Divorce and Control - Taking the First Step When Your STBX Says You Can't

Sad women contemplating divorcing a control freak

Breaking free from a controlling relationship is an absolute minefield. Years of being controlled by another person, from subtle comments to explicit rules about what you can and can’t do, can leave a person feeling confused and afraid about managing life on their own.

And the scary part is that ending up in a controlling relationship can happen to anyone.

The case of Britney

We all remember the #freebritney movement. The world was shocked to learn that a hugely successful and famous singer with millions of dollars could find herself in a position of powerlessness. Via the controversial conservatorship put in place by her father, every aspect of Britney Spears life was dictated. From what she wore, to when she worked, and even whether she could be married or have babies, Britney found herself legally unable to make decisions for herself.

In 2021, Britney was successful in having her conservatorship terminated. A marriage followed soon after, but just 14 months later, that marriage is coming to an end. Some are concerned that after years of being subject to a controlling conservatorship, protecting herself during divorce proceedings may prove challenging for Britney.

Self-Determination After Years of Control

Re-establishing your life after years of control is HARD – even when you’re Britney Spears. And without her privilege and wealth, the challenges can feel overwhelming.

When you have suffered years of controlling behaviour and are told that you are incapable of making good decisions for yourself, on some level, you believe it. This makes leaving the relationship complex – and once you do, it’s only the first step in recovering a sense of self-determination. It can take time and hard work to release yourself from the damage a STBX has done to your self-esteem and independence.

Am I Divorcing a Narcissist?

The rise of pop psychology, particularly across social media, has seen terms like ‘narcissist’ become part of the vernacular. But with only around 1% of the population being diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), the chances of everyone having a narc for an ex is highly unlikely. Additionally, the belief that perpetrators of coercive control must be mentally ill or have a personality disorder like NPD is a myth.

Woman sat next to narcissistic partner in controlling relationship

Photo by Odonata Wellnesscenter on Pexels

There are personality disorders with traits that are similar to coercive control tactics like manipulation, control, and a need for power. However, not everyone who has a personality disorder will become an abuser and not every abuser has a personality disorder. Similarly, perpetrators can have a mental illness, but most people with a mental illness are not abusive. Mental illness is neither a cause nor an excuse for controlling behaviour within a relationship.

In fact, a common theme for coercive control perpetrators is a deeply engrained belief about male dominance as a right. Society conditions boys and men* to believe they must be in control, to be physically and mentally superior – and this can lead abusers to view their controlling behaviour as appropriate.

The reality is that whether your STBX is really a narcissist or not is irrelevant. Coercive control is incredibly debilitating for the victim. Leaving and then living through the challenges of divorcing a control freak requires support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

* Please note, Statistically, most perpetrators are men, but other genders can be abusers.

How To Take Control During Divorce

Getting expert help to start a coervice control divorceCoercive control divorce is complex. After years of being told you’re not competent to make decisions, it’s only natural to doubt your choices. Well-meaning family and friends may want to advise you, but it’s possible they don’t have the full picture. Remember that perpetrators of coercive control are often very charming out in the world and may be considered a ‘good person’ by mutual friends.

Empower yourself with a team of professionals who can ensure you make smart decisions that will set you up for a bright and self-determined future.

Divorce Coaching Can Help

A professional divorce coach can help unpack all the worries and emotions you’re experiencing. Together you’ll consider all the information, identifying what’s true and what has been planted in your head by your ex. Perhaps they said you can’t afford to get divorced, or that you can’t possibly make it without them. If years of undermining your confidence has made you believe you’re not strong or worthy, your divorce coach can support you to make sound legal decisions for your future. Slowly but surely, you’ll regain trust in yourself – but until then, you’ll have a specialist with years of experience in the family law industry right by your side.

A divorce coach will arm you with knowledge, help you sort through any ongoing manipulation from your STBX during the divorce proceedings, and suggest referrals where appropriate. Living with prolonged control can leave victim survivors with significant trauma and mental illnesses including depression and anxiety. Your divorce coach may recommend a psychologist or counselling service to assist with breaking the cycle of control and helping you regain your autonomy.

If you’ve experienced coercive control, Divorce Hub can support you through your separation and divorce. Get in touch with our team today.