Anxiety, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Break ups, Couple's counselling, Family counselling, Mental Health, Narcissist, Relationships

When is controlling behaviour from a partner toxic or abusive?

Many people can appear controlling in a relationship and I certainly see many examples of it in couples counselling.


Often controlling behaviours show up because the person is feeling insecure or highly anxious. Anxiety fuels controlling behaviours in relationships.

But there are times when it goes beyond anxiety.  Some expressions of controlling behaviour are toxic and downright dangerous in a relationship. Narcissistic and Psychopathic personality types are behind the more dangerous controlling behaviours.

Here are 10 signs your partner’s controlling behaviour is dangerous.


Please note I am using the pronoun “he” because the vast majority of controlling behaviours comes from the male in the relationship.  Please replace this with a “she” if it relates to your situation.

  1.  He constantly criticises, belittles you or calls you names. Sometimes it happens in public or in front of others and you feel humiliated.  When you complain about it he calls you a crazy or psycho bitch. He says you need to sort yourself out. Sadly, over the years I have heard these phrases used many times by controlling partners.  
  2. He won’t give you access to the finances but you are discouraged to work (or not ‘allowed’ to work). It is common for a controlling partner to give their spouse an allowance or a limited amount to spend every month – but not tell them how much he earns or how much money is in the shared bank account.
  3. You are told that you are stupid or intellectually not on his level and you need to work on this aspect of yourself. You begin to believe this about yourself.
  4. He withholds sex or you feel sexually inadequate after a sexual moment. He tells you this is because you are not good at sex, need to lose weight, are getting old, or have made him angry.  This leaves you feeling insecure about whether he loves you.
  5. He tells you how to behave with his extended family and friends.
  6. He isolates you from your family and friends. Often the controlling partner tells you your friends or family are not good enough, stupid or bad for you.
  7. He regularly goes out with his friends but you are expected to stay home with children on your own and are not allowed to go out.
  8. He checks your phone, belongings, monitors phone calls – sometimes this escalates to having a partner followed.
  9. Road rage when driving.
  10. He tells you he will suicide or self-harm (or harm you and your children) if you attempt to leave the relationship.

An obvious sign that you are in a dangerously controlling relationship is if you feel afraid of your partner.  And there is increasing amounts of verbal abuse and sometimes physical violence.

Another really obvious sign is if family and friends make concerned comments about your relationship.  And you feel like you just don’t have the choice to get out because he has threatened to take your children away, leave you financially destitute or harm you and your children in some other way.

What can you do if you are in a controlling relationship?


If there are mild (note – none of the above signs is considered mild) controlling behaviours in your relationship couples counselling is a really good place to start.  Remember that a lot of the time controlling behaviours are driven by insecurity and anxiety.  There are plenty of controlling people I see who are willing to work on making changes to this behaviour.

However, if you are afraid of raising your concerns about the control in your relationship with a couples counsellor, something is very wrong. I would then encourage you to seek a relationship counsellor on your own. That way the counsellor can help you identify what is going on, how bad it is and help you make some decisions about how to manage your situation. You may feel like you really are the crazy or stupid bitch your partner has been calling you – so a vital first step is getting a reality check so that you understand your strengths and choices. Counselling should help you build your confidence to a level where you can make good decisions about your relationship.

If you are experiencing any of the above 10 signs get in touch with a relationship counsellor for yourself today.  If you are experiencing milder signs of control in your relationship, then a good couples counsellor will be able to help you both.

If you or your children are in danger or you are worried about someone you love, a really good service to access is 1800RESPECT.  You can call up or do a webchat with one of their counsellors.  You do not have to identify yourself and you don’t have to be ready to leave your relationship.  Their number is 1800 737 732.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 000


About Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

If you are experiencing problems, please contact our receptionist today on 02 8968 9397 or contact us and we will support you to make the positive relationship changes you need.

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