What is an Abusive Relationship?

Many people love being part of a couple. In a healthy relationship, your partner shares the good and the bad things in life with you, making the good times great and the bad times easier to bear. Your partner is your best friend, your lover, and your safety net. You have fun together, but you also have fun with your friends.

How an abusive relationship can begin

A good relationship is a joy, and it’s a joy that can last a lifetime if you’ve found the right person. But, what happens if that relationship isn’t healthy? When you first meet your partner, it’s exciting. There’s a tendency to neglect the other people in your life a little, as you want to spend more and more time with the special person that you’re just getting to know. That’s OK: It’s normal. But, as time goes on, a relationship that’s too exclusive can become a problem. And, it’s especially so if the reason you see less of your friends is because your partner doesn’t want you to. He’s jealous, mistrusting, and begins to accuse you of infidelity. He wants to know where you are, every minute of the day.

He calls you all the time on your mobile phone, and he insists you call him too. You love him, and you’re upset that he thinks you are being unfaithful, so you comply with his demands. Soon, you stop going out with your friends because it isn’t worth the trouble when you get home. At first, this seems to work. But, after a while, he starts getting angry with you again. It’s different this time, he tells you you’re stupid, you don’t look after the house properly, he tells you you’re ugly, frigid and a host of other insults. So you redouble your efforts. You go on a diet, clean the house pefectly, cook his favorite meals, never refuse him sex even when you don’t want it.

But it doesn’t get better. The rows escalate, he starts to push you around and finally beats you. He tells you its your fault. He tells you if you were better, if you were prettier, cleverer or loved him more, this wouldn’t have to happen. You only have him, your friends have given up trying to contact you, and so you begin to believe what he is telling you. You’d always told youself that no man would ever hit you, and if he did, you’d leave right away. But, you’re still there. You’re still there because you still hope to recover the feelings you used to have, the relationship you used to have. You’re still there because you’re afraid of what he might do, to you or someone else…or even to himself…if you left. You’re still there because you’ve got children, and you don’t want them to suffer the pain of a broken marriage.

You’re still there because you don’t know where to go, or who to turn to for help. Maybe you’re still there because he controls the finances and stops you having access to the car.

So…is that it? Is there anyway out of an abusive relationship like this? The answer is, emphatically, yes, there is a way out. There are many things that you can do to escape an abusive relationship, whatever form it takes and whatever the situation you’re in. If you are in an abusive relationship, you need to get help, and that help is available.

Forms of abusive relationships

Of course, not all abusive relationships take the form of the above, typical though that is. A relationship isn’t always an intimate relationship, between intimate partners such as husband and wife or dating partners. It may be any regular interaction between two people. It can be a relationship with a boss or a colleague at work, a friendship, a relationship between two family members. But, just as any interaction between two people that takes place on a regular basis is a relationship, any relationship can be abusive.

The abuse doesn’t have to be necessarily violent or even physical. Emotional or psychological abuse can be just as damaging and have long term effects.

Recognizing abuse in a relationship

Perhaps the hardest thing that a victim of an abusive relationship has to do is to recognize that the behavior of your partner, friend or boss is not normal and not acceptable. In short, you have to recognize that you are being abused. It’s much harder than it sounds. Once locked into an abusive relationship you are likely to feel confused, guilty, frightened and isolated. You may become severely depressed and unable to think clearly. Your self confidence evaporates and you feel that you deserve everything that’s happening to you.

But, you know what? You don’t deserve it. No one deserves to be in an abusive relationship. What’s more, not only do you not deserve it, you don’t have to put up with it. However bad the situation is, there is help available. You can get out.

What you need to do first is to put aside all the negative feelings mentioned above. Stop blaming yourself, stop making excuses for your partner. Before you can decide what to do, you need to take a long, cool look at what’s happening in your life and in your relationship. Ask yourself if any of the following are true:

