norm

Ban Control-Oriented Language From Your Vocabulary

To foster a balanced relationship, it is essential to remove control-oriented language from your vocabulary.

Here’s how to recognize and replace common phrases:

  • Instead of “You have to,” try What do you think about…?
  • Swap out “You should” with Could we consider…?”
  • Replace directives with collaborative language, such as Let’s try this together.”

Let Go of the Fear of Unfulfilled Needs

Our fear of unfulfilled needs can drive us to become overly controlling — it’s a protective mechanism that kicks in when we’re worried about not getting what we want or need.

But part of loving and being loved is trusting that your needs will be met by your partner in their own time and way.

Try to identify specific fears you have about unmet needs and address them directly with your partner. This can lead to understanding and reassurance from them that can help tame this fear.

"I learned that control was all about fear. In my relationship, it was the fear that what I need is going to go unmet. Unless I took it into my own hands and forced him to do it my way, I feared that I won’t be treated well enough, the house won’t look good enough, the kids won't be safe enough and on and on and on...

I realized that controlling him makes him completely demotivated to do anything—because in his mind it won’t be “right” anyway. I didn’t know that love cannot breathe when it is being controlled."

— Belah Rose | Marriage and Intimacy Coach, Delight Your Marriage

Make a List of the Things That Are Not in Your Control

One way to ease the grip of controlling behavior is to clearly define what’s within your power and what isn’t. But where to start, you say? By making a list — figuratively and literally. It’s actually a pretty effective strategy.

Here’s what you might include:

  1. Other people’s emotions and reactions.
  2. The outcome of events once you’ve done your part.
  3. Your partner’s personal choices and habits.

Writing these down helps create a visual reminder that while you can influence your world to some degree, you cannot dictate every aspect of it.

Recognize That Control Is a Symptom of Anxiety

It’s not always easy to see, but controlling behavior can often be a sign of underlying anxiety.

When we’re anxious, our instinct is to create order and predictability, which can lead to an overwhelming need to control everything around us. Understanding this can be the first step towards change.

What to do: Consider exploring ways to manage anxiety — whether that’s through talking to a professional, meditation, or simply recognizing when your anxiety is high and engaging in activities that ground you.

"What’s under the surface of control? At its most basic, control is all about anxiety. 

When we feel anxious about something, we tend to try to manage our anxiety and one tool we use to do this is control... By recognizing that control is a symptom of anxiety, we can begin to learn to manage our anxiety in new ways, choosing different tools rather than control."

— Cecile Tucker, MACP, RCC | Registered Clinical Counselor, WellMind Counselling

Learn to Self-Soothe When in Distress

Learning to self-soothe is a key skill in reducing anxiety and, by extension, controlling behavior. It’s about comforting yourself in moments when you’re feeling overwhelmed or distressed.

Here’s what you might try:

  1. Deep breathing exercises to calm your nervous system.
  2. Positive self-talk to challenge negative thoughts.
  3. Engaging in activities that you enjoy and that relax you, like reading a book or taking a walk.

Remember, as we touched on earlier, control is often a symptom of anxiety. By learning to manage your distress independently, you not only give yourself the power to cope but also reduce the impulse to control.

Educate Yourself on Positive Relationship Characteristics

Knowledge is power — especially when it comes to building a healthy relationship. By educating yourself on the traits of positive relationships, you’re arming yourself with the tools needed to foster one.

This involves understanding and valuing qualities like mutual respect, kindness, and support.

What to do: You can start by reading books or even listening to podcasts on healthy relationship dynamics. Keep an eye out for how these sources describe communication, shared interests, and maintaining individuality within a partnership.

Practice Self-Care and Healthier Habits

Self-care is not just about bubble baths and chocolate (though those are nice, too). It’s about truly taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Consider self-care as a daily practice:

  • Ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Eat nutritious foods that make you feel good.
  • Set aside time for relaxation and fun — no talk about chores or responsibilities.

When self-care is a priority, you’re better equipped to deal with relationship stresses without resorting to control.

Ask Before Offering Help

It’s a natural instinct to want to help your partner, but jumping in without asking can come off as controlling.

So, pause and ask them if they’d like your support before stepping in. This not only gives them autonomy but also shows respect for their ability to handle situations on their own.

