When you hear the word “abusive” you probably immediately think of physical violence, but relationships can be abusive in other ways. Maybe your partner doesn’t hit you, but they use other ways to try to exercise control over you. Keeping you away from your friends, manipulating you, devaluing your thoughts and feelings are all forms of abuse. It is called coercive control, which is an ongoing multipronged strategy of controlling someone’s behavior. While women can engage in this type of behavior they are most often the victims. Coercive control doesn’t usually start with physical violence, making it harder to identify this as abusive behavior, but it often leads to it. It can be thought of as one person overriding the free will of their partner and taking advantage of the bond of the relationship. At first, it can seem to a victim, like the other person is just very adoring, but larger patterns of restrictions can emerge over time. How do you know if you are in a coercive relationship? These six behaviors are major red flags. 

Your partner demands you account for your time. Coercive controllers using this tactic will demand a detailed account of your time spent away from them, and then assume you are hiding something if you leave out any detail. As a result you limit what you do without your partner to avoid getting the third degree when you go out on your own. 

Your partner freaks out when they can’t reach you. The coercive controller will use any excuse to make it seem like their partner is doing something they shouldn’t be doing. If you don’t answer a phone call or respond to a text right away you will be accused of ignoring them, or worse. In response you will drop everything to respond to their text or answer their call to avoid a confrontation later. 

Your partner controls your money. Coercive controllers will use money as a means of trying to limit your freedom. They will do anything from telling you how to spend your money to completely taking control of your finances. Severely regulating how much money you have to spend, hiding money and making major financial decisions are ways to keep you under control. 

Your partner keeps you away from family and friends. The coercive controller will try to distance you from your family and friends because the abuser can’t control what your loved ones might say about the relationship. This can be done subtly by regularly pointing out the faults of your loved ones, or by outright making it clear that they don’t like them. 

Your partner makes you question your sanity. Coercive controllers are good at this, it is an extremely effective form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their feelings, instincts and sanity. This gives the abuser a lot of power and may make a victim more likely to stay in the relationship because they don’t trust their own perceptions. 

Your partner pressures you to have sex when you don’t want to. The coercive controller will demand sex, or certain sex acts that can make the victim feel bullied or humiliated. They will demand sex even when you have made it clear you aren’t interested. This form of control is sexual abuse even if you are in a relationship with the person. 

What should you do if you find yourself in this type of relationship? It is crucial to talk to a domestic abuse advocate about your situation, they will best be able to help you decide what is right for you. You can find help at organizations like The National Domestic Violence Hotline and The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. You should also seek help from your family and friends, they are always your first line of defense.