Tactic #1 — One-Sided Power Games

This is the first of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics mentioned in my power and control wheel – One-Sided Power Games.

Research with men and women reveals that men who engage in one-sided power games show more concern about gaining something for themselves than showing concern for what they are actually doing to their partners. In other words – what matters to him is not what he does, but the benefits he gains. There are multiple one-sided power games played by a person determined to maintain power and control. If one tactic does not work, he will merely change to a new tactic.

When I interviewed the men for my PhD research I asked why they’d bother committing to a monogamous relationship if they were so keen on playing the field and seeking sex from multiple partners. I was so surprised when most of the men said they wanted to build a life-long caring relationship. Several of the men said their partners were their best friends. And it was her they wanted to turn to for support when they were jailed, or punished in some way for abusing her.

I also posed the question, “If men took an unwritten contract into marriage what would it say?” All the men said things like:

The unwritten contract would say: “I can do what I want but you gotta do what I tell you to. That’s the way I’d see 90 percent of marriages, from a man’s point of view.”  (Bill)

“Most guys would like their wife or partner to be subservient to them. And be agreeable with the ideals of the husband.” (James)

The man should “have the final financial decision and the final direction for the family.” (Brendan)

And Sam said that in the past he used to believe that women “had to be a slave.”

These are examples of one-sided power games where: He makes the rules, he makes all the big decisions and he has the last word.

Ruler of the castle

Indeed these men’s views of how a marriage should operate fitted with women’s experience of being dismissed and disregarded as an equal partner. Several women I interviewed said their partner had to have the final decision about everything, and regularly ignored them if she had something to say. Susan said her partner “made the major decisions and if any were decided jointly, he did things his way in the end”. Pauline’s husband treated her in such a way that meant she had no right to have judgements or make decisions. On the other hand, Karen made the major decisions such as where to live – however, ultimately if Felix felt a decision needed to be blocked he’d block it.

His wants are most important – He does most of the receiving

Lazarus, a man I interviewed, was of the opinion that the unwritten contract that most men take into a relationship states: “Trust, honour and obey.” Then he added, “Although if I said the ‘obey’ bit, the missus would get upset [and say] ‘You’re not my boss’.”

Other men said the unwritten contract would say, “Do as the man says” and that men can be very domineering. Max said, “We want it our way. Our way or the highway girl.”

Geni said he’d “Think the majority of men would think the wife is like the doting little servant, slave, there to do everything” and that when the man comes home from work in his suit and drops the briefcase “he expects the beer there and the meal on the table.” When this expectation is not met, men say they feel disrespected as a man, that the failure of the woman to carry out her feminine role hurts a man’s pride.

From the women’s experience, Elsie said that everything she and her husband drank, ate and did, including sex, was mostly what he wanted and the way he wanted it. He made all the decisions for his own benefit and nothing else mattered. Whatever these men want takes precedence, therefore the men get most of the receiving.

Victoria said it was vital she ensure her partner’s needs always came first. It had to be his way first and then, maybe, he might think about doing something for Victoria. When the couple went to marriage guidance, Graham agreed with things the counsellor said, but when they got home he said that what the counsellor said was, “All rubbish and that he was not going to f…ing do that, she doesn’t know what she’s on about that woman”. This is a common experience women tell me in counselling. Their partners may say they love her, want the relationship to improve, so agree to go to counselling, but the role they are playing is a major way in which such men gain any sense of self-esteem. Counselling inevitably means having to face feelings these men spend a lifetime denying.

So, these men continue to ensure that all the attention centres on themselves

Elsie’s husband Leon was jealous and aggressive toward his new-born son. From then on there was a huge increase in abuse. All the attention had to be centred on him. He yelled at the baby when it was one week old telling the baby that it had to shut up and not start running the house. To gain further understanding why men engage in these one-sided power games you can read here and here.

Wearing the mask of the Master, he monopolises the woman’s time and energy

An extremely common tactic of the one-sided power game entails the man monopolising the woman’s time and energy. Most women experiencing control by their loved-one say their partners make many promises but never deliver. Susan said that her husband took no responsibility for fathering or household duties and he told people that he had a lazy wife. Yet Susan was overburdened with responsibility, which included being in charge of the finances – which he continually sabotaged.

Most women I talked to expected equal role sharing when they began living with their partners. But, as Karen said:

“Eventually it worked out that I was doing all the girly jobs and he was doing the boy jobs, but then I was doing the girly jobs and the boy jobs. I can remember that being very frustrating and having that argument a lot”.

The burden of these kinds of responsibility increases over time for most women in partnership with men who hold beliefs about male entitlement. Donna said that “When we got married my workload just got heavier and heavier and heavier and heavier and heavier. As the years went by I worked my guts out and I got less and less and less and less for it.”