Signs of emotional abuse in a relationship

  • Your partner/boss/friend verbally abuses you, calling you names, telling you you are worthless or stupid.
  • Your boss or your work colleague tells you your work is poor, even when you know it isn’t, or puts you down to the boss.
  • Your partner/boss/friend often criticizes your appearance.
  • Your partner tells you what you should or should not wear.
  • Your partner/boss/friend belittles you in public, making you the butt of jokes and making you feel uncomfortable or ashamed in company.
  • Your partner threatens to leave you if you do not ‘change’ your behavior or appearance.
  • Your partner prevents you from attending your job or college course regularly.
  • Your partner forces you to stop work or college.
  • Your partner prevents you from continuing your normal social life and activities.
  • Your partner dislikes your friends and family and prevents you from seeing them as often as you would like.
  • Your partner/friend threatens you with violence, even if the threat is not carried out in reality.
  • Your partner insists that you call him regularly if you are away from home, or he calls you all the time to check up on you.
  • Your partner removes or destroys your possessions.
  • Your partner controls your access to money or to a car.
  • Your partner monitors your use of the internet or mobile phone.
  • You feel that you have to ‘walk on eggshells’ to avoid angering your partner.
  • Your partner blames you for causing all the arguments or problems in your relationship.
  • Your partner uses the threat of infidelity to control your behavior.
  • Your partner is obsessively jealous, accusing you of infidelity all the time.
  • Your partner applies one rule for himself and another for you. (While insisting that you are home at a certain time, he feels free to stay out all night without explanation, leaving you worried and frightened.)

Signs that a relationship is physically or sexually abusive

  • Does your partner have an unpredictable or explosive temper?
  • Does your partner threaten you with violence or threaten to kill you?
  • Does your partner physically hurt you?
  • Does your partner push, shove or shake you?
  • Does your partner force you to have sex?
  • Does your partner insist on types of sexual relations that make you feel uncomfortable or degraded?
  • Does your partner hit you ?
  • After a violent episode, does your partner deny what happened, or minimize it?
  • Are you afraid of your partner?

Signs that a relationship is financially abusive

  • Does your partner/family member/friend take control of your finances?
  • Do you have to ask for money when you need it, and have to explain what you need it for?
  • Do you have to account for every penny you spend?
  • Does your partner/friend/family member or other make you surrender your bank books and card to him?
  • Have you been asked to sign financial documents you don’t really understand?
  • Does your partner take money from you?

If the above seem familiar, you are caught in an abusive relationship. Even if the abuse is fairly low level and emotional rather than physical, it is still damaging and needs addressing. Low level abuse often escalates into violence. Some times, women (or any victim) may feel that what is happening to them does not quite qualify as abuse if it is relatively low level or emotional rather than physical. But, it’s important to understand that any use of physical force against you is abuse. As is emotional blackmail, belittling or any behavior that creates fear and emotional pain. Financial abuse is not a normal part of a caring, sharing relationship. It is another form of control, and another way that your partner is trying to prevent you from escaping his abuse. It is also important to realism that occasional or infrequent abuse is also abuse. If your partner has abusive tendencies, the chances are that the behavior will escalate over time. Equally, you are still a victim of abuse even after the abuse has stopped if it has only stopped because you have adjusted your behavior to that required by your partner.

Help for victims of abusive relationships

It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what form your abusive relationship takes, you don’t have to put up with it. Once you’ve identified the relationship as abusive, there are steps that you can take to escape it and to recover a healthy, happy lifestyle. Don’t feel that just because it isn’t a classic case of domestic violence that domestic violence organisations won’t help you. They will. Domestic violence is about much more than a husband beating his wife. You might be a dating teenager whose boyfriend is threatening you or taking money from you, or an elderly person whose son or daughter is misusing your pension. You might be being sexually abused by a colleague at work.

Whatever your abusive relationship is, there’s someone who will listen to you and give you advice, support and an escape if necessary. You just need to know who to ask. If it’s a problem at work, maybe there is another boss, higher up the chain, that you can speak to? Or, you can take the problem to a tribunal.

In cases of more intimate relationships, you can begin, if you feel able, by talking to a trusted friend or family member. That can be great, but not everyone feels they have such a person in their lives. You could also think about making an appointment to see your family doctor, or a social worker if you have one. If you’re not comfortable with this, the contacts given below can also help. The Samaritans, or Befrienders networks are there to listen to everybody who is upset, no matter what the cause, and can point you to the right organisations to deal with your particular problem. Domestic Violence organisations will support anyone in an abusive relationship, whether or not actual violence is involved. If you’re a victim of sexual abuse, there are organisations that deal specifically with this in a sympathetic and informed manner.

Get help. You owe it to yourself.