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Spotting the Red Flags of Coercive Control in Modern-Day Relationships

Coercive control is a term that has recently gained prominence in discussions about abusive relationships. It refers to a pattern of behaviour where one person seeks to exert power, control, or coercion over their partner. Unlike physical abuse, coercive control is often subtle, hidden, and psychological, making it challenging to identify. In the context of modern relationships, where digital communication is frequent and societal norms are evolving, it’s crucial to recognise the red flags of this kind of abuse.

1. Isolation from Friends and Family

One of the first signs of coercive control is when an individual starts to become increasingly isolated from their support network. The controlling partner may criticise friends or family or invent reasons to avoid social events, subtly pushing their partner away from those who might offer support or a differing perspective.

2. Excessive Monitoring of Communication

In today’s digital age, our lives are frequently online. A partner who insists on having access to your phone, email, or social media accounts, or who monitors your communications, is overstepping boundaries. This kind of digital surveillance is a modern form of control.

3. Constant Criticism

While constructive feedback is a part of healthy relationships, constant, unwarranted criticism is not. If someone continually belittles, critiques, or puts down their partner, it can erode the latter’s self-esteem, making them more dependent and easier to control.

4. Financial Control

With modern relationships striving for financial equality, one partner controlling the finances can be a significant red flag. Whether it’s limiting access to bank accounts, making their partner account for every penny spent, or not allowing them to work, financial control is a means of maintaining power.

5. Manipulation Through Guilt

Phrases like “If you loved me, you’d do this” or “I can’t live without you” can be manipulative tactics. They tie actions and decisions to emotions, making individuals feel guilty for asserting their independence or contradicting their partner’s desires.

6. Threats and Intimidation

While this might seem overt, threats can also be subtle. They might not be direct threats of violence. Instead, they could be threats to end the relationship, share private information, or manipulate shared responsibilities, like children.

7. Dictating Appearance and Behaviour

If a partner is dictating what their significant other should wear, how they should style their hair, or which hobbies they should or shouldn’t pursue, it’s a sign of control. Everyone has the right to autonomy over their body and personal choices.

8. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where one person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in the other, making them question their memory, perception, or reality. Phrases like “You’re overreacting” or “That never happened” are common tactics.

9. Sexual Control

Consent is a cornerstone of any intimate relationship. A partner who coerces, blackmails, or forces their significant other into any sexual activity against their will is exhibiting abusive behaviour.

Spotting the Red Flags of Coercive Control – Examples and Actions

Coercive control often operates under the radar, using subtle tactics to manipulate and dominate. As we navigate modern relationships, digital communication, and evolving societal norms, it’s vital to understand these red flags and their resolutions.

  1. Isolation from Friends and FamilyExample: Emma noticed that every time she made plans with her friends, Tom would get upset or claim they had other commitments. Over time, Emma saw less and less of her support network.

    Resolution: Reconnect with loved ones and share your concerns. They can offer perspective and support as you navigate your relationship.

  2. Excessive Monitoring of CommunicationExample: Mark found that Lisa would frequently check his phone, questioning him about conversations with colleagues and acquaintances.

    Resolution: Set clear boundaries regarding privacy. Consider couples counselling to address trust issues.

  3. Constant CriticismExample: Whenever Alex wore something casual, Jamie would remark that he looked “sloppy” or “didn’t care about his appearance”.

    Resolution: Communicate your feelings and seek validation outside of the relationship. Remember, no one has the right to constantly critique you.

  4. Financial ControlExample: Sarah’s husband insisted she hand over her salary to him and then gave her an ‘allowance’ for personal expenses.

    Resolution: Establish independent bank accounts and discuss shared expenses. Consider financial counselling to build a healthy economic relationship.

  5. Manipulation Through GuiltExample: Whenever Nina wanted to visit her family alone, Rob would say, “If you loved me, you’d want me there with you.”

    Resolution: Recognise manipulative statements and discuss your need for autonomy within the relationship.

  6. Threats and IntimidationExample: When Mia voiced her concerns about their relationship, Ethan would threaten to leave her and take their dog with him.

    Resolution: Ensure your safety first and confide in someone you trust. Seek professional counselling or a support group to discuss these threats.

  7. Dictating Appearance and BehaviourExample: Luke was always told by his partner which shirts to wear and how to style his hair.

    Resolution: Reassert your right to personal choices. Engage in an open dialogue about preferences without succumbing to control.

  8. GaslightingExample: Whenever Zoe recalled an argument, her partner would insist it never happened or that she remembered it ‘wrong’.

    Resolution: Trust your memories and feelings. Document instances when you feel gaslighted. Consider therapy to rebuild confidence in your perceptions.

  9. Sexual ControlExample: Despite her discomfort, Olivia’s boyfriend often pressured her into intimate situations, saying it was “what couples do.”

    Resolution: Remember, consent is paramount. Openly discuss boundaries, and if they’re not respected, consider seeking help or re-evaluating the relationship.


Daily Change Summary

Recognising the red flags of coercive control is essential for ensuring healthy relationships in modern society. Given the subtlety of these behaviours, awareness and education are critical. If you or someone you know may be experiencing coercive control, it’s crucial to seek help or guidance from professionals or trusted individuals. Modern relationships should be built on mutual respect, understanding, and freedom for both partners.

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