He has his own selfish way at her expense

Donna said that everything was about what her partner Frank wanted. And what Frank wanted, Frank got. His pattern was to get his own way at her expense, for example, he ate steak three meals a day, gave steak to his friends, yet Donna’s sons were made to eat mince and sausages. Teresa said that if she disagreed with Patrick or said “no” to sex, he would get really angry, nasty and sulk for days. Likewise, if Susan’s partner did not get his own way he would ignore her or disappear for days or weeks at a time.

When a man believes he’s superior she is not allowed to contradict him

Raewyn said there was a great deal of pressure to act, think and be like her husband because he said his way was the only and right way, even though his behaviours were not always congruent with his philosophies. Sally said the exact same things about her husband.

He determines how, when and what things get communicated

Karen’s partner Felix would pull a blanket over his head and hum when Karen wanted to communicate. He would always say that Karen was wrong and that the opposite of what she said was true. Pauline’s husband always avoided talking about issues, he never raised his voice or got angry. Sally said that because her husband would not take responsibility for his behaviours she would get angry in an attempt to be heard and to resolve issues. But . . . then he would say the problem in the relationship was her anger. He always refused to answer the phone, which meant Sally could never get hold of him if she was away from the house. Victoria said that nothing was open to discussion unless it suited Graham’s needs. He walked away when Victoria wanted to talk or he would respond with, “I don’t know” over and over.

His previous marriage makes him right and her wrong

Teresa had a high public profile job working under her intimate partner’s management and they both earned good money. When they first met, Patrick was seemingly happily married with a baby but he pursued Teresa relentlessly, yet blamed Teresa for his marriage break up. When Teresa and Patrick separated he pursued her relentlessly again. Because Teresa had not been in a relationship before, he controlled her by insisting that she knew nothing about relationships, and that he did. Likewise, Sally’s husband claimed to be always right. He, too, had previously been married for ten years and insisted that he knew how to have a relationship, that Sally did not, and he therefore knew best.

And the result of one-sided power games?

As you can see from men’s and women’s stories, one-sided power games don’t always entail physical violence for the man to ascend to the  superior gender status and get the rewards society tells him he deserves. It doesn’t take physical violence for him to ensure she descends into a downward despairing spiral and a position of servitude.

The irony is that men are not truly getting what they really want – which is safety, trust and a caring connection.

As I wrote in 2009:

“Not everyone is safe and free. Huge numbers of people live in fear. Trapped, damaged and in pain. Isolated by perpetrators who are not free either. Masked, driven control freaks lashing out; unhappy like their victims. They emotionally abuse as a way to feel safe. But when they get real – and slip their quest for power and control – they have to admit they are not truly free or safe themselves.”

Watch out for blogs on the following control tactics:

Mind games
Inappropriate restrictions
Isolation
Over-protection and ‘caring’
Emotional unkindness & violation of trust
Degradation & suppression of potential
Separation abuse
Using social institutions & social prejudices
Denial, minimising, blaming
Using the children
Economic abuse
Sexual abuse
Symbolic aggression
Domestic slavery
Physical violence
Cyber Abuse

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Meet the Author

Clare Murphy PhD is the founder of SpeakOutLoud. Her website is dedicated to providing in-depth research about coercive control and psychological abuse. Clare mentors, supervises and trains professionals to recognise and work safely with domestic violence. She offers one-on-one counselling and consultation to those who are ready to make sense of coercive control and abuse, and to Grow and Flourish Beyond Trauma.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Crystal Jun 29, 2015, 3:02 am

    I am in a verbally abusive relationship. When I asked my husband to leave he promised he would change. Now he’s tagging me in all these Facebook things about love – several a day and he keeps asking me if he’s getting better. I feel like he’s trying to hold me tighter. I have moved out of our bed and he asked my daughter to sleep in the bed last night. She has also been verbally abused by him. I didn’t let her and watched over her all night. This is a man that never even gave my child a hug that I can remember. We have no place to run because I promised her I would take her dog, which is her best friend with her. So we feel trapped. All this love stuff started when I stood up to him and asked him to leave. Right now I’m so confused. What is he trying to do?

  • SE Jan 27, 2015, 4:42 am

    I have been moved away from all jobs and possibilities. Does anyone have advice for jobs available online from home? I can’t save money when I don’t have access to it. After reading this I’m disgusted. I already knew, but I have been confused and blaming myself for everything. I second guess even a Facebook post. How could I have lost myself this much? I’m not going to blame him, nor try and fight it anymore… I just need to get myself together.

  • Mari Apr 28, 2013, 3:54 am

    Hello survivors, and truth seekers –

    These accounts resonate with me and my experience … I sincerely see similarity with all accounts.

