Anne Hailes: Coercion is insidious and criminal and it can blind you to the fact that you're in a toxic relationship

Coercion is a criminal offence yet men and women often suffer it in silence

IN ANY household, someone asking you why, why, why? Where are you going, when will you be back? Who left the immersion on? Irritating but it’s typical of family life, especially when the woman has been used to running the house and her husband retires and starts to get involved.

It’s a very different scenario when it comes to ‘coercive’ behaviour, constant provocation that’s designed to control. In Coronation Street you’ll see Brian being slowly suppressed by his deputy headmaster. Like so many people in such an insidious relationship, he’s losing his decision-making powers, kowtowing to his superior and being drained of self-esteem; coercion stops just short of violence, it’s cruel mind games at their worst.

The definition: ‘To compel by force, intimidation, or authority, especially without regard for individual desire or volition.’

Three years ago coercion was deemed a crime carrying a maximum of five years in prison, a fine or both. It takes many forms, yet men and women suffer in silence rather than get into a legal wrangle and expose themselves to their friends.

‘Pat’ (not her real name) has lived in Co Armagh for 40 years. Her husband was big in business and she was the dutiful, supportive wife. When he retired he began treating her like one of his juniors, demanding she wait on him hand and foot.

“He demeans her in front of their friends,” one told me. “We want to say something but it could make matters worse for her. Sadly, and to our shame, we’re watching her personality disappear.

“Worse than that, we’re convinced he’s making her doubt her own sanity, telling her she’s stupid and that she’s losing her mind. The outings we used to enjoy don’t happen anymore. It’s pathetic but she won’t hear a word against him.”

What do you do?

For women and men, phone Woman’s Aid 24-hour Freephone 0808 802 1414 for advice.

For ‘Mary’ in Newtownards the taunting started six years ago. A second marriage for both, they were in love; she told me their physical love was ‘epic’, then it began to change.

He started bringing his friends home after the pub, demanded she cooked and entertained even after her own hard working day. He constantly chipped away at her, criticising, jealous of her friends, hiding her personal things. Her precious diary went missing, so did family photos.

He’d dominate in every conceivable way until she almost lost the will to live. Her family found out and eventually she talked to a contact in the legal profession and the ball started rolling towards a divorce.

Why not sooner? “I loved him and I was ashamed that I couldn’t make my marriage work.” Now she realises she didn’t love him; she was in a toxic marriage.

But it’s not only women – men also experience coercion and abuse. Next week I talk to a man who suffered dreadfully at the hands of his wife and still bears the mental and emotional scars.

Fun and fury of motorsport

ALAN ‘Plum’ Tyndall is a legend when it comes to motorsport, his programme ‘RPM’ on Ulster Television being the gold standard – over 300 programmes on screen over 23 years, sold and transmitted in many other countries round the world, so you can keep your Jeremy Clarkson.

This is the man who championed local racing not just as an author and commentator but as a someone who knows the world of performance cars inside and out. The famous names run off the end of his pen with ease: Ayrton Senna, Sir Jackie Stewart, James Hunt – he interviewed them all and hundreds more.

In his latest book Keep The Revs Up, he writes of Niki Lauda and the night he and a Shell PR man met him at Dublin airport.

"‘I’ve heard through the grapevine, Alan, that Mr Lauda’s language can be quite Anglo Saxon at times and we’ve placed him on the mid-morning Mike Murphy Show where women and children will be listening’.

"I agreed that as most foreign drivers initially learnt their English from their mechanics – it could be quite colourful at times – but assured [the PR man] that the triple World Champion had been dealing with the world’s media for many years and that he knew exactly how to temper his words to a particular audience.”

On the way to the studio Alan asked him about his private airline. That put him in a very bad mood!

“'Don’t talk to me about the f**king airline. That f**king Austrian minister of transport has f**ked up our application and it could delay the whole process for another three f**king months'”

As the one-time winner of the all Ireland production saloon car racing championship, Alan is the respected friend of household names; one, however, was special: Bertie Fisher. In January 2001 the shocking news came through that a helicopter had gone down in Co Fermanagh; those killed included Fisher.

“Some days later Austin MacHale and I sat together at the top of the packed little church in Ballinamallard, primed to give a eulogy about our lost friend. ‘I don’t think I can go through with this,’ whispered Austin in my ear.

"OK, I was used to public speaking but the enormity of this tragedy affected me and the whole community deeply, never mind the rallying world. I was assuring Austin that I was also having great difficulty in facing up to my task when to my horror the large shadow of Ian Paisley came marching up the aisle. I was appalled. I could only see his presence as a cheap vote-catching act, but I used the occasion to calm my republican-orientated friend.

"‘There you are, Austin. When did you think that you’d ever see the day that you’d be preaching to Ian Paisley in a Protestant church!’”

A host of untold stories, famous people, an insight into the hectic and hilarious world of motorsport.

:: Keep The Revs Up is available online at (£14.99 + pp).

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