17 Early Warning Signs of a Controlling Man

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It’s not always easy to realize that you are in a relationship with a controlling man. After all, you are so in love and infatuated with your man that you don’t realize you’re in an abusive relationship… nor do you see the early signs of a controlling man.

Love tends to excuse the abuse – more often than not. 

Additionally, being controlled starts slowly or subtly. Not all controlling behavior equates to outright demands and physical aggression.

There are much subtler signs that indicate you’re in a controlling relationship, but these are easy to miss. And you may not even know your partner is exhibiting controlling behavior. 

Once you realize your partner is controlling you, it may feel like it’s too late (but it isn’t, and you can get out, if you want to). 

If you suspect your partner is a controlling man, or want to know what to watch out for (the red flags of controlling behavior) so you don’t become trapped or repeat your mistake again, here’s everything you need to know.

What Does It Mean to Be Controlling?

Every person exerts or likes to exert some measure of control over their lives. But anyone becomes a controlling person when they assert control and power over someone else or the situations those people are in (to an unhealthy and self-serving extent). This type of behavior is abusive.

A 2011 study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that nearly 70% of the women experienced at least one controlling behavior episode and just under 40% experienced only controlling behavior.

Another 2011 study stated there was a higher likelihood of women experiencing physical violence in the relationship when they had controlling partners. 

So if you are in a relationship with a controlling boyfriend, partner, or spouse… know that it’s an abusive relationship. Relationships start out being abusive, whether or not you realize it is abusive. It’s rare that a relationship becomes abusive later on.

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Forms of coercive abuse include exerting control over your access to money, threats of self-harm and physical violence, and manipulation into unwanted sexual activity. 

When a partner asserts dominance over you, it’s a form of abuse. Your partner may try to maintain authority, control, or decision-making power over you. Soon, your needs and wants are completely disregarded, disrespected, and dismissed.

You may want to compare a controlling man to a schoolyard bully, and that would be accurate. But know that not all types of controlling behavior is the loud, in-your-face, and easily identifiable kind.

Sometimes it requires a lot of reflection, research, and being aware to identify the warning signs of a controlling man.

Reasons Why a Man May Be Controlling

While it’s essential to identify the signs of a controlling man, it’s also good to understand why some men act the way they do and feel the need to control you and your romantic relationship. Understanding can help you get the counseling you need, or you may even be able to get your partner help – if they want to be helped.

You can bring a horse to the water, but you can’t make them drink.

Here are the most common reasons why a man may be controlling:

  • As a basic social need, control gives you a sense of order, stability, and predictability (and that’s why people, in general, like control – to some extent)
  • Mental health conditions and personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder 
  • Anxiety and a fear of the unknown (controlling behavior helps the person cope with anxiety and the unknown) 
  • A sense of over-responsibility
  • Feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem 
  • Learned behavior – perhaps your partner grew up in a household where his parents (or one of them) were controlling or where there was some form of abuse
  • Traumatic past
  • A need to feel better and superior to others

Harmful Effects of Being in a Relationship with a Controlling Man

Unfortunately, being in a relationship with a controlling man won’t leave you unscathed. There are both short-term and long-term effects of being in such a relationship, and the effects extend to your mental, physical, and/or emotional well-being.

The harmful mental effects of being with a controlling man:

  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders

The harmful physical effects of being in a controlling relationship:

  • Chronic pain
  • Developing fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia and nightmares)
  • Hyperventilating or heart palpitations
  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Obesity or extreme weight loss
  • Muscle tension and spasms

The harmful emotional effects of being in a relationship with a controlling man:

  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Moodiness
  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-doubt
  • Hopelessness
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Fear – in general and of abandonment
  • Codependency
  • Feelings of being powerless
  • Apathy and emotional disconnection
  • Mental health issues
  • Neuroticism
  • Chronic stress
  • Trust issues
  • Feeling like you can’t be authentically you
  • Challenges to how you attach to people

Your children aren’t safe from your controlling partner either. Chances are, your husband or boyfriend tries to control them too.

Common effects of children who are raised by a controlling parent include self-harm, having suicidal thoughts, acting out, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), being less emotionally mature and displaying maladaptive coping mechanisms.

17 Early Warning Signs of a Controlling Man

No one can successfully play a long con and fool you into thinking your relationship is only moonshine and roses (unless you don’t want to see the truth). The mask does slip – you just need to be aware to see the early warning signs that your man is controlling.

Here the 17 most common early signs of a controlling man:

1. They Blame You for Everything – “It’s Your Fault!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “It’s your fault” or some variation of this.

It’s typical of a controlling guy to blame you for everything – whether something was actually your fault or not. When things don’t go as planned, your partner becomes the victim and you the villain.

And they make you believe that you are responsible for what went wrong, even when it wasn’t in your control or you weren’t even there.

