10 Ways Women Control Men Without Men Even Realizing It

Let’s be honest: our culture is pretty good at finding ways to control women, from marriage pressures to telling us how to look. Sometimes women find a way to take back control, including in relationships. And while standing up for yourself is empowering, trying to control others can quickly become a toxic habit. Read on for 10 ways women control men that may go undetected. If you recognize yourself in any of these behaviors, it’s time to back up and reassess.

  1. Blaming and shaming Dealing with a childish partner can kill the love in a romantic relationship. But sometimes, women talk down to a man in order to make him believe he’s being childish. Pointing out flaws, lecturing, and scolding a partner for bad behavior is one way to overpower and control them. But it can also keep a relationship from ever feeling like an equal, respectful relationship between two adults.
  2. Using passive aggression Indirect and passive-aggressive signals can be intentionally confusing. Whether a result of socialization or just an intuition for understanding vague communication, women seem to be good at decoding passive aggression. Men, however, may miss underlying meanings and get confused. But for women, this can be used as a tool to outwit their partners. Then, men find themselves going in circles, trying to understand, and feeling like a fool. Women can then control men by dropping subtle hints, keeping him hooked and needing more.
  3. Negging Negging is a form of manipulation using insults and backhanded compliments. And while men may be the ones stereotypically doing the negging, women can definitely do it too. In fact, men may more easily fall for it when a woman uses negging. It may even be mistaken for flirtatious teasing. But after a while, negging can make a man desperate for validation after being criticized so many times.
  4. Using jealousy as a weapon Trying to make someone jealous is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it could be argued that that’s because it works. When a man is possessive, it should be considered a big red flag. But some women may use this possessiveness against a man by making him feel jealous. Comparing a boyfriend to an ex or mentioning a guy who slid into your DMs can make a man feel threatened. Then, he may question himself and if he’s good enough for you. This can give a woman the upper hand, at least until the jealousy wears off.
  5. Threatening to break up When setting boundaries, it’s reasonable to decide to break up if the boundary is crossed. This is part of being assertive in relationships. However, threatening to break up, without actually intending to break up, is a common way women control men. Like using jealousy, this can create a feeling of inadequacy and insecurity in a relationship. Women can turn the tables in a toxic relationship and gain back control, at least temporarily, by threatening to leave. But the truest way to empower yourself as a woman is to actually leave a relationship that isn’t working—not just threaten to.
  6. Using the silent treatment Just like using passive-aggressive communication, going silent can make a guy feel completely confused. For women, using the silent treatment can feel like holding on to the key, and that key is the information a man needs to improve the relationship. But by using the silent treatment, the man has to work to find that valuable information. For a woman who’s been hurt, it might feel fair to make the guy exhaust himself trying to repair a fight, as she stays quiet and doesn’t say a word. But a healthier way to solve the issue is to skip the silent treatment and talk it over together.
  7. Keeping a man from his friends One way to control and manipulate someone is by separating them from their friends and other people in their life. In some ways, this might appear innocent enough. For example, if a guy has a group of friends who seem to be a negative influence in his life, a caring woman may try her best to keep her man from them. But separating a partner from their friends and family is one of the most common early warning signs of abusive relationships.
  8. Using sex as a reward When a woman doesn’t get what she wants, she might try to barter—with sex. There are a couple of ways sex can be used to control a man. One way is that a woman will ask a guy to do something, and if he does it, she’ll sleep with him. And conversely, if he doesn’t give a woman what she wants, or if he upsets her, she may withhold sex. It is always okay to say no to sex. And it’s okay to not want sex after a partner has hurt you. But when sex becomes a reward, it creates a controlling pattern in the relationship. And it makes sex something that can no longer be mutually enjoyed by both people.
  9. Guilt-tripping Whether a man did something wrong or not, a woman may try to make him feel guilty in an attempt to control him. And if her story is convincing enough, he may not even notice he’s being controlled. Guilt can be an intensely uncomfortable feeling, and it’s natural that someone who feels guilty may try to do everything in their power to undo the harm they’ve done. But in relationships, this can be taken advantage of in order to manipulate the other person.
  10. Acting helpless The damsel in distress/Prince Charming dynamic is familiar to anyone who’s read a fairytale. And for some, this dynamic can be used to gain control in the relationship. Some guys may love feeling like Prince Charming. And when put on a pedestal, they may be scared to disappoint their partner. And for women, acting helpless works to place all the responsibility onto the man. He is expected to save the damsel and avoid any missteps. If he refuses to save her, or if he makes a mistake, she might then make him feel guilty for doing so.

If you’re a woman wanting more control in your relationship, consider if that’s a relationship worth keeping. If you feel like you must control someone for them to act as you wish, they may not be right for you in the end. Passive aggression and mind games might feel empowering at first, but they only pave the way for more manipulation and emotional abuse.

Relationship educator, writer, host of the Relationship Reminders podcast, and mental health advocate hailing from the US and currently based in Tokyo