It can be as simple as saying, I see you’re working on [task]. Would you like any help with that? This small question can make a significant difference.

Slowly Learn to Let Go of Control

Letting go of control doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a gradual process that requires consistent practice and patience.

It’s ok to start with small things:

  • Let your partner to do tasks their way, even if it’s different from yours.
  • When you feel the urge to control, take a deep breath and step back. Reflect on why you’re feeling this way and what you can do to feel more at ease.
  • Acknowledge the little victories when you successfully resist the impulse to take over.

Get an Outside Perspective

The reality is that, sometimes, we’re too close to our own problems to see them clearly. That’s why getting an outside perspective can be helpful to better understand things in different angles.

Talk to friends, family, or anyone you respect and trust. They might have gone through similar struggles or offer a fresh POV on how to ease controlling tendencies.

Just remember, take their advice as a new perspective, not an absolute solution — it’s important to still make decisions that’s best for you and your relationship.

Seek Professional Help if Needed

And lastly, don’t shy away from seeking professional help if you’re struggling with control issues in your relationship. Therapists and counselors are trained to help individuals and couples navigate these challenges.

Whether it’s one-on-one sessions or couples therapy, a professional can provide tailored strategies and support.

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a proactive step towards building the healthy, loving relationship you desire.

More Insights From the Experts

“Our intent is what governs our behavior and at any given moment there are only two intents to choose from:
– The intent to control, avoid, and protect against pain.
– The intent to learn about loving yourself and sharing your love with others.

When your intent is to control, then your behavior with your partner will be controlling — getting angry, blaming, giving yourself up and complying, or resisting.

When your intent is to control, you are avoiding responsibility for your self-worth and well-being and making someone else responsible for validating you. This is a form of self-abandonment and is a major cause of relationship problems.”

Dr. Margaret Paul | Psychologist | Relationship Expert | Co-creator, Inner Bonding

“How do we stop being controlling? We begin by asking ourselves what we hope our control will achieve.

For example, you may think:
“If I can control my partner and have them do exactly as I say, then no one will get hurt.”
“I’m better with money than my partner; if I take control of the finances, then we can get out of debt and be okay.”

What we see here is that the person is hoping that their control will keep everyone safe and that they will get out of debt. However, rather than taking control, ask yourself if there are other ways to achieve this outcome. How else could we keep everyone safe while still allowing others to have control?

Cecile Tucker, MACP, RCC | Registered Clinical Counselor, WellMind Counselling

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some signs that I may be a controlling partner?

Signs of controlling behavior in a relationship can include constantly checking on your partner, having difficulty accepting their decisions, and feeling anxious when they act independently.

How does controlling behavior affect a relationship?

Control can create tension and conflict. It may lead to resentment from both partners, a lack of genuine intimacy, and can erode trust and mutual respect.

Is it possible to be unconsciously controlling?

Yes, people can exhibit controlling behaviors without realizing it, often as a response to anxiety or past experiences. This is why self-awareness is so crucial.

What’s a healthy way to express needs without being controlling?

Express needs clearly and respectfully, focusing on “I” statements, and then give your partner the opportunity to respond or meet those needs without pressure.

How can I tell if I’m being assertive or controlling?

Assertiveness involves expressing your own needs and boundaries while respecting those of your partner. Controlling behavior seeks to impose your will and often disregards your partner’s feelings and autonomy.

Final Thoughts

As we come to the end of this article, I want to remind you that learning to let go of control is a process. It takes time, patience, and a lot of self-compassion.

There may be moments when you slip back into old patterns, but don’t let that discourage you. Every step you take towards understanding yourself and your partner is a step in the right direction.

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Leah is a creative soul with a passion for telling stories that matter. As an editor and writer at UpJourney, she channels her natural curiosity and imagination into thought-provoking articles and inspiring content. She is also a registered nurse dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact.

In her free time, she indulges her artistic side as a hobbyist photographer, capturing the world's beauty one shot at a time. You can also find her in a poor-lit room playing her favorite video games or in a corner somewhere, reading and immersing herself in the rich worlds of fantasy and dark academia.

At home, Leah is surrounded by love and laughter, living peacefully with her partner and their three adorable shih tzus.