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"Is my relationship abusive?" is a question often asked in couple counselling. The answer is quite complex. Many relationships have the potential to be abusive, it is not class or age related, so how would you know?

"Is my relationship abusive?" is a question often asked in couple counselling. The answer is quite complex. Many relationships have the potential to be abusive, it is not class or age related, so how would you know? There may be periods where one person may...

"Is my relationship abusive?" is a question often asked in couple counselling. The answer is quite complex.

Many relationships have the potential to be abusive, it is not class or age related, so how would you know? There may be periods where one person may feel their needs are unmet, they are taken for granted or being used by the other. With enough stress or pressure one partner may lash out verbally or physically at those nearest to them – anyone can reach breaking point but this is not central to abuse.

Characteristics of an Abusive Relationship

One of the main characteristics of an abusive relationship is control, when one person is doing something to control the behaviour of the other and it becomes entrenched. This can be done by force or manipulation – both control the other’s behaviour. Often there is an abusive pattern for one or both partners from their backgrounds, abusers have often been victims themselves.

Some relationships are pathologically abusive with a sadistic systematic undermining of one partner. Friends and relatives might look on in alarm as a pattern emerges. The more entrenched the behaviour the less likely it can be reversed but the resulting worthlessness felt by the abused may see them unable to break free or so lacking in confidence they become totally dependent.

In most relationships one person may be dominant or more forceful. But when the needs of one partner cannot be considered the relationship may become abusive. Abuse can surface slowly, initially even welcomed as jealousy or insecurity, leading the partner to feel needed and wanted – and dependent. Often these characteristics arise from an intense need for love and affection and initially seem to enforce the victim’s worth. Usually abuse progresses, leading to the isolation and vulnerability of one partner and total control by the other. Usually the end result is one of destruction.

Is Your Relationship Abusive?

Symptoms of an abusive relationship may include one or more of the following:

  • Physical violence including suicide threats
  • Isolation which begins by monopolising the partner’s attention
  • Gradual ‘falling out’ with partner’s support network
  • Jealousy - asking a partner to prove their loyalty
  • Controlling behaviour – controlling a partner’s friends and activities
  • Constant criticism and put-downs
  • One person’s needs dismissed or minimised
  • Secrecy

Abusive relationships are usually progressive; the needs of one partner escalate and those of the other disappear along with their self-esteem.

Abusers are usually needy and controlling and often act out deep-seated feelings of shame and inadequacy and pull the partner down to their level. Abusers often see themselves as the powerless victims of others’ behaviour and find it difficult to take responsibility for their actions. It can be a familiar pattern that both partners hook into. Cycles of abuse are often based on an intense need for love and affection, a terror of being abandoned, low self-esteem, isolation and drug or alcohol abuse.

Uncontrollable anger, jealousy, the need for power and inability to respect other people’s boundaries are all common traits of abusers.

Low self-esteem, a background of being abused, difficulty expressing anger and inappropriate loyalty are all common traits of their partners. Abuse is not usually suitable for couple work but there can be exceptions. If for example one partner is unable to own their own needs and cannot ask for what they want this can be explored. If it is their own fear of speaking up for themselves which has tipped the balance it may be that the dynamics can be worked on. A partner whose needs have never been acknowledged and valued may find themselves in this position and these power might be safely addressed.

What issues can counselling address?

  • Couple counselling may help assess whether a relationship is abusive or just unbalanced - this might be undertaken by one partner or both.
  • Individual counselling may benefit the abused person, to help them detach themselves from the partner’s behaviour.
  • Counselling may help restore self-esteem and re-examine healthy ways of relating.
  • Issues in ending an abusive relationship are different to those in others.
  • Specialist agencies can offer support to perpetrators to examine their behaviour

There are often problems with taking responsibility for abusive behaviour; often the victim assuming blame and the abuser adopting a “poor me” stance.

Types of Abuse

Domestic Violence

According to the Home Office, domestic violence covers any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between adults who are, or have been, in a relationship. It also covers family members whatever their gender or sexuality.

Abuse may be psychological, sexual, emotional or financial. It maintains power and control of one person over another. Most victims are women, but men suffer, too. People in same-sex relationships also suffer. Over 100 women each year and 30 men die as a result of domestic violence in UK. It is not restricted to the poor or unemployed but exists right across society.

It has remained a ‘hidden crime’ for many years until the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act of 2004 when Police and agencies were given new, more effective policies to tackle it. Many families have condoned Domestic Violence for generations.

Relationship or Individual Counselling may help you assess what to do about a violent relationship, but it is advisable to attend alone for safety reasons. Specialist agencies and Professionals are also available for help and support. Domestic violence can include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Constant degrading and insults
  • Continuously finding faults in a partner
  • Threats
  • Bullying
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Punching, kicking
  • Suffocating
  • Homicide

Find out more about Domestic Violence.

Child Abuse

Statistics show that every year thousands of children are abused physically by a parent or someone they know. Child abuse is characterised by any actions of a carer that could potentially harm a child’s mental or physical health. Research shows that many aggressors were abused themselves as children. The main areas of child abuse are shown below:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Child labour/exploitation
  • Neglect
  • Abandonment

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse often face problems in their relationships, and much help and support is available. Individual or Couple Counselling can help to address issues of trust and anger that may resurface in later life which may threaten an otherwise good relationship and may help address sexual problems relating to earlier abuse.

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Website is very informative :)

Super User Super User 29. July, 2012 |