In abusive relationships, it is really common to be reluctant to actually apply the term “abuse” to the situation. Even when things are severe and an outside observer would find it undeniable, it still feels wrong.
And it’s understandable, isn’t it? Once you name it, there’s no going back. You become “an abuse victim” and your partner “an abuser.” It means acknowledging that your foundation is rotten. It means your entire world turning on its head.
There’s also reluctance because there’s always something worse. “Yes, he’s jealous and critical, but it’s not like he openly puts me down all the time.” “Yes, he puts me down and insults me, but he doesn’t hit me.” “Okay, yes, he’s hit me, but it’s nothing that left marks.” “All right, these bruises aren’t exactly a good sign, but there are tons of women who have wound up in the hospital, so my situation can’t be THAT bad.”
Or maybe we tell ourselves that it’s not always like this. Our partner is a hard worker, they have a great relationship with their grandmother, they cook us dinner and make us laugh and can be so warm and kind. They’re not monsters, so they can’t be abusers, right?
No. Abusers are not monsters. They are human beings, and they can be (and often are) kind, charming, funny, and generous. If they didn’t have those qualities, they’d never end up in relationships in the first place. And there’s a funny thing about dysfunctional relationships. Most of the time, they function. An afflicted Venus is still Venus. Most of the time things are fine, and you can adapt to the daily stressors. So how do you know when it is abuse?
There are a ton of excellent resources around the internet that will provide lists of abusive behaviors to watch out for, and if you are doubtful about your own relationship I strongly suggest you check them out. But I think a more reliable indicator is the effect it has on the victim. Forget how your partner behaves. What about you? How dim is your Sun?
- Do you find yourself making your life, your personality, your social circle, your SELF smaller and smaller to accommodate your partner?
- Do you react to their unkindness by trying harder to please them?
- Do you find yourself constantly vigilant, paying attention to the slightest shift in their mood or the slightest sign of displeasure?
- Do you react to their behavior by wondering what you can change about yourself to make them treat you better?
- Do you find yourself editing out details of your life together when you talk to your loved ones?
- Do you find yourself afraid to bring up problems in the relationship, or when you do finally mention them, do you end up apologizing and comforting your partner instead?
- Are you tired, sick, worn down, and just not yourself anymore?
- Are you reading a lot of internet checklists about abuse?
If any of that feels a little too familiar, you may have a problem. It’s okay if you don’t want to label it abuse. Call it toxic, unhealthy, dysfunctional, call it Mars/Pluto, call it whatever you want. You don’t necessarily have to label your partner an abuser. You can say that they’re a good person who has bad behaviors and habits.
But you know what? Good people are allowed to not want to be with other good people. Good people can have bad habits, and it doesn’t obligate other people to put up with them. Good people can be bad for each other. So if that’s the way you want to look at it, go for it. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay. You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to be so tired all the damn time. You are allowed to walk away.
Were you ever reluctant to use the a-word? Where do you draw the line?