5 Common Patterns of Coercive Control in Relationships: What You Need to Know

Did you know that one in four women will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime? It’s a shocking statistic, and what’s worse is that many people are living in controlling, abusive relationships without even realizing it.

You might be thinking “if I was in an abusive relationship, I would know it.” But the truth is, it’s not that simple. 

Here’s why… 

When most people think of domestic violence, they imagine a physically abusive partner. However, domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. It’s not just about black eyes and broken bones. It’s just as much about exerting power and control over another person.

Coercive control is a pattern of behavior that slowly chips away at your independence and sense of self until you’re completely under your partner’s control. This kind of insidious abuse can leave the victim feeling isolated and trapped in the relationship. It’s often much more subtle than physical violence. And as a result, much harder to identify.

In this blog post, we’ll look at 5 of the most common patterns of coercive control in relationships. Read on to learn more and see if you recognize any of these warning signs. If you do, please reach out for help!

Threats and Intimidation

One of the most common forms of coercive control is threats and intimidation. This can range from making veiled threats to outright threats of violence. The abuser may also try to control the victim by making them afraid of what could happen if they try to leave the relationship. For example, an abuser might say things like: “If you leave me, I will kill myself” or “I will find you and hurt you if you leave.”


Another common control tactic is isolation. The abuser may try to isolate the victim from their friends and family. They may do this by controlling who the victim talks to, what they do, and where they go. For example, an abuser might say things like: “You’re not going out with your friends tonight – you’re staying home with me” or “If you leave me, I will make sure you never see your family again.”

Economic Abuse

Economic abuse is another common yet often overlooked form of coercive control. This is where the abuser controls the finances in the relationship, making all the financial decisions, and limiting the victim’s access to money. For example, an abuser might say things like: “You’re not going to work – I’ll take care of the bills” or “If you leave me, you’ll never be able to get a job and support yourself.”

Sexual Coercion and Manipulation

Many abusers also use sexual coercion and manipulation as a way to control their victims. It can involve anything from making the victim feel guilty for not wanting to have sex, to forcing them to do things sexually that they’re not comfortable with. For example, an abuser might say things like: “If you loved me, you would have sex with me” “You owe me sex because I’ve been good to you,” or even “You owe me sex because I’m your husband.”

Another way coercion manifests is when the perpetrator won’t listen to NO, whether a hard no or a soft no, like “I really need to get home” or “I have to work early in the morning.” Perpetrators will push past soft no’s and even ignore hard no’s (like “no,” “stop,” “don’t,” “I don’t want to,” etc.), as if they don’t count as a real no unless it’s shouted and accompanied by physical force. Even then, like when their target tries to push them away or move their hand from a body part, they still don’t listen to the clear NO because they want what they want. They believe they’re entitled to sex, so they ignore. They push and push until their victim stops saying no or pushing them away out of fear or just plain exhaustion after hours of protest.

Make no mistake. This is coercion. This is sexual assault. If there is vaginal or anal penetration (no matter how slight) by any object, or orally by a sex organ, it is rape, as defined by the FBI. No, in any form—spoken or indicated physically—means no.

The only true consent is enthusiastic consent.


Gaslighting is a term not many people are familiar with, but it’s a very common type of coercive control. It’s a form of psychological abuse where the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning their own reality and sanity. For example, an abuser might say things like: “You’re imaging things – that didn’t happen” “You’re just being paranoid” or “You’re crazy – no one will believe you.”

Please refer to my previous post on Gaslighting for more details.

If you recognize any of these patterns of coercive control in your relationship – it’s vitally important to get help. Domestic violence is NEVER okay, and there are people who can help if you or someone you know are in an abusive situation. Remember, you are not alone, and there is no shame in asking for help!

Call RAINN anytime, day or night. They helped me so much during my rape recovery.

May you find peace.


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