How to Stop Being Controlling in Your Relationship

Stop being so controlling!” If your significant other expressed this complaint your way, it might be time for some self-reflection.

But how does one stop being so controlling in a relationship? We asked experts to share their insights.

Dr. Margaret Paul

Margaret Paul

Psychologist | Author | Relationship Expert | Co-creator, Inner Bonding

Shift your intent from controlling to learning to value and love yourself

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.

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.

The big challenge for most people is becoming aware of their intent. The intent of the ego-self is always to control, which is what most people have learned to do.

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.

Latasha Matthews, LPC, CPCS, CPLC, CAMS

Latasha Matthews

Author, The Dumping Ground  | Individual, Couples & Family Therapist, Illumination Counseling and Coaching, LLC 

Control comes in many different forms and can have a major impact on your relationships. Here are a few tips to help you stop it and rid yourself of controlling behaviors:

Self-esteem is key

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.

Acknowledge therapy

Therapy can help you 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.

Own it

Own your controlling behaviors and admit that you have a problem. Ask your partner to help you work on changing this habit.

Practice self-care

Do things for yourself and do not become too dependent on your mate. Create and maintain your own identity in the relationship.

Set boundaries

Initiate a plan to set boundaries and limits on how you communicate, and how you lead in the relationship. Setting boundaries and limits will show your mate that you respect their needs.

Be clear with expectations

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.

Cecile Tucker, MACP, RCC

Cecile Tucker

Registered Clinical Counselor

Understanding how to stop being controlling in a relationship requires understanding why control happens; 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.

We tend to think that controlling a situation will make us feel better, but ultimately what happens is our anxiety doesn’t get managed and over time, we become more and more controlling in our attempts to feel better.

So how do we stop being controlling?

We begin by asking ourselves what we hope our control will achieve

What outcome do we think we will be able to 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” or maybe you’re thinking “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”.

In these two examples, what we see is that the person is hoping that their control will keep everyone safe and that they will get out of debt.

Rather than taking control, I invite you to 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?

How could we create a plan to manage finances that would manage your anxiety while allowing this to be a dual effort, rather than something you take full control of?

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.

Related: 25+ Warning Signs of a Controlling Partner

Claire Barber

claire barber

Certified Mental Health Consultant | Relationship Expert, Treeological

Dig deep

Because controlling behavior usually stems from low self-esteem or a result of a traumatic experience, it’s important to address the cause of the behavior.

Acknowledging is generally the first step to changing the behavior. You will need to retrain your mind, the change of behavior will follow.

Being kind, honest, and mindful about your thoughts, opinions, and reactions will make you more self-aware. The hope is that this awareness will help you let go a bit.

Learn to let go

Letting go is key. This doesn’t mean that you should forget your past experiences. On the contrary, we must remember to learn from our past, but never allow ourselves to remain there.

One of the manifestations of anxiety is controlling behavior. Find the source and address it. This may often not be attainable alone, so it’s a good idea to be open to some therapy. Involving your partner is often helpful and proves a commitment to a healthy you and a healthy relationship.

Sonya Schwartz

Sonya Schwartz

Relationship Expert, Her Norm

Change from “I want” to “I like to listen”

The controlling partner often says things like, “I want XYZ,” for example, “I want you to do a job.” This conversation style eliminates the feeling of the other person.

You can transform your conversation by just replacing “I want” with “I like to listen.” For instance “I like to listen to your point of view about doing a job” In the latter one, you are saying that you are interested in it, but along with it you are also asking them about their opinion.

By doing so, you both would reach the mutual decision instead of a decision being imposed by one partner.

Tell something in a compassionate way

Likewise, instead of telling them something directly, you could say, “I like you to know XYZ things.” It makes the other person feel good that they hold a prestigious place in your life.

Use XYZ technique: X stands for situation, Y for action and Z for feelings

A controlling partner must make his 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 qualitative time to each other.”

Now, 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, then you tell another person why you are saying it.

So your communication does not merely feel like a command, but you give them a proper reason to do something. Likewise, another person also states their reason; you could weigh your feelings and mutually decide based on the logic.

