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with Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

The 10 Most Toxic Forms of Control in Relationships

Controlling people seek power over others by reducing their partners’ confidence and stature.

Here are the 10 most toxic forms of control in relationships, with examples of each behavior:

1)  Coercing

Trying to isolate you from others. Keeping financial or other resources out of your hands or sharing resources only after extracting a price from you. Trying to make you act against or give up your values. Fostering unhealthy triangles, for example keeping in contact with former lovers or putting you in the middle of conflicts between them and family members or friends.

2)  Demeaning

Debasing you through ridicule or name-calling. Embarrassing you in front of others. Telling you that you are unattractive or unintelligent. Downplaying or ignoring your strengths and accomplishments. Making sarcastic comments.

3)  Handicapping

Shaming or scapegoating you. Treating you as a child or as if you are not equal or capable. Telling you that you couldn’t survive without the relationship. Violating your privacy. Excluding you from major decisions that affect you and the relationship.

7)  Confusing

Gaslighting. Projecting, by accusing you of what they doing. Holding double standards that disfavor you. Claiming that you are the reason they act badly. Changing the subject or distracting you when you bring up an important topic.

5)  Badgering

Pressuring or overwhelming you. Interrogating you about where you have been, what you are thinking or how you spend money or time. Demanding sex or affection regardless of how you feel. Refusing to take “No” for an answer.

6)  Denying

Refusing to take responsibility. Minimizing or making excuses for their destructive behavior. Pretending that everything is fine.

7)  Intimidating

Bullying you or going into a rage. Threatening to harm you or others. Threatening to leave. Physically gesturing or posturing in intrusive or menacing ways.

8)  Withholding

Refusing to communicate. Acting passive-aggressively. Refusing to do a fair share in chores, earning, or other responsibilities that affect you both. Withholding affection or sex. Giving you the silent treatment for hours or days. Refusing to answer your questions.

9)  Deceiving

Lying. Cheating. False flattery. Pretending to be on your side. Telling you to just trust them. “Forgetting” to give you important messages.

10)  Manipulating

Trying to make you feel guilty for your needs or desires. Threatening self-harm if you don’t comply with their wishes. Being overly jealous or suspicious. Falsely accusing you of being dishonest.

Controlling people do not value treating others with respect or dignity. Rather, they seek power at your expense. They believe that their stature increases as your power and stature diminishes. They know that:

    • Coercing, demeaning and handicapping you can make you doubt yourself and feel less able or entitled to set healthy boundaries
    • Confusing and badgering can overwhelm or exhaust you and make you more likely to tolerate unhealthy behavior
    • Intimidation can make you less likely to protest unhealthy control or exert your will
    • Denying, withholding, deceiving and manipulating can keep you from viewing the relationship and your partner clearly, which leaves you more likely to question or doubt yourself, not the controller.

If you recognize some of these signs of toxic control in an important relationship, you owe it to yourself to evaluate whether the relationship is right for you. You may wish to call attention to these behaviors and stand firm that they need to change.

If unhealthy controlling behaviors persist after you have called attention to them, the controlling person is giving you a message about his or her priorities. This may not be a healthy relationship for you.

Copyright © Dan Neuharth PhD MFT


Toxic Behavior by Arloo
Street signs by WonderWoman0731
Lying by Geralt
Breaking free by Hasan Eroglu

The 10 Most Toxic Forms of Control in Relationships

Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT

Dan Neuharth, PhD, is a marriage and family therapist and best-selling author based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 25 years’ experience providing individual, couples and family therapy. Dr. Neuharth is the author of If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. He writes two blogs for PsychCentral: Love Matters and Narcissism Decoded. He is licensed as a marriage and family therapist in California, Florida, Texas and Virginia. His website:

Please note: Dr. Neuharth's posts are for information and educational purposes only. These posts are not intended to be therapy or professional psychotherapeutic advice, and are not a replacement for psychotherapy. I cannot give psychotherapeutic advice about your individual situation outside of a therapist-client relationship. The posting of these blogs and the information therein does not constitute the formation of a therapist-client relationship. Please consult your physician or mental health provider for individual advice or support for your health and well-being. If you are in crisis, please call your local 24-hour crisis or mental health hotline or dial 911.

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APA Reference
Neuharth, D. (2019). The 10 Most Toxic Forms of Control in Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jul 2019
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