You would know if you were in an abusive relationship, right? It would be obvious. Well, maybe not. Most women who experience abuse from a male partner spend months or even years thinking the relationship problem is something other than abuse. It's a "communication issue" or "a failure to set boundaries." Maybe you've thought your partner has a bad temper or a problem with anger management. Perhaps you think that you are doing something wrong or that there is something wrong with you. In our society, we aren't very good at talking about abuse, so women are often left wondering.
A common myth is that abuse means only physical abuse. But, actually, there are many different types of abuse, including emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse. These can be just as damaging as physical abuse. For example, abusive partners can attempt to isolate you or cut you off from sources of support, use sarcasm or threats to put you down, change moods to intimidate you, express jealousy, and become emotionally distant.
They can also refuse to allow you to practice your faith, devalue your knowledge or education, control the finances, or threaten to have an affair if you don't do what they ask. These and many other examples are not generally thought of as abuse. You may know there is something "wrong" but may not label it as abuse. Here's a list of seven things that abusive partners often do in their relationships. Ask yourself if your partner does any of these things:
1. Takes away your freedom to choose what you want or need
Abusive partners are controlling and often do not allow their significant others to make choices for themselves. You may find yourself unable to ask for what you need or want without your partner becoming aggressive, angry, or reactive.
2. Demeans you
Abusers are very critical. Everything—your ideas, your beliefs, your body, even your feelings—are "stupid" or wrong. You may find that you second-guess yourself—what to wear, what to prepare for a meal, who you can be friends with—because you are worried about your partner's reaction.
3. Is unpredictable and volatile
While abusers can behave in acceptable or even positive ways some of the time, they are also unpredictable and even explosive in their behavior. This leaves women feeling like they are "walking on eggshells" because they are not sure what their partners will do next. If this is happening for you, you may find yourself exhausted and confused as you try to anticipate your partner's next move.
4. Blames you or others for their abusive behavior
Abusers rarely take responsibility for their behavior. Rather, it is everyone else's fault. The boss is causing him stress. The kids are making noise. You are "pushing his buttons." The abuse is not your fault, but he may leave you feeling like it is.
5. Uses the "silent treatment" to punish or frighten you
Abused partners find that they are punished in many ways when they do things that their partner does not like. The "silent treatment" is just one such punishment. The "silent treatment" can be terrifying for women because they do not know what will happen next.
6. Limits your access to money
Abusive partners are often very controlling when it comes to money. Since we need money to do just about anything, it is a powerful way to control someone. If your partner controls your access to money or other necessary resources such as a car, the computer, or the phone, you are being abused.
7. Apologizes for their behavior and promises to change but never does
Part of the pattern of abusive behavior includes periods of behavior that appears positive—times when he might seem caring and helpful. During these "honeymoon periods," he might even apologize for hurtful behavior and promise to change. But abuse is cyclical, and although he might promise to change or appear to be changing for a while, he will not be able to sustain it. His behavior will deteriorate again, and he will revert to controlling, frightening, or explosive behavior.
If you have experienced some of these behaviors from a current or past partner, you have likely experienced abuse. That is a hard reality to face. If you are with your partner, it may be hard to think of them as abusive. Your partner might not fit the stereotype of an abuser any more than you fit the stereotype of an "abused partner," but that doesn't matter. People who experience abuse come from all economic, racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Abuse is not just reserved for the poor or weak—it can happen to anyone.
If this list has raised some questions for you, pick up a copy of When Love Hurts. A Woman’s Guide to Understanding Abuse in Relationships to accompany and support you as you search for answers.