Love Better

Guys Tell Us What They Consider Controlling Behaviour

‘I’ve never tried to control anyone. Except if something is bothering me’ 
Ekaterina Bedoeva 1a

Control can be a positive thing when applied in the right parts of our lives – some would argue self-control is crucial to our physical or mental health, lest we all end up like the ill-fated Gluttony in Fincher's Se7en

But, on the flip side, control is something that can have a distinctly negative impact – and is something many of us struggle to let go of when dealing with factors outside of ourselves. Perhaps you’re afraid of flying because you don’t know the credentials of the pilot. Maybe you can’t stop yourself from dominating the kitchen on Monday's shared dinner because no one else dices the onion quite right. 


Or… maybe you find yourself picking up your partner's phone from time to time to see who they’re DMing. Or wincing every time they wear a shirt you think shows too much skin. 

This is where things get tricky, as the need for control can snowball from trivial irks into obsessive thoughts. Feeling protective over someone you’re with is expected, but where's the line in a relationship, and when does control get out of hand?

VICE spoke with 4 men in Aotearoa about what they considered to be controlling behaviour in a relationship, both in potential partners and themselves. 

Here’s what they had to say: 


VICE: What would you consider to be controlling in a relationship?

Rawiri: I suppose the first thing that pops to mind is when somebody says, If you love me, followed by a request. 

I've seen that a lot with people around me, and it works. People do things that they don't want to do. And I'm not saying anything sexual or anything like that, more like, making somebody leave a social thing before they want to. Nothing too intense, but still kind of manipulative.

And on the more serious side of things, having an aggressive personality when you don't get your way. And the other person would know when that volcano is about to erupt, so they have to agree with you, or do something to please you, before that happens. They're walking on eggshells, when they know that that can happen, like: I just have to keep the peace and make sure that the other person is happy. 



One other thing that I think is a bit manipulative is trying to see the person you're dating all the time, even if they're not comfortable with that and they’ve set their boundaries. It shouldn't be the definition of a relationship to be able to hang out with them whenever you want, when they might not want that. 

Some people can't wrap their heads around that. They're like: if they don't want to hang out with me, they just don't love me. And then they'll put that on the other person, so they're almost not allowed to say “no”. And then they feel guilt, almost, for wanting a night alone, just because they might be a different type of spirit who needs more space.

Can you think of anything that you would do and then be like, Oh, I shouldn't have done that. That was kind of controlling. 

For me it would be struggling to take accountability for doing something wrong, and either pushing it on the other person or diverting it somewhere else. I might make it the other person's problem or draw a conclusion like, I might not have done that if you didn't do this – When, actually, it's pretty easy to just say sorry.

You can say, Oh yep, I had a bad day. But nowhere in that sentence is that mysterious word “sorry”. And that's what you need to say. It's pretty basic, but it can be hard. It doesn't come out of my mouth very easily when I need it to, when I know it should. 



VICE: From an objective perspective, what would you consider controlling behaviour in a relationship?

Reyne: One of the first things that comes to mind is little things like constantly needing to know where you are and what you’re doing. Or just blatantly being like, you can't go out tonight because I don't want you to.

Or it could be controlling in a more indirect way, like controlling people's opinions on you. Telling other people that you have some sort of problem, like drinking for instance, in order to get other people to feel more cautious around you when you’re drinking. 

They’re making you feel like they’re the only person on your side and that you need them. Even though your partner might have actually been the person pitting other people against you. That kind of indirect control. 

In theory, what might your partner do that would make you be like, they're being controlling and this isn't okay with me?

As a polyamorous person, there's always things like them applying their beliefs, of how they think someone should act in a relationship, onto you. Say they go out, and they’re dancing with someone, and they don't feel like it's okay to touch the other person or to be physically affectionate towards them at all. Whereas you like doing that, but because they don't like doing it, they say that you can't do that. We all have different attitudes to what's intimate. 


A lot of people, especially in widely shared beliefs like monogamy, think that what they believe is kind of like the truth and like that's the only right thing, especially when they talk to their other friends about it that are monogamous. They're like yeah, these are the same issues that we're all dealing with, but it's not a shared experience with every culture and every person.

On the flip side, what would be things that you might then reflect on and be like, Oh, that was actually, like, controlling, if you did them? 

The first thing that comes to mind is, and this is something that I try not to do, is if I see my partner at a party, or out somewhere, and they're talking to someone that I consider to be attractive, I think a lot of people would insert themselves into that situation to make their presence known and to be like, I am here and I am their partner. Whereas I really value letting go of that control that you would otherwise be enforcing on them by doing that. 

And how do you let go, in those situations?  

