Mariah Carey opens up about emotionally coercive partner: “I had to ask permission to leave the house”

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Kayleigh Dray
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There’s a growing awareness around the signs of coercive control. Just last year, 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.

And now, speaking on her new E! show Mariah’s World, Mariah Carey has opened up about her own experience with an emotionally abusive partner.

“I was with someone at the time that had a lot of control over my life,” said Carey, when asked about the early stages of her music career. “He was older than me by a lot and had a lot of power and he wanted me to remain away from most people, like sequestered.”

It quickly became clear that she was speaking about her marriage to record label boss Tommy Mottola, whom she wed in 1993 when she was just 23 years old; he was twenty years her senior.

 “I had to get permission to leave [the house],” continued Carey, now 46. And, when asked what it felt like to be “locked in a house” like that, Carey admitted that she felt as if she would wind up “haunting the house dead”.

“I never thought I would get out of there,” she said.

Record producer Jermaine Dupri, who also appeared on the show, compared the situation to that of the fictional princess Rapunzel, who was kept captive in a high tower.

“I’ve been around her when she was Rapunzel, when she was in this big ass castle,” he said.

However, unlike the Grimm’s fairytale, Carey did not wait in her tower to be rescued; instead, she found the “courage to move on” from the damaging relationship herself – and penned the song Butterfly as a means of coming to terms with all that she had gone through.

“I have learned that beauty has to flourish in the light,” she sings in the song. “Wild horses run unbridled or their spirit dies… [so] spread your wings and prepare to fly, for you have become a butterfly.”

It is not the first time that Carey, who divorced Mottola in 1997, has spoken out about their four-year marriage, which she previously has addressed as a “private hell”.

During a 2005 interview with Aliya S. King, Carey explained that the emotional abuse that she was subjected to left her “miserable, crying, and alone”.

She said: “My relationship with my husband was not a physical relationship. It just wasn't.... that relationship shaped who I am. It beyond shaped me. I still have nightmares about it.

“Even though I owned that house, the only thing I felt like I owned was my pocketbook. He didn't even know why I always had my bag with me. But in my mind I thought, 'If something jumps off...I'm ready.' I lived like that for a long time. I used to wish, hope and dream that someone would kidnap me.”

Writing in his book, Hitmaker: The Man and his Music, Mottola said that it was “absolutely wrong and inappropriate” for him to have become romantically involved with (then) 19-year-old Carey.

However he added: “If it seemed like I was controlling. I apologise. Was I obsessive? Yes. But that was also part of the reason for her success.”

Visit or call 0808-2000 247 for more information about coercive control, domestic abuse, and the help available for those affected.


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.