Let Me Tell You What’s Going Wrong

Woman thinking about her options
Woman thinking about her options

If someone could tell you what was wrong in their relationship in one sentence, here’s a list of they might say.  Notice you can’t tell whether the relationship is a man and a woman, two women, two men, trans or cisgender individuals.  And abusive people can show up outside relationships – abusive employers, teachers, coaches, agents — the list goes on.  Notice that almost all the statements are NOT about things that are against the law.

The sentences are sorted into categories with bold headings.  The words in these categories are taken from Evan Stark’s ground-breaking book Coercive Control, in which he describes the conclusions distilled from thirty years of observation and research into partner and family abuse and abuse in general.

In a nutshell, abuse, in or out of a family context, is not about hitting; it’s about turning another human being into property, even to the point of disposing of the person by abandoning, tormenting, or killing them.  While killing someone IS against the law, this list reveals there is a lot that leads up to a final decisive act of ownership.

How would you feel if you were the recipient of these behaviors?


Constant texting
Wants proof of where you are and where you’ve been
Angry when you interact with someone who might be a rival


Making you stay home
Criticizing family and friends to the point where they stay away
Moving you far away from your support system
Nailing windows shut/locking doors
Taking your car keys/breaking your phone
Sabotaging a promotion or transfer

Economic Abuse, Deprivation

Keeping you from working
Cancelling/hiding credit cards
Giving you an allowance instead of a checkbook or account password
Spending or diverting all the money
Ruining your credit
Borrowing your money, then claiming it was a gift
Hiding money

Emotional Abuse, Shaming, Degradation

Insults, “you’re stupid,” putting you down
Using personal, intimate information against you
Putting down your career
Making you live in sub-standard conditions
Weighing you

Coercion, Threats, Intimidation

Threatens to kill themselves or you if you leave
Forces you to have sex by threatening to get angry or to have sex with someone else
Not taking “no” for an answer
Making you think you are wrong/rebellious/insubordinate

Surveillance, Micromanagement

Demanding your passwords
Driving you to/from work rather than letting you drive yourself or take public transportation
Using spyware, GPS tracking
Showing up unexpectedly where you are
Following you
Having other people check up on you
Telling you how to schedule your time, when you can get a haircut or take a shower


“I hit you because you made me angry.”
“I didn’t push you, I just brushed against you.”
Getting angry while insisting that you are the one with the temper
Telling you that you are abusive
Blaming you for calling police; demanding you deny anything happened
Minimizing or ridiculing your hurt when they shame or denigrate you

Involving Children

Threatening to tell the kids/turning kids against you
Accusing you of punishing the children by keeping them away even if you are obeying a court order.
Threatening to take custody of children


Making you or other people think that you are crazy or an addict
One set of rules for them, another set of rules for you
Spreading rumors
Playing the victim
Convincing you that this is how relationships are

Survival Conditioning, Negotiation

You learn to avoid certain subjects
You don’t talk about your feelings
You negotiate finances around the other person’s behavior
You bargain about sex
You discipline children so partner will not be harsh or inappropriate with them
You buy drugs or alcohol to placate your partner

Loss of Autonomy

Being told what to wear, how fat or slim you must be, what makeup you can use
Being told which friends are acceptable
Told when you can speak and whom you can speak with
Preventing or sabotaging success at work and school
You learn to make all decisions based on their reaction/preference/response

Find out more:  Who is An Abuser?     What Does Abuse Look Like?     Why Don’t People Care?

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