Dr. David Simonsen, Ph.D., LMFT

David Simonsen

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Creative Solutions Counseling

Admit it

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.

One of the reasons people control is to deal with anxiety in their lives. Once they acknowledge their controlling ways, it can become easier to then talk about the anxiety that leaves them no choice but to control others.

Belah Rose

Belah Rose

Marriage and Intimacy Coach, Delight Your Marriage

Let go of the fear of unfulfilled needs

I was controlling–very very controlling. I’m embarrassed to say that I was teaching marriage and the importance of sex in a marriage and I didn’t realize I was suffocating the very love I was desperately craving from him. I felt that if I didn’t control him, he wasn’t going to love me the way I needed him to.

I had to explain while hoping against hope he’d give me what I wanted. But that certainly was the opposite of what happened. I felt like it was a bait & switch. He was lovey-dovey and romantic early on and then nothing. Worse than nothing because I was “his” and he no longer had to “win” me. I was taken for granted. I wasn’t getting what I deserved.

So, what could I do aside from having an open and honest communication of how miserable I was? Was that an effective motivation for him to change? Unfortunately, no. I had valid needs, but I chose to control him which is an ineffective strategy. It did motivate him to not want to be around me. The way I acted and communicated made him think: “She’ll never be happy, so why try?”

He stopped trying. I kept pushing and forcing and nagging and complaining while he became more apathetic and frustrated and distant. I didn’t realize that I was suffocating my husband by these actions. I’m trying to force him to be who I wanted him to be.

If he doesn’t have the freedom to be who he is, he would not want to be around me. And we all know marriages can end in the blink of an eye. How did I change? 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 party won’t be cute enough, the house won’t look good enough, the food won’t be tasty enough, the kids won’t be safe enough and on and on and on.

I realized my fear actually became a self-fulfilling prophecy and 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. Without freedom, the desire for the other partner is completely suffocated.

I stopped forcing him to be who I wanted him to be. I started to untangle myself from him emotionally. I stopped depending on him for me to be happy. That unhealthy dependency was making me miserable. I couldn’t be happy unless he was making me happy and since he wasn’t making me happy, I would control, criticize, correct, guilt him, and share how miserable I was. I decided to continue to value my needs and tried to make myself happy with other things too.

I started appreciating the ways he was adding joy to my life. I would say “it’s nice to see you this morning.” Instead of slapping him with some mean, sarcastic remark about his clothes, attitude, or tardiness. And the truth is, if he were gone, I’d miss seeing him. I would say “Thank you for listening to me, that means a lot” even if it were only for 5 minutes.

I ignored the negatives because I knew that would make him less motivated and make him once again go away from me–emotionally and physically. I started to notice the elements of him that were unique from myself. Those elements that I so adored when we were dating.

I stopped making him into the person I wanted him to be. Instead, I appreciated the person he was.

I let go of the fear that if I didn’t force him, he’d not give me what I deserved and needed in our loving relationship.

Fear is what led me to control. But I decided I was going to be ok with or without his love. And I decided I’d love him for who he was at that moment.

Eventually, he changed. Now, he’s romantic, patient, he’s the best father I know, he surprises me with coffee in bed most days, he cleans the dishes every night, he does all the bills and usually does all the housework and tells me I’m beautiful and that he’s so lucky to have a wife like me.

Because I rejected fear and changed first, he did too.

Rajandeep Kaur

Rajandeep Kaur

Social Media Director, TeacherOn

Do you like to get things done when you want and the way you want? Do you think that you try to control every situation and every person around you?

Has anyone ever complained to you of that? Are you finding it difficult to maintain relationships and friendships because of this attitude?

If yes, you need to change your perspective as you can lose someone you love because of this behavior. Following are a few tips to do so:

Acknowledge your own insecurities

You may have some insecurities which force you to control the behavior of others. Learn about them and let go of your insecurities. Your past experiences might have developed those vulnerabilities. You need to understand that you can’t live in your past and ruin your present. Let go of that past and those insecurities attached to the past.

Related: 10+ Signs of Insecurity in a Woman

Take control of your language

If your words are bossy and you always order others to get things done. It is a clear indication that you are a control freak. Try to include words like ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘shall we’ which makes you sound more polite.

