15 February, 2024

Does your partner use control, manipulation, or intimidation to influence your behaviour?

Control in a relationship can range from telling you what you can and can’t do to more subtle manipulation tactics, such as withholding affection when they don’t get their way.

Because controlling behaviours can be subtle or even disguised as “caring” or “protective”, they can be harder to identify than some other types of abuse.

If your partner uses control in your relationship, you might experience:

  • A lack of privacy and independence in your relationship
  • Feeling like you’re walking on eggshells around your partner
  • Feeling like your partner has the “upper hand” in the relationship
  • Second-guessing yourself and wondering if you’re just being sensitive.

Coercive control is a dangerous form of domestic abuse and can be just as damaging as physical violence.

Depending on your situation and how safe you feel, these steps can help you address the issue and potentially prevent the behaviour from escalating.

If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000.


Raise it with your partner (if safe)

If you’ve noticed a pattern of controlling behaviour and feel safe addressing the issue, it can help to raise it with your partner early on.

Here are some tips to help you start the conversation.

Find the right time

Chances are you won’t be in the headspace to discuss heavy topics after a stressful day at work or in the heat of an argument.

Find a time when you’re both feeling calm and can focus on the conversation in an open and productive way.

If you have children, it might help to wait until they’re in bed or out of the house so you can talk without distractions.

Use “I” statements

Coming at your partner with blaming statements can make them defensive right off the bat. Avoid “You” statements like:

  • “You’re so jealous.”
  • “You always have to control everything.”
  • “You text me too much when we’re apart.”

Instead, focus on communicating how you feel in response to your partner’s actions with “I” statements such as:

  • “I feel overwhelmed when you check in on me so often. It distracts me from quality time with my friends.”
  • “I feel upset when you comment on what I wear when I go out. It makes me feel like you don’t trust me or respect my right to wear what I like.”
  • “I feel frustrated when you make decisions on my behalf. I’d like to have more autonomy in matters that impact me.”

Using specific examples and being honest about how you feel can help your partner see your point of view rather than feeling like they’re under attack.

Listen with curiosity

It’s important to give your partner the space to share how they feel.

Listen with curiosity and respect with the intention to understand their point of view. Resist the urge to interrupt or dismiss their perspective, and be mindful of your body language while they’re speaking.

By really listening to each other, you’ll be more likely to come to an understanding and work together on a resolution.

If you don’t feel safe confronting your partner about their behaviour, we encourage you to seek professional advice from a counsellor or a domestic violence support service such as DVConnect or 1800RESPECT.


Set reasonable boundaries

Boundaries help us create limits and expectations around what we’re willing and unwilling to engage with in our relationship. They allow us to build healthy, safe connections and avoid resentment.

Some examples of healthy boundaries with a controlling partner might include:

  • “I like to catch up with my friends without distractions. I won’t be available to reply to your texts or answer your calls while I spend time with them.”
  • “My alone time is important to me. I’m happy to keep you updated on what I’m doing, but I’m going to continue engaging in my hobby/interest on my own.”
  • “It’s unacceptable for you to go through my messages/emails. That’s a violation of my privacy, and I need you to stop.”

It’s important to remember there’s a difference between setting a boundary and controlling your partner’s behaviour.

Some examples of control disguised as boundaries might include:

  • “You need to tell me where you are and who you’re with at all times.”
  • “If you wear that outfit out with your friends tonight, I’ll break up with you.”
  • “I don’t want you spending time with people of the opposite sex at work.”

These are some examples of control and not healthy or reasonable boundaries in a relationship.


Tell someone you trust

Control is a harmful form of abuse on its own, but it can also be a sign that the abusive behaviour might escalate.

No matter the severity of the behaviour, if something feels off about how your partner’s treating you, having someone to confide in can help you feel supported and less alone.

Controlling partners often aim to isolate their victim from their support network, and this can put you in an unsafe position. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member to tell them your concerns and let them know to keep an eye on you.

It can also be helpful to have a witness should you need to involve the police. You might even like to keep a record of incidents for possible use in future.


Seek professional support

A lot of the time, the need to exert control over an intimate partner is a symptom of deeper issues such as low self-esteem, jealousy, and fear of abandonment.

If your partner is open to it, professional counselling can help you identify and address underlying issues that may be causing unhealthy behaviours.

We offer counselling for individuals and couples in a supportive space to help you explore your issues and find solutions for a healthier, happier relationship.


Know when to end things (and how to safely do so)

Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected in their relationship.

If you’re questioning your relationship or feeling confused about whether to stay or leave, it can help to have a safety plan organised just in case.

Abuse can escalate after a breakup, so it’s important to have some steps in place to keep yourself safe.

We provide advice in our blog post How to Get Out of an Abusive Relationship, and our counsellors can help you create a safety plan so you know what to do if you need to leave an unsafe environment in a hurry.


If you or someone you know is living with a controlling or abusive partner, help is available.

You can call us on 1300 364 277 for guidance finding the right support for you, or learn about our Domestic and Family Violence Prevention service here.

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811

DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636

Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120

Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000.