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:

  1. Monitoring your activities with family and friends
  2. Constantly checking up on you
  3. Questioning your behaviour
  4. Setting time limits when you are out with friends
  5. Isolating your from family and friends
  6. Banning you from seeing certain people
  7. Stopping you from working in certain places
  8. Controlling how you spend your money
  9. Controlling how you dress or style your hair
  10. Telling you what you should eat
  11. Making disparaging comments about your figure
  12. Putting you down in public
  13. Repeatedly telling you that you’re worthless
  14. Allowing you no privacy
  15. Damaging your property
  16. Using children to report on you
  17. Getting angry at the slightest little thing
  18. You are constantly living in fear of upsetting them
  19. You have to do things in a particular way or they will get angry
  20. 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.

More signs of coercive control that I didn’t recognise

Then my partner got a job 100 miles away. I didn’t want to move. I knew no one where we were going, but we ended up moving anyway because his needs were greater than mine. I got a little bar job in a local pub but again, I was not allowed to ‘fraternise’ with my co-workers. He was in charge of all the money that came into the house.

Little things started happening. If I shaved my legs, he would accuse me of having an affair. If I wore makeup or perfume, the same thing would occur. Talk with the postman for too long and he would sulk for days.

One day we went shopping and as we were leaving, he turned to me with fury in his eyes and accused me of ‘eyeing up men’ all the while we were out picking out our groceries.

It got to the stage I did not wear make-up or shave my legs. I even started looking down at the pavement whenever we went out so he could not accuse me of looking at other men.

Then we got a dog. It was a golden retriever of 10 weeks and I fell in love with it. Although we got it together, it soon turned out it was my dog and my responsibility. As all young dogs do, it would dig up holes in the garden, which would irritate my ex no end.

It also had a ‘doggy stench’ apparently and I remember one day when my ex was in a particular narky mood. He came in waving some lit joss sticks like Morrissey and moaning about the dog smelling to high heaven. At that moment, I thought, “You are a total prat”.

The final signs of coercive control that made me end the relationship

Two things bought me to my senses. My partner had to go into the hospital one weekend. It just so happened that I was in the middle of a migraine. In those days, my migraines lasted on average 3 – 4 days. I couldn’t collect him, so I arranged a friend to instead as I was still in bed.

The moment he came into the house he accused me of having a lover over that weekend which was the reason I hadn’t visited him or picked him up. My head felt like someone was hitting it with a sledgehammer and this idiot was standing at the foot of the bed telling me I’d had a lover over?

The second incident happened shortly afterwards. He told me he was getting rid of the dog. I stood in the kitchen and I remember thinking, I can either let him do this and I am literally nothing, or I can leave with my dog. I left with my dog.

It took me a long time to realise that I am not worthless the way my ex kept telling me. That actually other people would manage to ‘put up’ with me, not only that but would love me for who I am. Not try and force me into some weird, pliable, obedient robot.

My ex-partner raised his hands to me twice in ten years. You could hardly call that domestic abuse when you consider what other women have to endure on a daily basis.

But I was still under coercive control. My friends used to say that my sparkle had gone. And they were right. It took me a long time to get it back.

What coercive control is not

People who feel the need to control others, they don't have control over themselves.

People who feel the need to control others, don’t have control over themselves.

Controlling someone isn’t always about using violence. My ex would constantly use mind games, he’d change the boundaries.

I’d never know what mood he would be in, for instance. So when he was in a good mood, I’d be so grateful I’d forget all the crap he had put me through for the last few weeks or so.

This is a good example, once I crashed his car. It was a total accident, not my fault, another driver hit me. He didn’t speak to me for 2 whole weeks. Then when his football team happened to win a champion’s league trophy, he told me that ‘all was forgiven’ and I could give him a kiss.

Coercive control is first and foremost about a person’s liberty and freedom. It is about having to obey a set of rules created by the perpetrator that keep the victim hostage.

As for my ex, the funny thing is, after I left him, I was told he got a girlfriend that was even more controlling than he ever was with me.

