Signs Your Spouse Has a Controlling Personality

When there’s an unequal power balance in a relationship, it’s often because one partner maintains control over the other.

People with controlling personalities don’t control out of love; they control out of a need for power over others. Controlling behavior isn’t always apparent at the beginning of a relationship. It usually starts slowly and escalates progressively. Sometimes, the manipulation is so subtle, that it’s not even obvious to their partner until it becomes more threatening and abusive. 

Signs of controlling behavior in a relationship

Are you in a relationship with a controlling person? Controlling behavior can take many forms, from frighteningly aggressive to sly and coercive. The end game is always the same, though – to control what you do, say, or even think.

There may be red flags that suggest your partner has controlling behavioral issues. 

It’s their way or the highway

Controlling partners are masters of manipulation tactics. They don’t understand the concept of caring for others’ wants and needs. Cooperation is not a word in their vocabulary. They have a way of making anything contrary to what they want “wrong.”

It’s never their fault

Your controlling partner doesn’t know how to take responsibility for the things they do or say. No matter how obvious it is that they are in the wrong, they have a way of turning it around to be someone else’s fault – usually yours. 

They monitor you

If your attention is not on them exclusively, they can become clingy and jealous. They may lay on the guilt. On the rare occasion that you get away to be alone or with someone other than them, a controlling partner will find reasons to call you the whole time you're gone. They’ll want to know where you are and when you’ll be back. Eventually, they may try to isolate you from anyone outside of them.  

They intimidate you

Controlling partners can use personal threats, gaslighting, and intimidation to control you and to make you question yourself. You are left feeling confused, helpless, or trapped into saying or doing things you don’t want to avoid their threatened consequences. 

Why do some people have such a strong need for control?

Most people with controlling personalities aren’t necessarily “bad” people. Their behavior can be a way of trying to control the world around them because they feel out of control of their own environment.

 A controlling person’s behavior often stems from their own self-perceived inadequacies and low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, fear of losing control, and past trauma. Many controlling people suffer from mental health issues and personality disorders that stem from a difficult childhood. 

But your partner’s mental health condition is not a reason for you to accept their controlling behavior. While they may be in their own pain, taking it out on you is not only unacceptable, it can become abusive and have a serious effect on your mental and physical health and well-being. 

Setting boundaries with a controlling person

You may be wondering how to deal with a person like this ... especially if this person is your spouse and perhaps the other parent of your children.

Setting boundaries in your personal relationships is essential, especially if you’re in a relationship with someone with control issues. Appropriate boundaries can sometimes mean the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.

Boundaries are limits, spoken or unspoken, that establish what you’re willing to accept from others. Further, boundaries establish consequences if those limits are ignored. 

Tell them what you will accept and not accept

A controlling person often pushes the personal limits of everyone around them. This helps them feel more in “control.” Don’t create and set your boundaries during a bout of intense anger; wait until you are calm.

Clearly express what you think the issues are, what you’re willing to accept from that point forward, and what your partner can expect if they continue their behavior. 

Avoid intense emotional displays

Getting visibly angry or upset shows you are losing your sense of calm and composure. It lets your partner know they’ve gotten under your skin, which can be part of their controlling habits.

If you’re feeling angry or emotional, remove yourself from the situation until you can maintain your own sense of calm and address the issues unemotionally again.

Avoid accusatory language

Accusations will only spur more defensive and manipulative behavior from a controlling partner. Make your boundary-setting about the validation of your needs rather than what they have done or are doing. 

Get help

Being in a relationship with a controlling partner can be emotionally exhausting. If they are willing to understand their behavior and work through it, a therapist can be a wonderful resource. You may find that your spouse’s behavior stems from a poor self-image or a mental disorder that can be treated. Regardless of the cause, a neutral third party can offer immeasurable support.

What if your partner doesn’t want to speak with a mental health professional? At the very least, you may want to seek professional help for yourself, especially if you’ve continued to rationalize their behavior to your own detriment or found that you tend to attract controlling people in your life. 

Ending a controlling relationship

A controlling relationship can be emotionally and physically toxic. If you can’t address your partner’s controlling behavior on your own, it may be time to leave.

Unfortunately, leaving this kind of relationship can be tricky because it may push your partner further out of their comfort zone, and they may become even more threatening. A high-conflict divorce can result. Not only is this a lot more expensive than a simple divorce, it’s time-consuming and emotionally draining.

While some break-ups can be relatively clean ones, others can get ugly. Map out your plans beforehand, and consider all the possibilities. This includes an assessment of your safety.

Get support from family and friends. Ask someone you trust to help you navigate the physical breakup safely. If you don’t feel safe, contact professionals or authorities who can help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline website and phone number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). 

You have options if you're ready to leave a controlling marriage. At Hello Divorce, we handle divorce cases of all kinds. We offer online divorce packages, professional services, and resources to help you move on. Call us to see how we can help. 

Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.