Relationships can be a wonderful, mutually fulfilling means of growth and development for both partners. In a good, healthy relationship, we may feel as though our partner brings out the best in us, and we the best in them. We love and support each other, through the best of times and the worst. While every relationship has its ups and downs from time to time, in a healthy relationship we recognize that any disagreements can be mediated through good communication, patience, and understanding. In this way, while we may not always agree on everything, we at the very least maintain our love and respect for our partner, as well as their love and respect for us. However, unhealthy, abusive relationships are far less civil. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a relationship being abusive is whether or not both partners are on equal ground. While this may be difficult to determine right from the start, ultimately where each individual stands in terms of the relationship’s power dynamics will inevitably manifest. If there is a significant power imbalance between partners, the relationship may very well become abusive.
The Abuser vs. The Abused – Understanding Abusive Partnerships
In abusive relationships, there are typically two roles: the abuser and the victim or abused. The abuser is the individual who tends to exert more power over their partner. When that partner does not comply with his or her expectations or demands, the abuser then lashes out either verbally or physically. On the other hand, the abused usually tries to do whatever they can to conform to their partner’s wishes in order to keep them happy. This can mean compromising their own wants, needs, beliefs, or values in doing so. While in some cases, both partners can share and interchange these imbalanced roles, more often than not they are relatively stagnant. In other words, one partner more often fulfills the role of abuser whereas the other typically remains in the role of abused. The occurrences of these roles between men and women are equally distributed, studies show, and one of the most common forms of abuse in relationships is that which is emotional. Furthermore, abuse can occur in any relationship, not just intimate. In fact, this relationship dynamic can manifest in relationships between parents and children, siblings, friends, and even in professional circles. The resulting effect is a severe blow to the abused individual’s self esteem. After all, when we’re told something over and over, regardless if it is good or bad, over a long period of time, we might be inclined to believe it’s true.
Four Signs You Are in an Abusive Relationship
But how can we know if the relationship we’re in is emotionally abusive? There are a few key signs to look out for:
1. Finding Fault
In an abusive relationship, the communication is almost always demeaning or humiliating. In other words, the abusive partner enjoys making their partner feel ashamed for something. This can occur through constant correcting or attempts at finding faults within their partner. In this way, the determination to point out mistakes is actually a way for the abuser to put their partner down constantly, usually in front of others.
Perhaps we’ve heard our partner or someone else’s complain that their partner is being overly sensitive. In some cases this can be indicative of an abusive dynamic. This is because abusive partners use teasing and sarcasm as a means of making their partner seem unintelligent or foolish. They then might say that they were “only joking” and that the person they were belittling through humor should learn to stop being so sensitive or “get a sense of humor.”
3. No Boundaries
A classic sign of an abusive dynamic is a fundamental lack of boundaries or privacy. Because abusive partners like to be in control, they may feel the need to be involved in every aspect of their partner’s lives, even if it makes that partner clearly uncomfortable. In addition, abusers also make their partners feel unsafe in truly expressing themselves by belittling, demeaning, or insulting their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. This effectively silences their partner and makes them unwilling to share their disagreement, even when they feel unsafe.
As mentioned previously abusers like to be in control, however this extends far beyond just manipulating conversation. Abusive partners also feel the need to control every aspect of their partner’s lives including their financial well-being. Furthermore, they will often use physical tactics to enforce their control over their partner, including physical harm or intimidation, or withholding something like sex, money, transportation, etc. These forms of harassment ultimately result in the abused being unable to readily act or make decisions for themselves. After all, doing so may lead to some form of “punishment.”
The Dangers of Normality in an Abusive Relationship
Unfortunately, a common abuse tactic is normalizing abusive behavior. Abusers frequently attempt to normalize their conduct so that their partners feel confusion and self-doubt when thinking about whether or not they should confront them. This contributes to the well-known difficulty many partners have when considering whether or not they should leave their relationship. After all, do they deserve to be unhappy? Upset? Afraid? Their abuser may make them question these responses as well as their own sanity. In such situations, a therapist or licensed professional can be of tremendous help. In therapy, abused persons can receive the guidance and support they need in order to find safety.