A controlling relationship is when an individual will begin to dominate and intimidate their partner, often through emotional and/or physical abuse. It may be hard to recognise the early signs of a controlling relationship, as the victim may feel that their partner is taking care of them and being protective. The control often begins by checking their partner's mobile phone, managing all finances, examining phone bills and making sure their partner seeks permission to buy things; this can then escalate into wanting to know where their partner is at all times, ultimately taking away their partner's independence until the abuser is in total control.
Emotional abuse is where a partner will try to humiliate, criticise and manipulate through the use of verbal or physical assaults. The insults, insinuations, criticism, accusations and belittling can be wounding, creating very painful mental scars. This form of abuse slowly eats away at the victim’s self-esteem, confidence and sense of self-worth, which often leads the victim to cling to their partner. Controlling relationships normally develop from a sense of fear and insecurity; the controlling partner may be scared of losing the one they love. Many of the reasons as to why a person may control their partner can often stem from childhood; maybe they were neglected, or their parents may have been domineering. It is common for the victim to become involved in a repetitive cycle; after the abuse, the partner will often claim to be sorry and beg for another chance, often showering their partner with flowers and presents as a way to make up. However, eventually the controlling patterns recur and the cycle restarts.
The effects of any controlling relationship can be devastating. Unfortunately, those who have suffered the abuse of a controlling partner may suffer many negative effects; the victim will often find it very difficult to trust a new partner. The constant emotional abuse drains them of self-esteem. Living under this chronic stress can affect the victim both physically and mentally with symptoms such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety and depression, and maybe suicidal ideation or attempts. Controllers often start out as emotional abusers and can move on to physical violence over time.
Those that recognise that they are in a controlling relationship are often afraid to end it. They may fear physical revenge from their partners. The victim will often cling desperately to the abuser, believing that this treatment is all they are worth. The controller will often try to take away their partner’s support system, wanting them to become isolated and alone; cutting off the support system will help the abuser to gain power and control.
The only solution to a controlling relationship is to break the repetitive cycle and end it, especially if one refuses to seek professional help and show a real effort to change; however, it can be extremely hard to break the pattern. Therefore it may help the individual to seek counselling, which provides a safe place to talk openly and confidentially while exploring feelings which will enable empowerment in making decisions. Although some couples may be able to work through the problems with intense counselling, it is important to acknowledge that this can be a long process.
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