Spotting & Dealing With Possessive Controlling Boyfriends/Girlfriends By Charles Emmrys Ph.D. L. Psych©

Who Are the Boyfriend/Girlfriends That Become Possessive

Boyfriend/Girlfriends that tend to become possessive are boys/girls who often feel that if they do not control the important relationships in their lives they will loose those relationships or they will be hurt by them.


They most often come from families with many problems or that may have split up. There is also often violence in the home, sometimes directed at them. It is the pain from these experiences that causes them to hurt their girlfriends/boyfriends so deeply.


How Do They Start Off in Relationships

First 30 to 60 days

Controllers do not look like controllers at first but they do tend to have certain ways of starting relationships.

  1. They tend to start fast and intense.
  2. They tend to be the initiators in the relationship and to always have a plan for activities or common time.
  3. They most often portray themselves as a victim. This might be the misunderstood bad guy/girl who is really good underneath or as a guy/girl whose former girlfriend/boyfriend was really mean to them.
  4. They commit to the relationship fast and ask the girl/boy to also commit quickly, often within the first or second week.
  5. They give lots of nice compliments and are really charming.
  6. Compliments tend to be about the girl’s/boy’s beauty, less about her/his accomplishments.
  7. They are strong (sometimes too strong) on the romantics.
  8. They can give nice gifts (flowers etc.) are very attentive and know how to make a girl/boy feel special.
  9. They spend lots of time with their new girlfriend/boyfriend, contacting them every day if they can.
  10. Their first way of controlling is by simply being there a lot.
  11. They will also make comments about how the girl/boy has to start giving things up for the relationship, usually as a joke at first.
  12. Sex comes up rather fast and intense.

First Part of the Relationship – Creating a Dependence

Next 3 to 6 months

  1. Boyfriend/Girlfriends who control can be quite open about their lives and usually put emphasis on how they were victims or were badly treated.
  2. Early on in the relationship, the controller boyfriend/girlfriend tells the girl/boy that she/he is special for him/her, that he/she has admired her/him from afar, and he/she needs her/him very much.
  3. As the relationship progresses, he/she will make it clear that his/her happiness depends on what his/her girlfriend/boyfriend does, who they see and how available they are. The idea that they are the ones responsible for their own happiness doesn’t click for them.
  4. Gradually, the boyfriend/girlfriend starts pushing to limit the girl/boy’s daily activities. It usually starts with limiting contact with friends of the opposite sex and then progresses to limiting time with all friends and then with the whole family.
  5. The boyfriend/girlfriend lets it be known that being there for them is what relationships are all about and makes the girl/boy feel guilty for not being there for them when she/he is out with others.
  6. Arguments about freedom tend to start when the relationship is well established. If the girl/boy has not clued in by this time that her boyfriend/girlfriend is a controller, she/he is probably falling in love and is beginning to feel guilty for not being the kind of girlfriend/boyfriend she/he should be. She/he also starts to believe she/he should not be doing things for themselves and that he/she is more important.
  7. As the controls increase and the boyfriend/girlfriend becomes more abusive, the girl/boy can either start to feel like she/he is a failure and try harder to limit her/his life to please the other or she/he can feel real deep shame at having let herself/himself be fooled by him/her.
  8. The good times in the relationship tends to become less and less frequent and the negative parts of the relationship tend to increase.

Complete Control Phase of the Relationship

From One Year or After Marriage

  1. Later on, the relationship becomes defined by jealousy and control.
  2. The boyfriend/girlfriend now tries to schedule the life of their partner more and more.
  3. When the partner goes out by herself/himself or talks to other of the opposite sex, this is seen as a deliberate attack on the jealous partner. They will respond by intense arguments, name calling and verbal and/or physical violence.
  4. One of the most important signs of controlling is that after major arguments and physical attacks, the controller turns around quickly and for a time is very sorry, giving gifts and making up as intensely as he/she can. He/she promises to never do it again and to change. Most partners of jealous mates believe this at first, but the jealousy and verbal and/or physical violence always returns, usually more intense than before.
  5. In time, the jealous partner accuses their girlfriend/boyfriend of having other lovers, of seeking sex at every opportunity and of being promiscuous.
  6. Stalking and following to make sure the partner is where she/he said she/she would be is common at this stage.
  7. The demands for limits are now so intense that they are impossible to live with. Jealousy is intense even when the partner is doing everything her/his boyfriend/girlfriend tells her/him to do.
  8. Finally, the more control the boyfriend/girlfriend has over their partner and the more put down the partner gets, the less the jealous girlfriend/boyfriend will think of her. He/she will put her/him down even more, call her/him useless and treat her/him like dirt. Eventually, the jealous partner will start going after other girls/boys who are, in his or her eyes, more exciting and new.

