“It is better to break your own heart by leaving an abusive relationship rather than having that person break your heart every day.”

How many times have you either said or heard someone you know say:

“He/she hits me but really does love me.”
“That’s not him/her, that’s just the anger. It’ll get better soon”
“I should try to be a better person.”

All of those statements and many more variations of them have been said by people who have been in abusive relationships. And they all lead many people, who most likely have never been in an abusive relationship, to ask the same questions.

Why do they stay? Why don’t people who are abused fight back? Why don’t they call the cops?

The answer is, being in an abusive relationship is not black and white. It’s a complex situation with even more complex solutions.

First and foremost, what qualifies as abuse can often be interpreted in an ambivalent manner.

The following statements and accounts are all true but all names have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Twenty-four year old Meredith Winston, who moved in with her boyfriend right after high school said, “For the longest time, I didn’t even know my boyfriend was abusive. Or even if I did on a subconscious level, I could never bring myself to admit it. To me, being abused was black eyes and welts all over the body.”

Winton’s example perhaps best exemplifies the most pivotal philosophy for recovering from not only an abusive relationship but any hazardous or distressing situation; recognizing and/or admitting the problem.

Very often, in assessing a situation, people look for evidence which is tangible such as bruises, cuts, etc. It would be the equivalent of assuming a recovering alcoholic is stable because their breath is clean or because they can speak coherently.

But relying on only obvious signs unfairly categorizes abuse as one-dimensional. Of course, a major element of abuse is physical violence. But no less significant is psychological conflict. Constant criticism or lampooning of a partner can also be termed abuse.

Sexual abuse becomes even easier to defend (from the abuser’s point of view) when it takes place amongst two romantically involved people.

Winston elaborated, “My boyfriend used to constantly demean me in front of his friends. While that hurt me deeply, I never saw it as psychological abuse. I simply attributed it to immaturity. He would also pressure me for sex and I would usually give in after arguing for a while. To me, that was consent. I mean, that’s what couples do, right? You live together and share intimate nights together.”

To better comprehend Winston’s situation, it’s cardinal to remember the textbook definition of abuse: using a force to bad effect or for a bad purpose.

Breaking that down further, any time you cause your partner harm, physically or psychologically, it’s abuse.

Another strong point to remember when attempting to determine if a relationship is abusive is that the victim’s mindset is often confused and scared. Even if determining the proper course of action against abuse might be easy on paper, executing it is not so straight-forward.

Thirty-three year old Wanda Peters lived with an abusive husband for sixteen years before gathering up the courage and confidence to leave him.

“I knew from our honeymoon onwards that my husband was abusive,” Peters said. “And yet, I couldn’t leave him. Every time I contemplated trying to find a way out, my lack of self-confidence always discouraged me because that’s how much my husband’s abuse had brain-washed me. I kept asking myself that if I left him, where would I go? What would I do? I was convinced that I’m so pathetic, no one will accept me in their lives ever again.”

Peters’ account brings up another crucial point. Before we judge anyone, it is absolutely imperative that we find out what exactly is going through an abused person’s mind. A victim that thinks a pessimistic aftermath is preordained must be reassured otherwise and be led to believe that they’ll be okay.

To sum up so far, remember these two points:

  1. Abusive relationships don’t always have tangible signs or evidence. While they can be very common, especially in cases of domestic violence, a lack of those signs cannot be assessed as a safe or stable relationship.
  2. Assessing the victim’s psychological state and overall mindset is very crucial before giving them advise.

There is a third point which I have yet to discuss and is very personal to me for obvious reasons. In my opinion, it warrants a separate and independent section which I will include in the second part of this post tomorrow. I’m talking about when the abused victim is a male. Of course, by giving it a separate post, I am in no way implying or suggesting that the topic of abused females is less important to me.

But it is my understanding that when a male is abused, the situation can become more complicated simply because society has a stereotyped perception of a male and a female’s “role” among humanity.

How do you feel about the points made in this post? Do you agree with them? What else do you think could be added to them? Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below on our secure servers.

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Hi, I'm Neel! I'm a writer (fiction and poetry), a journalist and currently working in the advertising business. I'm also a mental health advocate, having been diagnosed with clinical depression a few years ago.
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