This is the third of 16 blogs discussing the patterns of tactics from my power and control wheel – Inappropriate Restrictions.
In our lives we are all restricted in a host of different ways. Laws, social and cultural etiquette, physical and mental ability, the hours we work, and our need to take time out to sleep represent ways our lives are restricted and moulded. We are confined to certain regimes when we have to attend school and work. And ultimately we are limited by the fact we will die one day.
However we all have rights within these restrictions. We have the human right to be heard, encouraged, and to have our emotional, creative, leisure and working lives respected. We have the right to be taken seriously, to develop our potential, explore and express our interests and to find meaning and spiritual fulfillment in or outside of our relationships.
But some people believe that not all should be equal; that they deserve more rights and more freedom than others. This is an abuse of power. In a domestic situation it is a human rights violation when a person engages in ongoing behaviours that inappropriately restrict their partner’s lives.
The key words are “ongoing” and “inappropriate”.
Who judges what is inappropriate? How do you know when you are being inappropriately restricted? How do you know your partner is restricting and moulding your relationship to suit himself more than you? When does a questionable action of a partner become a sinister trend? How do you know that alarm bells should be ringing? It is not easy nor obvious, at first. But clues come with the suspicion that your emotional needs are not being met, that others around you are accorded more rights, respect and consideration than you are.
Some inappropriate restrictions that women experience at the hands of their male partners include making her late for appointments, demanding that she account for her time, and expecting her to ask his permission. Some women say that their partner uses anger, threats, or emotional blackmail such as sulking and silence to restrict her activities.
Eva Lundgren (1995) interviewed 40 Norwegian couples. She noted that the more unpredictable, and the greater the mix of punitive and loving behaviours that the men used, the greater the certainty that the women would narrow their range of behaviours to stereotypical “feminine” ones and the greater the certainty that the men would become more stereotypically “masculine”. Inappropriate restrictions are methods used by some men so they can muscle more space for themselves and reduce the space for women to express their potential and freedom. One man Lundgren interviewed said, “It’s very important to keep the pattern of nature” by teaching underdeveloped women that they should restrict their lives to the role of subservient partners. And some men do not let up on imposing inappropriate restrictions until the woman obeys and submits to the limits of femininity. Until this happens, some men believe they cannot be the man they are striving to be. Eva Lundgren argues that from the men’s stories, it appeared that the men’s central aim was to shape and design their idea of what constitutes an acceptable form of masculinity – an authoritative independent man who is not influenced by a female partner.
Women I interviewed for my masters research experienced inappropriate restrictions in a variety of ways. Here are some of their stories:
Deprives her of privacy
Teresa – Prevent you from small private pleasures? Things like reading a book and staying in the bath for an hour. He’d come in all the time and say, “What are you doing?” It was hyper-vigilant what I was doing. It took away the pleasure of being able to do things. I’d open my eyes and he’d be just sitting there looking at me. It makes you want to be very secretive about anything little, little things.
Discourages her from her own interests
Brian would try to stop Raewyn from doing things she was interested in. Brian would do his own thing all the time and would make it awkward for Raewyn to do hers and he called her selfish. Raewyn – He’d be a sulk basically. He didn’t like me doing a lot of stuff and he would make it hard for me to keep up some interests, or even when I had the children to go to coffee groups he would put me down for doing that sort of thing.
Teresa – I really just stuck to doing the things that he did like and stopped doing the things that he didn’t like. I read a lot and that was my escape really…
Victoria – I lost interests and wants of my own. I only did what kept the peace. I felt guilty about going onto the nursing course. I didn’t feel guilty at the beginning coz I thought it would be good. But then the more I did it, he’d start to do reactive behaviours like, he’d drop me off at work and then he’d go cruising the main street of the city we lived in. Then I felt guilty that maybe I’d pushed him too much or that I’d offended him, or that I’d damaged his ego because I was moving on and he wasn’t moving on. That was where the guilt came in, that I was making him feel less of a man and I must stop that.
Prevents her spiritual practices
Teresa – One of the things he didn’t like was me going to church which I didn’t do very often but would do at Easter and Christmas and the odd time in between and he really didn’t like that all. I had been a reader in church before we had the relationship and he hated that and I stopped doing that. And he tried to change my mind that there wasn’t a God and I suppose it’s just like having friends believing in God (laughter). I mean it’s somebody that you like to tell things to (laughter) or that might know something that’s going on. I definitely stopped going because he didn’t like it
Intrudes and interrupts her activities
Elizabeth was one more of his possessions. Whenever he wanted anything, she had to drop what she was doing and attend to his needs. For example, he refused to take the house key to work with him so Elizabeth had to always be home at 5.00 pm or at lunch time to let him into the house. If she was late his anger would be explosive.
