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Is Your Partner Too Controlling?

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Recovery from Abuse Starts with Increasing Awareness

I host recovery groups for women with controlling partners. In these groups, most participants begin in some degree of denial about the psychological abuse they are or have been enduring. What they can often identify at the outset is feeling confused like being in a fog and perplexed about what exactly is going on that contributed to this state of mind. I often hear, “I need to get clear about what’s happening in my relationship.” This is a hallmark of the success of psychological abuse: the abuser leads his partner to believe that his partner’s needs do not matter and that what she is feeling isn’t valid or real. To step into awareness of the abuse, we begin with identifying coercive behaviors in intimate relationships. 

Quiz 1: Is your partner controlling?

Here is a brief exercise with five questions that help illustrate what psychological abuse can look like in action. As you read each question, recognize how often you are on the receiving end of this behavior from your partner. Is it “rarely or never,” “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often”?

  • Does your partner ridicule and criticize what you say or do?
  • Does your partner look or act in a way that intimidates you?
  • Does your partner blame you, even for things you couldn’t possibly be responsible for?
  • Does your partner refuse to take responsibility or blame for his own behavior?

Take a moment to review your responses. If you responded with “often” or “very often” for any of the questions, it’s likely that your partner uses controlling behavior. Although this can feel disheartening, at the same time, recognize that knowing more can help you. If you responded “sometimes,” it might be in your best interest to explore his behaviors further to see what they are and how they adversely affect you—even if they only affect you a little.

Because psychological abuse leaves no outward signs, many women in my groups feel validated when they look at the impact on their mental health.

Quiz 2: How do controlling behaviors affect you?

The following four questions will help you look at your reactions to your partner’s behavior. With controlling behaviors that are hard to see, their impact on your feelings and reactions speak volumes about your partner’s behavior. Again, for each question, recognize how often you feel and think this way. Is it “rarely or never,” “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often”?

  • Do you feel like you’re in a fog, confused, and not functioning at your best?
  • Do you feel responsible and blame yourself for the problems with your partner and relationship?
  • Are you more tense or uneasy when your partner is around?
  • Are you careful about what you say or do around your partner because of how he might react and what he might say?

Now, take a look at your responses, paying attention to the feelings that occur “often” or “very often.” These answers indicate that you’re experiencing negative effects from your partner’s behavior. I hope you can realize that it’s in your best interest to take this seriously. If you feel something “sometimes” and you’re unsure, but wish to get clear about your intimate relationship, then explore further.

If you feel concerned that your partner is psychologically abusive, then seek help to better understand the situation and, if necessary, embark on recovery. To start, inform yourself with domestic violence resources to learn more about psychological abuse in intimate relationships. To start the road to recovery, find a mental health professional. Helpful resource: The National Domestic Violence Hotline, TheHotline.org, 800−799−7233.

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Source: Carol Lambert, MSW, is a psychotherapist and domestic violence expert with three decades of clinical experience helping individuals and groups, and a career-long commitment to women’s psychological health. She is the author of Women with Controlling Partners.
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