3 MIN READ | Mental Health Stories

How Do Smart People Fall into Abusive Relationships?

Andrew Pain

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Andrew Pain, (2019, October 13). How Do Smart People Fall into Abusive Relationships?. Psychreg on Mental Health Stories. https://www.psychreg.org/abusive-relationships/
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Surely anyone with an ounce of intelligence would see the signs early and get out quick? Like many things in life, it’s not that simple: let me explain. I suffered in an abusive marriage for eight years, and I got sucked in through one of the most common routes: eyes wide open.

From early on, I could see there were problems. My partner was a broken woman with probable yet undiagnosed mental health issues; she had bizarre mood swings, uncontrollable rage, an all-consuming need to be in control and a fundamental need to be utterly adored without question.

Unfortunately, as a young man in his early 20s, eager to please, caring, attentive and with no sense of personal boundaries or self-awareness, I was a textbook victim. But let’s be clear, there was no pretence from her: her behaviour didn’t change during our eight-year relationship.

At the end, she was how she had always been from the very beginning. I had wanted to help her and foolishly, I believed I could mend this broken woman by standing with her and being kind to her.

Naive? Absolutely. Stupid? Definitely  (as many young people are) but not deserving of abuse because no one is.

The other route into abuse is what I term, Deceived: hook, line and sinker and it happens to many of the victims I have supported, particularly the women. It’s a set-up, a deliberate plan to make you fall in love so you dive deep, then, bit by bit, the abuse begins. It’s like cooking a lobster: the water gradually heats up and the lobster barely notices until it’s too late, no way out, boiled alive and they make for a tasty meal.

Naive? That’s a bit harsh. Stupid? Even harsher – It could happen to anyone. Men abuse women, women abuse men, women abuse women and men abuse men. Sometimes it’s a set-up, other times, it’s a train crash from the outset, but what is consistent is that the victims are usually ‘nice’, accommodating people who see the best in others – and in both cases (eyes wide shut or deceived; hook line and sinker), one fundamental thing is missing: boundaries.

Until we start teaching children and young people the value of boundaries; how to create them, adhere to them and act on them, people will keep falling into abuse however smart they may be.

I deliver bespoke coaching on boundaries through my leadership development business, to leaders and managers, using my unique, Triple Landmark Model and my ADULT Model. As a start and for the purposes of this post, I recommend you follow this four-step plan:

  1. Reflect on each area of your life: your family, friends, hobbies, personal development, health/fitness, finances, self-esteem, work, spiritual.
  2. As you move through each part of your life, ask yourself key questions about each area:
  • What am I prepared to tolerate and not?
  • What am I prepared to compromise on and not?
  • What will I say ‘yes’ to and ‘no’ to?
  • What is enough and too much?
  • What am I prepared to sacrifice and not?

3. Armed with the answers to these questions (and take some time to ask these questions every day), there are two more questions …

  • What will I do if my boundaries are breached?
  • What does a breach look like?

4. Stick to your boundaries: to the point of walking away from an intimate relationship if the other person objects to them and can’t/won’t compromise. 

Your boundaries are your guide. They protect you. They are your lighthouse. Never turn your back on them because you can’t face letting go of something which feels precious to you in the moment. Ships which ignore lighthouses get shipwrecked. 


Andrew Pain is a leadership development coach and speaker, specialising in productivity, helping business leaders to get more done, but without getting busier or burnt out. 


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