Elizabeth – I would say, “Take the key.” “Oh no, I don’t want all that stuff jangling around in my pockets.” “Okay well let’s leave a key outside so if you get home you can let yourself in.” “Oh, no, no, no, no people can find keys if you leave it outside. You can’t leave keys outside.” I had to be home and if I was five or ten minutes late, he’d be sitting up on the deck reading the paper, fuming, because he couldn’t get into the house. Even at the time it was happening, I just thought I had to be home at 5.00 pm. It would drive me a bit crazy sometimes I’d think, if he just took a key or if we just left a key out. The logical part of me just couldn’t make sense of this, so in the end I just stopped trying and just went along with what he said.
Acts as if she can do what she wants, then becomes upset when she does
Raewyn – we shared the babysitting and once I was late back from class and he was babysitting and he was so pissed off, it was totally uncalled for, but he wanted to make a scene to make me feel bad because he had missed out on his art class and I’d got it. So even though activities were pretty much well shared it was like, you can’t get more than your share. If anybody gets more it should be me. You are meant to be here with the children because I work whatever.
Susan – when I wanted to go back to school to get Sixth Form Certificate coz I wanted to become an accountant. He said ok, but when it actually came he got really nasty. He used to say, “What a stupid idea, what do you want to go and do that for?” I guess to him he was losing all the things I used to do for him because I’d be out of the house. Response? I left him. My youngest child was one – 1997. I didn’t get the education.
Monitors her whereabouts – demands she account for her time
Susan – I used to do night classes. He’d give me a hard time. He’d say it takes 15 minutes to get there. I was allowed two hours at the class. But at 11pm he’d ask where I’d been. He’d accuse me of being with someone else and I’d just laugh and say, “Well excuse me, but mate you go out four nights a week and you’ll say you’ll be home and you’re not home so don’t start telling me you don’t believe I’ve been where I’ve said I’ve been because where else am I going to go?” I used to argue.
Elizabeth – I’d have a good excuse to cover myself, I couldn’t just say outright, well fuck you mate, I’m not going to be there… I would have to make sure that every five minutes was accounted for because he’d want to know when I got back, where I’d been, and what I’d been doing so I had to keep a check on the time, and keep a check on where I was, so that I was sure I could fit it altogether for him so that I could tell him where I’d been.
Restricts the amount of time she’s allowed out of the house
Susan – His control there was, “Be home by a certain time. You’ve got 3/4 of an hour there, 3/4 of an hour back and an hour to do your groceries”. I was at my sister’s for three hours and Anthony got absolutely mad at me when I got home. I had no respect for him because he put these time constraints on me when I did my sewing classes. The thing that used to get to me was that he’d go out to the pub and say he’d be home at 9pm, yet come home in the early hours of the morning. I resented him, totally resented him. I used to get really angry with him. I used to argue or yell. He used to walk away from me and nothing frustrates me more than someone not arguing back. At least if you’re arguing you’ve got some kind of communication. It all used to build up in me. Did that make you change? I would tend to give in if the children needed a parent, I would tend to have given in, yeah. Because that whole self-esteem, he was earning the money and I wasn’t, so I was indebted to him yeah. Did he prevent you from small private pleasures? Yes. How did you respond to that? I would go for a coffee sometimes, and I would try not to tell him because I knew he wouldn’t approve and about clothing I just wouldn’t buy anything. I used to go around in absolutely rotten clothing, yeah I just didn’t buy much I just kept the basics and get hand-me-downs.
Pressures her to be like him, denies her, her individual tastes
Raewyn – Yes especially if I said I didn’t like something, or if I said I hate that or something he never liked it if I said I hated something. So yeah in a way he did he wouldn’t really let me …. How did you respond? I used to just say nothing because to me it was like so what, so what if he doesn’t agree with what I’m saying, it was often like that. Let him disagree, there’s no point in arguing. Would you go ahead and partake of those things? Sometimes yeah. Sometimes not? I didn’t even realise that I didn’t because of what he would say. He’s very persuasive, it’s incredible, so in some ways it was hard for me to know whether I did because he said, or because I decided myself.
Attempts at restricting her potential
Karen – I don’t know whether he would have specifically wished me any ill health, but there was a very definite campaign to do with intelligence, self esteem, achievements, and education once I started university and started achieving really highly, there was lots of problems with that. He didn’t ever say specifically I don’t want you doing that but he’d go round the house screaming at me you stupid fucking bitch. I’d come home with an A+. He’d be, “You stupid fucking bitch” for the next month. There’d be reasons for it, there’s a tea bag in the sink, what’s the tea bag doing there you stupid fucking bitch. Consequences of expressing true yourself? Bouncing around. He’d say very cutting things to put me in my place to make sure I was still going to be sitting in the box that he’d made for me. …..I chose not to do things because it was too much bother because it would cause hassles, there’d be payback and I was afraid of it.
