7 Tips for Breaking Free From a Controlling Relationship

How do you break free from a relationship that is controlling and codependent? Whether you’re dealing with love addiction or feelings of powerlessness, you can break free. These tips will help you unshackle the bonds and find the freedom you want. If you are being controlled in a relationship, your mind, body, spirit and soul is suffocating.

“I’ve been in this relationship for 7 years,” says Tammy on How to Stop Being a Toxic Girlfriend. “We have a 2 year old son. In the past he cheated on me (a lot).  Now he is faithful and I’m sooo over him. I keep telling myself if I had a job that could allow me to pay rent on my own then I would break it off. I also sit and think about everything I need him for. I don’t like for him to touch me and his presence annoys me.  I just feel if my life was in a better place he wouldn’t even be in it. I NEED HELP!!!!!!!”

Here’s the most important thing to remember about getting away from a controlling man or relationship: you have more power than he does. You may think and feel that he has all the power, but the truth is that you have more. You may give your boyfriend or husband power – and you may even think you’re addicted to love – but he can’t take your power away from you.

Unless, of course, you let him.

How to Break Free From a Relationship That Controls You

7 Tips for Breaking Free From a Controlling Relationship
Breaking Free From From a Controlling Relationship

How much power have you given this relationship? If you want to take it back, you will break free from the control it has over you.

Is money keeping you from doing what you want? If you don’t think that you can leave a man who controls and manipulates you, read How to Get Money to Leave Your Husband. Financial independence is one of the most precious, valuable gifts you could ever give yourself.

First, retrace your steps…how did you lose yourself?

It took time, didn’t it? Possibly months, probably years. We don’t lose ourselves overnight. It’s slow and insidious, this losing of self. It’s gradual, like the erosion of rock over time. Since it took time to lose yourself, it’ll take time to learn how to find yourself again. Give yourself time to grieve the bad thing that happened to you, whether it was a breakup, a divorce, or a death. Remember that finding yourself doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that involves your heart, mind, and soul.

Being aware of how you lost yourself will help you find yourself again. Who hurt you? What started this separation from yourself? How did you contribute to your loss of self?

1. Be clear on how you gave your power away

Why are you still in this relationship? Focus on yourself, not your boyfriend or husband. He can’t steal your power, he can’t force you to be addicted to love, and he can’t make you stay in a relationship. If you think he has the ability to control you, then you have given him that power. Good news! Even if there is something in you that is drawn to addictive love or controlling relationships, you can break free.

Read books like Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love. Talk to a counselor; even just one session can help you figure things out. If you’ve been thinking about breaking free from this controlling relationship for a long time but you keep falling back into old patterns, try different ways to loosen the bonds.

2. Find a “go to” person

Ask your friend, sister, therapist or someone you trust to be your “go to” person. Then, when you feel yourself falling back into your old relationship patterns, call your “go to person” instead. She will help you remember why you need to walk away from this controlling relationship and how happy and healthy you will be! You just need to find ways to get through the hardest first stage of breaking up.

Maybe you keep thinking the relationship or your partner will change. Things will get better, you think, and your boyfriend or husband won’t be so controlling. How long have you been hoping this? Talk about it with your “go to” person — but only once. Don’t fall into the trap of ruminating and obsessing about his controlling behavior. Talk it out, air out the cobwebs, and decide that this relationship no longer has the power to control you.

3. Focus on one area of your life at a time

There isn’t one specific list of questions that will help you learn how to find yourself. Why? Because it depends on what part of yourself is lost. Sometimes you need help finding yourself professionally, to figure out what career path to take or what the most meaningful job is. Other times you need to learn how to find yourself personally because you got lost in a relationship that was unhealthy. You might need help finding yourself physically because you’ve gained too much weight and are literally weighed down.

Healthy relationships with people are an important part of breaking free from a controlling relationship, but you can explore happier, lighter ways to heal! For instance, listening to the best songs for broken hearts can be an important part of leaving a controlling relationship. Taking art classes and expressing yourself creatively can help — you don’t have to be an artist to be creative. Learning how to dance for exercise or self-expression (dance therapy) can help you heal from addictive love.

