15 Signs Someone Is Secretly Trying To Control You (And It’s Not Love)

Someone you’re dating might profess their love for you and desire to protect you. That’s great, but it might be a cover for trying to control you. If you notice these 15 signs in your relationship, they might be trying to dominate your life and keep you closer.

1. They casually try to see your private messages.


Although someone who’s trying to control you might not ask to go through your phone, they’ll find more subtle ways to see who you’re chatting with.  They might, for example, notice you laughing at something on your phone and ask you about it. Or, they could suggest helping you write a text to a friend who’s going through a tough time, making you think they’re being supportive. Meanwhile, they’re finding any excuse to sneak a peek at your phone.

2. They make decisions without your approval.


Maybe the person surprises you with a camping trip when you have a huge work conference or orders dessert for you at a restaurant without getting your input. When you express hurt or frustration at being left out of the decision-making process, they might pretend they wanted to do something fun or sweet for you. It’s a clever tactic to get away with making all the decisions in the relationship.

3. They tease you about your money habits.

It’s common for a controlling partner to take charge of the finances in the relationship to exert more dominance over you. Instead of doing this in a harsh way, they might tease you about your financial habits to make you change your ways. For example, they might joke about how much you love to shop for clothing or would end up broke because you don’t save enough money. Although these comments might seem light-hearted, they could be a way to try to control your financial behaviors.

4. They want to know your location.

dramatic couple looking at phone

While your partner might not install a location-tracking app on your phone, they might constantly ask you specifics about where you’re going with friends or family when they’re not around. They might want to know the restaurant where you’re having dinner or the gym where you’re working out. While they could pretend this is to ensure your safety, it’s not. It’s actually a way for them to track your movements without raising suspicion.

5. They buy you lots of new clothing.

man walking with christmas presents

Perhaps your partner loves purchasing clothing for you. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it might be a play to try to control your appearance. They might even make comments to encourage you to change your appearance, like saying how nice it would be if you wore pink or if you wore trousers instead of skirts. If you get angry, they might tell you they’re just trying to do something nice for you, which is a clever way for them to persuade you.

6. They shut down when you have other plans.

Although they might not express anger or sadness when you can’t be with them, like if you already have plans with friends on a Saturday night, you might sense their mood change. Perhaps they shut down and become eerily silent, or they look tearful when you say goodbye. Without saying anything, this could be their passive-aggressive way of making you feel guilty for having a life outside of the relationship.

7. They tell you your interests or hobbies aren’t good for you.

You want to have time to dedicate to your passions and interests, but it’s difficult if your partner is always making them seem silly or like a waste of time. They might tell you that pursuing a creative career is never going to make you money, or that horse riding is dangerous. Whatever the case, they always seem to have a valid reason for why you should spend less time on the things that make you happy and more time with them.

8. They tend to blame you for things.

A controlling partner might try to make you feel responsible for their behavior. When they do something bad in the relationship, they might turn the tables around by questioning your shortcomings. For example, when you call them out on lying to you, they might say you’re judgmental or making up stories. While this isn’t a direct way of blaming you for their actions, it can make you doubt yourself and feel guilty for confronting them in the first place.

9. They keep score.

If your partner keeps track of things you do to upset them, like if you had to take a rain check on a date, they might keep bringing it up to make you feel guilty. This is an insidious way for them to try to control you because they’re making you feel like you’re not good enough. Controlling partners want to dent your self-worth to reinforce their position of power.

10. They try to police you with indirect questions.

When someone wants to control you, they probably won’t tell you outright not to do certain things. Instead, they’ll frame their negative comments as questions to make you reach your own conclusion and do things their way. For example, your partner might ask you questions such as, “Shouldn’t you order a salad instead of pizza?” or “Who are you wearing makeup for?” These are meant to shame or embarrass you so you change your behavior.

11. They exaggerate your loved ones’ faults.

Couple arguing planning a separation after infidelity crisis

A controlling partner wants to isolate you from other people you love. For example, if your best friend can be a bit competitive at times, your partner might try to make this seem more dramatic to sway your opinion of her. They might say, “Your best friend is always so competitive, it’s clear she doesn’t care about you at all.” They’re trying to make you feel like they have your best interest at heart when they don’t.

12. They want to go everywhere with you.

Couple have a conversation, while he's been ignored by his girlfriend

Your partner might seem keen to spend as much time with you as possible. This isn’t because they love you and enjoy your company, but because they want to monitor your every move. So, when you make plans with your friends, they might say, “Hey, I’ll come too. It’ll be great to hang out with you all.” Or, if you make plans to go to the gym, they might say, “I’ll join you because I want to start getting fit.” Beware.

13. They love-bomb you.

One of the earliest signs of a controlling partner is if they shower you with expensive gifts, praise, and attention right off the bat. Love bombing can be intoxicating because you might assume they’re crazy about you. But, it could be a way to manipulate you. By spending so much money on you, they establish a power dynamic, expecting you to pay them back in some way. They might also use their good deeds to impress you so they can lock down the relationship.

14. They use jealousy to control you.

When your partner expresses jealousy, like when you’re chatting with a male friend via text, you might feel like it’s no big deal. But, they could be using jealousy as a manipulative tactic to justify their controlling behavior. For example, if they claim that their jealousy is a sign of love, they could use it as a reason to limit your freedom, encourage you to delete your male friend’s number, or monitor your actions.

15. They define the relationship right away.

Woman in red looking at mobile©iStock/fotolaki

Although you might find it refreshing when someone wants to define your relationship status after two or three dates, this could be a sign that you’re dealing with a controlling person. They want to lock you down by moving the relationship along faster. It’s a tactic to pressure you to become their girlfriend/boyfriend so that you commit to them, even though you might not be ready. This could also be a way of violating your boundaries, which they’ll do more of as the relationship progresses.

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Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.