Ways to recognise an abusive relationship by Susan Leigh

Family|Relationships|March 8th 2014

Abuse is a powerful and evocative word. Many of us may well think of sexual abuse when we first hear the word, but abuse covers physical, emotional and mental hurt too, and it can be experienced by any age or gender, by young children or senior citizens.

Abuse in an adult relationship often occurs as a slow, subtle process. If a person was rude, sarcastic, nasty or aggressive on a first meeting there would be little chance of us agreeing to meet them again. Often the abuser’s behaviour is styled as attentive, wanting to help us improve, being keen to take care of us, demonstrating support, and indeed, that may be the case initially, before things begin to change.

Here are some ways to recognise an abusive relationship:

*Abuse is often about control, fear of you leaving, not loving the other person enough, not wanting to be with them any more. Money can be a significant part of their control, buying you treats, expensive gifts, offering to take care of you. It can be a seductive process, being wined and dined, treated as special, especially if this is a new or unfamiliar experience for you. But this behaviour is often a subtle attempt to become an increasingly integral part of your life.

*Having someone else take control of the finances may be a relief at first; not having to worry about bills, knowing that side of your life is being taken care of. But gradually you may find that you’re having to justify your spending, being criticized for buying certain things, accused of spending too much, being discouraged from being independent. This can be especially problematic in cases where you don’t work and rely on them to provide an allowance, or where all income goes into a joint account which is regularly inspected and complained about.

*Having a job, a career provides a feeling of independence, satisfaction and accomplishment and this can cause your abuser to feel uneasy and insecure about their level of control. They may start to criticize your enthusiasm for your job, discourage you from applying for additional training or advancement. They may become irritated, bored, dismissive if you try to discuss your work, colleagues, problems or achievements. Company social events or training days away with colleagues can gradually become a source of argument and tension.

*Another way to recognise an abusive relationship is when you receive unwarranted criticism about the way you dress, your make up, your desire to look smart and professional at work or when socializing with others. Even your attention to personal hygiene may be treated with suspicion as being flirtatious and attention-seeking.

*Personal confidence and levels of self-esteem are gradually eroded by a bully or abuser. This can start with a raised eyebrow, a suppressed laugh, a ‘you’re not wearing that, are you?‘ or a ‘there’s no point in you applying for that job‘, all purporting to sound like concerned, helpful advice but in reality a slow process of intimidation and undermining. Some abusers will try to hi-jack any attempts to improve yourself through dieting, exercise, night school classes and so forth, by saying they are unnecessary, expensive, inconvenient.

*And yet often abusers are adept at making you feel that this is your fault, that if you were a better person they would not need to be so critical of you. Many abusers are contrite afterwards; they apologise profusely, vow never to behave that way again. This can be a seductive pattern as often the victim feels that if they loved more, tried harder, were more supportive their abuser would be more secure in the relationship and not need to behave so abusively.

*Family and friends are regarded as rivals for your time and attention. They may be ridiculed, dismissed as a bad influence. The questioning and arguments may gradually be seen as too much hassle. Or your partner may consistently offer alternative, exciting or important arrangements that conflict with times when you’d arranged to meet your friends. They gradually start to omit you from arrangements because of your unreliability.

*Turning up unexpectedly or phoning regularly may seem flattering and attentive at first, but over time ‘where are you?’ and ‘why didn’t you answer your phone/call me back?’ can become more sinister. You may find that your mobile phone is regularly checked, your phone bill is examined for patterns of calls, the mileage on your car is noted.

*Sexual coercion can also be a significant part of abuse,  increasing the abuser’s sense of control while reducing your confidence and self-esteem.

This kind of  abuse serves to slowly alienate you from family, friends, other people and interests. Many of us dislike confrontation and  try to avoid it, especially if it becomes menacing, scary and aggressive. Abusers are often skilful at presenting their controlling behaviour as love, concern and guidance. Being vigilant about retaining a level of independence and outside support can help keep other options open and make the safest, most appropriate next step for you a little clearer.

