At the start of a controlling relationship, isolation tactics are so sugar-coated we might not recognise them for what they are. Someone wants to spend all their time with us because they are so crazy about us. How flattering! And we might be happy to give them all of our time. To some extent this is normal. Most of us are guilty of prioritising something new and exciting, but once the initial excitement wears off, we pick up where we left off with friends, family and hobbies. When a relationship is becoming controlling, however, it’s not always easy to get away.
Dedicating all our time to a new partner can quickly become a routine, and a routine sets up an expectation that this is how things are going to be.
“Oh, you’re going to yoga again? I was going to cook us a romantic meal.”
“What do you mean, you’re going out on Friday? I’ve bought tickets for the movie you wanted to see.”
“I really want to see you tonight. I can’t go a whole day without seeing you. I love you so much”
“I know you want to see your parents this weekend, but I promised your kids we’ll go to the zoo. I was just trying to do something nice.”
And we feel obligated because they are clearly madly in love with us. It can even feel endearing. Maybe we’ll give it a miss this time, next week, perhaps…
This can become so entrenched that we end up having no time to ourselves and our whole life becomes consumed by our partner’s needs. Hobbies and interests go, friends are neglected, and that evening class we enrolled in is abandoned – and we don’t see it coming or understand how we got here. When victims of abuse and control finally seek help they often use the words, “I used to have a life.”
Controlling partners can make it difficult to get out of the house. They need to use the car or are unable to look after the children, or they create some kind of drama or illness when we have something else planned. They often dislike or fall out with our friends or family so we feel like we have to choose between them, or reduce the amount of time we spend with others.
Over time, isolation tactics become less sugar-coated and more toxic:
Where have you been?
Who were you talking to?
Why didn’t you answer your phone?
Why were you flirting?
Why are you wearing that?
Who are you texting?
Who is that letter from?
What are you hiding?
Later on, these stop being questions and become threats and demands.
Do NOT leave this house.
Do NOT use your phone.
Do NOT use social media.
Do NOT contact your family.
Do NOT talk to other people.
Why does it Happen?
Isolation is perhaps the most effective tactic an abuser can use. If they can put a barrier between us and the rest of the world, there are many benefits in it for them:
It is easier to control us simply because they have constant access to us.
As we become more and more isolated, we become solely dependent on them for companionship and sharing problems.
Manipulating us is easier because there is no one to put another point of view.
There is less likelihood of someone interfering or calling out the abuser on their behaviour.
Injuries are easier to hide. Sadness is easier to hide.
Their jealousy and possessiveness is eased because we are not going out and meeting people they perceive as a threat.
We have fewer people to talk to so the risk of disclosing to anyone what is happening is reduced.
The impact of isolation involves:
A drop in confidence and self-esteem
Depression and anxiety
No one to talk to or to ask for help
Limited scope for children to socialise
What started as an exciting and romantic relationship now feels like a prison. The flattery and attention has disappeared and we feel controlled and manipulated.
In a healthy relationship, both parties should have space to pursue interests outside of the home, and a nurturing partner supports and encourages this, even if they miss us when we’re away. It is possible to be an individual and a loving partner.
Controlling behaviours rarely just stop but tend to get worse over time. You don’t have to be hit or hurt. If you need help please break the silence and talk to someone you trust. If you need us, NCDV can help you take out a legal court order to protect you from further harm. You can find other forms of support on our resources page by following the link below:
National Training Manager