He’s out with the boys and you’re calling at regular intervals to see where he is. He leaves the room and you check his cell phone. You may have reasons not to trust your man, but if he’s proven himself reliable, you may be too controlling. We chat to Cape Town-based psychologist Anelle Naudé-Lester about being controlling in relationships.

The signs
“If you find yourself constantly feeling anxious and paranoid when your partner is not with you, checking up on him behind his back (phoning his friends, checking his phone bills and phone register, logging onto his email and Facebook account without his knowledge), you are probably in trouble,” says Naudé-Lester. “Overreacting when he has to work late, work away from home or talks to colleagues over the phone are also warning signals.”

Whether or not your lack of trust is founded, it can create serious problems. “Trust needs to be an integral part of a relationship. It’s often one of those elements easily taken for granted, but it’s so detrimental to the relationship when it’s absent,” says Naudé-Lester.

Intuitive or insecure?
“Obviously if there is a history of infidelity and concrete evidence that your partner cannot be trusted, you would be irresponsible to blindly trust and believe everything your partner says,” says Naudé-Lester. “In such cases, both parties need to be serious and honest about repairing the broken trust and facilitating the healing that is absolutely crucial in restoring the relationship.”

“If, however, there is no reason to doubt your partner’s commitment and the relationship can successfully provide a safe space for both parties and you still find yourself being controlling, jealous and insecure, the issues you need to address are in all probability your own,” she continues. “This would mean, no matter how hard your partner tries, you will always be shifting the goal posts and constantly hold the other responsible for your insecurities.”

Trust and control issues could be a result of many things, including childhood rejection or abuse, infidelity in a previous relationship or depression and anxiety. Issues could stem from numerous sources. “In an attempt to make sense of these symptoms, we tend to blame the relationship for the discomfort, rather than addressing the depressed mood and anxiety symptoms or dealing with the past,” says Naudé-Lester.

Overcome the need to control
Naudé-Lester offers the following tips for overcoming your controlling relationship tendencies:

  • Look closely at your current relationship. If there are reasons for your doubt and controlling behaviour, ask yourself honestly if it is worth the energy and heartache. If there is a pattern of infidelity, don’t hold on to the hope that your partner will change, he probably won’t.
  • If there is no reason to doubt your partner, but you can’t refrain form controlling behaviour, seek professional help. A therapist can assist you with gaining insight into the origins of your trust issues and guide you in exploring new and constuctive behaviour.
  • Once you have more insight into your own behaviour, go to the therapist as a couple, so that your partner understands where you are coming from, as well as respects the changes you are attempting to put in place.
  • Have a meaningful life of your own and you don’t rely on your partner to provide you with happiness and purpose. This makes for a less insecure and needy individual, who ultimately will have more to bring to the relationship.
  • Be careful not to make accusations without proof. The injury this does to the relationship over time, even if you apologise afterwards, can be devastating.