The statistics are staggering: In the United States alone, approximately 20 people are abused by an intimate partner every single minute. Sexual, emotional, physical, and mental instances of abuse are rampant in domestic settings and between intimate partners. As common as it is, if you haven’t experienced abuse within a relationship yourself, you are virtually guaranteed to know someone who has. The following tips are important for anyone who may be, or find themselves in, an abusive relationship.
Understand different types of abuse
Abuse comes in different forms and is thus divided into a few categories. It’s important to understand these types of abuse and the actions associated with each. These are some of the most common (though there are other types):
- Physical abuse includes any form of harmful physical contact using either one’s body or other objects against the victim. This might look like hitting, kicking, punching, forceful holding or pinning down, using objects or weapons to assault or injure the victim, throwing objects at the victim, and more.
- Sexual abuse can include rape, demanding sex without regard for the other’s interest or desire for it, forcing the victim to perform actions or endure sexual acts they aren’t comfortable with, using coercion or shaming to elicit sex, referring to the victim in sexually derogatory ways, and more.
- Emotional abuse uses emotional or psychological tactics against the victim. These could include guilting or shaming the victim, withholding love or affection until demands or desires are met, being manipulative, defacing the victim’s character or personhood, and more.
- Verbal abuse usually involves yelling or screaming, using abrasive or abusive language against the victim, making derogatory comments or accusations, calling names, making demeaning statements about the victim, and more.
Know the warning signs
Though every case is different, a few factors contribute significantly to the likelihood of domestic violence or abuse developing within a relationship. One large example of this is alcohol consumption. Alcohol usage is arguably one of the most significant factors complicit in many categories of abuse. If your partner drinks heavily, becomes aggressive when he or she drinks, or speaks positively or suggestively about people who commit violence especially while intoxicated, be wary that these are possible warning signs of abusive behaviour.
Other indicators exist that an intimate partner may be or become abusive. If someone uses abusive language towards their family members or other people in their lives, discusses sexual topics in suggestive or graphic terms, asks for intimate details about your life without similarly divulging their own, regularly lies to you or blames you for things, these can often be early indicators that abuse in some form may escalate.
Stay safe while you make a plan
In some severe cases of intimate partner or domestic abuse, controlling tactics will become quite severe and restrictive. An abusive partner might demand access to your phone, email accounts, bank accounts or records; keep your credit cards or disallow you to get one; prevent you from using transportation; and more.
In these cases, it is imperative to take action in ways that won’t arouse suspicion, retribution, or preventative measures. Use a browser set to incognito mode to look up anything pertaining to abuse or to search for resources.
Be aware that abusers often stalk or use surveillance on their victims to keep tabs on their activity and whereabouts. This can even include tapping your electronic devices to record phone calls or download texting conversations. If you are experiencing abuse and your abuser is leveraging any of these types of control tactics against you, take action to get to safety right away before their control tightens.
Reach out for help
Abusive relationships are incredibly difficult to navigate. Due to their emotional natures and because they often began as mutual interest/attraction relationships, it is easy to feel emotional conflict or believe an abuser’s assertions when they admit that they made a mistake when they hurt you, that they’re sorry, and that they won’t do it again.
This difficulty makes it imperative to reach out to others outside the relationship if you suspect that you are being abused. In an emotionally attached state, it can sometimes be almost impossible at first for someone being abused by an intimate partner to recognize the abuse and be able to take action to leave the relationship.
If you wonder whether you are in an abusive relationship and aren’t sure where to turn, external resources are available to you. Abuse hotlines are available across the US that can connect you with next steps and local entities that can help you. And social workers and other public servants are trained to help those who are caught in abusive relationships and assist them in removing themselves, detaching from their abuser, and building a new life.
Have patience with yourself as you recover
Abusive relationships are incredibly emotionally complex. They often require excruciatingly difficult choices, complex recovery periods, and comprehensive processes to rebuild a life separate from a former intimate partner. In severe cases, leaving an abusive relationship can sometimes require changing locations, identities, contact details, and more. The process of leaving an abusive partner can be painful and arduous. Sometimes it involves legal ramifications.
Because of all this, the road to recovery and moving forward with life can often be likened to that of recovering from a serious illness or significant injury, or of grieving the loss of an immediate family member. It is important to give yourself grace and patience as you work through that process.
Seek ample help and support as you do. This can involve both friends and family as well as professional help in the form of social workers, counsellors, medical doctors when necessary, and other entities that offer services to those that are recovering from abusive relationships. The road is long; give yourself access to all the support you will need to emerge and walk forward free from your former experience of abuse.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.