Isolating a Partner Is a Common Form of Abuse

If your partner gets upset when you go out with your friends or colleagues, you should be wary. Because it might not be too long before they try to isolate you, making you their own 'private property'.
Isolating a Partner Is a Common Form of Abuse
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 06 January, 2022

Isolating a partner and removing them from their social and family environment is an obvious form of abuse. However, it’s such a silent reality that victims often don’t realize it in the early stages. Nevertheless, there eventually comes a day when they become fully aware of their loneliness and the invisible bars of the prison that they’re trapped in.

“Are you really going out with your friends?” “With the kind of day I’ve had, you’re leaving me on my own?” “Why do you have to go see your parents? Don’t be so dependent on them, you have your own life now.” “I don’t like you going out to dinner with your workmates, stay home and we’ll have a special dinner together”.

There are numerous examples of these kinds of abusive narratives. However, they all involve cutting off the partner’s ties to the outside world. The most surprising thing is that the partner often actually gives in and accepts out of love. Indeed, relationships based on dependency often fall into this type of psychological prison.

Love isn’t an exclusive emotion that we should only give to and and receive from our partners. We’re social and emotional beings. We need the contact and affection of our friends, family, and colleagues. In fact, without that daily closeness outside the home, we gradually wither.

girl crying when suffering the mistreatment of isolating the partner

Isolating a partner

Psychological and emotional abuse are both pretty common occurrences in romantic relationships. However, they often go unnoticed. The University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom conducted a study that claims more attention tends to be paid to physical abuse than psychological abuse.

This study reveals that the kinds of personalities that tend to employ psychological abuse have psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits. These people are extremely skilled in dynamics such as contempt, control, manipulation, and the tendency to isolate their partners. Furthermore, for their partners, it’s not easy for them to admit that the person they love is cornering them and separating them from their social circle.

The most surprising thing is that these abusive behaviors are becoming increasingly frequent among young people. In fact, many teenagers, who are conditioned by the ideals of romantic love, find it perfectly acceptable for their partners to control them.

In 2015, the Sociological Research Center (CIS)  conducted a study that was commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Health. It found that 33 percent of people under the age of 30 consider it acceptable that their partners prevent them from seeing their families or friends.

Isolation is the earliest form of abuse

When we talk about abuse, most people visualize a bruised face. However, most abusers don’t reach that point. In fact, the most common abuse is manifested in language and communication style. Irony, sarcasm, and belittling the other become daily occurrences in these kinds of relationships.

Nevertheless, isolating a partner is the first step of psychological abuse. Furthermore, it’s not usually recognized because it’s disguised (or interpreted) as a demonstration of love. It happens when the abuser asks the partner to stay by their side instead of spending time with family or friends. In the first place, this is usually seen as a gesture of affection, and not as an obvious need for domination.

However, gradually, the victim will witness how their partner boycotts all their social ties little by little. Here are the tricks they usually use:

  • They try and discourage their partner not to meet people or simply not to leave the house.
  • They look down on and criticize their partner’s family and friends. In fact, they try to convince them that they’re not good for them.
  • They seek to make their partner feel guilty every time they’re away from home. 
  • They may exhibit excessive displays of jealousy.

Eventually, passive-aggressive behaviors arise. They won’t openly say that they’re upset about their partner meeting a friend, but will make it known through their other behaviors. For instance, they’ll stop talking to their partner, slam the door, or just be extremely irritable.

Victims often don’t perceive isolating behavior as a form of abuse. This is especially the case at the beginning of a relationship when other aspects appear to be going well. However, the simple act of losing social contact is devastating for mental health.

Isolating the partner, a common reality in dependent relationships

Many couples build their relationships on the foundations of dependency. These are sick and obsessive loves that feed back through domination, jealousy, and emotional insecurity. As a matter of fact, this kind of attachment is little more than emotional suicide. The partner gradually loses their identity and the support of their friends and family. In effect, they’re stranded on an island with only poisonous affection for company.

Mutual isolation is a common phenomenon in this type of relationship. This means that, sometimes, the desire for isolation is promoted by both members of the couple. In these cases, they both move equally away from their close environment.

girl representing the effect of isolating the couple

How to escape from the prison of isolation

The first and most obvious step is for the partner to become fully aware of the isolation. However, this isn’t always easy. There may be a number of reasons for this. The first is mental wear and tear. The cost of psychological abuse maintained over time leaves consequences for the victims.

Dr. Tyrone C. Cheng from the University of Alabama (United States) conducted research that stated this kind of isolation commonly leads to panic disorders, stress, depression, and social phobias, etc. Therefore, it’s essential that the person realizes what’s happening, but also that their environment acts as well.

For this reason, if you have a friend or family member that you don’t see often and who you suspect is in an abusive relationship, you need to act. Indeed, victims of gender abuse need social support, understanding, and to feel they’re not alone. Therefore, the first step is to get them away from that toxic and exhausting environment.

Later, comes the process of rebuilding their life. This involves the delicate process of psychological and emotional recovery when they manage to recover their self-esteem and identity and can start to think in terms of future goals.

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  • Cheng TC. Intimate Partner Violence and Welfare Participation: A Longitudinal Causal Analysis. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2013;28(4):808-830. doi:10.1177/0886260512455863
  • Hasan M, Clark EM. I get so lonely, baby: The effects of loneliness and social isolation on romantic dependency. J Soc Psychol. 2017;157(4):429-444. doi: 10.1080/00224545.2016.1229251. Epub 2016 Sep 16. PMID: 27635736.