Signs of an Abusive & Controlling Boyfriend

Updated April 17, 2017

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, about 4.8 million women experience physical assaults and rapes every year from their intimate partners. Physical abuse tends to escalate from one episode of violence to an ongoing continuum of battering. Many more women, about 20.7 million, are verbally or emotionally abused by their intimate partners every year. It's important to recognise the signs of an abusive and controlling boyfriend and remove yourself promptly from this potentially dangerous situation.

Rapid Commitment

It's not a good sign if your boyfriend is already trying to set himself up as the centre of your universe, or make you the centre of his, within the first three or four weeks of your relationship. Abusive and controlling boyfriends want to get in control fast.

Physically or Verbally Threatening

The first signs of physical or verbal abuse probably won't be directed at you. He'll punch a wall, verbally abuse someone else or tell you stories about problems he's had with other people to get your attention and to hint at things to come.

Attacks Your Self-Confidence

Verbal putdowns, embarrassing you in front of other people, criticising everything you do, laughing at you and ignoring your requests or statements are meant to establish his dominance and your insignificance. A relationship of equals is seen as a threat and can enrage him.

Isolates You

If you find yourself cancelling social outings with your girlfriends, losing track of friends and family and feeling uneasy about inviting people to your place for a visit, ask yourself if your boyfriend is concerned about what you might share about your relationship and what others might observe.

Attack-Apology Cycle

Violent or verbally abusive boyfriends often follow incidents of abuse with overly effusive apologies and remorseful behaviour. They try to woo you back with flowers and sweet talk to bring you back under their control and set you up for the next explosion.

Doesn't Care about Who You Are

An abusive and controlling boyfriend doesn't care who you are or what you want beyond the fact that you are serving his needs. He might service you by seeming attentive and asking intimate questions about you, only to forget your answers. Your interests, friendships, hobbies and aspirations are his competition.

Tracks Your Whereabouts

An obsessive or invasive need to know where you've been and who you've been with is not a sign of love or concern. It's a sign of control, fear, lack of trust and instability on his part. If you feel interrogated, it's a problem.

Your Friends and Family Dislike Him

Although he might try to impress them in the beginning, friends and family are often the first to see through the thin veneer of an abusive and controlling boyfriend. It's a danger sign if you find yourself embarrassed to bring him around or defending his behaviour to others.

Lack of Friends and Interests

Controlling and abusive men don't have long-term friends, friendly ex-girlfriends or outside interests beyond the lucrative. Their lack of interest in other people's welfare, as well as any alcohol or drug abuse, is reflected in their lone wolf status.

He's Always in Charge

Controlling behaviour encompasses everything from which restaurant you're going to for dinner to when and how often you have sex. In general, your job is to know what he wants and how he wants it and what is permitted and what is forbidden. Any deviation, question or refusal can cause a rupture that leads to abuse.

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About the Author

Lorena Cassady has written professionally since 1982. She was an instructor and mentor teacher for a Bachelor of Arts in management program and has administered a home-health agency. She has been published in "Traveler's Tales" and holds a Master of Arts in English and creative writing from San Francisco State University. Cassady is bilingual.