What you need to know:
- According to Bernard Ndung’u, a Nairobi based psychologist, a controlling partner is this way because they feel inadequate as an individual and need to control someone to try and feel less inadequate.
- Though a possibility, it is not easy to change a controlling personality as this trait is deep running and often has roots in a person’s past.
Whether it is grand gestures like flying her out to an underwater restaurant in Dubai for dinner on her birthday or smaller gestures like sending her to the living room with a glass of red wine as you make her favourite meal, love takes many guises. At a glance, love and control can see like they are on the opposite ends of each other but in a romantic relationship scenario, control can easily be mistaken for love.
Case in point, about two decades ago, a popular notion especially in rural Kenya was that if you did not beat your wife then you didn’t love her. Controlling personalities are not always this obvious. How then can a woman know that what might seem as affection from her lover is actually control?
Four women share when they knew it was no longer love but control;
At your beck and call
In her book 'Why Charming Men Can Make Dangerous Lovers', author Horley Sandra writes that control in a relationship is about power and insecurity. When one has had an experience where you had your heart broken, it is normal to enter subsequent relationships with fear. This fear can turn into a need to control. When it does, one will opt to bend over backwards in a bid to secure the permanence of a relationship.
The way this partner sees it, if you are overly good to your partner, even overlooking your happiness at times, then it is a guarantee that he or she will not leave you. As Olivia Munyoki, 30, found out, this form of control can be hard to recognise thus easy to dismiss.
“At first, I found it endearing when my boyfriend went out of his way for my comfort all the time. It took me over a year to realise that his being obliging was not a character trait but his way of manipulating me to stay by his side,” she says.
She realised it was control when her boyfriend began expecting her to spend all her free time with him. When she told him this was unreasonable, he began counting for her the times he had gone out of his way to please her in the relationship.
“I don’t think his controlling nature came from a place of malice but from insecurity. Still, it was too much for me,” she says.
When your significant other calls to check up on you during the day it comes across as a direct sign of affection and concern. From her experience, 29-year-old Ngina says that you may have a cause to worry if he or she wants to know where you are numerous times a day or wants to spend every waking moment with you.
“I hardly had time to myself, to spend with my friends or to enjoy the things I did before I met him,” Ngina, 29 speaks of a past relationship which lasted only seven months.
While the attention was flattering at first, it became stifling. He would call several times when she was out with friends and would sometimes even request to speak with them to ascertain her whereabouts. Then he began listening in on her calls. When he began to get physical, it was the last straw on the camel’s back.
“I know that every relationship needs a bit of compromise but it can work if a person’s whole life revolves around the relationship. If he can’t go an hour without wanting to know where you are,” she says.
Buying your love
“A man suggesting that I would look good in a certain skirt is one thing and her demanding that I wear it or insisting on shopping for my clothes is another,” says Robby Magiri, 30, who not very long ago was in a relationship with a controlling man.
The way she sees it, her clothes express her personality and style and if someone tries to control how she dresses, he is trying to manipulate who she is.
Her two-year long relationship started out well. The man she was seeing had a great fashion sense and was thrilled that unlike her brothers or other men she had dated, he was happy to take her clothes shopping. She was happy when he paid for the lot. Then he began demanding that she put on this and not that.
“At some point, I realised that he had bought most of the things I owned including house furnishings. Accepting these things, to him meant that I owed him and he would guilt trip me into doing things he wanted.”
She was unhappy for months and she cheated with an ex ultimately ending this relationship.
Wanting to own the object of your love is one of the more evident forms of control which can be mistaken to be love. When her boyfriend began limiting her interaction with others Nicole Oti, 27, thought it was because he loved her so much he didn’t want to share her. He discouraged her from inviting her friends and even siblings to stay at the house they shared citing their need for privacy.
“I went along with it because we had a big age gap. I was 22 and he was 40 when we met. I assumed he knew better than me but when I gave birth to our daughter and he didn’t want even my mother coming around I knew the relationship dynamics were wrong.”
This control turned into physical aggression until she finally gathered enough courage to leave eight months ago aged 26.
What the experts think
According to Mr. Bernard Ndung’u, a Nairobi based psychologist, a controlling partner is this way because they feel inadequate as an individual and need to control someone to try and feel less inadequate.
Though a possibility, it is not easy to change a controlling personality as this trait is deep running and often has roots in a person’s past. He cautions that control is often a precursor to physical violence hence if you feel your partner’s degree of control is bordering aggression, it is wise to think about your safety.
Other red flags to watch out for
- He isolates you from your friends and family.
- Be wary of the man who criticizes your every action, including the little things.
- If their acceptance or love for you is conditional, if they say things like, ‘I love you if/when…’it may be time to run.
- If he counts and keeps a tally of every good thing he does for you, it’s a bad sign.
- Controlling partners are overly jealous, they may even be paranoid.