Signs You Might Be In A Controlling Relationship

In partnership with Safer Guernsey

TW: This article contains details of incidents of domestic abuse

Every week here in Guernsey more than eleven incidents of domestic abuse are reported, and Guernsey Police respond to over six hundred calls a year. Yes, you read that correctly - that's almost two incidents of domestic abuse every day within the Bailiwick!

Take a moment to let the enormity of those figures sink in... and consider that these reported figures do not even give a true picture of the extent of this issue. Domestic abuse is often a hidden crime, and the real scale of the problem here on our island is likely to be much worse.

Domestic abuse can take many forms. It isn’t always physical violence. Psychological and emotional abuse can be just as destructive and distressing for victims and their families, and controlling behaviour is often at the heart of most types of domestic abuse. But because of the nature of this type of abuse, the signs are often more difficult to identify.

We reached out to Safer, a local charity that supports and empowers people who are experiencing domestic abuse, to try to understand more about this issue.  Read on to find out about Coercive Control, and how to spot the signs that your partner is trying to control you. There's also information on how to seek help, and two very powerful Survivor stories from Julia and Adam, which give an insight into how everyday people can become victims of coercive and controlling behaviour.


Safer Woman


“Abusive people often blame their partner to justify their behaviour, but abuse has nothing to do with the person it is directed at…  Regardless of the circumstances of the relationship or the pasts of either partner, no one ever deserves to be abused”. 


What is Coercive Control?

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.  The term was first created by Evan Stark, to emphasise that domestic violence is not just about physical abuse.  In his words: 

Experiencing coercive control is like being taken hostage; the victim becomes captive in an unreal world, entrapped in a world of confusion, contradiction and fear... it is living in a world of moving goal-posts, shifting sand; it is like constantly walking on eggshells”.

Controlling behaviour makes a person feel dependent on their abuser by isolating them from their support network, such as friends and family. They are stripped of their confidence and their independence through the use of threats and humiliating behaviour, leaving the victim feeling frightened and intimidated.

Who Can It Affect?

Anyone can be abusive, and anyone can be a victim of abuse. It happens regardless of your gender, age, sexual orientation, race or your financial situation. Whilst abusive people often blame their partner to justify their behaviour, abuse has nothing to do with the person it is directed at. 

Abuse is a personal choice and it's a behavioural choice, used to give the abusive person power and control. Regardless of the circumstances of the relationship or the pasts of either partner, no one ever deserves to be abused. 

And it's important to understand that the person being abusive is the only one who can end the abuse. No one else can prevent someone from being abusive if that’s how they choose to behave. Abuse is never the victim's fault.


Safer Lady


Spotting the Signs of Controlling Behaviour

Do you recognise these types of behaviour? It's time to consider whether a line has been crossed and you are in a relationship with an abusive partner if they are:

1. Isolating you from family and friends, or banning you from seeing certain people

2. Telling you where you can go and constantly checking up on you, monitoring your time or getting you to check in with them 

3. Telling you how to dress and style your hair and criticising your appearance

4. Questioning your behaviour and criticising you as a partner or parent

5. Threatening to expose private or sensitive information about you, including things such as intimate photos

6. Spying on you by monitoring your movements or using online communication tools or spyware

7. Stopping you from working in certain places, or with certain people 

8. Controlling your finances and how you spend your money, or damaging your property

9. Putting you down in public or repeatedly humiliating you and telling you that you’re worthless

10. Allowing you no privacy, and telling you that your needs are not important

11. Using children to control you, by threatening to take them away or using them to report on you

12. Threatening to harm you, your children or even themselves if you do not comply with their demands

13. Forcing you to take part in dishonest or unethical activities to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities

14. Depriving you of access to support services


Reaching Out 

If you recognise these signs in your relationship, it's important to remember that it is not your fault... and that you are not alone! You can call the team at Safer on 01481 721999 for free and confidential support and advice.

Do not wait until the situation escalates. The team provides a 24/7 service to anyone in the Bailiwick who wants their help and is suffering from any form of domestic abuse, and they offer both adult and children’s services.  

In the case of an emergency call 999.


Safer Man


Survivor Stories - Adam

Adam came to Guernsey a few years ago with his wife who is a local lady. Adam is a hardworking proud man who has strong family values.

Adam’s story is one of being a victim of coercive controlling behaviour.  It started off with his wife questioning his every movement, calling him to find out where he was even if he was only minutes late from work. It moved on to monitoring his telephone, social media and eventually taking his phone away from him.  Social gatherings became difficult with his wife constantly criticising him and accusing him of being with other women.

Adams' only option was to leave the house until his wife calmed down, and this meant hours wandering around town with no money and he even spent some nights sleeping rough. Adam spent many months trying to improve his marital situation, he strongly believes in the sanctity of marriage so leaving didn’t seem to be an option.  Things eventually became physical with his wife taking to abusing him in their own home and on one occasion in front of family members, who called the police. 

The police made a referral to Safer because they were worried about his safety. An Independent Domestic Violence Advisor made contact and arranged a safe place for them to meet, which was facilitated by Adam’s employer

Often victims of abuse need a lot of assistance as they prepare to leave, including help with finding accommodation, setting up bank accounts and dealing with the local authorities such as social security, income tax and housing and also the Border Agency if needed. This was certainly the case with Adam.  Adam has now got his own home, a new job and is living a peaceful and happy life.


Survivor Stories - Julia

The moment you meet Julia you are struck by her big smile and warm personality. She is a bright, articulate individual and whilst English is not her first language, she is fluent.  Julia suffered for years with her husband's psychological and physical abuse.  She was with him for 20 years and during this time he destroyed her self confidence, isolated her from her family and verbally abused her in front of her children.  As Julia talks about her marriage there is great sadness and she is often very tearful as she thinks back to some of her experiences.  She is very open about the first time he hit her; she thought of leaving him then, which was very early on in their marriage, but she believed it was a one off and that she should try and make it work. Importantly she was also miles away from home and her husband was the only person she knew here.  

According to her there was the one red flag that she can only now, looking back, identify. “We always had to move around. He couldn’t keep a job, he was always falling out with people and blaming it on them. Now I realise he just wanted to control everything and everyone around him and that didn’t work out in other areas of his life.”

Once her children were born Julia channelled all her energy into raising them.  She had to endure the constant criticism of her parenting skills, with her husband degrading her in front of the children, and it is clear that this had and still has a profound impact on her life.   

Julia self referred to Safer after she and her husband separated. She had an appointment with one of the Outreach Team who referred her case to one of the Independent Domestic Violence Advisors at Safer.

The two worked together using visual resources helping to explain and understand the insidious growth in control that takes place in an abusive relationship, which will have resulted in Julia being made to feel responsible and guilty for the abuse that was directed at her.  As each case is tailored to the individual time frames vary and Safer worked with Julia for a period of approximately two years.  “It is really good to see how well she is doing now.”


About Safer

The team at Safer support people in the Bailiwick who are suffering from any form of domestic abuse, offering free and confidential support to anyone who needs their help.  With local statistics reflecting those in the UK, one in three women around one in six men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, so there is most definitely a need for the support services Safer provide.

Safer's priority is personal safety, and they work on an individual plan to meet the needs of each client, supporting them, and their children, to become Safer in a way that is best suited to their needs.

The team provides a 24/7 service to anyone in the Bailiwick who wants their help and is suffering from any form of domestic abuse, and they offer both adult and children’s services.  

In the case of an emergency, call 999.

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