Illustration by Mia Boulukos
Oddly enough, it was not until I read a Vanity Fair interview with Kanye West that I recognized what exactly classifies a relationship as “controlling.” Not controlling in a physically aggressive or overtly threatening, berating way but something more subtle; a relationship that may require taking a step back and adopting a more removed perspective to appropriately classify it as such.
When discussing his wife Kim Kardashian, Kanye said “[I say] a lot of lines other wives would not allow a husband to say. But my wife also puts up photos other husbands wouldn’t let them put up. One of the keys to happiness in our marriage is that we’re allowed to be ourselves.”
That proclamation, I realized, underscores exactly what a happy and healthy relationship entails: the ability to just be yourself. Being limited to your sense of individuality is a large problem, contributed to by many smaller issues that can occur in relationships. Oftentimes, the lack of explicit violence causes these issues to get overlooked or dismissed. However, if you recognize some of the following signs in your relationship, take them seriously and try to address them immediately.
This flaw is often difficult to recognize, as it can disguise itself as your partner’s desire for your attention (nothing out of the ordinary there). However, if your partner makes you feel as though you must choose between your relationships with them and relationships with others, it is time to take a step back. Finding that your significant other complains when you hang out with your friends, even if you make time for them as well, should point to isolation. When was the last time you were able to make plans without them knowing the details? Are they excited for you to take on opportunities with others, or do they guilt you about not giving them enough time and attention? According to Psychology Today, the goal of this isolation is to “[strip] you of your support network,” making you totally reliable on them and them alone.
Being accepted as a perfectly imperfect human means being accepted for every aspect of yourself, including quirks and mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and you should not be held to an unattainable standard. If your partner keeps track of every time you screw up, reminding you of your downfalls or constantly holding it against you, there is certainly a more serious issue at hand. Similarly, a person who is supposed to be your “other-half” should be trying to lift you up, not put you down. Additionally, while they make sure you never forget your mistakes, they keep their own score of every good thing they do for you. Giving a gift, paying you a compliment, or holding the door for you; it is always something they think should be recognized and rewarded. However, you are in a relationship not a competition. Try to realize that it is not that you are a bad partner, it is that they are clouding your perceptions and painting themselves as the good guy.
Generally speaking, snooping, spying or invading someone’s (anyone’s) privacy is, for lack of better words, a crappy thing to do. However, receiving that sort of treatment from a significant other informs a complete lack of trust that effectively shatters the foundation of a healthy, stable relationship. If someone cannot trust you enough to give you your privacy, that should raise a red flag. A controlling partner may always be texting or calling you, asking what you are doing and who you are with (back to the isolation). The could go through your phone when you leave a room, ask your friends what you have been doing when you are not around them, or even show up unannounced at your job or apartment to “just check up on you.” Wanting to be in the know with your partner is not a crime. However, when you find that your partner gives you absolutely no space and does not allow you any information to yourself, recognize that they trying to assert their control over you.
Second Guessing Yourself
In a healthy relationship, both partners should expect to learn and grow alongside one another. Change is natural, even unavoidable, and you should not have to second guess your identity just because your partner throws the “You’ve changed,” cliché at you. Your significant other should support and respect who you already are and who you become as an individual. The people we meet and new experiences we have impact the way we think about and interact with the world. That’s a given. If your partner expects you to be the same person leaving college as you were at the beginning of your freshman year, there is a problem. Your sense of self and beliefs should be respected and supported by the person who is supposed to love you. Refusing to grow alongside you just shows that they desperately want to control your life. When your human evolution gets out of their hands, they are at a loss.
Constant Arguing and Giving In
If you are not feeling supported or respected in your opinions and beliefs, arguing will likely plague your relationship. Some level of dispute and discussion is natural and allows you to address problems through compromise. However, your partner may bicker with you about everything, even the seemingly irrelevant aspects of your relationship. You might feel constantly defeated, forcing you to give in to your significant other and let them be right. If they seem to dominate your relationship through fighting, take a moment to assess whether or not you are actually in the wrong. People in controlling relationships often made to feel that fighting and other relationship issues are their fault, thanks to the coercion of their partner. In reality, however, you are likely justified in your dissatisfaction with the way things are. Don’t give in, stay strong and be confident that you know what you want.
While these acts may not appear to be a problem at first, they can lead to a controlling relationship that puts its partners at risk. Don’t let these behaviors go unaddressed. Instead, find a way to react: go to a friend, utilize on-campus resources, and do your best to distance yourself from the relationship. Remember that you are worthy of a healthy relationship with a partner who loves you, trusts you and gives you the necessary freedom to be your own person.