I often see young women who are suffering from depression, as well as being unhappy (not the same thing). When we peel back the layers of their life a bit, and I ask about their relationship with their husband, often they say, “oh yes, we’re fine”, then they rattle on to tell me how many years they have been together, almost as if the more years it has been the more “fine” they must be.
Abusive behaviour is covered up
Often I will notice the subtle intake of breath, the change in tone of voice, the anxious look and almost imperceptible quiver of the chin, and a general overall tightening of their body, and I know it is not fine. I begin to wonder if they might be in an abusive relationship because I know one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship is that the victims invariably cover it up and don’t tell anyone. Research shows too that when they do attempt to disclose to professionals how they are being treated, the cues are not picked up.
Jealousy and possessiveness are abusive
As we talk on she discloses that perhaps there are a few aspects of her marriage about which she is unhappy, and to make it easier for her, I ask gently, “has he ever hit you?, so we can work backwards from there. Some say a clear emphatic “No”, but she may then disclose that he is obsessively jealous. The majority of people think that, an abusive relationship only involves physical abuse, but in fact verbal abuse, mental abuse, and emotional abuse are also very damaging and debilitating. Having a jealous partner keeps a woman (or man) in a hyper-vigilant state, which has all kinds of knock on effects on the nervous system over time, and certainly reduces overall happiness and well- being.
Abusive behavior is normalised
Others are more uncertain with their “No, but he has slapped me a few times”, or, he has “pushed me over a few times” then they go on to tell me “he was stressed out at work”, or some other excuse. (Just so you know, by the way, slapping IS hitting) Generally these young women cover up because they feel hurt and embarrassed to admit being treated that way. It is after all quite humiliating to be hit/slapped by anyone, much less someone who purports to love you. But often these women grew up in households, or neighborhood, where it was accepted that men sometimes hit women.
Abusive behavior is culturally accepted
Many women (and men) are hardwired with this acceptance, and therefore consider it normal to be pushed over, slapped, pinched, spat at, and called names. They don’t actually think that they are in an abusive relationship, and quite often they don’t realise that their partner is being abusive – they just accept this as normal.
The use of contempt is abusive
As above, the use of contemptuous language, tone of voice and manner is often normalized, and not recognized as abusive. It also happens to be one of the highest predictors of divorce. A further damaging effect is that the recipient of such treatment internalizes it and starts to talk to herself in similar terms, telling herself, how stupid, useless or lazy she is.
Abusive behavior is blaming the victim
Another aspect of abusive behavior is to blame the woman for deserving this behaviour. She is told that if she was a better wife, woman, lover, mother, cook, housekeeper, and if didn’t have to put up with how stupid and deficient she is, he wouldn’t get so fed up and have to behave that way. It’s all her fault. So, she tries harder, but nothing is ever good enough.
Isolating her from family and friends
As we have seen, victims and survivors of abuse tend to make excuses to the outside world about their partner’s difficult childhood, his terrible Ex, being overworked, financial problems etc., and this denial of the reality of their situation keeps them trapped. Friends or family may start to suspect, but yet another aspect of abusive relationships is to isolate the victim, sometimes by creating an argument or row with family of friends who suspect, and then to forbid the woman from seeing them. Prolonged isolation from family and friends means the woman doesn’t have different perspectives to balance out her partner’s abusive view of her. By the time she realizes that this behavior is a constant pattern, she has started to believe that it IS her fault!
Controlling behavior can be abusive
Control is one of the most common forms of abusive behavior and invariably it is not recognized as such. I remember as a young church going woman, observing a woman whose husband went everywhere with her; shopping, to her friends, into town, etc., and I remember thinking how attentive and caring he was. It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to see that the poor woman could barely breathe or buy a loaf of bread without his say so. It was actually quite an abusive relationship.
In an abusive relationship your partner insists that everything has to be their way. They dictate what you wear, where you go, who you go with and what time you must be back, even down to how you stack the dishwasher. This control can even stretch to monitoring how many miles have been driven in the car and how many phone calls have been made and to whom.
As well as controlling time and socializing, abusive partners exercise control by keeping hold of the finances, and making their partner account for every penny they spend. People in this kind of situation find it easier to just go along with their partner’s rules in order to keep the peace; otherwise they fear more physical or emotional abuse.
Abusive partners are always right
Having a partner who is “always right” can just seem like a little character trait, but it is actually part of a cluster of behaviors aimed to control, intimidate and subjugate you, often in public as well as private. Everyone has a right to expect to be treated with respect without being judged, particularly, not in front of others, which can be embarrassing. Being in a relationship is about loving and being loved; it’s about mutual respect and fidelity, not about being blamed for everything constantly
One of the ways to have a successful relationship is to choose a partner wisely by looking hard you see what kind of person they are. For example, if you notice that a potential partner tends to constantly blame fate, others, the world, or you, for his misfortune; beware. If he starts to display displeasure with what you wear, say or do; beware. And without question, the very first time anyone strikes you, you need to take it very seriously, for abusive behavior tends to be progressive. Finally, if you find yourself making excuses for his behavior, to yourself or anyone else, you are definitely on a slippery slope. A good rule of thumb is to have zero tolerance on any of the behaviors I have mentioned above.
For further understanding of these matters, read my articles on Stockholm Syndrome and Psychological Entrapment.
Grace Chatting is a senior accredited member of the British Association of Counseling and Psychotherapy, a qualified Social Worker, Family Mediator, and a Life and Relationship Coach.
She lives and works in the UK, Spain and Ireland, teaching and empowering people to become all that they can be.
For the past 30 years Grace has immersed herself in studying all aspects of what makes people, couples and families tick. During this time she has worked with literally tens of thousands of people and has built up considerable expertise in successful couple relationships and prevention of family breakdown. She also has a high level of expertise in working with women in recovery from Domestic Violence and Abusive Relationships.
So many of her clients would say "Why don't they teach this stuff in school?" and Grace agreed. The idea gradually took root and resulted in the Relationship Academy http://relationshipacademy.co.uk