If you’re not sure what controlling love is, read 7 Signs of Addictive Relationships.

4. Every morning, renew your resolve to break free

I love this inspiration from C.S. Lewis:

“But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Is this a tip on how to break free from a controlling relationship? Yes, because freedom involves regaining your power and finding yourself again. This world is noisy, overstimulating, and demanding your attention. Click here, go there, do this, buy that!!! The world – and possibly the man you’re in a relationship with – doesn’t want you to learn how to find yourself. The world – and this man – wants to own you. That is why you need to remember who you are and why you were created.

5. Focus on getting physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy

Taking care of yourself means staying away from the carton of ice cream (a classic way to heal from breaking up with someone). Instead, stay in the “sweat zone.” Don’t give up on your fitness routine — you need to nourish your body with exercise, food, and sleep. When you’re getting over a controlling relationship, you need to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually strong.

Cleanse your life: out with the old, in with the new. To find freedom from a controlling relationship, you need to cleanse your life. This means putting, throwing, or giving away everything that your ex gave you or left behind. Deal with everything that you accumulated as a couple, or that reminds you of your ex. This tip serves a double purpose: you’ll declutter you home at the same time.

If this has been an ongoing struggle for you, read 3 Ways to Cope With an “On Again Off Again” Relationship.

6. Shake your life up!

Take a scuba diving class, go on a singles cruise, or join a hiking club in your city. Do something unexpected, something you’ve always wanted to do but were too busy or scared to try. Find ways to meet new people and expand your horizons — it will increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. And, the better you feel about yourself, the easier it will be to walk away from a controlling relationship.

You may not be able to afford a trip to Maui or Belize, but you might be able to take a day trip to a nearby city or town. Getting out of your every day surroundings is a great way to walk away from controlling relationships and addictive love because it pulls you out of your normal life! A vacation can challenge you to take risks and reach outside your comfort zone, which will make you feel good (in the long run).

7. Dare greatly

Read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. When we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena – whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Or, leaving a man you don’t love anymore.

Breaking Free From a Controlling Relationship

How do you feel, what do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts – big and little – below.


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19 thoughts on “7 Tips for Breaking Free From a Controlling Relationship”

  1. Hello, Laurie, thank you for your illuminating article, and your caring and helpful comments. And I love Jesus too :) I am in a horrific situation. I’ve lived for 36 years with a man who I am very dependent on. I have medical issues, limited social support, and he has become my everything, which I know is very harmful. He has always been controlling, but he has gotten much worse over the years. He’s also a compulsive shopper and hoarder and the place is overrun with his stuff. I’ve begged him to get rid of stuff but he always has an excuse. It’s always about him.

    The last two years, I’ve become aware that he has seen other women. He denies it, but it’s clear that he is hiding it. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I got my own apartment. I told him a couple of days ago. I am moving out in two weeks. He has gone ballistic. He said that I have ruined his life; that I am worse than Hitler; that I am the most despicable person he has ever met; that I’m worse than a sexual abuser; that he wishes that I would go to hell; that he wishes he never met me; that I’m crazy and insane; and other vile comments. He is enraged that he will have to pay all of the rent. have offered to try to make it work again, to get counseling, etc. But he said, “I’d rather kill myself than ever forgive you. What you did is unforgivable.”

    Laurie, I am suffering from horrible guilt. He says that I should have spoken to him prior to getting a place. However, it’s impossible to talk to him about anything. He just gets enraged. Anyway, had I spoken to him beforehand, I may never have moved as he would have manipulated me into staying. Also, I live in an area where it is almost impossible to get an apartment. So if I had told him that I was looking for another place to live, it could have been months before I actually found something, putting myself at jeopardy of his emotional abuse and rage. I was in a no-win situation.