I guess karma works after all!


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. https://www.gov.uk

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This Post Has 37 Comments

  1. Reagar

    Well as you mentioned he was already married with his ex wife so if he cheated on her, then he may be expecting that you are also cheating in him. Well that’s what cheaters do!

    1. Tessa Brantley

      You might REREAD the article.
      Nowhere does she mention, at all that he was married when she met him, or that he cheated, or that SHE cheated with him being a married man, but only that he had been married before.

      THIS is how rumors and gossip start, and how reputations are misconceived.
      I am curious as to where in all if this article, you saw cheating.

      1. Janey D.

        To clarify, he was married, I was single. He cheated on his wife. he left his wife to be with me. He imagined that if someone with the integrity he had could cheat, so could anyone.

  2. Gary Hynous

    There are many ways to extricate yourself from this type of relationship. In some cases, especially if violence is involved, a woman or a man can find shelter and help in a abused person facility. If that doesn’t work, find a good divorce attorney and do yourself a favor and leave before the situation deteriorates. If you ultimately feel the relationship is worth saving, find a good family, marriage counselor and air your problems with professional help in a safe environment.

    1. Janey D.

      Yes there are many ways to leave. But I was worn down, mentally. I felt worthless and after being told countless times that no one else would put up with me, I believed him. His abuse started very gradually. He didn’t bash me over the head on day one. If he had I would have left. It was much more insidious.

    2. Julie

      Not always, my should be ex is very rich and sends nasty bastards to spray paint my home whenever I leave. He had my partner before him seriously assaulted about 4yrs ago now because I helped him with new stuff for his flat…there is more, but the point I am making is its not always as easy as you seem to think. He is rich and has plenty of idiots to do his bidding. I am due to tell him again that I don’t want a relationship with him so let’s see what happens this time , I hope nothing I really do. Before I got with h him he was a friend of 30 yrs and i had no idea he was like he is.

    3. Terry

      As someone in this sort of relationship I can tell you that some days you do well to just function. Extricating yourself sounds as easy as you say but believe me it isn’t. This man has cutoff everything. He has to be with me literally everywhere. He tells me to eat and then complains about me eating for example. He’s cut me off from family and if I don’t go to sleep when he wants or get up when he wants he is slamming about the house and won’t speak. It isn’t as easy as “Why don’t you just leave”. These personalities are like a choking vine woven throughout your life.

  3. Rob

    Maybe the ex-wife was the cheater. Who knows? One should not just assume. One should probably ask.

  4. Justina

    I’m so sorry this happened to you .. I’m currently in a mentally/emotionally abusive marriage that will be 7 years this August. I am basically only staying because I have not saved enough money to be on my own. Thankfully we have no kids! It is a rough situation and you are lucky to have gotten out of it.

    1. Janey D.

      I am very sorry that you are still in an abusive relationship Justina. I know how hard it is to leave. it takes a lot of courage. I wish you strength for the future.

  5. B

    now if there were incidents that came off suspicious over and over again and you are overly friendly with men in general, I could see cause for concern, but not a prison correctional officers rules lol, now there are 2 sides to every story but regardless if he felt that strongly about you then he should’ve just broke it off.. trying to force behavior is silly

    1. Amentothat

      What hope has anyone got when people like you, ‘B’ (too gutless to even think of a name) actually START their comment with VICTIM BLAMING, ie your concern that a woman might be ‘over friendly’ with MEN??? \Why don’t you start asking why the man treats her like dirt? What is wrong with you? What about all the millions of guys who flirt or are ‘over friendly’? Do they deserve to have their lives ruined and controlled? Wake UP, B.

  6. Patricia Lawrence

    My first husband was a total control freak. He was also physically and psychologically abusive. It took years of therapy to heal from this relationship. Glad you got out.

  7. Phil

    Ive noticed that allot of these types of articles are somewhat geared towards women. True, many domestic abuse cases involve men being the abuser, but statistically and surprisingly female abusers are about equal in number. Just less often violent. (Not by much).
    I would like to find more about men in abusive relationships that have children. Ive been living with a master manipulator and abuser. But i don’t want to leave my child. Any info?

