While some character traits are tough to identify in others, control issues shine like Las Vegas neon lights when you see them in action. Unless you’re interested in co-signing for months or even years of drama down the road, you should avoid these signs in your dates immediately. Take a look at the behaviors below and see if any resonate with someone you’re dating now, or perhaps you’ll be reminded of controlling exes from the past.
Before we decode controlling behavior, don’t forget that both men and women can be controlling. I use both male and female examples because both genders can be guilty of this off-putting personality type.
Controlling people want to be your keeper, so they watch your time like a micromanaging boss.
A controlling guy is going to ask a lot of specific questions about time, including what you spend it doing and with whom you spend it. He may want to know specifics, like how long you spend at the gym actually working out versus talking to others; where you eat lunch and whom you eat with during the work day; the exact time you usually get home from work; and the exact time you get home after going out with friends for the night.
Examples: “You’re sure you got home at midnight? Didn’t you say that you left at midnight? And it must take at least 20 minutes to drive home.” “Did you run a lot at the gym tonight, or did you get caught up talking to people? Were there a lot of people you know there?” “How many of you went to happy hour after work? Anyone new?”
Analysis: The level of detail in these questions is extreme, which indicates that there is a motive behind the questions. The motive is to teach you the lesson that someone is always watching your time, so don’t slip up – or else.
The controlling individual wants to be your everything – so you don’t need anyone else.
If you’re in the early dating stages with a controlling individual, this person is going to work hard to understand who all the major players are in your life so that they can later start to put them down and isolate you from them. Controlling individuals desperately need you to see them as necessary and all-important in your life, while they criticize or find fault with your most cherished friends and family members. While psychologically healthy individuals want you to have other people in your life (understanding that no one person can meet every emotional need), controlling individuals would love nothing more than having you all to themselves.
Examples: “I love your brother, but…” “Your best friend is awesome, but…” “Don’t you think your friends are a little…?” “You are smarter/more sophisticated/cooler than your friends.”
Analysis: Notice that the comments about your friends or family all include a “but…” or other veiled criticisms. This is a bad sign in anyone you’re dating, and it’s often a sign indicative of a highly controlling individual.
The controlling person goes into detective mode to learn more about your exes.
Anyone you’re attracted to is going to be an incredible threat to the controlling person, but exes provoke the most anxiety and fear. When you’re dating someone controlling, she will ask a lot of specific questions about your ex. In her mind, she’s got competition. She must compete with your memories of your ex in terms of the sex you had; how much fun you had together; and what specifically attracted you to your ex. For the controlling person, she will always fear that you could go back to your ex or that anyone similar to an ex could threaten your relationship in the future. Watch out for too many questions about your exes because – bottom line – your exes really shouldn’t matter anymore to either of you.
Examples: “Can I see another picture of him?” “How often did you have sex?” “Was he really smart?” “How much money did she make?” “Did he go to the gym a lot?” “Did she dye her hair?”
Analysis: Notice that none of these questions has anything to do with the quality of your current relationship! When answering questions about your exes, ask yourself first whether there is any real reason why your current date needs to know the answers. Whenever possible, avoiding providing details about your exes.
The controlling person often tries to change how you dress, talk, or act around their friends.
Let the following advice wash over you like a self-help riptide: No truly good relationship includes anyone telling anyone else how to be – ever. The happiest relationships are ones where each partner accepts the other as-is, and each partner has enough respect for the other to leave him or her alone for the most part. Controlling individuals usually won’t make comments to try to change you on the first few dates; they’ll wait a month or two, once they feel they have you in their grip. As soon as you see it, you must watch your back because some controlling men and women can get extremely destructive over time.
Examples: “Are you sure you want to wear that?” “You are so good-looking, but that is not your color.” “You act weird with my friends.” “That humor is not funny, so why are you always joking like that?” “You look best/hottest when you…”
Analysis: These comments serve to undercut your confidence and to create unnecessary dependence on your partner. After hearing too many comments like these, you inevitably start feeling like you need to check with them about what you say, do, or wear because they are (successfully) training you to doubt and second-guess yourself.
Ladies and gentlemen, please watch out for these controlling signs in others as you date and try to find a good, healthy, supportive relationship and partner. That is what you deserve. Above all, protect yourself and keep yourself safe – physically and emotionally – from controlling predators in the dating scene!
Have you ever been with a controlling partner? Did you experience any of the signs above?
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.