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Power and Control: What to Look Out for in Your Relationships

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Relationships are complicated, especially romantic relationships. Disagreements happen and at times situations may escalate. However, even in those times of escalation, a basis of respect and care should be carrying the conversation. When this care and respect is removed, unhealthy, and even abusive tendencies can arise and become the new trend of the relationship.

A healthy relationship is characterized by equality. Both parties are equally giving and taking and can hold each other to equal expectations. Trust and support, respect, non-threatening behavior, honesty, and accountability, shared responsibility, and negotiation and fairness are the foundation of healthy relationships.

Unhealthy relationships are characterized by power and control. One half of the relationship is taking the power away from the other half and has control over that person and the relationship. This is when you begin to see unhealthy and abusive tendencies arise. Experts on domestic and dating violence break these behaviors down into eight categories.

  1. Coercion and Threats
    The partner with power will make or carry out threats to hurt the other partner or force the partner to do as they say. They may threaten to leave, to harm themselves/attempt suicide, or to report the other partner to welfare. Should things continue to escalate to the point of police involvement, the partner in power will force the other partner to drop charges. They may have their partner do illegal things for them as well.
  2. Intimidation
    The abusive partner will find ways to make the other partner feel afraid of them. They may use looks, actions, or gestures; maybe they get in your face and yell, physically force you from leaving by blocking the door or holding you, or show you that they have a weapon. They may destroy property, smash things, or harm pets.
  3. Emotional Abuse
    Does your partner regularly put you down and make you feel like you are less than? Do you constantly feel like you are the one that is wrong and cause all of the problems in your relationship? That is a clear sign of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can include name calling, gaslighting, playing mind games, humiliation, and making you feel guilty. The partner in power regularly makes the other partner feel bad about themselves in any way possible.
  4. Isolation
    When it comes to isolation, the partner in power will control who and when the other partner can socialize with others. They will control what you do, who you see and talk to, and where you go. They will limit your social involvement and often will use jealousy to justify their actions.
  5. Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming
    When the abuse occurs, the abuser will make light of their actions. They won’t take your concerns seriously and will brush everything off as if you are overreacting. They will say that the abuse never occurred and will shift the responsibility for the behavior onto the other partner. They will say that you caused whatever happened and are the reason why they act the way they do.
  6. Using Children
    In a situation where there are children involved, the controlling partner will make the other partner feel guilty about the children. They will use the children to relay messages to the other partner or will use visitation to harass the other partner. They may threaten to take the children away and get full custody so that the other partner will lose their kids. They will use the parent-child relationship as leverage for them to accomplish their selfish goals.
  7. Economic Abuse
    Economic abuse refers to one partner holding complete power over the finances. This partner will dictate how much money the other partner can have and when, what they can use the money on, and will prevent the other partner from getting a job so they can be financially independent. They also may make the partner do things to get money, such as panhandling, asking family members for money, or even more serious offenses like trafficking.
  8. Using Privilege
    When a relationship involves one party having socio-political power over the other, whether that be gender, race, immigration status, religion, etc., the partner in the position of power will use that privilege to have control over the other person. The male partner may make the female partner feel like she is lesser and must abide by extreme gender roles; she must cater to his needs and do whatever he says. The Catholic partner may make their Muslim counterparts attend Mass, keep them from doing their daily prayers, and not allow them to wear their hijab.

If you notice any of these eight tendencies in your relationship, an imbalance of power and control is at play. Some of these behaviors may seem minor at the moment, but they can quickly turn from a single event to the development of unhealthy, abusive patterns. In most cases of domestic violence, the abuser does not fully show their nature until the other partner is already invested in the relationship. But, once these behaviors begin to come out, they are likely going to continue and escalate over time. Relationships are meant to be an equal sharing of love, trust, commitment, and care. That is not possible with any of these eight behaviors present. If you are experiencing this in your relationship, individual therapy is important to help you plan how to stay safe, support you as you process your experiences, and decide how you want to move forward. Whether or not you choose to leave, support is key. Schedule an appointment with Counseling Works here.

Written By: Hannah Payne

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