Pauline – Did he try to prevent you from growing your resources? Definitely. I wanted to go and do some study and I was met with, “You will pay for it yourself and you’ll pay for the child care.” I didn’t earn an income, so it’s like “You won’t do it.” For me to improve anything about myself, it was made impossible. So how did you respond to these things? Oh, I hated it. With regard to wanting education I just felt like there’s no way I can do it. I can’t do it. I haven’t got the money. I used to say I’d really like to go and have a little job, contribute and he just used to react with, “Well how are you going to manage that? What are you going to do with the kids?” He was a shift worker and it gave him a lot of time. I thought that on his days off I could do something. But instead he found something else, so I watched him fill his time up and earning more and doing more and getting out and meeting people. As he got further out into the outside world I felt more and more imprisoned inside the house. I got depressed.
Discourages or refuses to let her work
Heather – I’d gone for a job at a barbershop in town and Luke really flipped out. He didn’t want me to go for that job. “How dare you apply for something like that, you ring them up and tell them you’re not going.” I said I’m going this morning, I can’t just cancel like that I really would like to do the job and then it worked out one of his friends was a partner there. He said, “I’m ringing him to tell him not to give you that job.” First of all I thought he was joking. I still don’t know to this day whether he did or not. That night we went out with his friends and he was going on and on about this job. His friends said what’s wrong with that? They were going for God’s sake man you can’t keep her trapped in doors all day.
Elizabeth – He used to say he didn’t want me working because he thought being a mother was so important, but when I look at it now I think of it was more he didn’t want me working because he didn’t want any competition, he just wanted me there so he knew where I was and what I was doing and that he had control over everything.
Restricts car use
Sally – Dylan monopolised the use of the car, returned it late and empty of petrol when Sally had to keep an appointment. At one point, when they owned two cars, Sally was not allowed to use the nice looking one, rather during snow, hail and frost she had to use the car which was full of rust and which had a broken heater. Dylan refused to fix the heater.
Pauline – One time Chris did up a car and gave it to her for Christmas and proudly told his mates what he had done. Then he sold it in February without Pauline’s consent. For various reasons a car would often not be available for Pauline to drive.
Karen – Felix restricted Karen’s activities and her use of the car in the guise of protecting her from danger and obsessively monitored everything she did.
Donna - I took myself off to school to get upskilled so I could get a job. The first thing he did was take the car off me so I couldn’t go to school. I had to walk an hour into town and an hour back to go to school and this only lasted till about half past one in the afternoon, it was adult classes and that absolutely infuriated him coz while I was there I wasn’t at home waiting on him, running round after him. I wasn’t allowed to go out because he was scared I’d have sex with someone which never happened, so I wouldn’t be allowed to have the car…………he made sure the car was always empty, I couldn’t go anywhere……
Elsie – My dad’s really fair, he’s just of his generation, they’ve got gender specific roles, but he never stopped mum from doing anything. But this guy never allowed me to have control over anything. I always felt if I wanted to do something that it was put off or just wasn’t as worthwhile as anything he wanted to do. My career, my ambitions, my desire to have a nice, happy, peaceful life and to have lots of interests I wanted to do, I could never do any of them. I basically had nothing, nothing enjoyable in my life while I was married. I was never allowed to do anything that was for me. It was only his things that he liked to do, that was all there was. It was either do them or do nothing. Just to see a friend, he was so mean about it and complaining about the money, but he spent thousands on his own recreation. I’d just put up with it. I very quickly learned because he’d kick in doors and all sorts if he felt crossed. I only really did what he wanted anyway because he had the finances and he controlled what we did and where we went.
Elizabeth – He’d want to come home at lunchtime and I’d think it doesn’t really fit with what I had planned today, but I’d make sure I was home at lunch time and then I made his lunch for him. If he came home at night he would expect me to be there to say hello. I would have to drop what I was doing to be there for him. Even at home I had to drop what I was doing. It couldn’t be “I’m just finishing this off”, or “I’ll be done in 20 minutes.” If he was coming home at lunchtime I had to drop what I was doing, be there and make his lunch and sit and have a cup of coffee with him and I just took that as that’s the way it is.
Murphy, Clare (2002) Women Coping with Psychological Abuse: Surviving in the Secret World of Male Partner Power and Control. Unpublished Masters thesis, University of Waikato. Available here.
Watch out for blogs on the following control tactics:
One-Sided power games
Over-protection and ‘caring’
Emotional unkindness & violation of trust
Degradation & suppression of potential
Using social institutions & social prejudices
Denial, minimising, blaming
Using the children