“For many people subject to coercive control, the difficulties and danger signs are not as obvious as a physical assault. Stealth and manipulation open the door for coercive control, and this is made easy because we are not even looking for it. Every risky behaviour has a plausible explanation that encourages us to ignore it. Compliance does not always feel like control at the beginning.
There are two pillars of control that often kick-start every other means by which compliance is maintained in an intimate relationship. I call these the jealousy code and the loyalty code.
The jealousy code
We have seen how jealousy is often used in a ‘crime of passion’ narrative as a defence for murder, so it is not surprising that it is also a plausible justification for control. Jealousy is seen as a natural output of romantic love, and that may be true to some extent. Some isolated jealousy may be reasonable and defensible. But patterns of jealousy that are used to try and alter someone’s behaviours or choices are not reasonable – ever.
Controlling people often want their partner to avoid doing things that make them jealous – or this is how it will be sold. They will say things like: ‘I just can’t handle it when I see you talking to other men. It’s just because you arouse such strong feelings in me,’ or: ‘I don’t like it when you wear that dress: it’s making other men look at you and I just get so jealous.’
…when in a relationship with a person whose jealousy is a pattern – it is part of who they are. Do we avoid talking to others – the delivery person, the nurse, the teacher, the colleague, the neighbour? Perhaps we should not dress in ways that make us too attractive; maybe we should stop going out without our partner; perhaps we avoid former partners, or even watching films with attractive characters. Maybe we should not have close friendships or talk to people on social media; we should never, ever flirt with anyone or maybe even smile at them; and possibly we should even make our phone available for scrutiny and let our partner have all our passwords. The list of things we could avoid doing might be endless and unknowable.
The jealousy code might actually manoeuvre individuals into living an isolated and miserable life where their freedoms are severely limited. This may be something they are happy to do right at the beginning of the relationship, where they might believe themselves to be in the throes of a great passion. Or it may be something they are willing to accept because they want to impose some rules themselves. After all, they would do all these things if they had got nothing to hide, right? Wrong. It is a simple but powerful ruse to get them to agree to comply with someone else’s demands. It reveals a partner’s paranoia and entitlement, not their love.
…The jealousy code and the myth of the crime of passion give power to controlling people because they have become plausible explanations for what is actually control. The loyalty code often follows quickly on the heels of the jealousy code, and completes an effective circle of control within which other controls are cultivated.
The loyalty code
The loyalty code is imposed through a series of hidden tests designed to make someone choose between two sides and prove their devotion to the controlling person. It is an effective method to remove or control the influence others may have over the victim. Very often friends and family will be the focus. Friends may be considered ‘a bad influence’ and family may be described as ‘trying to split up’ the relationship. The victim may be manipulated to see less of their friends or family, or be responsible for making sure they ‘like’ the controlling person or at least act as if they do. It is a very common part of coercive control that victims are required to present a happy face to others; it is a loyalty test. If outsiders become suspicious, or the controlling person is criticised, there will be consequences for the victim. A happy front can be a protective factor, but it increases the control and the things that support that control.
More socially confident controlling people may keep family members close so that they can be monitored and even used to help control the victim. Family members may come to see the controlling person as loving and capable, and question any criticism the victim may raise. This is purposeful
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