Couple Gazing At Water - 5 Subtle Signs Of A Controlling Relationship That Look Like Care

5 Subtle Signs Of A Controlling Relationship That Look Like Care


When in your relationship do you feel cared for?

Sometimes we feel embarrassed about our wish to be cared for. But Rick Hanson PhD says that wanting to be cared for is natural, and deeply rooted in evolution. Care is a symbol of love. And love, generally speaking, has been the primary driver of the development of the human brain over millions of years. Care is crucial to survival.

When someone cares, you know that they are concerned about you. In other words, you know that they have your best interests at heart. You feel supported and empowered to become your personal best and thrive.

So, what are the times when you feel cared for by your significant other?

  • When they go with you to your favourite Opera when they prefer Jazz?
  • When they include you in their plans?
  • When they then spend time with your friends?
  • When they pick up on the little details that matter to you?
  • When they express that they care for you? or
  • When they say something that lets you know that they have been paying attention?

A Model of Care

Our brain is wired for love. So it’s not surprising that our original feelings of what care is, come from our childhood.

In Why Love Matters, psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt describes the neuroscience of how care and affection affect the baby’s brain and nervous system. When the baby cries and the parent responds lovingly and attentively, it feels cared for. Ignoring the baby creates a different emotional footprint.

The 6-year-old feels cared for not having to ask for a bedtime story; it’s part of the routine. And when the teenager is pushing boundaries, staying out beyond their curfew, the parent texts or calls. While this might be an insult to their burgeoning independence, the adolescent also knows that the parent cares.

Whatever that early experience of care is, becomes your internalised norm. That’s what you expect. So, when is this care that we crave for not care at all?

A Controlling Relationship Isn’t Loving.

Love lets go and never clings or controls. – David Richo

The line between care and control is sometimes a difficult one to detect. This is particularly true at the beginning of an intimate relationship; the edges can become easily blurred.

A controlling partner can offer a false version of care.

Attempting to control another person is not caring or loving. Control removes your right and ability to make free choices. Moreover, in a controlling relationship, you’ve not seen for who you are but how the other person wants you to be.

Fear drives control. Your partner fears to let you be who you really are and fears allowing themselves to be seen for who they are. Manipulation, judgement, shame, blame and demands are often the tools of control.

When It’s Not Care Its Control

Here are 5 subtle signs that might show that you’re in a controlling relationship instead of one that it is caring:

1. They Warn You About Your Friends and Family

There doesn’t have to be the dramatic banishing of a family member or friend from the house. Usually, this happens in a much more subtle way.

If you’ve been disappointed by your parents, letting you down in the past, your partner might nudge you toward no contact through expressing their concern, anger and disbelief about how you are or have been treated. At the very least, your partner encourages you to spend less time with your family because they complain they don’t have your best interests at heart or are treating you like a child.

This isn’t to say nothing about your friends’ bad drinking habits, poor relationships and or values that are unacceptable. There may be a grain of truth in all this, but it is your decision to make.

Life and relationships involve navigating difference, conflict and disappointment. In a caring relationship, you would be supported to do this. In a controlling relationship, the aim is straining or ending your relationships with the people you’re close with. Sooner or later, your partner is your single source of support.

2. They Become Your Style Doctor

Your partner seems generous; they’re buying you a lot of clothes, and now you even have a new wardrobe! Perhaps they start commenting on your hair, suggesting new styles they think will suit you better. Maybe you try one out because you trust in them and care about their opinion.

All this is well and good, but in whose image are you dressed? When you buy your clothes or style your hair in a way you like, what you notice is that compliments are absent. Any comment is indifferent or critical. In these moments, perhaps your partner tells you that they are bluntly honest.

In a controlling relationship, this behaviour is about your partner seeking to protect their self-image by controlling yours. You become a reflection of them. They may also be threatened by your exuberance and the attention you receive. Their generosity is just another way to be in control and make decisions for you.

In a caring relationship, your partner would accept your choice to dress as you wish without pretence and regardless of what anyone thinks.

3. They Want to Know You Are Safe

Feeling emotionally safe in a relationship is essential. Without that safety, it can become challenging to be vulnerable and even intimate. For some, feeling protected by their partner is a crucial part of feeling safe.

A controlling partner may insist on knowing where you are and when you’ll be back. They may even encourage you to have a tracking device on your phone or have a joint Uber account to track your journey’s.

To begin with, you may feel reassured by the calls to see where you are and if you’re okay. But you may start to notice feeling discomfort when it gets late; this might be a sign of guilt.

Guilt plays a significant role in the manipulation tactics used in a controlling relationship. With guilt comes fear and anxiety. And when you feel guilty, you’re more likely to go along with the things your partner wants you to do.

In a caring relationship, you would be free to do what you wanted, and supported to believe in your own sense of self-care and the ability to keep yourself safe.

4. They Want the Best for You

A sign of your partner wanting what’s ‘best for you’ often comes across in the way they continually offer what they describe as constructive criticism, even when you don’t ask for it and don’t want it.

It’s important to realise that criticism may not sound like a criticism. It might be framed in supportive language that implies that they are trying to support you. In a controlling relationship, your partner tries to convince you that they are criticising you or giving feedback to help you.

They criticise you in a way that doesn’t sound like a criticism but more like care. Maybe it’s about how you spend money saying, for example, “That course you’re on isn’t value for money, I can’t see any difference. You should ask for your money back.”  In the long run, they leave you with the impression that you deserve more and could achieve more.

In a caring relationship, loving feedback is essential. When feedback is not intended to manipulate, it allows personal development and growth.

5. They Influence Your Career

In the same fashion, a controlling partner can isolate you and control your finances by influencing your career choices.

The above comment about the course being a waste of money may well be a ploy to get you to stop. A controlling partner may encourage you to apply for a job in another city which would mean relocating. This job might be a fantastic opportunity. Be that as it may, it might also be an attempt to isolate you from well-established support systems such as friends and family.

You might be encouraged to give up a job you love to look after the children, and over time, you become deskilled and more financially dependent on your partner. As a result, they now know what money you spend and how you are spending your time.

A Controlling Relationship

Care, protection, concern and thoughtfulness and are all signs of love. But the shadow emerges when that care is driven by control. Then the relationship becomes a controlling one marked by transgressed boundaries, insecurity, anger and dependency.

True love can only really be when we let go of control and are not controlled.

Over to You

Are you concerned that you are in a controlling relationship?  If you want to find if your relationship is a caring one get in touch and book your first counselling appointment.

Or call me today on 07535 864836.

Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.


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© Sandra Harewood 2019

About Sandra

Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and single women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.