It’s alarmingly common – people get married, hope for a happily ever after, and when they take a look at their marriage one day, the illusion of a kind and loving spouse is far gone. The person they were supposed to trust with their life and happiness is the very person who causes them most sadness and unfortunately, often jeopardizes their health and safety.
Although such relationships are under the psychological examination for decades, it is still impossible to pinpoint the causes of an abusive relationship, nor what triggers the abuser to engage in a violent episode. However, there are certain common traits of many such marriages, and of many perpetrators of abuse. Here is a list of five common reasons why abuse happens in a marriage:
Research shows that what directly precipitates violence in a marital argument is a sequence of very detrimental thoughts, which frequently present an entirely distorted image of reality. It is not uncommon for a relationship to have its set ways of arguing that often go nowhere and are truly unproductive. But in violent relationships, these thoughts are potentially dangerous for the victim. For example, a few such cognitive distortions that often ring in the perpetrator’s mind, or back of his or her mind, are: “She’s being disrespectful, I can’t allow that or she will think I’m weak”, “Who does she think she is, speaking to me that way?”, “Such an idiot just can’t be brought to reason otherwise than by force”, etc. Once such beliefs come to the abuser’s mind, it seems that there is no going back and the violence becomes imminent.
2. Inability to tolerate being hurt
It is difficult for everyone to be hurt by the one we love and we committed our lives to. And living with someone, sharing everyday stress and unpredictable hardships, will inevitably lead to being hurt and disappointed sometimes. But most of us deal with such situations without becoming violent or psychologically abusive towards our spouses. Yet, perpetrators of abuse exhibit utter inability to tolerate being done wrong (or their perception as being damaged and offended). These individuals react to pain by inflicting pain to others. They cannot allow themselves to feel anxiety, sorrow, to appear weak, vulnerable, or to be put down in any way. So, they charge instead, and attack relentlessly.
3. Growing up in an abusive family
Although not every abuser comes from an abusive family or a chaotic childhood, the majority of aggressors does have a childhood trauma in their personal history. Similarly, many victims of abuse also often come from a family in which the dynamics were toxic and filled with either psychological or physical abuse. In that way, both the husband and the wife (often unconsciously) perceive the abuse as the norm, maybe even as an expression of closeness and affection.
4. Lack of boundaries in a marriage
In addition to low tolerance to being hurt by the abuser, and high tolerance to aggression, abusive marriages are often characterized by what might be described as lack of boundaries. In other words, unlike intimacy in a healthy romantic relationship, people in abusive marriages typically believe in an unbreakable bond between them. This bond is far from romance, it presents a pathological dissolution of boundaries that are necessary in a relationship. In that way, it becomes easier both to abuse the spouse and to tolerate being abused, as neither one feels separated from the other.
5. Lack of empathy
An expected reason that enables the perpetrator to commit violence against someone with whom they share their life with is lack of empathy, or a seriously diminished feeling of empathy, one that gives way to impulses all the time. An abusive person often believes that they have almost supernatural power to understand others. They often do see others’ limitations and weaknesses quite clearly. This is why, when confronted with their lack of empathy in an argument or at a psychotherapy session, they passionately dispute such claim. Nonetheless, what eludes them is that empathy doesn’t mean just seeing others’ flaws and insecurities, it has an emotional component to it and comes with care for and sharing of others’ feelings.
Marriage is always difficult and takes a lot of work. But it should never bring abuse and suffering from the side of those who are meant to protect us from harm. But for many, change is possible, with professional help and guidance, and many marriages are known to thrive after different kinds of abuse were abandoned by the perpetrators.