I wasn’t sure how to start this blog post. Most of the time my writing consists of a lot of dark humor and even random obscure movie quotes, as well as a situation to picture in your mind. Well, this time, I’m not going to do that. I’m diving right in. After helping some friends escape and recover from abusive relationships, and seeing clients experience potentially abusive relationships themselves, I reached out to Dr. Lewis Okun, PhD, a domestic violence specialist and psychologist in Ann Arbor, and asked him how to identify signs one might be in an abusive relationship and the best way to handle it.
Early Warning Signs of Abuse
Often, abusers will display “red flags,” or early warning signs. However, NEVER blame yourself if you don’t notice the signs of a potential abuser. Quite often signs of abuse are easily mistaken for positive romantic behavior. Read on to see if your partner may be abusive in the “getting to know you” phase:
- Your partner shows possessiveness or intense jealousy.
- Your partner presses for rapid commitment to the relationship (this may seem sweet and refreshing that someone is so willing to commit, but it could be a big red flag).
- Your partner begins to isolate you from friends and family.
- Your partner does not respect your time commitments or career. For example, “I’ll miss you too much; can’t you just come home a few minutes early today?”
Types of Abuse
Here are some signs your partner may be emotionally abusive:
- Your partner is possessive and shows intense jealousy.
- Your partner engages in frequent quarrels on a hair-trigger.
- Your partner places unnecessary roles on their partner such as a therapeutic role (you are the only one who can soothe the abuser or make them feel better).
- You feel calmer when you’re away from your partner, and more nervous in their presence.
- Sexually: while this also falls in a physical abuse category, if you feel coerced or worn down into giving sex, this is also emotional abuse.
- Your partner demands to know who you’re talking/texting to and doesn’t give you space or alone time (the opposite can also be true but often later in the relationship — a total neglect of who the abused partner texts or total non-inclusion from the abuser’s social life)
- You completely rely on your partner for fulfillment in your life and you don’t engage in activities by yourself.
These are signs of physical abuse:
- The first recognized incident of physical abuse often occurs during pregnancy, and contrary to common sense, abuse often escalates during a pregnancy.
- Your partner forces sexual activity or coerces and wears you down into submitting to sexual activity.
- Your partner physically strikes, pushes, kicks, other otherwise engages in unwanted physical contact with you.
What to do if you’re in an Abusive Relationship – and What Not to do
Best outcome and why couple’s therapy is NOT recommended
“Leaving an abusive relationship is one’s best hope for a future free of abuse, but unfortunately no guarantee,” says Dr. Okun. “Abusers will often harass or stalk their ex-partners. Some have intimidated their partner with threats of homicide or pet cruelty. Some actually do fulfill these threats with actual homicidal violence; the most common relationship a female murder victim has with the perpetrator is partner/ex-partner (check the FBI uniform crime statistics to verify this if you like).”
He adds that abused partners do have a right to remain in their relationships and to try and improve the situation. The problem is that the odds of a relationship transforming from abusive to abuse free/respectful are low. But people generally want to stand by their relationship commitments, and this is often enforced by their religious and/or spiritual and/or moral beliefs. Often abused partners are reluctant to leave for material reasons, or because they want their children to have a household shared by and with both biological parents. And breaking up is never easy, even with abuse-free partners who are somehow incompatible; it’s even more difficult with abusers.
Interestingly, couples counseling should generally be avoided when domestic abuse is involved, according to Okun. “Encouraging a free and candid exchange of grievances and complaints may lead to more abusive behavior in retaliation. The abuser’s tendency is to project blame onto the abused partner. The partner suffering abuse tends to self-blame and to look for ways to appease or please the abuser. Oftentimes therapy will simply continue this pattern as the therapist and couple find ways for the abused party to try and placate the abuser while the abuser is not held responsible for the abusive behavior that they have committed,” Okun says.
Additional Resources for Those Seeking Safety
4100 Clark Rd, Ann Arbor, MI
2895 W. Grand River Ave, Howell, MI
Michigan Coalition to End Domestic & Sexual Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
-By Annen Weber, LLPC