Abusive relationships are characterized by extreme jealousy, emotional withholding, lack of intimacy, raging, sexual coercion, infidelity, verbal abuse, threats, lies, broken promises, physical violence, power plays and control games.

  • Abuse does not have to be physical.
  • Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse, though it is often harder to recognize, and therefore to recover from.
  • Emotional abuse causes long term self-esteem issues and profound emotional repercussions for the partners of abusers.
  • Abuse typically alternates with declarations of love and statements that they will change, providing a “hook” to keep the partner in the relationship.
  • Abusive relationships are progressive – they get worse over time. Emotional and verbal abuse frequently shifts to more overt threats or physical abuse, particularly in times of stress. Abusers re generally very needy and controlling; the abuse escalates when they feel they may lose their partner, or when the relationship ends.
  • A specific relationship is not the source of the abuse – Abusive patterns are part of the emotional make up of both the parties involved.  Without help and outside intervention the abusive patterns will be repeated in all relationships.  The emotional volatility of substance abusers create an abusive relationship climate.
  • Abusers are often survivors of abuse themselves.
  • The abuser acts out of deep seated shame and feelings of inadequacy.  They seek to pull their partner down to make themselves feel better.
  • Abuse is a family dysfunction that repeats through generations. The abused becomes the abuser and so continues the cycle.

You may be in an abusive relationship if he or she:

  • Is jealous or possessive toward you. (Jealousy is the primary symptom of abusive relationships)
  • Tries to control you by being very bossy or demanding.
  • Tries to isolate you by demanding you cut off social contacts and friendships.
  • Is violent and/or loses his or her temper quickly.
  • Pressures you sexually, demands sexual activities you are not comfortable with.
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol.
  • Claims you are responsible for his or her emotional state.
  • Blames you when he or she mistreats you.
  • Has a history of bad relationships.
  • Your family and friends have warned you about the person or told you that they are concerned for your safety or emotional well being.
  • You frequently worry about how he or she will react to things you say or do.
  • Makes “jokes” that shame, humiliate, demean or embarrass you, whether privately or around family and friends.
  • Your partner grew up witnessing an abusive parental relationship, and/or was abused as a child.
  • Your partner “rages” when they feel hurt, shame, fear or loss of control.
  • Both parties in abusive relationships may develop or progress in drug or alcohol dependence in a (dysfunctional) attempt to cope with the pain.
  • You leave and then return to your partner repeatedly, against the advice of your friends, family and loved ones.
  • You have trouble ending the relationship, even though you know inside it’s not the right thing to do.

Does the person you love…

  • constantly keep track of your time?
  • act jealous and possessive?
  • accuse you of being unfaithful or flirting?
  • discourage your relationships with friends and family?
  • prevent or discourage you from working, interacting with friends or attending school?
  • constantly criticize or belittle you?
  • control all finances and force you to account for what you spend? (Reasonable cooperative budgeting excepted.)
  • humiliate you in front of others? (Including “jokes” at your expense.)
  • destroy or take your personal property or sentimental items?
  • have affairs?
  • threaten to hurt you, your children or pets? Threaten to use a weapon?
  • push, hit, slap, punch, kick, or bite you or your children?
  • force you to have sex against your will, or demand sexual acts you are uncomfortable with?

Abuse relationships do not change without sustained therapy specifically targeted toward the abusive relationship patterns.  These relationships cannot be changed from one side, it takes mutual honesty, openness and willingness from both parties to work through these issues.  Group therapy is highly recommended for abusers, as it helps them to break through the denial that is generally a part of the abusive patterns.

If the abuser is unwilling to own their behavior and seek help the prudent course of action is to remove yourself totally from the situation.  This is painful, but is 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. (75% of women killed by their abusive partners are murdered after they leave.) Learn how to protect and care for yourself.  Detachment with love is difficult, but the best solution if your partner is unwilling to work through the issues.

Help is readily available for both parties in abusive relationships.  These relationships cannot be changed from one side.  Remember that by staying you are condoning and enabling the abuse – and helping your partner to stay sick.  If your partner is unwilling to het help the only safe course of action is to totally remove yourself from the situation and seek help on your own.