One controlling behavior could be a red flag to examine further.
People who meet coercive partners can become entrapped during the dating period, often unbeknownst to them. Over time, as a society, we have come to recognize more signs of coercive behaviors that are now part of our mainstream languages, such as love bombing, gaslighting, and narcissistic abuse. These coercive behaviors are tactics of emotional and psychological abuse, and often the perpetrator has narcissistic qualities. While one person is seeking a meaningful relationship, the coercive partner is looking for someone who can be influenced and eventually overpowered. Knowing what to look for in a potential partner to determine if there are lingering signs of coercive control is the best protection, and we now have more data to do just that.
Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and chief science adviser for Match.com, led a study (“Singles in America”) researching the behavior and attitudes of single people in the United States. In 2022, Fisher was stunned by one finding that had never appeared before: Participants were looking for emotional maturity, the ability to process and grapple with their feelings (Blum, 2023). Emotional maturity is counter to coercive behavior.
Defining Coercive Control
Coercive control is subtle, hard to identify, and can be embedded in what might seem like “normal” behavior, even behavior that appears favorable. Many types of non-physical behaviors constitute “coercive control” to attain a powerful persuasion over another person. All of the coercive tactics, in one way or another, serve to avoid, defend against, or disregard feelings in oneself or the other.
In my many years of facilitating groups for women with controlling partners, each woman unpacks her relational experience and determines which coercive tactics have been at play. The two most prominent coercive tactics identified that are also deeply harmful are love-bombing and gaslighting.