Chapter 3 - Situations Subchapter: Controlling behaviours

Controlling behaviours and the Field Model

The Field Model is all about preserving our own individual freedoms and rights, and recognising that others have the same freedoms and rights. It reminds us that other people have their own rich inner worlds and we should Stop Ask Listen when we engage with someone.


Two anonymous characters are having a conversation; some speech indicators are moving in the direction of one to the other.


When we negotiate a shared decision with another person, we must follow the rules around Yes No I Don’t Know, where both people need to agree to cross the Yes line and move into the Action Zone.


The Field Model diagram is shown with two anonymous characters that have answered Yes and are in the Action Zone.


But when someone ignores the rules and takes action when there is no shared agreement and no consent, that’s moving the line.

Line moves break the rules of the Field Model. All line moves are disrespectful, and some are abusive.

Line moves are clear when the consequences of acting on a decision are straightforward:

  • Can I take money from your purse? Unless both people agree yes, this line move is theft.
  • Can I share those naked pics you sent me? Unless both people agree yes, this line move is imagebased abuse.
  • Can we have sex? Unless both people can legally agree yes, this line move is rape.

Controlling behaviours can involve subtle line moves. At first it might be unclear if the action or behaviour is even a shared decision.

Individual decisions directly involve only you. Your individual decisions might affect your partner, but they don’t involve them.

Shared decisions involve both people in a relationship. Whenever a person is involved in a decision, whether they realise it or not, they have a right to say yes, no, or I don’t know.


Controlling behaviours and moving the line

Let’s apply the Field Model shared decision-making process to some example of controlling behaviours.


Using emotional controlling behaviours

Rob doesn’t like his partner Kelly’s best friend Lauren. He thinks Lauren is encouraging Kelly to break up with him and he looks for any opportunity to belittle Lauren.

Recently, Rob’s started springing romantic date nights on Kelly when she has plans to catch-up with Lauren. He knows Kelly feels guilty about cancelling Lauren at the last minute, but will go along with it if he plays up how disappointed he is that he can’t show his love with a nice meal out.



The Field Model diagram is shown with one character (Kelly) on No and the other character (Rob) on Yes.


Kelly’s friendship with Lauren might affect Rob, but it doesn’t involve him. Rob attempting to use his power to influence their friendship is moving the line. Kelly has not consented to Rob’s interference.

Impacts of emotionally controlling behaviours include loss of important and meaningful friendships, reduced self-esteem, resentment, anxiety, social isolation and increased dependence on one person. Emotionally controlling behaviours are designed to manipulate another person and remove their right to make their own individual decisions. This can happen even if they’re not aware of it.


Using technological controlling behaviours

Lisa and Jen have been partners since Year 11 and living together for two years. Next June, they plan to take off and travel for 12 months then come home and save for a deposit on a flat.

Jen has always been the more social of the two and makes friends easily, but Lisa takes longer to warm up to strangers. Through her work, Jen meets a lot of people and is always going to some sort of work function.

Lisa has noticed Jen attending more and more functions—it feels like she’s never home! She’s convinced herself that Jen is losing interest in their relationship and is seeing someone else, so she installs some tracking software on Jen’s phone. She’s decided that if Jen is lying to her, she’d rather know.

At first, Lisa monitors Jen’s movements from her computer at home. But one night she decides to use the software to follow her after Jen sends another text to say she has to go to a work function.



The Field Model diagram is shown with one character (Jen) on No and the other character (Lisa) on Yes.


A breakdown in trust between Lisa and Jen is something they need to deal with together, as a couple, but Lisa’s decision to track Jen’s movements without her consent is moving the line.

If Lisa was concerned about Jen’s social activities, she should have confronted her directly rather than use technology to stalk her and invade her privacy.

Impacts of technological controlling behaviours include loss of trust, loss of right to privacy, secrecy, blackmail, coercion. It can also mean rejection of technology which could lead to social isolation and loneliness.


Using financial controlling behaviours

Steve is a full-time student working towards a masters in screenwriting, his partner Jael works in sales. As well as his studies, Steve also has a part-time job—he wants to make a financial contribution to the relationship even though Jael earns great money and insists on taking care of all their living expenses. Jael teases Steve that it’s an investment for when he makes a million selling a screenplay to a big Hollywood producer!

It's three months into the final year of Steve’s course and he’s overwhelmed with the work needed for his major writing project. Jael encourages Steve to give up his job and focus on his studies, promising to cover all bills so he doesn’t have to worry. My money is your money and you’ve worked so hard to get this far, why would you compromise now?

Steve quits his job and can’t believe what a difference having the extra time makes. Now, all he has to think about is his final project and his relationship with Jael—it’s brilliant.

Jael usually pays whenever they go out, so at first it didn’t really connect with Steve that he has none of his own money in his wallet. He has a little in savings but was determined to keep that for an absolute emergency. And Jael had said all their expenses would be covered.

Then Steve got a text from his mobile phone company stating his account was overdue and requesting immediate payment or he’d be disconnected. Steve knew he’d sent Jael the bill and figured it was just a mistake – maybe Jael forgot?

But when he asked about the bill, Jael said Steve shouldn’t need his own mobile now, seeing as he was either at Uni or home, and he could connect to wireless networks in both those locations. And he could use Jael’s phone to make calls whenever he liked.

Steve couldn’t believe Jael had just decided he didn’t need his own mobile number. He’d stopped buying a coffee on his way to Uni in the morning and brought a sandwich from home. And he didn’t mind—in the long-term it would be worth it. But to not have a number where he could be contacted—he’d had his own phone number since he was twelve!



The Field Model diagram is shown with one character (Steve) on No and the other character (Jael) on Yes.


This one is tricky. Yes, it is Jael’s money and they should be able to choose how to spend it, but Jael had encouraged Steve to give up his part-time job to focus on his studies and made a commitment to cover their living expenses, including Steve’s mobile phone.

When Steve provided Jael with the bill, should Jael have told Steve they’d decided not to pay that one? Was it reasonable for Steve to expect it to be paid?

The Field Model is concerned with shared decisions. Steve’s decision to give up his part-time job was a shared decision because it involved both Steve and Jael.

Jael’s decision to cover both their expenses was a shared decision because it involved both Jael and Steve.

Jael’s decision not to pay Steve’s mobile phone bill should have been a shared decision as it involves both Steve’s ability to use his mobile phone and Jael’s money. Jael made what should have been a shared decision without involving Steve.


Watch out for red flags

Controlling behaviours can emerge as a mix of emotional, social, financial and technology controlling behaviours.

If someone has decided to use their personal power to influence, control or abuse their partner, they might use whatever means they have available, or whichever they think will be most effective.

For example, a person who maintains their financial independence in a relationship is less likely to be financially controlled or abused, but could be subjected to emotional, social or technological abuse.

An occasional bad mood, forgotten bill, avoidance of a family dinner—in isolation none of these signify controlling behaviours. It’s when the isolated incidents become regular and a pattern emerges that red flags should be triggered.