Why do Some Boyfriend/Girlfriends need to Control

There are two things that make boyfriend/girlfriends controlling. These are:

  1. For controlling boyfriend/girlfriends, jealousy is intense and really hurts. The intensity of the hurt comes from his/her very bad self-esteem and his bad family experiences. For the jealous boyfriend/girlfriend the only way to make the hurt go away is to control their girlfriend/boyfriend. The problem is that different types of control only work for a short time and eventually even extreme forms of control are not enough to stop the hurt. That is when verbal and/or physical violence tends to come no matter how submissive the girlfriend/boyfriend is.
  2. Controlling boyfriend/girlfriends really believe that if they hurt, that it is someone else’s fault. They do not understand that jealousy is their problem and that they need to deal with it not by limiting their girlfriend/boyfriend but by learning to trust and let go.


What kind of People Fall in Love with Controllers

Lots of girls/guys fall for controllers because they are really romantic and they know how to be attentive and giving, especially at first. Girls/guys will often say that they have never been treated so well as at the beginning of a controlling relationship. It is also true that love is blind. For the first six to twelve months of every relationship, most people are affected by a cocktail of neurotransmitters associated with passion that blinds one to certain realities. Fortunately, this hormone cocktail tends to run out after a while (18 months) and only then do you know who you really are going out with.


People that tend to really fall for controllers are often shy, not sure where they are going in their lives and are quite romantic themselves. They are also quite giving and tend to put others ahead of themselves. The idea that they are responsible for other people’s happiness tends to be a belief they have always had. Putting themselves first and standing up to others to protect their own needs tends to be difficult.


Why do Some People Stay with Controllers

There are reasons why some people stay with controllers even after their life has become really terrible. They include:

  1. They are convinced that they are losers and will never find another boyfriend/girlfriend. She/he then decides that she/he has to put up with him/her and take advantage of the good times when they come.
  2. They become so isolated from everyone else that they think that all their doors are closed and that they have no choice but to stay.
  3. If a girl/boy has received a lot of abuse, she/he can become emotionally paralyzed and numb and depressed. When a girl/boy is in this state, it is hard for her/him to find the energy to take the difficult step of leaving.

Even after a person leaves a controller boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, they will continue to love their old partner for a time. They will remember the good times and miss this. They will also feel lonely because they were isolated for so long that they will find it hard to make new contacts and develop new relationships. That is why some people will often go back to these relationships. It is usually only after 6 months to a year of being separated that the person has a chance of seeing the relationship for what it was and to make a commitment to themselves to not let this happen again. Some people, however, fall into the trap over and over again out of fear or out of a need for the intensity that these relationships offer.


Negotiating Good Rules for Relationships

It is a good idea to negotiate relationship rules at the very beginning of a relationship. Some useful rules that are highly suggested are the following:

  1. Both must be allowed to have other friends of both sexes but that as time goes on, they will increasingly be together as they entertain each other’s friends.
  2. Both accept that having many friendships from both sexes is important for developing maturity and good adult values.
  3. Jealousy is a frequently felt emotion. If it is felt by one or the other of the partners, both agree that it is the jealous partner that has the problem. If Jealousy comes up, the partners can discuss how best to deal with it but solutions cannot include controlling the life of the other partner.
  4. Fidelity (not being intimate with other boys or girls while dating one’s partner) is a responsibility and a choice that each partner accepts. Controlling the other partner’s friends and activities should never be used as a way to guarantee fidelity.
  5. Both partners should commit to respecting each other’s right to end the relationship if one or the other sees this as necessary.

Can Controllers be Helped to Stop Their Controlling Ways

The first thing that the partner of a controller has to understand is that they cannot change their jealous partner. Trying to change the other usually leads to worse problems down the road. What a jealous person can do is change the way they themselves deal with their partner and change themselves (not letting themselves be walked on or controlled). Change will be painful for controllers and if their boyfriend/girlfriend tries to change them, they will simply see it as an attack and try to control them all the more.