While it’s never fun to admit you’ve made a mistake, a controlling boyfriend or husband seems incapable of accepting blame or taking responsibility. They simply shift the blame to you in a technique known as projection.

2. They Isolate You from Your Loved Ones

A red flag that you are in a controlling relationship is when your partner (tries to) isolate you from your friends and family. They don’t want you to spend time with your loved ones – the people who truly love and support you and who might warn you that something is wrong in your relationship.

A controlling partner wants to take away your support system so that you are “weaker,” won’t stand up against them, and leave them.

If you are in a long-term relationship, they may try everything to get you to move so you can leave your job, family, and friends behind. The controlling man in your life will do anything to constantly demand your attention, and they gain more control over you the more you are isolated.

This kind of controlling behavior may exhibit as saying “but you don’t spend enough time with me” and “you are always with so and so” to glaring when you speak to your mom over the phone or groaning when you make plans or agree to go out with your friends or colleagues.

3. They Chronically Criticize You

A man who’s controlling will also criticize you every chance they get. They make jabs at you – in public and private – to try and undermine your confidence

They’ll point out typos, never acknowledge when you do something right, demean you in front of others (and even when it’s just the two of you), and find fault with everything about you – from how you dress and speak to the job you have and what you have for breakfast. 

A controlling guy criticizes you because they think they know better and they are trying to help you “improve” and do it better. The criticisms may start out small and then eventually escalate. You’ll never feel like you are enough or good enough for a man who’s controlling you. 

4. They Keep Tabs to Keep You Indebted to Them

Another warning sign of a controlling man is that they never “do” for you just because. They keep score of everything and every little favor to keep you indebted to them, thus making your relationship transactional.

When a controlling guy does something nice for you and love-bombs you, it isn’t for no reason. Instead, they are nice or treat or spoil you because they are collecting favors and want something in return.

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When jealousy is out of control, it’s scary, and your man becomes very possessive over you, wanting you all to himself.

They’ll never make you forget when they did XYZ for you, and you’ll always feel like you “owe” them. You’ll also never do or be enough for this controlling man, and they use what you owe them to get you to constantly give more, do more, and be more.

A healthy relationship has a good balance between give and take, but in an abusive relationship, the scales are never in your favor. You are the one always giving, and the controlling man is always taking. Even when they “give,” it’s to take. 

5. There’s Always Drama and They Need to Be the Center of Attention

Oh boy, can a controlling man be a drama queen. They constantly want to be the center of attention, and everything with them is a competition.

If you get an “employee of the month” prize, you’ll find that your partner betters you and suddenly they are getting a raise. If you had a bad day, they’ll chime in to tell you about their much-worse day. 

The controlling man always wants to be in the limelight (and you in the shadows), and everything needs to revolve around them.

6. They Gaslight You

When you are in a relationship with a controlling man, they’ll try to gaslight you – underplay you, deflect, or deny things so you start second-guessing yourself. You won’t know if what you thought, experienced, or did was the truth or if it really happened.

There’s only the right version of events – those according to the man who’s gaslighting you. A gaslighter tries everything in their control to keep their narrative where they are right and you are wrong, and this is how they maintain power over you.

7. They’re Moody

You never know where you stand with a controlling guy. One minute they are Mr. Nice, lavishing you with attention and gifts, and the next, they are Mr. Horrible, bullying you, criticizing you, and one-upping you. 

It’s like you are constantly walking on eggshells, and you always need to say sorry since they can’t and don’t take responsibility for anything.

8. You Always Need to Say “Yes and Amen” 

A controlling partner doesn’t respect your privacy or any boundaries you have. They feel like they are entitled to more, whether they are begging you to share every aspect of your life with them or keeping their snooping on the down-low.

They’ll do anything to try to get you to change your mind and give in to them, so you’ll always say “yes and amen.” 

A guy who’s controlling knows no bounds when it comes to your privacy, and they’ll justify it with classic lines like “I’ve been burned before” and “You wouldn’t mind showing or telling me if you haven’t done anything wrong.” 

9. They May Be Abusive Toward You

The honest truth is that if you are with a guy who’s controlling you, your relationship is already abusive. But that is merely one way a relationship can be abusive, and things can easily escalate to encompass other forms of abuse

Coercive control is a relationship red flag. In your romantic partnership, coercive control can be defined as controlling behavior that creates an unequal power dynamic. Your partner dominates you, limits your freedom, intimidates you, and uses threats and humiliation to control you. 

This type of controlling behavior can be subtle, or it can include physical and outright emotional abuse. Forms of coercive abuse include exerting control over your access to money, threats of self-harm and physical violence, and manipulation into unwanted sexual activity

10. They Call All the Shots

A control freak will want to call all the shots in your relationship and your life because it puts them in the power seat

The controlling partner will want to make all the decisions, from where you work, what you wear, and what you buy to who your friends are (but you won’t have any), where you go on holiday, and what you do on weekends.