Try not to give advice when people don’t ask for it

Don’t try to fit in everyone’s shoes and be the one to know-it-all. Everyone has its own battles, and they know how to tackle them. People will ask for advice when needed.

The chances are that your controlling attitude has come from your anxiety or stress. If you had a tiring or terrible day at work, you can’t lash out at your family or friends or your maid. If you are not able to manage the issues at the office, you can’t be controlling things at home to compensate.

Instead, try some stress buster activities or discuss things with your partner or some close friend, who can help you get out of the situation in a more positive way. You can also take the help of a therapist.

Related: 7 Ways Other Cultures Deal with Stress

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do people become controlling in their relationships?

People might become controlling in their relationships for various reasons. For some, it might stem from insecurity or fear of losing their partner.

Others may have a history of experiencing controlling behavior in previous relationships or through their upbringing, which causes them to repeat the same patterns.

Sometimes, it could be related to unresolved emotional issues or a need for power and control. To make lasting changes, it’s essential to understand the root cause of your controlling behavior.

Are there any early warning signs of controlling behavior that I should be aware of in my relationship?

Early warning signs of controlling behavior may include an excessive need for reassurance or validation, a tendency to make decisions for your partner, or frequent questioning of their choices or actions.

Other signs may include wanting to monitor your partner’s whereabouts or communications or becoming overly involved in their personal interests and friendships.

Knowing these early warning signs can help you address potentially controlling behaviors before they escalate, allowing you to proactively work toward a healthier relationship dynamic.

Can certain communication techniques help me become less controlling in my relationship?

Effective communication techniques can help you become less controlling and promote healthier interactions with your partner.

Some useful techniques include active listening, using “I” statements, and practicing empathy. Active listening means giving your full attention to your partner, reflecting on their message, and asking open-ended questions to ensure understanding.

“I” statements allow you to express your feelings and thoughts without seeming accusatory or controlling. Practicing empathy will enable you to put yourself in your partner’s perspective, fostering a more supportive and compassionate relationship.

What should I do if I’ve tried everything and my controlling behavior continues?

If you have tried various strategies and your controlling behavior persists, seeking professional help may be necessary. A therapist or counselor can help you explore the underlying causes of your controlling behavior and develop healthier ways to relate to your partner.

Couples therapy can also be helpful. It provides a safe space for both partners to work on their issues and strengthen their relationship. Remember that it’s important to be patient with yourself and the process, as change takes time and effort.

How can I support my partner when they are the one struggling with controlling behavior?

Supporting a partner who is working to overcome controlling behavior requires patience, empathy, and clear communication. Encourage open dialogue about their struggles and express your feelings and needs without blame or judgment.

Offer your understanding and be willing to work together to find solutions to create a more balanced and healthy relationship. In some cases, offering professional help such as therapy or counseling may be helpful to facilitate progress and healing.

Can social support from friends and family help me stop being controlling in my relationship?

Social support from friends and family can be invaluable as you work to change controlling behaviors. Sharing your experiences and goals with trusted individuals can provide encouragement, accountability, and a new perspective.

Friends and family members who have faced similar challenges can also offer helpful advice and insight. However, remember to respect your partner’s privacy when discussing your relationship with others.

How do I know when I’ve successfully changed my controlling behavior in my relationship?

Successfully changing controlling behavior will be evident in several ways, including improved communication, greater trust, and greater emotional intimacy in your relationship. You’ll likely feel more secure and confident while your partner feels more respected and valued.

You’ll also find that you’re more in control of your emotions and reactions, leading to healthier conflict resolution and a happier relationship overall.

How can I maintain a healthy balance between being attentive and caring without being controlling in my relationship?

To maintain a healthy balance between being attentive and caring without being controlling, you must respect your partner’s autonomy, encourage open communication, and practice empathy.

Show genuine interest in your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and support them in their endeavors without trying to control or dictate their choices.

Encourage open dialogue about each other’s needs and preferences and make an effort to respect and honor them. By nurturing both emotional support and personal autonomy, you can build a stronger and more fulfilling relationship.

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