Let’s get straight to business.
No one deserves abuse. We all deserve safety, freedom, and love. The numbers across the world, including within Western societies, confirm beyond a shadow of doubt that women (and trans folk, we must always be mindful to add) face the overwhelming brunt of violence, brutality, murder, and abuse at the hands of their partners. Of course, there are always exceptions and we all are responsible for eliminating gender-based violence and abuse.
But we need to be mindful of the fact that we live in a heteronormative, patriarchal world. That’s because, if we’re going to eliminate abuse, we have to frame the fight in the right way before proceeding. So, having hopefully done that, below you will find 9 signs of an abusive relationship, along with some practical questions to reflect on. If you see one or more of these in your relationship, it’s time to seriously assess things and make efforts to find safety, health, real love, and freedom.
1. An oppressive power imbalance in the relationship
A death knell for any relationship, if that wasn’t already an obvious point from the intro to this piece. It’s really simple to know whether or not there’s a power imbalance in your relationship, because deep down it’s very likely you already feel it — the powerlessness.
To know it as a fact, honestly self-reflect on the following questions: Do you feel like your partner has power over you to the point where your independence and happiness is solely at their discretion? What about your dreams, passions, life ambitions? Do you feel like they’re all at the whim and fancy of your partner, or do you feel like you have enough space to pursue them while in this relationship?
2. Controlling, uncaring attitude, with a distinct lack of empathy and a marked desire to establish dominance
An attitude more suited to being a mercenary for hire rather than a caring partner. This is the micro version of the previous point. This manifests in the day to day, the daily neglect and lack of care, coupled with a domineering sense of control.
Reflect on the following questions: Do you feel you have equal power and control in the relationship? Do you feel cared for and like you matter? Do you feel alone but shackled in the relationship?
3. Put-downs: emotional, verbal, social, cultural, and spiritual
Among the more damaging, and utterly inexplicable, forms of social interaction that should never ever be in a supposedly loving relationship are put-downs. I have never understood put-downs between people who apparently care about each other — friends, relatives, loved ones. They are childish, immature, and hurtful, only justified by some bullshit reasoning around “toughening up” or some such macho nonsense. Make no mistake, if you’re facing put-downs from your partner, this is abusive behavior.
Reflect on the following questions: Have you faced or do you face put-downs from them? Is it ever acknowledged or apologized for? How do you feel and how do you think they want you to feel with these put-downs?
4. Survivors “walking on eggshells”
Constantly having to worry about their unending demands, always being on alert for their mood swings and insecurities —you’re not a commando and this is a supposedly loving relationship, for crying out loud!
If you even think this might describe you and your relationship, you need to make some changes regarding your own safety and liberation, calmly but with immediate intent.
Reflect on the following questions: Do you feel constantly anxious and stressed about your partner’s issues and insecurities? Do you feel like you can safely escape? Does your partner have power over you to the point where you are completely at their mercy?
5. Lack of support for a partner’s freedom and independence
Love can blossom fully only when the shackles of our respective individual and collective lives are smashed (now that would be a Hallmark card worth keeping). Everyone in a relationship should feel a similar degree of freedom and independence, as well as support for each other’s freedom and independence. There are no two ways about it, and only relationships that constantly strive for one another’s liberation can truly be called loving.
Reflect on the following questions: Do you feel supported in your dreams and your own independence? Do you feel free to pursue your passions while being in a loving relationship? Do you feel like you are having to put your life goals aside for someone else’s?
6. The love, care, and support is never really there at a core level
You know that feeling, yeah that feeling, deep inside your gut? Please, oh please, heed that feeling. You will know when the love is not there. You will know when all you have instead is a semi-sociopathic, pretend version of love.
Reflect on the following questions: Do you feel loved? Do you? Are you really sure? (It had better have been an emphatic, resounding, joy-filled, heart-exploding YES! each time when you’re in a truly loving and supportive relationship — anything else ain’t the real deal)
7. Friends and family who care deeply about you are constantly worried
Worse, you start finding yourself either hiding or embellishing your relationship. This is a big, giant warning sign that is important to heed. Start seeking help from other healthy, well-adjusted loved ones who have your best interests at heart. Don’t hide because of some sexist or puritanical notion of shame. Fight your way out.
Reflect on the following questions: Who will stand by you when the chips are down? Who will fight for you when you are cornered? Who will you do the same for?
8. You find yourself constantly depressed and despairing about the relationship
How many red flags must go valiantly up before you heed their bright crimson warnings? Look, the occasional bump in the road might be par for the course, but a constant and unending feeling of doom? Oh no.
Reflect on the following questions: Does thinking about the future with your partner bring about a sense of despair and hopelessness? Do you really want a life with them? Do you?
9. The relationship hurts more than it heals, it destroys more than it nurtures
Health and healing are absolutely inviolable parts of any loving relationship. It doesn’t have to always be joyful and fun-filled, but it has to be nurturing and caring. Just reflect on this one question: Does your partner hurt you?
Remember that it’s never too late to get safe and healthy and on a journey towards real love and happiness. Seek out the long, often scary, road to independence. Make sure you have lots of support along the way. And it’s totally cool (actually deeply desirable) to have safe but awesome fun along the way. I foresee a well-made indy movie in your future, my friend. Or some such cool life victory anyway.
Now fight that good fight for your freedom. Your abuser’s got nothing on you.
Featured photo credit: Don’t Speak! by Kristin Schmit via flickr.com