A controlling relationship is like quicksand – it’s difficult to tell that you’re trapped in it until it’s too late. Sadly the effects of being married to a controlling partner can be devastating for your self-worth and self esteem – it’s vital to spot the signs, and to get out while you can.
Control within a marriage can take many forms, from your partner telling you what to wear or who not to socialise with, to preventing you from leaving the house or withholding money from you.
These forms of abuse can seem very subtle at first – in the early stages, the concerns of a new partner can be seen as protecting/caring. There is a world of difference between your partner saying “you look nice in that, darling,” – so kind and complimentary – and “don’t go out in that dress,” – which is designed to deliberately prevent you from living your life as you wish to.
What is coercive control?
Coercive control is any pattern of behaviour used by one partner to oppress the other. Coercive control covers all forms of psychological, emotional, physical and financial abuse between partners, and was made illegal at the end of 2015. Unfortunately it is under-reported, as victims frequently suffer such degradation of their self-esteem that they do not realise that the abuse that they’re being subjected to is unacceptable, and in some cases criminal, until their relationship hits rock bottom.
Emotional abuse can stem from critical comments such “you’re not going out like that,” or “you look terrible in that outfit” – which when repeated over time, wear down the recipient’s pride and self-worth. This gradual lowering of their self-esteem can alter their perception of what is acceptable in a relationship, making them in turn more susceptible to abusive comments or controlling behaviour.
People who subject their spouses to controlling behaviour are frequently narcissists, with no regard for the emotional well-being of their victims. They may appear to be kind, courteous and charming to others in the outside world, but behind closed doors they choose to make the marital home a psychological prison. They may exhibit a number of bullying behaviours, including physical abuse and even “gas-lighting” – where one partner conspires to make the other think that their problems are all in their head.
Signs that your partner could be controlling you
Be very wary if your spouse exhibits any of the following behaviours:
- Tells you who you can or cannot see, or who to spend time with;
- Tell you what to wear, or buys your clothes for you, particularly if they are of a different style to what you would normally wear;
- Checks your mobile phone or internet browsing history;
- Denies you access to joint funds, or your own money;
- Makes you feel that you have to ‘tread on eggshells’ or moderate your own behaviour around them;
- If your partner is physically abusive, leave immediately.
Have a running away fund
A happy, healthy marriage usually stems from a sense of balance within a relationship, and this applies to the family finances too. It isn’t right for one partner to control how the other spends their money, and financial abuse is, in itself, a form of coercive control.
Ensure that you have access to your own personal funds should you need to use them.
What to do if you have a controlling partner
Controlling behaviour is hugely destructive – if one person in a marriage puts down, exploits or controls the other, it rapidly corrodes their partnership and frequently causes the victim to suffer a gradual loss of self-esteem.
If your husband or wife makes derogatory remarks, it is important to recognise them for what they are – abusive comments designed to make one person (the abuser) feel better at the expense of the victim.
If you think that your spouse is controlling you, it is important to get some perspective on your situation. If you can, get some independent advice or talk to someone who doesn’t know your partner, about their behaviour and whether it is reasonable. Relate or an independent counsellor or psychologist may be able to help. Sadly, close family members and friends often have a blinkered view of abusers, and may act as enablers for the controlling spouse’s behaviour.
Often when clients who have suffered months or years of emotional abuse come to Benussi & Co. Limited to discuss their relationship, we are the first people they have told about their experience. We gently have to tell people that there are many kinds of abuse. Psychologically controlling abuse is paralysing.
If you have suffered at the hands of a controlling partner, you are not to blame – you are not responsible for your partner’s actions in any way. Being a victim of coercive control does not make you weak – in fact, recognising and leaving an abusive partner demonstrates that you have a huge amount of personal strength.
If you wish to talk about divorce or separation with a family law solicitor, please contact us to arrange an initial discussion.