Abusive relationships are something we all know and hear about but with the global lockdown in place, domestic violence is getting more headlines than ever, so are you in an abusive relationship?
We hear about abusive relationships on the news. We watch with disgust as one unfolds before us during our favourite soap opera. We even discuss them at the local bar, well, we used to, but those relationships we talk and hear about almost always involve physical violence of some degree.
The startling fact is that more abusive relationships involve forms of aggression other than physical, namely, coercive control.
Threats, isolation, monopolising your perceptions, degradation and enforcing trivial demands all constitute abuse. If you take a closer look at your relationship, at what has really been making you feel so unhappy for so long, you may come to realise that it is far from healthy. Abusers wield power like an axe, bringing it down on their partners if that supremacy is threatened in any way.
Breaking a person’s spirit makes them more compliant. Compliancy equals total control.
Total control is abuse.
Sometimes abusive relationships are easy to identify; other times the abuse may take more subtle, but no less insidious, forms.
Nicole, who was 24 when she spoke to me some years ago, spent five years with her partner Lawrence. “He never hit me,” commented Nicole, “but he didn’t have to. I had to report on everything I did, everyone I spoke to, everywhere I went. If I was five minutes late from the shops I had to explain in detail what had kept me, and even then I was never sure if he believed me. Over time, he stopped me seeing all of my friends, often inventing reasons why they were no good for me to be around. He even made my family so uncomfortable when they visited by making a scene or deafening us with his silence that they eventually stopped calling round.
“I loved him and thought he wanted me to be happy. I thought when he was buying me things it was to show me how much he cared, but it wasn’t. He was dictating what I wore, what I listened to, what I had in the house.
“He controlled the money so I had to ask if I wanted something but he convinced me it was just because I was always losing the bank card so it was safer this way. He even pushed me to leave my job, claiming he was earning enough for the both of us (when he wasn’t) and we could spend more time together. It got to the point where we were arguing so much when I was leaving to go to work that I was late almost every day. Added to that were the phone calls every hour, telling me how much he missed me.
“He made me believe it was because he cared but he was actually checking up to see where I was and who I had been talking to.
“I got fired. He got his way and that ‘extra time spent together’ he claimed would be a great thing for us resulted in him monitoring every single thing I did during the day.
“When things were good, they were fantastic. But when they were bad, I felt worthless and useless. Who was going to want me? That’s why I stayed so long. He really made me believe that he loved me and that no one else would or could.”
In general, abusive relationships have a serious power imbalance, with the abuser controlling or attempting to control most aspects of life. Healthy relationships share responsibility and decision-making tasks and reflect respect for all the people in the relationship, including any children.
If an abuser is unwilling to own up to their behaviour and seek help, the wise course of action is to remove yourself totally from the situation, if you can in a manner that is safe. It’s painful, but generally safer and ultimately better for both parties than allowing the cycle of abuse to continue.
Be prepared for the abuse to increase after you leave. Stepping out of the cycle enrages the abuser as it shatters their illusion of control. Detachment with love is difficult, but it is the best solution if your partner is unwilling seek help.
In a healthy relationship, you should never feel pressure to do anything you don’t want to.
You should never be embarrassed by your partner’s behaviour or silenced by a mere glance or afraid of saying what is on your mind. Your partner’s moods should not be something you have to ‘manage’. There should be balance, with both parties having their say, and both people respected in their opinions.
If this is lacking, then the relationship is a problem. Leaving an abusive relationship could well be one of the hardest (and most dangerous) things you can do; but it is also the most sensible in the long run.