    1. Tammy

      I grew up watching my mother verbally and physically abuse my dad. I never understood how he did it, all I really knew was why. He did it for my sister and I. He has always been and will always be my hero. He has been resting in peace now 24 years. I truly hope you find your way through such a difficult situation.

    2. Crystal

      Actually victims of domestic abuse are not equal to that of women, so do not know where you got that from.

      It’s geared towards woman because in 2016/17 13 men were killed by partners or ex partners compared to 82 women.

      Last year 97% of victims of coercive control victims were female.

      Women are generally more vulnerable, particularly when pregnant or have just had a baby.

      A man can abuse a woman and a woman can abuse a man but it is not true that it’s equal.

  8. T

    Stop playing the victim. Not knowing your worthiness is a YOU issue, not a him issue. There are asshats everywhere, men and women. Choose better ppl to let in your life…

  9. Arielle

    It does people a disservice to start this article by saying such behaviors aren’t abusive. This is definitely emotional abuse.

  10. Nakitende rose

    Sorry dear, but you should always take your position in whatever relationship. It’s unfortunate that love always blinds us.

  11. daedalus

    Holy damn, this article is perfect. You’ve just described how every single girl treats their boyfriends, amazing.

    1. Laura

      Maybe every single one you know or have observed, but that doesn’t make a 100% every single woman the way you describe. I sure as hell have never done that to any of my partners, gotten a little jealous maybe, but never have I tried to control their lives to the level you’re describing.

  12. James Brown

    You know you’re basically describing women right? Seriously. If you ask read this list to the average man, he’ll probably tell you he’s been through most (if not all) of these. Hell, most of these happen on sitcoms, followed by a laugh track.

    1. Laura

      This actually happens to both unfortunately, it’s just that women are often more ashamed of it because they’re expected that they should know better. Men too of course.

  13. Ironic Truth

    Thank you very much for helping men see how women abuse them.

    /every woman I’ve dated has engaged in at least 15 out of 20 of these behaviors. By the end of a long relationship… 20 of 20. You did forget actual physical violence. I have never hit a woman, but I have been attacked with weapons several times by intimate partners.

    You are truly a champion of men’s rights.

    *I* know never to engage in any relationship where a habitually genetically abusive partner (i.e. a woman) could invoke the government in our affairs, but many men do not.

    God bless you.

  14. David

    Every woman should be forced to read and sign this list when they hit puberty. If they are found engaging in these behaviours they should face a fine, or jail in serious cases. It would save men a lot of trouble.

  15. Susan

    Do a mental exercise for guys, think about the last…3 relationships you had with a woman,and do a checklist on each time one of these 20 signs of coercive control apply…like when she didn’t want you talking to one of your female friends ((that you knew since forver)) or trying to control on what you spend..or dosent even let you have 5 minutes of privacy and the list goes on.Most men and in coercive relationships if you follow this list.

    This seemed like a projection list more than anything

    1. Laura

      It truly goes both ways. I have both male and female friends who have gone through this. I have tried to make sure that I don’t treat my partners like that. This is also why I would not conjoin bank accounts with partners even in marriage. I don’t want to know every single penny he spends on himself. I have never tried to control who they can talk to, nor would I as it’s not healthy. I have had a man in the past a few years ago who was definitely veering towards that and even trying to limit when I could.

  16. Anja

    At the end of the day it’s about peace of mind and heart in any relationship. I believe people who have some type of moral compass can decide for themselves whether their actions are abusive or at least put themselves in the other person’s shoes to see how they would feel if it was done to them. It’s your decision who you want in your life.

  17. Lalla

    Wow, this list describes the average girlfriend! Most men go through this.

  18. Janey D.

    To all the guys that replied with negative comments, of course women act like this. I am talking about my experience. That is all I can do. I know there are many men who suffer from control issues at the hands of their girlfriends. I cannot write about those from personal experience. However, if you guys would like an article about abuse against men I am more than happy to research it for you.

