Do you have concerns about the quality or health of your relationship? Have you felt humiliated or insulted by your partner’s behavior? On bad days, you wonder what you’re doing together. But you remember good times and even now, on occasion, you feel loved. Your partner has probably told you that you are the problem, and you may be wondering if it is “true.”
In the peer-reviewed literature, the unhealthy domination by a partner is called “coercive control.” It’s more than just occasional nastiness or bossiness—it affects several areas of your life and causes you to change your behavior to keep the peace. You may be so accustomed to some items on this list, they just feel like “this is the way it is.”
Below are a series of questions about some of the controlling behaviors you may have experienced. There is no one right way to score this list. Instead of providing a definitive answer I hope they help clarify whether you’re a victim of coercive control.
• Does your partner try to isolate you and keep you away from other people?
• Does your partner limit or monitor your phone conversations, social media use, email, or mail?
• If you have children in your lives, does your partner try to control or harm your relationship with the children?
• Does your partner spy on you or stalk you?
• Does your partner try to control your access to resources such as money or transportation?
• Does your partner make you feel afraid by shouting, swearing, name-calling, or insulting you?
• Does your partner try to control aspects of your health or body in ways that are harmful to you, such as making demands regarding your: eating or weight, sleeping, bathing, or using the bathroom?
• Does your partner push you to use substances such as street drugs, prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons, or more alcohol than you want? The reality of being a woman — by the numbers.
• Does your partner push you to change your body in ways you’d rather not, such as getting tattoos or piercings or cosmetic surgery?
• Does your partner push or force you sexually? Does your partner push you to avoid practicing safe sex? Does your partner push you to take sexual pictures or videos?
• Does your partner refuse to speak with you for long periods?
• Does your partner hurt you physically, threaten you with guns or other weapons, or suicide?
Why do some partner’s resort to coercive control? One of the defining features of a controlling relationship is there is no foundation of trust. The controlling partner’s need for control comes from a deep fear of unpredictability and vulnerability. One way to understand this core terror is a fear of vulnerability that comes with loving and trusting someone. The controlling partner has likely been betrayed in past relationships and fears being hurt again. The controlling partner has decided to paint all possible partners with the same brush and is constantly worried that you’ll turn out the same as all the rest.
If you think you are in a controlling relationship what can you do? Many people stick with their partners for months, years and decades, waiting for them to change. Remember, past behavior is the best predictor of the future. Without some intensive intervention, most controlling partners will not change. You can try to be hopeful about the possibility of freedom in your future, whether that freedom takes the form of improving or ending the relationship. Only you can decide.