It was believed for a long time that jealous persons could never change and that they would be abusers for the rest of their lives. We now know that therapy can help change them if they decide that they want to change and can commit to what will be painful therapy. The therapy is mainly to look at their own family and to start to understand the need for change. After that, they can learn that their partner is not there to take care of them. They must then find ways of controlling jealousy and to gradually stop their controlling ways. Unfortunately, controlling boyfriend/girlfriends almost always refuse therapy because they refuse to believe that they are the ones at fault. They blame their partners for all their problems. But if a controller does commit to therapy, there is hope.


If a controlling boyfriend/girlfriend refuses to change, the only option is to either let yourself be controlled and watch your life become smaller, more limited and more full of verbal and/or physical violence, or to leave the relationship.


Leaving Controller Boyfriend/Girlfriends

Leaving a controller boyfriend/girlfriend is one of the hardest things to do, especially if the relationship has turned violent. The general rule is “the sooner the better”. Very serious controller boyfriend/girlfriends will often react to their partner leaving with threats of violence against themselves or their departing partner, with stalking and with promises to make their X partner’s life miserable. Extreme cases lead to long term stalking and even physical assaults like those reported by newspapers.


The secret to leaving a controller boyfriend/girlfriend is to pull together lots of support from friends and family. The more people support and protect the former partner, the more quickly the controller boyfriend/girlfriend will give up and seek another.


The controller boyfriend/girlfriend having another partner does not mean that they will always forget the first one. They will often try and control both their current and former partners and even get the current partner to denigrate or attack the old partner. Once again, the more support the X partner has, the less this will happen.


How Can a Girl Know What She is In For with a Boyfriend/Girlfriend

One of the best ways to know what will happen later on in a relationship is to spend time with the boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents to see how they deal with problems and if they use verbal or physical violence to solve conflicts. It is also good to see how the boyfriend/girlfriend treats his/her parents, particularly their mother. Chances are that once the passion hormones are used up, the boyfriend/girlfriend will look and act much like his parents, especially the father. By looking at how the mother is treated by the father and the boyfriend/girlfriend, a person will see how she/he is likely to be treated in this relationship. This tends to be true even though the boyfriend/girlfriend insists that he/she loves his/her mom and dad and that he/she is different from his/her parents in every way.


How Do Non-Controlling Boyfriend/Girlfriends Look

Non controlling boyfriend/girlfriends vary enormously but, like controlling boyfriend/girlfriends, they tend to have a few things in common. These are:

  1. Non-controlling boyfriend/girlfriends tend to come from families where parents and children get along and respect each other fairly well.
  2. Non-controlling boyfriend/girlfriends tend to be cautious and to prefer moving slowly at the beginning of a relationship so that they can learn to understand and trust their partner before getting more involved.
  3. Non-controlling boyfriend/girlfriends accept from the start that their partner will have friends of the opposite sex, and they protect their own right to have their own circle of friends from both sexes. They also appreciate that over time, friends are entertained by both and that friends eventually belong to both.
  4. If they get jealous, non-controlling boyfriend/girlfriends accept that it is their problem, not their partner’s problem.
  5. Non-controlling partners are less complementary and give fewer presents.
  6. Non-controlling boyfriends/girlfriends tend to be more impressed with their partner’s accomplishments and tend to be more encouraging when it comes to their partner’s extracurricular activities and personal projects.
  7. Non-controlling partners are less romantic but put more importance on equality within the relationship.
  8. Non-controlling boyfriends/girlfriends are usually more awkward, partly because they are always trying to make sure they don’t act too pushy.
  9. Non-controlling boyfriends/girlfriends are very respectful of their partner’s life goals and their own life goals, even if these do not match.

There are exceptions to every rule and so people looking at possible partners should try and see the whole picture. They should also be patient with themselves as they learn about the world of relationships. These pointers are offered to give everyone a bit more information about the most difficult problem they are likely to encounter when choosing a partner, namely, finding themselves with a controlling boyfriend/girlfriend. If you know the signs, you can avoid lots of pain.


Good Luck

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