As a psychologist who specializes in helping women before, during, and after divorce, I continually study ways to assess for and map the consequences of coercive control for women and children.
My research includes emotional abuse that occurs both before and post-separation. Divorce coaching is especially supportive for women who are in emotionally abusive relationships.
Emotional abuse often continues post-separation and during the divorce process though it may take different forms, as the focus becomes an effort by the abusive spouse to derail the spouse’s equality, autonomy, and ability to work within the judicial system to achieve a fair settlement.
Colleen Best and Kurt Best were married for twelve years. During the marriage, Kurt “regularly and routinely” sought to access Colleen’s cell phone, text messages, e-mail, computer, and other electronic equipment.
As the couple’s marriage deteriorated and Colleen became increasingly unhappy with Kurt’s behavior, Colleen told Kurt to stop looking at her messages and attempted to block his access by changing her iPhone passcode. The phone could be accessed only with Colleen’s thumbprint or with the new passcode, which Colleen did not share with Kurt.
One night while Colleen slept, Kurt used her thumbprint to unlock her phone, accessed her work e-mail through Microsoft Exchange, and forwarded Colleen’s e-mails to himself. Colleen felt trapped by Kurt’s superior, entitled and adversarial stance and the way she was treated as inferior.
Colleen came to the conclusion that the emotional and psychological abuse by Kurt was harmful to her both personally and professionally and that Kurt was never going to change. Colleen’s workplace was becoming less and less a place to escape as she felt Kurt watching her via technology when they were not together.
Colleen moved out of the family home, yet Kurt continued to find ways to invade her privacy through her technology. Kurt felt entitled to any information that was Colleen’s or that described Colleen’s thoughts, behaviors, and whereabouts. Colleen continued her efforts to stop Kurt’s invasions of privacy by changing cell phone carriers and purchasing a new iPhone. Kurt’s conduct continued.
Kurt accessed and read Colleen’s work e-mail on an iPad they had both used when they were living together. He used the information he learned from accessing Colleen’s email to his advantage during the couple’s divorce proceedings. This conduct, some of which Kurt has admitted, formed the basis of the case that Colleen and her law firm employer later initiated against Kurt and his divorce lawyer.
Colleen recalled that throughout the marriage that Kurt constantly harbored an adversarial attitude and an unremitting desire to win. Colleen wanted to avoid conflict at all costs, as she feared standing up to Kurt because of the likelihood of hostility and retaliation. It was no surprise that Kurt’s adversarial attitude would infiltrate the divorce as it had infiltrated the couple’s marriage.
The long-term negative impacts of domestic violence on women’s economic, physical, and mental health and the consequences for children are indisputable. The imposition of patterns of control carried out through criticism, verbal abuse, economic control, isolation, and cruelty is central to domestic violence and can continue to be employed post-separation.
However, a woman need not continue to be subject to such abuse nor need she ever feel she must fight the abuse alone. A support team of loyal friends, lawyer, and divorce coach can act as a shield and barrier to the spouse’s coercive control.
As a psychologist providing divorce coaching, my fundamental mission is to help clients achieve justice and equality. I believe this should be a central theme of divorce coaching and that it is fundamental to be able to accurately assess and then decide on best practices for countering coercive control for clients.