5 almost-invisible signs your partner is trying to control you

In a healthy relationship, your partner respects your identity and encourages your growth.

While they may occasionally get jealous or unreasonable, they never dictate what you wear, where you go, and what you do with your life.

If they try to, it’s a huge red flag.

Problem is, sometimes you don’t even realize that your significant other is attempting to restrict your movements.

They’re good at disguising their tactics into something else, like concern.

Here are 5 almost-invisible signs your partner is trying to control you.

It’s time to learn how to read between the lines.

1) They subtly monitor your whereabouts

Someone controlling wants to know where you are at all times.

However, directly demanding you tell them would likely make you start a conversation about trust and autonomy within the relationship.

In the beginning, at least, they beat around the bush:

  • They ask you to text them when you get home because they get worried
  • They ask you to give them access to your smartphone location in case the worst happens
  • They ask for updates on your location on a regular basis, even when it’s unnecessary or unrelated to their plans, because they like to keep in touch
  • They surprise you by unexpectedly showing up at an event you’re attending because they missed you too much
  • They ask you to come home by a certain time, even if you have no set plans for that day, because they’re lonely

Someone who subtly monitors your whereabouts also checks your social media religiously and has a barrage of questions for you after you go out.

They want to know who was present, what occurred, and how you interacted with everyone.

There’s a fine line between being sweet and being creepy.

Once your partner crosses it, it’s cause for concern.

2) They discourage you from socializing

Another almost invisible sign that your partner is trying to control you?

They undermine your relationships with loved ones and persuade you to spend most of your time with them.

Controlling individuals want you all to themselves, so they do their best to prevent you from spending time with friends and family.

They’re not obvious about it.

On one hand, they suggest that your friends or family might not have your best interest at heart.

They say you seem tense or annoyed after socializing with a friend or family member.

They tell you that you would be better off ditching them because that would feel empowering, would prevent unnecessary drama, would bring you peace, and so on.

Wouldn’t it be best to stay away from them for a while and see how it goes?

On the other hand, they insist you spend a lot of time together, just the two of you, because it will strengthen your bond.

Instead of going on that double date with your friends, why don’t you stay in and watch a movie?

So, you cancel and never reschedule.

Do this a few times, and even your closest friends will stop asking you to hang out.

Do this for long enough, and you’ll end up with no one but your boo to validate and support you.

3) They withhold affection when you don’t do what they want

Withholding affection is a popular manipulation tactic that involves a loved one playing with your emotions to get their way.

It involves your partner withdrawing love, attention, or physical intimacy to influence your behavior, usually after a disagreement.

For instance, they might:

  • Give you the silent treatment until you cave and do what they want
  • Refuse to engage in any form of physical intimacy unless you obey their wishes
  • Become emotionally distant so that you admit that you’re the one in the wrong
  • Deny the intentional withdrawal of affection, claiming that you’re overly sensitive, which only creates confusion

Withholding affection creates an unhealthy power dynamic within the relationship.

It gives your partner perceived control over your emotions, which can escalate over time, especially if they start using affection as a bargaining chip.

Nurturing relationships thrive on open communication and a willingness to address challenges together.

Don’t lose sight of that.

4) They police your appearance

Policing a partner’s appearance is a form of control that can lead to feelings of inadequacy and restricted personal expression.

When it’s subtle, your partner doesn’t outright tell you that you can’t wear something or that you should maybe lose some weight.

Rather, they resort to making sarcastic comments or expressing their displeasure about your looks in an understated way:

  • Who are you all dressed up for?
  • Isn’t that shirt a little too tight?
  • Are you really going to eat two slices of cake?
  • Maybe you should order the salad instead.
  • Are you sure you need yet another tattoo?
  • You would look more attractive with longer hair.

Your partner might also compare your appearance unfavorably to others, using this as a reason to express dissatisfaction with your looks.

That’s not okay.

Granted, sometimes these types of comments are well-intentioned. 

Your significant other doesn’t know how to express them directly, so they rely on passive-aggressiveness to do the job.

But if you suspect that their intentions are more nefarious, stay vigilant.

The way you express yourself is a vital aspect of your identity.

No one should dictate how you look or what you wear.

5) They disguise insults as “jokes”

Someone who is controlling will attempt to chip at their target’s self-esteem over time.

They aim to destroy your confidence so that you become more dependent on them.  

An almost invisible way your partner might do this is by criticizing you and disguising their barbs as jokes.

If you call them out on their insults, they insist they meant no harm and that you don’t have a sense of humor.

When I was growing up, my parents were friends with a dysfunctional couple whose interactions baffled me.

The man would frequently say mean stuff about his wife in a jokey tone.

For example, she once got recognized at work for something, and I distinctly remember him saying something along the lines of, “Yes, she got an award for standing around and doing nothing; she’s great at that.”  

When she gave him a nasty look, he insisted that he was only joking.

This exchange stayed with me because it was one of many.

She was always the butt of the joke, and he was the misunderstood one whose sole aim was to make people laugh and enjoy themselves.

Their partnership didn’t strike me as well-balanced.

By disguising insults as jokes, your partner gets to say whatever they want and simultaneously avoids taking responsibility for their hurtful comments.

Don’t let them get away with it.

Final thoughts

Subtle controlling behavior is especially harmful because it can be easy for the perpetrator to convince you that it’s all in your head.

That’s why it’s essential to notice the signs in time and speak up whenever you sense that your significant other is threatening your independence.   

Keep a diary of all the instances where their behavior crosses the line, and talk to a counselor or therapist who can help you make sense of your situation.

Better safe than sorry.

Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Plesa

Alexandra Pleșa is a freelance writer obsessed with television, self-development, and thriller books. Former journalist, current pop culture junkie. Follow her on Twitter: @alexandraplesa

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