Updated: Jan 23, 2019
"Love is about giving freedom and power, not about gaining control or possession."
Even in relationships that would not be considered abusive, you may find yourself struggling for power or control. Especially right after the “honeymoon phase” ends, you may first begin to see your partner as the imperfect person they are - someone with their own needs, quirks, and flaws - and they start to see you that way too. The fact is, whenever two people are in any sort of relationship (whether it’s a friend, an intimate partner, a family member, or a coworker), you will eventually discover that your needs and their needs are not always in perfect alignment.
A power struggle (in a healthy relationship) may be as simple as disagreeing about what to watch on Netflix or asking your partner to put their phone away at the dinner table. These power struggles are not always indicative of abuse, but if they are done in the wrong way (i.e. the simple argument devolves into yelling, or asking something of your partner becomes a demand instead of a request), they may be early warning signs that the relationship has become unhealthy. A friend, family member, or partner may be exhibiting manipulative behavior and not even recognize it. Some of the early signs are:
- Not ever listening to you or asking your opinion
- Playing “mind games” (e.g. trying to make you jealous)
- Using passive-aggressive communication instead of being up front
- Giving you ultimatums (e.g. “if you go out with your friends, I’m not coming over”)
- Deflecting responsibility (never owning up to bad behavior)
- Belittling or embarrassing you
- Using gifts or apologies to influence your decisions
There are many types of abuse that can exist in an unhealthy relationship, but all involve the exertion of power and control. Each abuser's tactics vary, but most fall under the categories laid out in the power and control wheel below:
Abusers use these and other tactics to keep their victims in the relationship. Early on in the relationship, perpetrators try to gain as much control as possible over their victim(s). Often this means isolating them from friends and family (who could otherwise provide support for the victim), controlling the finances (not allowing their victim to have a job or not giving him/her access to money), or threatening to take full custody of the children if they ask for a divorce.