    I am writing from Canada. I had been married for 2 years, and now am separated for 2 years, finalizing a divorce. We have no kids, although he has repeatedly tried to get me pregnant during my sleep.

    Since I married him, I was propelled to domestic violence counseling, because he hit me and strangled me shortly after our wedding.

    I am … very intelligent, well-travelled and educated. And so he is he. The thing that confused me the most was that he was physically abusive only at first, and then his tactics changed and became more difficult to recognize. We have been through therapy, and I myself have been through consistent therapy for over 4 years. This situation has sucked all my energy, and creativity, which is the essence of my being (I am a talented novice artist).

    Present: through years of therapy, and relapses with him which did not help my healing process (but I cannot keep blaming myself for this reaction since I still felt feelings of love), I am still having a difficult time with the finalization of this divorce. In group therapy I have listened to many accounts of women with children, and the horror stories of the controlling abuse that continues and deepens by using kids as ‘manipulation tools’….

    Albeit, I am having a hard time dealing with … the uncertainty … the final moments of “was I overreacting?”, since I see many former friends block off Facebook, and such, it still gets to me. It simply hurts me that I am not justified socially for my decision to protect myself against this tyranny. It confuses me as well.

    My logic says that I am doing the right thing. Hell, I have wasted two young years of my life while he has been fu..ing bitch.s at his fancy, even importing a wife from his native country. A fact he has not confessed, but that has been revealed to me socially.

    I am having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that (former) friends, his family, and society at large, take HIS side, and thus make me feel even more isolated and weird for noticing the truth that I have lived privately.

    I tell women … the good, naive, generous women, with self-esteem issues or not, that end up in these relationships: “DONT WASTE TIME in trying to mend this, MOVE ON” even though you will not feel comfortable, happy, and natural in doing so. THEY move on … you were nothing to to them to begin with. That is why they never sincerely took interest in your being, your wants, your needs. And in my case, his family made me feel like this too. Never once asked a question about my past, my being, my goals, my well-being … never. All they were concerned about was “when are you having a baby? Why are you not convincing our son to stop drinking, or smoking? (ie shifting the blame on me for his behaviour).

    This is a small detail, you will say. But, think about it: wouldn’t you be interested and curious about a new person in your life? Wouldn’t you like to embrace, and know that person? I found out the hard way. That I was not only dealing with a controlling, angry man, but also a ‘dysfunctional family’ who had the talent of hiding it well. Maybe that is the answer for my current malaise: our former friends who block me from Facebook are simply well manipulated by him, and I have the wisdom not to challenge the impossible….

  • Elaine Jun 29, 2012, 7:44 pm

    I’m really enjoying these blogs. I’m a survivor and I’m nodding my head to so much of this.
    I’m sharing your blog on my FB page, https://www.facebook.com/DomesticAbuseMalta
    Looking forward to reading more on the other tactics of control. Thanks

  • Jan Jul 13, 2011, 2:00 am

    This works both ways. My mother was extremely psychologically abusive to me from about the time I turned 15 to the present at 25. Her hidden desire to control and make me a submissive subservient has caused many problems and has ruined our family. My father is also abusive but he tends to ignore everything around him and focus his attention on television and his yard. Typical dysfunctional middle class. My mother also has a bipolar schizophrenia that has never been formally diagnosed or was wrongfully diagnosed as a depression because she would never be honest about her condition because of the stigma of being schizophrenic, which makes the situation worse. She is a very good liar and plays mind games constantly. They are also both very good at using their voices to manipulate other people’s feelings, leading them on to believe that they are normal and that everything is okay. I believe my mother became this way because of her father who was also controlling and abusive and now she takes it out on me. It’s a sick game. I wouldn’t live in the house with them if I could afford not to, but in my current situation I am stuck here or homeless. No one in the family will take me in because they all have their own problems. I went to a therapist for a while but they were pretty much worthless, offering bogus discussion and recommending that I take steps that were absolutely absurd. It has been a frustrating experience and not only have I suffered because of it, but my younger brother is shaping up to turn out just as bad as I have become. We live in one of those neighborhoods where no one talks except for briefly when they mow the lawns and where everyone in the town is on anti-psychotics or anti-depressants, so much so to the point that it’s impossible to see a psychiatrist because they refuse to accept anymore patients.

    Women can be just as guilty as men and often times it’s a disgruntled and abusive mother. I see my mother as a Nurse Ratchet character from one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Both of my parents are very sick people and I look forward to the near future when I will no longer have to associate with them.

  • BM May 19, 2011, 6:54 pm

    I can place a check against all these characteristics to describe my X.

    I have come a long way – yet emotionally I still beat myself up and react. Takes time I know, how much time?