Would you be able to recognise the signs of coercive control if it was present in your relationship?
I thought I would, but it is only after years of reflection that I realise I was being controlled in a number of ways. The thing about coercive control is that it’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what it is. It’s not physical or mental abuse.
In my situation, I knew deep down things weren’t quite right. In fact, if you’d asked me what was wrong, I would have struggled to tell you.
So what do we mean when we say coercive control?
The term coercive control was first created by Evan Stark in order to fully understand that domestic violence is not just about physical abuse.
Coercive control is when a person that you have a personal relationship with behaves repeatedly in a way that makes you feel controlled, dependent, scared or isolated.
Signs of coercive control include:
- Monitoring your activities with family and friends
- Constantly checking up on you
- Questioning your behaviour
- Setting time limits when you are out with friends
- Isolating your from family and friends
- Banning you from seeing certain people
- Stopping you from working in certain places
- Controlling how you spend your money
- Controlling how you dress or style your hair
- Telling you what you should eat
- Making disparaging comments about your figure
- Putting you down in public
- Repeatedly telling you that you’re worthless
- Allowing you no privacy
- Damaging your property
- Using children to report on you
- Getting angry at the slightest little thing
- You are constantly living in fear of upsetting them
- You have to do things in a particular way or they will get angry
- Your needs are not important and never discussed
In my relationship, I experienced all but a few of the above signs of coercive control.
I met my ex-partner almost 20 years ago. He was utterly charming and what drew me to him was his kindness. He had been married before and was a father to two young children. We began a relationship and soon moved in together.
One thing that raised a slight red flag was that he’d mentioned an argument with his ex-wife that still bothered him. He told me that one morning he had got up for work and asked his ex-wife to make him an English breakfast (a fry-up). She was busy with two toddlers under the age of 3 and didn’t have the time. He was furious and didn’t speak to her for a whole week.
To be honest, I sided with the ex-wife. Make your own breakfast, I thought. But the thought vanished and we began our lives together.
When the first signs of coercive control appeared
The first sign of trouble started soon afterwards. I had always wanted to study psychology, so I applied to the Open University to begin a foundation course. It included one lesson a week at a local school 20 minutes’ drive from our house.
Everything was fine in the beginning, but when I started getting enthusiastic about the course and told my partner about the male tutor, it all changed. The lesson was on a Monday. Sunday night, he would be moody. The day of the lesson, he would be downright miserable.
He began timing my return from class. If I was 5 minutes late, there would be an inquisition. I was loving the class and getting on very well with everyone.
After the class finished, everyone else went out for a drink at a local bar to carry on the discussion. I told my partner one week that I was going. He did not speak to me all that week.
I decided it was not worth the hassle. At the end of the year, despite passing and wanting to carry on with my studies, I stopped. It would take me 15 more years to finally get my degree.
I was with my partner for 10 years and never studied again while we were together. He began isolating me from my friends, saying they were a bad influence. Also, my family were no longer welcome.