Mental Health Monday: The Signs Of A Bad Relationship


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Most of us want partners who are caring, respectful, fair and kind. When our partners do not possess those traits, or our partners change over time we may blame ourselves. What did I do wrong? How can I be a better partner? Why is everything my fault?

Some relationships that start out wonderful can become controlling. Sometimes when this happens we find ourselves thinking, why is this happening to me? How did this happen to me? This is not the person I fell in love with, why can’t they go back to the person I know and love? Many people describe controlling partners as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute they can be very charming and nice (the person we fell in love with), and then they turn around and act cruel and hurtful in their words and actions. Controlling behaviors sometimes follow a cycle. The cycle starts with a tension building period, in which the controlling partner is starting to become agitated. The second phase is an instance of controlling/mean/abusive language or actions. Thirdly, the partner will recoil and become contrite and state that they know they sometimes become hurtful, but they want to change and will try to be different. The partner may also promise that it will never happen again. The cycle continues and overtime it can become faster and the third, contrite/honeymoon phase, may become non-existent. Without outside help, it is very difficult for people to change their controlling behaviors.

Unfortunately, many people who are living and/or dealing with controlling partners may constantly have their self-worth attacked. Very commonly, people start to believe the things that are said to them. They believe them not because they are weak, stupid and not worthy of love, but because they are continually surrounded with the same negative messages. ‘They should know better’. ‘They should try harder’. ‘They should be different’. This can leave people walking on eggshells, never knowing what kind of mood the partner will be in when they come home or what might be said to result in another fight. The unpredictability of the situation can lead to anxiety, depression, fear and isolation.

Some signs that a relationship is controlling include the situations described below. Keep in mind no relationship is perfect, but if many of these things happen continually in the relationship, there may be a controlling or abusive dynamic. Also, these relationship dynamics may happen in all types of relationships without regard to; socioeconomic levels, education, gender, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, or age.

Not Feeling That You Have The Right To Say No

People who are controlling try to make us feel bad if we say no, it often feels like we have no voice. Or we believe saying no, might start an argument so we concede. Controlling partners can often convince us their way is the right (and only) way. If we do say ‘no’ we may be ignored, abandoned or made to feel we are ‘crazy’ or stupid. If we are afraid to disagree with our partner it may be they have controlling tendencies/behaviors.

We Stop Seeing Our Family And Friends

People who are controlling want to be the main source of support in our lives. Often making it seem that our family and friends are judgmental, not supportive, or do not accept the relationship. Isolation may also occur by telling us our friends are not acceptable, controlling, a bad influence, consuming too much of our time, or have feelings toward us that are romantic. This can happen subtly over time. After being isolated it can be difficult to feel supported by anyone other than our partners. This can lead to the mistrust of others who may want to help. Often leaving us feeling tied solely to our partner. We may begin to think we need them in our lives or we will be alone.

We Feel ‘Crazy’ For Our Thoughts And Feelings

Controlling people are usually very skilled at arguing and being unrelenting during the argument. This may happen to the point where we would rather accept blame and end the argument rather than continue to engage. “Crazy-Making” is when the controlling partner is very convincing, manipulative, and can make us believe we heard it wrong, or things never occurred. Not being permitted to have feelings and reactions may leave us feeling confused and alone.

We Feel Responsible For The Situation/Control

People who use control with their partners blame their own actions (or lack of actions) on the non-controlling partner. This would sound like, “If you understood me then you would know that I can’t be spoken to that way”. “If you were better at __________ then I wouldn’t lose my temper”. ‘If you were a better parent I wouldn’t need to override your decision”. After hearing all this blame we can begin to feel guilty and accept the responsibility for the state of the relationship. We may believe that we are the cause for our partner’s actions and that we deserve the behavior.

Individual counseling for both parties can be one way to work to improve the relationship. Although, controlling people often find it difficult to accept responsibility for their actions. It may not be emotionally or physically safe to request your partner go to counseling. If you think your partner is controlling, it can be helpful to speak to a counselor about your situation. Please always be alert and aware of your emotional and physical safety when deciding to get help or seek services.

Susan P. Fenker

Verona resident Susan P. Fenker is the executive director of the Montclair Counseling Center, a non-profit, interdisciplinary mental health facility located at 183 Inwood Avenue, Upper Montclair. This article was written by Jenn Porter, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at the Center. She obtained her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers School of Social Work in New Jersey. She has worked in the field of domestic violence, sexual assault and addictions. Porter offers an empowering and safe space to discover your strengths. She offers individual, couples and group counseling. Please call the Montclair Counseling Center, 973-783-6977 Extension 40, to request an intake appointment.

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