    I feel horrible that I had to find my own place. I never wanted to hurt him. I’ve always protected him and looked after him. How can I deal with the guilt??? And his hating me so much?

  2. I have been with my boyfriend for about three years. I feel so hopeless but I know we have to get away from each other. The breaking point was when I went out of town for a funeral and he wouldn’t pick me up from the airport upon my returning flight. His response “Your Mouth Ruins Everything”. He constantly made me feel like all the problems in our relationship was my fault. I had no choices as to housing and I was stuck with a low paying job so I felt trapped. He would always threaten to kick me out of the house when we got in a fight. All along he knew I had nowhere to go. He proposed to me and then kept telling me he wouldn’t marry me unless I changed. We broke up once before but this time has been extremely painful. I hope I can heal but I am loosing hope in everything.

  3. I have been married to my husband for 6 years, together for 13. We have 3 children together, 11, 8, and 5. I also have a 16 year old son who is not his, but who he has been “daddy” to since he was 3 years old. In fact, he is the only father my son knows. My husband has been abusive since I first moved in with him when I was pregnant with our 11 yr old. He slapped and kicked me and called me horrible names. I eventually left him for over a year, but then he said he changed and I went back. Stupid of me, I know. Well he hadn’t changed, he got more abusive and gave me black eyes. It was horrible. I stayed because I was pregnant with our 8yr old. Then I stayed because he said he would change and we had a few years of no physical abuse, but he never stopped being verbally and emotionally abusive. Fast forward to now, he doesn’t hit me anymore, but he yells and screams at me, in front of our children and he tells me he hates me and calls me the bword. He has got aggressive with my 16 yr old son and acted like he wanted to fight him. Our whole house is in chaos and I am heartbroken. I love this man but I know that, for the sake of my children, I have to leave. I don’t know where to take them. I have no family support. I am the only one working and paying all the bills and supporting this household, yet my husband won’t move out and leave. We live in fear and walk on eggshells around him. Right when I am ready to just take out a restraining order on him and force him out, he gets really super sweet and loving. He knows how to play my heart strings. When he is good, he is really good. But when he is bad, he is horrible. He is more bad than good. I know what needs to be done, I just don’t know if I am strong enough to do it. Also, he watches the children while I work. I can’t afford daycare. If he leaves, what do I do with the kids? I feel stuck. BTW-this is just scratching the surface of all that is really going on. I was trying to keep it brief.

  4. Dear Jlopez,

    Your husband has been controlling and manipulating you for 35 years, and he’ll keep doing it for as long as you let him. I’m not sure how he could make your live more of a living hell than he already is – but he is clever enough to make you believe that he has that much power.

    He does not have that much power over your life. He only has as much power as you give him. If you give him the power to control you and make your life a living hell, then that’s what he’ll do. If you walk away, you might be surprised to find that he’s a paper tiger. One little puff of wind, and he’ll crumble.

    It’s like a game of poker. Is he bluffing, or does he really have the power to make your life miserable?

    My prayer for you is that you connect with your Source of strength, freedom, power, courage, and love. For me, that Source is God. No doubt about it. How are you and God doing these days? How much faith do you have in him, and how much control does He have in your life? The more control you hand over to Him, the happier and more secure you’ll be. It’s an amazing thing, to be friends with the living God.


  5. I’ve been married 35 years to my husband and in those 35 years the bad out weighs the good times. I always kept thinking that as time would pass and he got older he would change and things would be better. Well that has not happened and in fact he has gotten worse with age. He’s lost all his jobs because he saids people need to respect him regardless if you’re a supervisor’s or not. Point being I am the only one working and paying everything. He makes no effort to even look for work. He tells me I’m his wife and a wife takes care of her husband. He’s cheated on me 3 times that I no of, but quickly got into the honeymoon state and like a fool I believed him. I can now actually say that I am not in love with him anymore, and I have told him this but that I will always have a place in my heart for him. He’s not having that though, as far as he’s concerned we’re going to stay together and he will never divorce me. I’m afraid that if I take the next step to leave him, he’ll make my life a living hell. So I stay in this tormented relationship. What else can I do to have peace in my life where there won’t be no drama?