Susan Leigh is a counsellor and hypnotherapist who works with couples in crisis to improve communications and understanding. She also works with both individuals and businesses.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A couple weeks back, I had a very abusive date. First of all, she had texted me three times that day, which I thought was over the top. When I showed up 5 minutes late, she said ‘where were you?’ At the restaurant, she said ‘this place is a bit dark.’ Recognizing how abusive that comment was, she then began to apologize and say how cheerful the place was. She commented on the brightness of my tie even, would you believe it? I thought her gesture of going dutch was just a means of controlling me financially. Then afterwards, she suggested that I come back to hers, and I put this down to sexual coercion, and fled. We cannot be too careful these days.

  2. Paul says:

    10/10 that man!

  3. Stitchedup says:

    Sorry, but I find the above article a load of tripe. Just like the new broadened definition of domestic violence, it can be shoe horned to fit just about any sort of behaviour/dispute that a part of everyday domestic life. Take “having to justify your spending, being criticized for buying certain things, accused of spending too much”. So a guy has lost his job and the family has to tighten the purse strings. The Women insists on spending hundreds of pounds a time buying tubes/bottles/tubs of Dermalogica products as these are “the only beauty products that really work for her”. The guy has a problem with the cost of these products and thinks that she could probably make do with something less expensive. On the other hand, the woman has a problem with the guy spending money down the pub having a pint, a packet of peanuts and chat with his mates. The guy doesn’t see why she has a problem with him having a pint and a chat as she often meets with her friends for chat, a cup of coffee and a piece carrot cake… Who’s the abuser?? Is this really abuse???

    Couples will have these sorts of disagreements throughout a relationship so it couldn’t be described as a one off, more like a pattern of behaviour which would fit the description of domestic abuse.

    I think the author should read her article again and try to see it from a different view point. It all sounds terribly spoilt and self-centred…

    It’s hardly surprising the article provokes tongue-in-cheek comments like the one above.

  4. Luke says:

    Hmmm… I don’t believe your version of events, a strong independent empowered woman offering to go dutch on a first date – a likely story 🙂

  5. Rufus says:

    I’m a guy and I find all these sad and bitter blokes that comment on this blog pathetic. I agree that in some cases the UK family legal system can discriminate against men indirectly because they’re usually not the primary carer.

    But this post is about controlling behaviour and abuse. You’ve clearly let your own bad experiences turn you into misogynists. It’s sad.

  6. Luke says:

    ” I agree that in some cases the UK family legal system can discriminate against men indirectly because they’re usually not the primary carer.

    But this post is about controlling behaviour and abuse. You’ve clearly let your own bad experiences turn you into misogynists.”

    So let me get this straight Rufus, you accept that the legal system discriminates against men in some cases, but you don’t accept that men can be falsely accused of abuse or that they are more often than women not taken seriously when they claim such behaviour is perpetrated against them ?

    You are what is known as a ‘white knight’ – and an uninformed one into the bargain it seems…

  7. Stitchedup says:

    Well Rufus, you’re probably going to be get more and more sad as the abuse of the system and failure of the family courts to recognise the system is being abused continues.

    If you had experienced false allegations or been convicted just for talking to an ex-partner with whom you had a relationship for 20 years, 2 children a beautiful family home etc etc, you might feel different.

    In my opinion this post exemplifies everything that is wrong with the definition of DV and has little to do with genuine domestic violence or genuine controlling behaviour.

  8. Anonymous says:

    If you have to say “I’m a guy,” then you’re probably not, or not quite a guy yet but an adolescent without much life experience.

    The problem with the rhetoric in this article and so many others is that it is simply intended to serve a lucrative industry.

    My guess would be that it helps government disguise the real abuse and violence today, which is a revolting level of inequality.

    The best strategy for fragmenting society and taking attention off crimes of government is to turn citizens themselves into the bad guys. This is what government does, instead of hanging its head in shame.

    So you are right, dear Rufus, the article is about controlling behavior, but not of simple men and women, but of a sickly government that fears exposure. It’s all just a cesspool of politics.

  9. Paul says:

    “Abusive relationship” is such a wide term that both sides of a separating couple could easily be convinced by their respective advisors if not themselves, that they were in one if they were so gullible and simple minded. And, naturally, it’s always the other side who is the perpetrator.

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