There’s a growing awareness around the signs of coercive control. In 2015, a new UK law was introduced to target perpetrators who submit partners, spouses, or other family members to serious psychological and emotional torment, but stop short of violence – and they can now face up to five years in prison.
Now, in a powerful open letter to her 18-month-old daughter, Honey, Fearne Cotton has opened up about her own experiences with a controlling partner.
“You should never have to put up with someone who tries to change you,” she writes. “I once dated someone who asked me not to have any more tattoos, which, as you can imagine, made me instantly go out and get a massive one inked on my back.
“He wasn’t happy, and I couldn’t understand it because it was my body. Women have come way too far in the world for that sort of submission.”
Cotton is now married to Reef guitarist Jesse Wood – and, in the same letter, she has explained to Honey why their relationship works so well.
“Married life to your dad is gorgeous," she says. "I have found my soul mate and a very lovely one at that.
“He is kind, caring, open, honest and very funny.”
However, in a bid to ensure that Honey is not instilled with unrealistic expectations about love, Cotton goes on to stress that her and Wood’s relationship is not perfect – far from it, in fact.
“Yes, he leaves his pants on the bathroom floor and the cupboards open after he has made a cup of tea, but hey, that's marriage.
“No set-up will ever be perfect because life is not supposed to be that way.”
Sharing her top tips for a healthy and happy relationship, Cotton advises: “Speak openly to your partner and always listen. Love them with every inch of your heart, but only if they shower you in the same.
“Find someone who makes your heart sing and illuminates all your best bits.”
While Cotton was able to recognise that her ex partner’s behaviour as controlling and emotionally abusive, it can be difficult for many people trapped in toxic relationships to spot the warning signs.
These can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Your partner constantly criticises, humiliates or belittles you
- Your partner checks up on you or follows you
- Your partner tries to keep you from seeing your friends or family
- Your partner has prevented you or made it hard for you to continue studying or going to work
- Your partner unjustly accuses you of flirting or having affairs with others
- Your partner has forced you to do something that you really did not want to do
- Your partner has deliberately destroyed any of your possessions
- You have changed your behaviour because you are afraid of what your partner might do or say to you
- Your partner controls your finances
- Your partner talks down to you
- Your partner has strong opinions on what you should wear and your appearance
- Your partner has tried to prevent you from leaving your house
- Your partner has forced you or harassed you into performing a sexual act
- Your partner has threatened to reveal or publish private information
- Your partner threatens to hurt him or herself if you leave them
- Your partner witholds medication from you
- Your partner makes you feel guilty all the time
- Your partner blames you for their bad moods and outbursts
- You are afraid of your partner
Emotional abuse, essentially, sees your partner bully and berate you as they slowly chip away at your self-esteem. To others, they may seem charming – but, behind closed doors, it’s a very different story. And, all the while, they work hard to cut you off from the people you love and who might be able to recognise your relationship for what it is; toxic.
If you are worried that you might be the victim of emotional abuse, it’s quite likely that you are. If these signs of an abusive relationship sound all too familiar to you, then get out of that situation as soon as possible.
The full version of Fearne Cotton’s letter can be found in this month’s Cosmopolitan.