  19. Fred Bloggs

    My wife decided to start going out with a mixed group from work, rolling in at 2am drunk dressed like a teenager! I asked her if she was happy and she said she was. I told her that after 20 years together her behaviour was not exactly making me happy and if she wanted to behave in this way then we should part. She decided our relationship was too important and she would still go out with her work group but would “tone it down a bit”. I suppose by letting her know I didn’t approve of her dress or behaviour then I’m controlling? Bull! If we can’t be in a relationship where we are BOTH happy then I can leave. Or am I supposed to stay, be treated like a doormat and thank my lucky stars?!!

    1. Laura

      Sometimes it’s better to leave a relationship when you’re not happy anymore depending on the circumstances. It’s clear that both of your needs have changed.

  20. Flash

    You story is so typical of what happens to many young people especially when dating. Count your stars that you left before vows and babies came along. My mom said the vows and we came along, where i come from married women don’t leave so you can imagine her life…if she even has one.

  21. robinf

    Glad you left. Coercive control is worse than DV. I’ve had both. Coercive control led me to suicide (repeated attempts), self-harm, drinking the mental cruelty away (weeks in bed), I lived (still live) as a prisoner in my own home and body to large extent.

    Many coercive cultures are religious in nature. Due to the coercion I went through (“submit” coercion) I have had a lot of C-PTSD type symptoms and have been labeled by a mental health professional as dissociative. Not “dissociative identity disorder, but completely dissociative. I avoid most other than hiking trails and overwork (which is actually how I feel my best) as everyone tries to coerce vulnerable people into unwanted sex, control and religion.

    My experiences with DV have been somewhat drastic – black eyes, beatings lasting 4 hours (tangible). The coercive control is by far WORSE.

    I wish that more U.S. states would prosecute. It is like living with a TERRORIST or a NAZI hoarding you, grooming you, putting you down and then once again resuming his / her role as “nice”. It is a vicious cycle of abuse that is much more painful to be put through than DV. I can speak for myself as I’ve had my lip split open (not DV related) and laughed through it – even while having it stitched. i have run out of my house barefoot with blood streaming down my face (appliance put over my head) and not known how hard I’d been hit until a friend opened up her door to me.

    The coercion is a bit like being kept by a fanatic who believes he is a “god of sorts” who keeps you pinned humbly meeting each of his every needs in a Jonestown or WACO or Heaven’s Gate sort of a sense.

    I’ve been coerced (by friends) to treat abominable people with “respect” and support them. A murderer came and went through my window as he wished with friends telling me “he’s nice”. I’ve been bullied in my community for reporting men who do terrible things like rape, murder, prey on children, sell drugs and batter women. i’ve been forced into religion and had to live in silence for up to 2 months at a time, re-writing the same chapter of the bible. I’ve had to avert my eyes, no physical contact, no contact with the outside world at all. In some respects, some of that doesn’t seem so bad after you live around a perv who won’t even allow you to drive, use a bicycle, use a sidewalk, communicate with others, have had your computer monitored and destroyed, the power cut on your apartment, found pinhole cameras in speakers.

    I could go on and on about coercive control and gaslighting. I have wandered down the middle of the road not quite knowing who i was, what was happening around me or what was really going on.

    I dissociate and probably will for the rest of my life – afraid of people, their pressures, suggestions, FORCE, inability to care for the victim, propensity to assist the offender and persecute, hospitalize and manipulate the one being battered, used, controlled, raped, etc.

    So good that you got out and found support. It’s very difficult to find in such a narrow-minded society where patriarchy “we all have needs” and generalizations about “what a woman is” is way too common.

    🙂 glad you are safe.

  22. Julie Ainger

    Very insightful and unselfish of you Janey. Thank you for sharing your painful experiences in the interest of helping others. Sincerely, Julie Ainger

    1. Janey Davies, B.A. (Hons)

      Thank you for your comments Julie. Coercive control is such a gradual process you don’t realise it’s happening until too late.

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