Q: My husband is very controlling, which I can see now. But I used to feel like it was a thoughtful thing, him choosing my clothes or telling me not to go out with my friends because he wanted to spend time with me. After years of this, I see that he’s just controlling me because he’s insecure about losing me. It’s gotten to the point where he gets angry and yells or punches the wall when I try to stand up for myself. He won’t even let me get a job even though I have a college degree. I love him, but I’m also a little afraid of him. It’s hard to ask this, but ... am I being abused? -Confused and Possibly Abused
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, it sounds like your husband is employing an abusive tactic called coercive control. “Coercive” meaning he’s using force or threats in order to control you, hence your feelings of fear when you’re around him.
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To be clear, no one should be afraid of their partner. Not unless they work at a haunted house. Being afraid of your partner is a clear indicator that they’re not respecting your boundaries. Unfortunately, if you’re already at the stage where your husband is violent in his words or actions, things are not likely to just magically improve on their own. If anything, things are on a path to getting worse, possibly even dangerous. Read, “Abuse Almost Always Escalates” to read more about what this can look like.
The short version is that shouting often leads to striking. And even when it doesn’t, psychological abuse, which coercive control falls under, is traumatic all on its own. Likely, you’ve seen a dip in your self-esteem and self-worth. Your husband is possibly isolating you from friends and family so you don’t get that support system—or rational opinion—you desperately need. My guess is he’s also sprinkling in a bit of wooing to his tactics, telling you he does this because he cares about you so much. He might say things like, I only want what’s best for you, or, you need me to help you.
Maybe he sometimes flips the script, too, and tries to blame you for his anger. If only you’d listen, I wouldn’t get so mad.
As Lisa Aronson Fontes, PhD wrote in “From Romance to Isolation: Understanding Grooming,” what can once come off as romantic gestures can soon turn to intimidation where abusers are concerned. If you don’t do what your husband says, there are consequences. You may then feel like you should listen to him in order to “keep the peace.” This starts a dangerous cycle.
Here’s my advice: reach out for further help and advice, either from a trained domestic violence advocate or a counselor or therapist with expertise in domestic violence. You may need to make these kinds of calls from a safe place where your husband can’t listen in and possibly get upset at you about this. Think about going to a friend’s or relative’s house, making the call from a business or even scheduling a doctor’s appointment and then asking if you can call from their office—your doctor’s office should honor this wish if you disclose a little of what’s going on.
One of these people will help to further validate your concerns that what’s going on at home isn’t healthy and that the abuse isn’t your fault. They can help you plan next steps if leaving your husband is what you choose to do.
Remember, anger and abuse are his choices—they’re not caused by something you’re doing or not doing. Victims have told me time and time again that coming to terms with the word “victim” or “survivor” in relation to abuse is tough because it can bring up feelings of regret or shame that they fell into an abuser’s trap. Your husband may be insecure, but not all insecure people abuse. Your husband has chosen to be abusive and you don’t deserve that. You simply trusted him, loved him and have likely been holding out hope things are going to improve and get back to how they were. There’s no shame in that.
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You may also want to consider keeping documentation of the controlling, abusive or violent incidents, in a way that’s safe to do so (aka, keep a log through a hidden app on your phone, using a web-based documentation tool like VictimsVoice, or hide a written journal somewhere where your husband won’t locate it). This can help you by looking back at the history, or sometimes even the cycle, that’s occurring so that you can better judge how severe this control is, whether or not it’s escalating and determine better if it’s time to go or not. This can also be helpful as if you decide to file for an order of protection.
Remember, if you can’t set boundaries with a partner, and see that your partner respects them, it’s likely not a healthy relationship. You deserve to feel safe, and hopefully you do, soon.
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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