I’ve worked with many women struggling to come to terms with their partner’s abusive behaviours.

Women wonder: “Is he doing this to me on purpose? And if he is knowingly being cruel, neglectful and controlling, then I find that too hard to take, that he would be so calculated in his nastiness to me. I’ve not done anything to create that.”

Women wish: “I’d rather he did not know what he’s doing to me, that it’s unconscious, that he can’t help it, that he’s not intentionally trying to destroy me. I find that notion easier to come to terms with.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that some men do single-mindedly, and very consciously, choose to abuse their partners. As indicated by the man who said:

“I knew I could control every move that she made.”1

Men who use coercive control aim to get their own way and be right at all costs. They may use violence or intimidation to shut her up — make her conform. They have deliberate goals to frighten her. Some men may apologise and show momentary remorse, but they continue to deny causing harm and instead tell her she deserves what she gets.

Some men who purposefully coercively control their partners enjoy it.

A man who was interviewed by Julia Wood said, “I was getting like joy — I see her upset from things I’m saying, I just keep right on bringing it. That was good enough for me. Ain’t no need for me to walk up and hit her.”2

One man that Jeff Hearn interviewed said, “it got so you used to enjoy it. You provoked incidents yourself to justify what you’re doing.”3

Some men warn their partners in advance that if she does not do as she is told she will suffer the consequences.

Here’s a couple of examples:

“I tell her ‘shut-up or just take what comes’.”4

“When I thought I was losing an argument I’d say ‘If you don’t shut up I’m going to hit you’.”3

Yet another man said, “It all depends on the other side. That is, I hit her, let’s say I give her a slap, she’ll be safer if she moves to the other room. If she does that, it all ends well.”5

High numbers of men interviewed about their abuse towards their partners have confessed that frightening their partner was a deliberate goal. In fact some men warn their partner that they’ll use violence or some kind of control tactic in the future.6

Unless her abusive partner deliberately, purposefully and systematically takes personal responsibility for his violent and controlling behaviours, women need to do what it takes to protect their own sanity and that of their children’s as well as physical safety and psychological wellbeing.

Life is too short to feel obligated to stay with a controlling partner.

There are too many social messages that encourage victims to stay in relationship with the abuser. There are alternatives. Children flourish better in safe environments. You have permission to leave and be safe. Anyone who moves away from abusive people will survive — and in fact flourish when away from abuse. If you already live with fear on a constant basis — Fear of leaving and setting up a new life is something you can do — Your inner strength is still deep inside you.


  1. Gondolf, Edward W., & Hanneken, James. (1987). The gender warrior: Reformed batterers on abuse, treatment, and change. Journal of Family Violence, 2, 177-191.
  2. Wood, Julia T. (2004). Monsters and victims: Male felons’ accounts of intimate partner violence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 555-576.
  3. Hearn, Jeff. (1998). The Violences of Men: How Men Talk About and How Agencies Respond to Men’s Violence to Women. London: Sage
  4. Cavanagh, Kate, Dobash, R. Emerson, Dobash, Russell P., & Lewis, Ruth. (2001). ‘Remedial work’: Men’s strategic responses to their violence against intimate female partners. Sociology, 35(3), 695-714.
  5. Eisikovits, Zvi C., Goldblatt, Hadass , & Winstok, Zeev (1999). Partner accounts of intimate violence: Towards a theoretical model. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 80, 606-619.
  6. Ptacek J. Why do men batter their wives? In: Yllö K, Bograd M, editors. Feminist Perspectives on Wife Abuse (SAGE Focus Editions) 1988. p. 133-57.


Tactic #14 — Symbolic Aggression

by Clare Murphy PhD 29 July 2013

This is the fourteenth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel — Symbolic Aggression. A symbolic act is a verbal or physical gesture that represents or means something of larger significance than the gesture itself. Symbolic aggression includes verbal or physical gestures aimed at terrorising, threatening, intimidating, dominating, […]

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Tactic #4 — Isolation

by Clare Murphy PhD 9 February 2012

This is the fourth of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel – Isolation. Isolation is a powerful tactic used by controlling partners Isolation is a pivotal tactic that controlling partners use in order to weaken their victims, prevent them from hearing others’ perspectives, and to bring them into […]

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Women mentally bruised by male partners: How to help Stage 5

by Clare Murphy PhD 8 May 2009

Maintenance is the final stage in this series of blogs about providing help for women that is appropriate to her stage of coping with being abused and controlled by a male partner. Dienneman and her colleagues (2007) call this stage establishing a new life whether the woman stays together with her partner or whether she […]

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Fear and shame: The lifeblood that keeps ‘power and control’ alive

by Clare Murphy PhD 23 January 2009

If you have had abusive life experiences it is highly possible you were left with a legacy of fear and shame. Until you embark on a journey of healing this legacy by developing awareness, wisdom and empathy for yourself and others, these feelings may have led you down one of two tracks – to conformity […]

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