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What is coercive control in a relationship?

The term coercive control has become more well known over the last few years. This form of domestic abuse is when one person in the relationship uses manipulation and controlling behaviour over the other person to create an uneven power dynamic.

Unlike physical abuse, the signs can be subtle and some partners may not realise they’ve been experiencing abuse. However that doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging.

A person who is experiencing coercive control in their relationship can lose their confidence, independence and enjoyment of life. They can become isolated from their friends and family and can lose access to finances and even employment.

What is the meaning of coercive control and what are some warning signs to look out for?


What is coercive control?

According to Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety[1], “Coercive control is a course of conduct aimed at dominating and controlling another (usually an intimate partner, but can be other family members).”

The offender uses controlling tactics to threaten their partner’s independence and restrict their freedom. These tactics can include:

  • controlling finances
  • social isolation
  • gaslighting
  • stalking
  • monitoring activity online
  • denying freedom
  • intimidation
  • making threats
  • blaming
  • making jealous accusations
  • belittling or putting down
  • harassment.


What are signs of coercive control?

Coercive control is not a minor or one-off event, but is usually an ongoing pattern of behaviour. It’s important to understand that it can be difficult to recognise it in your relationship, particularly if the control has built up over time.

The control may have become normalised in your life and you may have even been gaslighted into thinking you’re imagining it.

Asking yourself some of these questions may help you understand if you’re experiencing coercive control:

  • Am I as confident as I’ve always been or has it decreased since I’ve been in this relationship?
  • Have I been belittled or put down by my partner, either in private or public?
  • Have I been accused of flirting or cheating?
  • Am I able to speak up in my relationship?
  • Am I doubting my memory and decisions?
  • Do I experience any fear in my relationship?
  • Has my partner threatened violence?
  • Do I have control over my own choices in my life such as where I go, who I see and how I spend my money?
  • Am I often on edge when my partner is around?


What is the impact of coercive control?

When you’re experiencing coercive control, your partner is trying to restrict your independence. This might mean you lose relationships with your family, friends or colleagues. You might not work, which will threaten your financial independence. This control can affect your self esteem, making you even more dependent on your partner.


How can I get help if I’m experiencing coercive control?

If you think you’re experiencing coercive control or would like to talk to someone about your relationship, it’s important to get help right away. 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) counsellors provide support 24/7 and can also assist with safety planning. You can also speak to a counsellor at CAREinMIND on 1300 096 269.


If you’re in danger and need help immediately, contact 000.

The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.

[1] Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety. (2021). Defining and responding to coercive control: Policy brief (ANROWS Insights, 01/2021). ANROWS.