When we met it was love at first sight, and the early days of our relationship were a romantic whirlwind, with gifts, candlelit dinners, intimate getaways, and total devotion. Now, three years in, it’s becoming a bit stifling. I have to account for every hour we’re apart, I'm pressured to wear clothes my partner likes, and never seem to fully live up to their expectations. Last week I caught them checking my phone messages, and we had a big row. This kind of "love" makes me feel claustrophobic.
Whenever a power imbalance develops within a relationship, and someone tries to exercise control over another, the relationship is liable to become toxic, or abusive. It is interesting that you removed gender from your letter. When clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., wrote about controlling behaviour she made it clear,
“… that stereotypes don’t apply when it comes to controlling partners. Toxic relationships can sneak up on almost anyone. And controlling behaviour on the part of a partner knows no boundaries—people of any age, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status can be in controlling relationships, playing either role”.
Bonior offers a list of 20 warning signs that all is not great in your relationship. If one is honest one will acknowledge that we can all fall into some of these unhelpful behaviours at times, but if too many of them ring true for you, you might need to take steps to change the dynamic. These red flags are:
1) Attempting to isolate you from your family or friends.
2) Chronic criticism.
3) Veiled or overt threats.
4) Making acceptance, caring, or attraction conditional.
5) Keeping score.
6) Using guilt as a manipulation tool.
7) Creating a debt you’re beholden to.
8) Spying, snooping, or requiring constant disclosure.
9) Overactive jealousy, accusations or paranoia.
10) Not respecting your need for time alone.
11) Making you deserve trust or other good treatment.
12) Presuming you’re guilty until proven innocent.
13) Making you so tired of arguing you relent.
14) Making you feel belittled for your long-held beliefs.
15) Making you feel you don’t measure up or are unworthy of them.
16) Teasing or ridicule that has an uncomfortable undercurrent.
17) Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards.
18) Inability or unwillingness to ever hear your point of view.
19) Pressuring you into unhealthy behaviours that undermine your willpower.
20) Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself.
Many of these behaviours might seem trivial, or could be explained away as signs of intense love, but the cumulative effect can be very damaging. Once you are isolated, and have lost faith in your own worthiness, judgment and abilities or are filled with guilt, or the need to please, you can become incapable of changing, or leaving, the relationship. This is why so many victims of domestic violence stay with their partner.
At what point do relationship issues become unacceptable?Credit:SHUTTERSTOCK
Your situation might not be this severe, yet, but the longer you tolerate what is happening, the more controlling your partner might become or the more cowed and exhausted you might feel.
Your partner might feel as unhappy as you, being overwhelmed by jealousy, insecurity, suspicion and fear, but you cannot fix them by being compliant and loving. You need to stand up to them and demand change. If they are willing to acknowledge and address the problem, there might be hope but, if not, the relationship might have to end.
The most important thing is your safety. Before you act, it might be useful to get some professional counselling. Having a neutral third party confirming your point of view can be both reassuring and empowering.
Women can find details of where to go for help at White Ribbon’s ‘Domestic Violence Hotlines & Contact Numbers’:
Domestic violence is at epidemic proportions in Australia. So is the rate of male suicide. The negative effects of controlling behaviours affect everybody involved. If your situation is causing you to contemplate self-harm, call Lifeline on 131114, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Email: [email protected]
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