“How to Avoid Getting Seriously Involved with a Control Freak”
By Annie Dennison, Ph.D.
Even a strong, intelligent woman can fall for a man with control issues. And then, once she’s involved with him, it’s hard sometimes to get him out of her life. That’s why it’s a good idea to spot a man’s controlling ways as soon as possible.
The problem is, a skilled control freak can make you think that YOU are the crazy one -- not him! This guy is so sure about his own opinions and way of doing things that he doesn’t question himself. And, because he doesn’t want any resistance while he takes over parts of your life, a control freak makes sure that the only person you’re questioning is…yourself.
Here are some warning signs that the man you’re getting involved with might have control issues:
He acts like you are his own special “What Not to Wear” makeover project.
From the start of the relationship, it’s clear that he wants you to look and dress like a woman you’re not. For instance, if you’re sporty, he might put pressure on you to be girly-girl. The tricky part is, it can start in a nice way, with him giving you gifts of clothing or jewelry. But those gifts don’t reflect your taste or style. And even if you tell him that, he doesn’t care. Because, some control freaks are certain that they know best how you should look, from your hair color down to your toenail polish color.
He’s way too pushy about your weight, fitness level, and/or food choices.
This can start with hurtful jokes and teasing. It gets worse when he tries to motivate you to eat or exercise his way by intentionally making you feel bad about your body. If you get upset with this, he’ll tell you that you need to “lighten up,” or that he’s just “concerned for your health.” At a restaurant, for example, a control freak might feel free to shame you into ordering food he thinks you should eat. Maybe he’ll monitor and bully you about how much you exercise. Or he might even point out women whose bodies are ideal in a way that he openly thinks yours isn’t.
He monitors how, where, and with whom you spend your time.
Unfortunately, at first, you might be flattered by this. It can seem like he’s really into you, and maybe kind of sweetly jealous. But it’s not just about the other men you might meet. Sometimes a control freak even makes it difficult for you to spend time with the people who care most about you -- the people who, not coincidentally, can provide a “reality check” for his crazy, controlling behavior. That includes your girlfriends and family. How does he make it difficult? By dissing them, or acting like a jerk when you try to introduce him to them. Or maybe by pouting and withdrawing before and after you spend time alone with them.
He can’t tolerate your opinions or perceptions, especially if they’re different from his.
For some control freaks, it’s not enough to control what you do; they have to control what you think. There are all sorts of ways to do this. At first, it can start with some subtle teasing or putdowns about the way you think about things. If that doesn’t silence you, he might openly interrupt and belittle your opinions and perceptions. Again, if you let him know that this upsets you, he might try to convince you that you’re being “overly-sensitive.”
So, what do you do if you think you might be going out with a control freak?
Keep checking in with your support network.
A control freak often tries to isolate you from other people whose opinions matter to you. That’s because he wants to have the ultimate influence over what you do and think. If you have concerns about a guy’s control issues, take those concerns to the most trusted people in your life. Just checking in with friends and family will help you “step back” and look more realistically at the guy.
Make sure you have some time to yourself.
The more time you spend with a control freak, the more you tend to lose sight of who you are and what you believe. After all, he wants you to question yourself, not him. So it’s important that you continue doing those “quality alone time” activities that help you stay connected to what makes you feel like you. Plus, being alone gives you some space and distance to look more realistically at how this guy is treating you.
Listen to and trust what your gut is telling you.
Obviously, some of the biggest, flashing warning signs that a man is a control freak are his own actions. But an equally big, flashing warning sign is the way you feel inside yourself the more you get involved with him. Do you feel incredibly off-balance? Confused? Stressed out? Depressed? Silenced? Isolated? Or even kind of scared? Are you questioning your own perceptions more than usual? Is your self-esteem taking a nosedive?
Well, falling for a good guy will NOT make you feel like any of that!
So do yourself a big favor. If you’re getting to know a guy who acts like a control freak, and being with him makes you feel bad about yourself, resist any urge to “give him a chance.” At best, he’s probably going to make you unhappy. At worst, his control issues might even make him dangerous.
In other words, cut him loose!
Annie Dennison, Ph.D., is a psychologist and love life adviser. Her blog, Smart at Love, provides dating and relationship advice for smart women.