A lot of abuse that occurs in intimate relationships is actually very well disguised. We may not even realize that our behaviors are abusive until someone else points it out. We may imagine that all relationships are difficult, and wonder what is wrong with us that we can’t just accept our situation. We know there is something off, but often times it’s difficult to pinpoint.
Many relationships appear to be normal from the outside. But often, there are very subtle power dynamics that, when examined, look a lot like what we call abuse.
What is abuse? When one partner has a need for power and control, they will often use very subtle manipulation tactics to undermine and demoralize the other partner. The controlling person is an expert at zeroing in on their partners weaknesses, and taking full advantage of their vulnerabilities. The tactic is to erode the other person’s self esteem so that they are unable to trust their own thoughts or actions. This often causes anxiety and depression in the partner who is being manipulated or controlled.
Is it abuse? If your partner’s behavior makes you feel shame, anger, self loathing, a desire to be small or invisible, you may be experiencing abuse.
Eye rolling or other demeaning facial expressions aimed at you, or other people in your presence.
Put downs – These could be subtle – as in “Wow Tina, you’re such a klutz!” or they could be mean like “Now that you’re fat, nobody is going to want to hire you”
Emotional Manipulation – Using guilt, moodiness or anger to try to control another person’s behavior. Saying “I love you” when actions clearly show otherwise is emotional manipulation.
Twisting stories in order to avoid blame/responsibility (crazy making) – I never did that! Or said that, or that never happened! You must be crazy. I told you last week that I was going to be out late tonight. You don’t remember? Well I told you.
Passive aggressive manipulations – Tim comes home from work to a messy home and children playing. “Wow, must be nice to sit around all day and do nothing!” Pretending to be un capable of performing basic tasks like cooking or cleaning is passive aggressive manipulation.
Stonewalling – The silent treatment. No response to texts, emails, calls or in person attempts to communicate basic information.
Not sharing financial information – “I’d better take care of these important papers/choices/investments , you wouldn’t be able to understand it all” I’ll just give you a monthly allowance and you have to make it work.
These are just some of the signs that there is an abusive dynamic in the relationship. It is not easy to admit, but just the awareness of it can help you shift your behavior – if you are behaving in any of these ways you have a chance to wake up to your need for control over your partner. If you are experiencing any abuse, you can become aware of it and look at how you have been enabling your partner to treat you this way.
The more aware we can become of abusive behavior, the better chance we have of shifting it. These are all unconscious dynamics that can destroy a relationship.
If you are experiencing any physical or sexual abuse, please call your local police or Domestic Abuse Hotline.