  6. Dear Rachel,

    I’m glad your mom is there for you, to offer emotional support. I hope your conversation with your husband went okay…how did it go?

    Maybe one of the best ways to break free from a controlling relationship is to stay focused on who you want to be and what you want from your life. Don’t focus on your partner, your relationship, or how stuck you feel. Don’t focus on your fears or feelings of being stuck and unhappy.

    And, if you wondering if maybe you’re in a controlling relationship…then you probably are.

  7. today i hope and believe that it is the beginning of my strength to a new life. i have been with my husband for going on 17 years. we have three daughters together. over the course of these years i have endured alot of bs from this man. i love him with all my heart but i believe he made me dependent on him. the last 4 years he has been jealous and emotionally controlling. i saw my life fall apart in front of me. even when he would ask me if i was happy i would say yes even though my heart said no. i managed to come up with all of the ususal excuses…i have to stay for the kids…ill wait till they are older….;we can try to work it out marraige is about hard work….we have been through worse and so on. today i endured something horrible in my life and for the last time my husband was not supportive for me or did i feel he even cared. i havent felt that he loved for me a long time i was only 17 when we got to gether and he was 33. i know now he took advantage of me ans sucked me in but its my fault for letting it go further. i now now i have to make a change to marrow. i have my mom coming down for my emotional support because i have gotten so weak in this marraige i cant even get the nerve to tell my husband im not happy and he needs to go. so i need that third party boost to help me. im thankful for the happy times and the children he gave me but i feel like my identy has been stolen and i dont know who i am anymore. i had such great goals of becoming a top notch lawyer and those dreams were crushed. i got to the point where i was looking to other men for some kind of emotional connection the one i was missing from my husband and decided i cant be like that. so its just bes that we end this now before it gets worse. my kids deserve to have two happy parents. its just so hard for me to say goodbye or to know how he is going to react but i just keep in the front of my mind im doing this for my sanity and for my kids. my stress level has gotten so bad that at the age of 34 i already had a mini stroke. this is going to be by far the hardest thing ive ever had to do in my life. wish me luck

  8. It took me about a year to realize I was in a controlling relationship. Isolated emotionally and physically from friends and family… and the ones I fought for contact with were criticized and judged so harsly that I chose not to talk about them or acknowledge that we were still friends. During the remainder of our second year together I chose denial as an escape of the reality of the situation. In hopes that denying the fact that I was in a controlling relationship would somehow make it better. I needed to try harder to accept our differences and I just needed to ‘adjust’ to the way he sees things. I told myself many things to try and ‘fix’ the insecurities and jealousy he felt towards himself, our relationship and outside influences. However, once they started to escalate and truely searching for answers did it finally sink in. I am being lied to, manipulated, used for boosting a very sick ego and emotionally and mentally drained of everything I know to be right, real and true. I only hope to one day feel whole and healthy again and the days of wanting to cry nonstop to end… You see, its been less than a week since i broke things off. If it weren’t for the fact that I do feel sad I think it would be easy for me to say and believe that I have no feelings left at all. The ‘love’ feeling that I felt so strongly became a habit instead of a reflection of how I felt. Everyday is a new challenge in the restoration of my mind and spirit… With hopes that I will laugh again soon. I choose to love myself and who I was made to be beyond what this situation has brought me and what this one individual thinks about me and what his agenda is. I hope one day very soon he sees how miserable he is. Thanks for reading. I needed that.

  9. I was married to my late husband for 34 years. He was controlling and I learned to live within his control as survival. When he passed away; I was lost. A few months after he died I became involved with a high school sweet heart. He swept me off of my feet. As a financial advisor, he helped me get all the things that my late husband and I had not done before he died. As time went on my new love started asking to borrow money. First it was $10k then it was $15k then it jumped to $50k. I was smart enough to say no to the second and third request because something didn’t feel right about it. For one, he had not repaid the $10k. But his charm and romance still continued to suck me in. As time went on and the romance and sex became more familiar, I realized that I didn’t like having to foot the bill at a nice restaurant, or pick up the tab when his credit card was rejected. I also started to notice how picky he was and pointed out my flaws like a scar on my chest and my chin as it started to sag. He would also point out what clothes would look good on me as he saw them on other women. But his smile, voice, and tenderness were very captivating. He was an excellent communicator. I valued all of these because I didn’t have them in my 34 year marriage to my late husband. The pain I continue to feel now that I have broke off the relationship has devastated me. I feel so alone and yet I know its the right thing to do. The biggest indicator was my body giving me signs. I didn’t recognize this at first but as time went on in this relationship my symptoms got worst. Breaking up and keeping the distance is the best thing. My body tells me it is. But my heart and emotions are still asking questions and feeling the loss. Since I was in a contolling marriage to begin with I don’t have a support group. I feel like checking myself into a rehab just to get through this. What feels so good also feels so bad. It has got to be an addiction. What else can it be? It’s not love is it?

  10. I have been with a woman for three years. She is so controlling and abusive to me when I want to spend time with family members and friends. I cant break away. I have very low self esteem and feel like she is the only person I could get. I have been to two counselers but nothing helps any advice?

  11. I just had my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years abruptly leave me and my two children. After living with us (he moves himself in within a month of dating) and taking LOTS of trips (California, Alaska, Caribean and Florida) he decided I didnt give him anything and he’s unhappy. His basic reason was I didn’t wear enough sexy lingerie and have enough sex (he wanted it every night no matter what was going on). From the second month of the relationship he’s talked about marriage and two weeks before Christmas gave me a $1500 pair of earrings. I wanted to leave him early on because he was ultra clingy and had to hear I love you as much as you could say it. I couldn’t even open the fridge without feeling like a monkey was on my back. What kind of messed up relationship was that?

  12. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Julia,

    Thank you for sharing your experience of how controlling this man was, and how hard it is to break free from him! You’re a strong woman — a survivor — and I know your words will help other women escape addictive love.

    “Addictive love” sounds romantic, but it’s not. It’s manipulative, controlling, and abusive.

    If you’re in a relationship like that, I hope you find the courage and strength to leave. Remember what Julia said: it WILL get better. It just takes time, patience, and perseverance.


  13. I left a lovely husband for a man I thought was better than my husband, this man was controlling abusive and at times violent, but I loved him and thought that I could fix him, how wrong I was. He was and still is like a Tsunami affecting every area of my life , to others he can appear charming and a doting father to our three year old daughter, and having a child with him will affect the rest of my life as he still tries to control through her to get to me. I have two other children from my marriage , my daughter was six when he came into her life, and was constantly jealous of her, and her taking any time from him , she is now 12 and I will spend the rest of my time trying to repair her, and remind her that all men are not like this when she gets older. I am sure like others of you out there I could write a book of horror stories, chapters of my life but we have to rewrite them as tomorrow is another day. After 5years and 7 house moves we are finally living a more settled life, but he rings to speak to his 3 year old daughter and is constantly in contact I know eventually this will get better, by closing my doors etc and not giving any reason other than his daughter to speak to me. What ever you do to try and please this type of man will never be good enough, we have one life and nothing will change unless we change ourselves.I look forward to the future , and not dwell on the past , and thoughts of we could of been so good together , someone told me you cant put a square peg into a round hole it just doesnt fit, so why allow your self too keep trying, face your fear , full on today, x

