Skip to content

3 Ways To Deal With Controlling People In Your Life, According To Therapists

Sarah Regan
October 27, 2021
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Image by Lumina / Stocksy
October 27, 2021

We've all met a controlling person at some point, and whether you have a controlling partner, controlling parents, or even controlling friends, it can be difficult to know how to actually handle it. So, we asked experts for their top tips on dealing with a controlling person.

Here's what they had to say:


Talk to them about it directly.

When it comes to dealing with any sort of conflict, communication is key. When dealing with someone who is exhibiting controlling behavior, it's important to proactively and directly talk to them about the issue. Licensed therapist Rachel Wright, LMFT, recommends using her "AEO framework" for structuring difficult conversations, which consists of three steps:

  • Acknowledge the issue.
  • Explain the emotions.
  • Offer a solution.

For example, if a romantic partner is always trying to reach you when you're out with friends, you could say, "I've noticed you're often trying to reach me when I'm out with friends. I keep thinking you don't trust me, and that makes me feel diminished. When we're out with friends, I'd like for there not to be an expectation that we respond to each other super quickly. What do you think?"

If the relationship is salvageable and the controlling person in question is willing to work on their behavior, they will not only take accountability for how they've made you feel but also take steps to improve. If nothing changes, that's a sign the relationship might not be worth its emotional toll.


Set boundaries.

Boundaries are another key here, and in the case of controlling people, the boundaries you set will have to be that much more firm. In fact, as clinical psychologist Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., previously explained to mbg, setting strong, firm, and consistent boundaries is the best way to deal with controlling people, like parents.

Remember, you're under no obligation to give up your time, energy, and even attention, to anyone. Check out our full guide for setting healthy boundaries for more tips.


Know when to walk away.

And last but certainly not least, having a controlling person in your life requires knowing and acknowledging when it's time to walk away. As Tsabary notes, when setting boundaries doesn't work, "then it is important to create emotional space and distance in another way."

It's really important to look at how this person responds when you bring up what's bothering you, when you set boundaries, and when you talk about how their behavior is affecting you. If they continually get defensive, violate your boundaries, and/or continue exhibiting controlling behavior, that's simply an unhealthy relationship dynamic to be in.

If you're dating this person, that may mean it's time for the relationship to end. If it's someone like a friend or family member who you don't want to cut off completely, you can create some space within the relationship. For example, therapist Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT, previously told mbg that ending a controlling friendship can be as simple as "no longer initiating contact or plans as frequently and allowing the connection to naturally fade."

Whatever you decide the best course of action is, don't lose sight of your own needs, how this controlling person really makes you feel, and what you require from your relationships going forward. Anything less is less than you deserve.

If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For anonymous and confidential help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) and speak with a trained advocate for free as many times as you need. They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also speak to them through a live private chat on their website.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.