They’ll also control the finances, and if you earn a living, you won’t have a say on where your money goes.  

It’s pretty much their way or the highway, and don’t think your controlling boyfriend or husband will ever be open to suggestions (or take kindly to those).  

11. They Try to Change You

A guy who’s controlling won’t accept you for who you are because it won’t fit into their narrative of who they want and need you to be. Like a clay figure, they’ll mold and shape you to become docile. They pressure you to change how you dress, when you exercise, where you work, and what you eat to suit their interests. 

Don’t be surprised if your guy refuses to leave home because you’re not dressed a certain way or when they throw away your favorite scarf.

They’ll see these favorites as symbols of your independence, and they’ll do anything and everything to strip you of that. Independence is a threat to them having control over you. 

12. They’re Unreasonably Jealous or Paranoid

Have you noticed how your guy is unreasonably jealous, envious, or paranoid? This kind of behavior can be flattering and endearing when you just started seeing them; after all, if he is jealous, he must like you and care, right?

Kind of, but there’s a huge difference between healthy jealousy and the kind that’s controlling and unhealthy. When jealousy is out of control, it’s scary, and your man becomes very possessive over you, wanting you all to himself. When a controlling man has your undivided attention, they can more easily manipulate and control you

13. They Always Check in on You

There’s healthy “checking in” and there’s toxic “checking in.” If your partner messages or calls you once or twice during a work day, just to ask how you are or to say they are thinking of you, then it’s the healthy kind.

They may check in more frequently if they know you are having a tough time, but will then back off and not over-check in on you when it’s just a normal day. 

The unhealthy kind of checking in is incessant and you’ll find that your partner seems to be increasingly agitated. Checking in on you is controlling when you are out and you are constantly bombarded with calls or texts of “Where are you?” “Who are you with” “Send me photo evidence so I can see where you are” and “Call me back now.”

14. They Pick Unnecessary Fights

A controlling person most likely has an insecure attachment style and abandonment issues. In their mind, even negative attention from you is preferable to no attention, and that’s why they’ll pick fights with you – with no apparent reason and out of nowhere. 

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When they pick unnecessary fights with you, they know that your attention is on them, so you don’t have time to think about how toxic the relationship is or consider finding someone better (and safe) for you.

When they pick unnecessary fights with you, they know that your attention is on them, so you don’t have time to think about how toxic the relationship is or consider finding someone better (and safe) for you.

15. They Guilt-Trip You

A controlling man guilt-trips you. Guilt-tripping is when a person makes you feel guilty so you’ll do what they want. To stop feeling guilty, you’ll do whatever your controlling partner asks and wants. After all, no one likes guilt (whether it’s deserved or not) weighing on their conscience.

When your boyfriend or husband guilt-trips you, they can make you feel guilty for a variety of things, from not wanting to have sex with them and not spending enough time with them to wanting some me-time and spending time with your family.

16. They Love You – Conditionally

In a healthy (and ideal) relationship, your loved one will love you unconditionally – with no strings attached and no judgment. They’ll encourage you to be authentically you, love your strengths, and find your supposed weaknesses adorable. They understand that we are all perfectly flawed beings.

In a controlling relationship, your partner may love you – but conditionally. Your partner will withhold their love, approval, and affection when you fail to meet their (sometimes impossible) standards.    

The message is always the same: Right now, you aren’t good enough. But if you do X or Y, then you will be – for a while. Examples include “I’ll find you hot when you lose 20 pounds,” “I’ll love you if you ditch your friends,” and “If you’d actually gotten your degree, we’d have something to talk about and I won’t be so embarrassed around you when we’re with my friends.”

17. They Say, “I’m Just Joking”

Another early warning sign that your guy is controlling is when they quip, “I’m just joking.” But you question their intent, because the “joke” or comment was hurtful and mean. Whatever “joke” they make has a bite to it, making you feel uncomfortable and ridiculed.

If you speak up, your partner will say, “Oh, shame, you just can’t take a joke,” which is another way to make fun of you. Or they might even say, “I was just playing; you shouldn’t take everything so personally.”

In a classic controlling move, they will call you insensitive and undermine what you feel, taking away your right to have feelings.

Final Thoughts on the Early Warning Signs of a Controlling Man

Being in a controlling relationship is difficult… and it will only get more challenging as your romantic partner gains more control over you. This is why it’s essential to watch out for early signs of a controlling man.

You need to prepare yourself to make a run for it and get out of dodge before you feel it’s too late. Remember: a man who’s controlling you and your relationship is abusing you, no matter how subtle the abuse is.

Are you beginning to wonder if it’s something you did? Or if you are attracting unsafe people into your life? Then check out our comprehensive guide on 7 real reasons why you attract toxic people.

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