  14. I have been with my husband for over 9 years, and married for 6.5…this is SO hard because I KNOW he loves me more than life. The problem is that I love myself enough to call him on his crap. He would gladly do anything I ask-he would be the perfect partner but he is always checking in on me, wants to go everywhere with me…and basically does not trust me. We watched a movie on abuse the other night-and he even admitted that EVERYTHING on the list of “how to know you are being abused” was him-all except for the hitting. He would never hit me. But he says things about how he would rather kill me than have another man in my bed. The hard part-I LOVE HIM…I really do, but not the way he needs. He is clingy and needs way more affection and reassurance than I can give. It is physically draining. I am so scared! We have split up twice before this since October (now being August) so I can say that I tried…but I cannot help think that all his suspicions are because he has a guilty conscious. I finally started moving things into my moms house yesterday and my 2 kids and I are moving there this weekend. There are NO programs to help a single mother who doesnt already have a job. I cannot get help with daycare until I have a job-and I cannot get a job until I have help. I AM STUCK…but I am hoping this time I wont let my fear keep me in a marriage that isn’t healthy…

  15. ive been with this guy for about seven months already. During our first month, ive noticed that he’s not that serious. i thought of giving up the relationship that early. but i dont know why icant simply let him go, so i tried to give him a chance. Honestly. i dont like him because but it seems that i have to like him… Months passed and i feel that im attached to him, i dont like the way he is..it seems that he just want things from me. and then we broke up, i was so shocked by the incident. i was depressed. i was surprised actually. i admit did i love him that much, it was my first time to experience that kind of thing. i never had a boyfriend all my life.
    after how many days, ive accepted that the realtionship is over. but then he kept on texting me.and make chat me on facebook. i was so confused why would he do it,.and then after 15 days. we back in each others arms i found out that he has a lot flirtations doing with the other girs.,he even courted a girl when he’s in a relationship. during our first break up.he said he was a sex addict. and then when we back togethr i asked him if its true, he said it was a lie. he kept on denying it. i resigned from my work,and we do not engage in sex. Now, he has nothing to get from me. he wanted to dumped me.i ve been informed that he just want my work. now i dont have it, he doent want me. my problem was, after all things, im afraid to let him go.. i love him but i think its wrong…and i had been informed too, that he doesnt want to do the break up with me..we both dont want to end it, is it love addiction??? or love?

    i needed help, i think..

    with best regsrds…

  16. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Ashley,

    I am so sorry you’re in a relationship with this man. He is controlling and manipulative — and it isn’t what love is all about.

    Yes, you CAN walk away. You need to find a source of power and strength before it’s too late.

    Start spending as much time as you can with your friends and family, without him. Give yourself a chance to be away from him, to breathe on your own.

    You deserve better — you don’t need to change. You need to find ways to get strong and encouraged, so you can take your life back.

    Come back anytime, and let me know how you’re doing.


  17. i been with my boyfriend for 1 year and a half evrything was fine but recently he has an anger problem and gets a little carried away, he blames me for evrything! i have no say in anything he accuses me of cheating and jumping the fence and screwing the neighbor he calls me innapropiate names and sometimes in public he trys to control the way i walk im petite and i have big curves and booty i mean if he sees that my hips are moving to much he would say your trying to hard turn off! your a slut and even the way he treats i cant walk away hes my first and its hard because im the kind of person that would take the hurt but kill myself inside

  18. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for sharing about your controlling relationship here, Superstarr42. You inspired me to write this article, and I hope it helps you:

    Why Do Women Stay in Loveless Marriages and Bad Relationships?

    I think you need to surround yourself with women – or at least one woman! – who has left her controlling relationship or bad marriage. You need support — and to find a way to stop feeling ashamed or caring what people think.

    I guess this is the bottom line: is this how you want to live the rest of your life?

  19. after 21 years of marriage I discovered that I was in a controlling relationship. I never liked the word controlling nor did not ever think that was what i was being put under but indeed I was. Once it was discovered I strongly rebelled. it only made the relationship get worst in this following 2 1/2 yrs. I say I want to make it work but I’m regularly told by the controller that I’m doing nothing and that he has earned my heart therefore I should give it to him. I’m still in the middle and don’t know what i should do. Want to leave but the thought of that is too terrifying. I would be all alone and what would ppl say? I feel I’m dying a VERY SLOW death!!!