I will just remember that, like, my life goes on and exists outside of my relationship with this one person. And so I don't feel like I need to control it. It means that you're always in a position where you can deal with what's going on around you emotionally. 

A relationship naturally has its course, you know? And I feel like, to try and manipulate that would be folly in a way. 



VICE: In a romantic relationship, what would you consider to be controlling?

Christian:oundaries” that are unreasonable. Like, you cannot hang out with another guy without me being there, or you can’t hang out with other girls without me. Or going to a party and being like: when I leave, you have to leave. Or having a rule that you get to check someone's phone whenever you want and they have to show you.


I guess also, performing an emotion to control your partner. 

Perhaps you're going to hang out with a friend and maybe that friend is someone that your partner doesn’t like, but she or he has said that it's fine for you to hang out. Then afterwards your partner is clearly acting out, and you ask them, were you uncomfortable about that? They're like, No, but then keep acting like it is a problem.

And I’ve dated someone who may have been perceived as controlling at times, but they weren't. It wasn’t intentional, which makes a difference. She wasn’t trying to reduce what I was allowed to do, it was more like she was insecure about herself and, therefore, I wanted to do or not do things to make her less insecure. 

And then what would make you go: oh this is not all good, when looking at your own behaviour?

I mean, for me something like feeling like I need to take someone's phone. If I got to the point where I'd want to do that, I think I’d be like, we need to have a chat about why I’m not trusting you. 


Or if we’re going to a party and I don't want my girlfriend to wear something because I think it's too revealing. I can imagine that if that's something that I found myself doing I'd be like, what the fuck, why? 

So how do you make sure those are things that you're not doing?

For me personally, when I'm feeling jealous, or showing signs of emotions that would cause controlling responses, I just make sure I think it through before acting.   

And I think jealousy is a very natural emotion, there's no harm in feeling it. Maybe it's even jealousy that you’re like missing out on something or jealous of other people spending time with your partner because you want to spend that time with them. 

I think you just need to check yourself – because ultimately, if you're with someone that you trust and care about, you shouldn’t be trying to control them. You should just be happy for them that they’re having fun and  they're doing their own thing,


VICE: What would you consider to be controlling behaviour in a relationship?

Richie: It’s really about policing your partner's behaviour. So using what they fear, putting them down, undermining their self esteem, telling them who they can hang out with, using social media to surveil them. And it can involve making someone dependent on you, by cutting them off from everyone else.


That then further adds to the threat of violence and physical violence, which falls within the abuse spectrum. On average men are stronger than women which is part and parcel of that, but also there’s the socialisation of men to use violence and be dominant. That's an expectation of manhood and masculinity that we kind of have drilled into us from early on. And some men carry that into their intimate relationships.

Have you seen that in people around you?

I mean look at people online, in what gets called the manosphere, on Pickup Artists websites. It's so messed up, dude. All these very, very specific strategies of negging women by putting them down and eroding their self esteem and making sure that you become like a hero to them. It's basically a toolbox on coercive control. It’s super unhealthy, and leads to very real harm. 

But then there are guys who are reactively abusive, maybe they grew up with violence, maybe they've got no self esteem, maybe violence was perpetrated upon them, maybe they witnessed it in their childhood. They've never had therapeutic interventions, they just grew up in that culture.

I grew up with a dad who had his own issues, and he was really controlling and emotionally and occasionally physically abusive. I don't even think he was super conscious of how his shit showed up in the world. 

On that note, do you have any advice to help someone actually recognise that they might be the controlling partner?


As we get older, we start seeing cycles in our relationships, right. For myself, while I’ve not been in a controlling realtionship, I’ve I've had to look at myself and been like, well, what's the common denominator in the past relationships that have had elements that were unhealthy and the denominator is me. If we can see patterns, we can break them. We can’t change our partners behaviours, we have to own our part in relationships and address them accordingly.

And we often choose partners that create a degree of psychological familiarity for us. So if we're had an unstable upbringing, maybe we'll find a partner that unconsciously re-creates that for us. But if we're getting sick and tired of that same stuff playing out again in another relationship, maybe that's a wake up call. If you’re having a third break-up or fourth break-up and you're starting to notice this pattern, maybe it's time to reach out and ask for help and look for professional guidance or a peer support group or a men's group that is really going to help you shift stick. Brothers got to talk to brothers, you know.

And if you’re hearing your friends complaining, Yeah, my missus this and my missus did that, maybe you need to be like, Hey, doesn't sound like shits real good at home, what's going on?


If someone’s always putting their partner down and calling her stupid and using sexist language, call him in on it. Don’t shut them out, ask them some questions, that might challenge their behavior. Men really need male spaces to have meaningful conversations about stuff that isn't healthy.


Be a mirror for that behaviour. 

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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.