The last thing we want in a relationship or marriage is to feel abused. We want to feel loved and adored. We want a soulmate. We want someone who honors us. We want to know we are valued and important. We want our connection to be easy.
I’ve talked to a lot of couples in my career and life. I’ve seen what goes wrong and what it takes to make it right. Many people leave a relationship too soon. Others stay too long. And most do not seek help until the problems they are immersed in are more like a massive forest fire rather than a campfire for toasting marshmallows.
These couples may be distant, or their relationship may be filled with conflict. They may know they love each other despite their problems or they may feel the love they had died. Regardless, sometimes relationships get abusive. Abuse can be subtle, like ignoring someone when you are angry, or it can be obvious, like when you have bruises. Why does this happen? Here are a few reasons.
Reasons for abuse in relationships
- Resentment or anger builds up and one or both partners lash out.
- A partner may have unresolved trauma that causes them to lash out.
- A partner may feel they need to punish their partner because they don’t like their behavior and think they can change it with negative reinforcement.
- A partner may have psychological issues causing them to be highly jealous and as a result, they attempt to control their partner – in an abusive way.
- A partner may simply not understand Gottman’s rules of fair fighting – no criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling.
- A partner may feel undeserving of love and choose an abusive partner.
- A couple may not know how to deal with their feelings and act out – jumping to conclusions or stonewalling instead of communicating or apologizing.
- One partner may put the other partner down so that s/he can feel right about his or her position.
- Splitting – one partner tells his or her friends what is wrong with his or her partner rather than sharing both sides. This enables that partner to feel right and makes the other partner wrong or bad. And blocks the possibility for a more well-rounded view of the relationship.
Fixes and Issues
One of the main issues in relationships is the inability to deal with feelings. For example, if resentment is building up, rather than get abusive, that partner needs to learn to talk about why they are feeling resentful. Dealing with feelings is a major issue in relationships because feelings reside in the emotional brain and they hijack the thinking brain, leaving us without perspective until the feelings subside. Therapy and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can help us integrate our brain and begin to hold a more complete perspective even as we experience difficult feelings.
Another issue is learning to see our partner as our friend – even when we are mad. This is called continuity of consciousness. Let’s say that Samantha is angry with her partner Richard. But in this case, Samantha has decided that Richard is ‘bad.’ Samantha moves from one state of consciousness to another. It is almost as if she shifts to and from different realities. And she isn’t able to hold the bigger picture of knowing that Richard is her friend when she is angry at him.
Knowing the rules of fair fighting are also important. It simply isn’t acceptable to criticize, use contempt, name-calling, defensiveness, or stonewalling in a loving relationship. Those behaviors are similar to taking a bomb and blowing up our connection and they fit under the category of abuse in relationships. They leave wreckage that must be cleaned up and dealt with for the relationship to heal and grow. It reminds me of when I was a child and our family moved. My siblings and I walked a third of a mile to our closest neighbor’s house. Their children threw rocks at us and we ran home. Needless to say, we were shocked and felt cautious about them for a while. This also reminds me of how my first and now ex-husband used to put me down in front of other people and the shame and humiliation I felt.
Not knowing that we deserve love is important to look at. When we don’t feel we deserve love, it means we have low self-esteem. It means we weren’t treated in a way that let us know our value. It is essential to get individual therapy if you feel this way. When we feel we don’t deserve love, we will tend to put up with bad behavior. We will tend to stay in relationships that are not good for us. We will tend to hold on when we should be walking away. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect to deserve love. You just have to be you and know that you are unique and special no matter what.
Knowing when trauma is impacting a relationship (and one’s own life) and choosing to heal it is another essential step. We are not responsible for the trauma we’ve received. But rather than just live with the impact of trauma and scars, we can choose to heal and transform our future into one that is much more positive. If you want more information on how trauma impacts relationships, here is an older article I wrote.
Kindness is an incredibly important quality in relating. It is worth cultivating. When we get triggered, we may lose our ability to be kind. We may not realize that we are being unkind. We may not realize our partner feels abused. If our partner tells us they feel abused, we have to look at our actions and find a way to communicate that is kinder.
The field of psychological theory around couples is making leaps and bounds. There is great help available if you are struggling in your relationship or dealing with abuse in a relationship. Don’t wait to get help. WeConcile is coming out as an app in 2021 and will be available to offer you easy and low-cost support in your relationship.
I also share my personal stories on Jennifer’s Blog.
Here is another article to check out on emotional health and emotional abuse: