Anyone who has been in a relationship has faced struggles. There are communication barriers, differences in backgrounds, and just personality conflicts. But, when you are regularly unhappy, upset, crying, resentful, or exhausted in your relationship – there may be a much more serious issue. If your partner makes you feel like less than you are, or if you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around them, you may be a victim of abuse.
We often think of abuse as being violent. We think of “victims” as being meek women walking around with black eyes and broken bones. But, while abuse can and does often become physical, it doesn’t always. And it rarely ever begins that way. It’s often hard to determine whether our partner’s actions are just caused by bad behavior and poor choices, or if they are abusive.
Abuse is not about violence, it is about power and control. An abusive partner will try to limit who you are and who you associate with. They will try to keep you away from family and friends, either by causing problems when you try to leave, making sure all of your time is spent with them, or making you feel guilty about spending time with anyone else.
An abusive partner may also try to control your emotions. They can often be the most charming and considerate person you have ever known – buying you flowers, telling you that you’re the best person they’ve ever met, calling you beautiful, and making you feel very special. But eventually, they will also put you down, tell you that you aren’t treating them well, try to make you feel guilty for speaking up, ignore you, and tell you that no one will ever love you as much as they do. This type of emotional manipulation is used to make you feel crazy and exhausted, so you no longer have the energy to even think about standing up for yourself, or leaving.
An abusive partner will also control finances. They may make you feel guilty about spending, even on necessities, or limit your access to the bank account.
If you have children, your partner may try to interfere with your parenting. They may tell your children not to listen to you or insult how you interact with them. They may try to make you feel guilty for the time you spend with your children. And they may try to drive a wedge between you and your children, making it more difficult for you to maintain a close relationship.
Finally, and possibly the most important red flag to watch out for: An abusive partner will minimize and deny their actions, and blame you (and others) for their choices. They will not take responsibility for their own actions. They will tell you that you are overreacting, blowing things out of proportion, and making a big deal out of nothing. They will blame you for their behavior and tell you that if you just cared more, acted differently, or changed something about yourself, they wouldn’t treat you this way. Of course, that is absolutely not true. An abusive partner will only change when they truly want to, and when they are no longer benefiting from their actions.
An abusive partner’s goal is to get you to change your behavior, to change who you are, so that they can have control over you. They feel entitled to be the one in control in the relationship, and will use any tactic necessary to make sure that happens.
They may not be hitting you (yet), but that doesn’t mean their behavior is not hurting you deeply, and causing lasting effects. The simple fact is this: If you are questioning whether you are being abused – you probably are.
If your partner is controlling, belittling, or hurting you – their behavior will likely not change. The only person you have control over is you. You deserve to be treated with love and respect. And you deserve to be safe – physically and emotionally. If you are being abused, call the National Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) to talk with an advocate about your options, and planning for your safety and well-being. This is not your fault. And you do not have to face it alone.