Abusive relationships are obviously harmful and can result in physical, psychological, financial, and emotional damage.
Those who are caught in abusive relationships may love their partners and want to fix the relationship, but after the trauma of the abuse, they may wonder can an abusive relationship be saved.
If you are in an abusive relationship, it can be helpful to learn how to fix an abusive relationship, whether saving the relationship is even possible, and ways of healing from emotional abuse.
Defining an abusive relationship
If you are looking to learn how to fix an abusive relationship, you may be wondering if you are in an abusive relationship in the first place. The answer to what is an abusive relationship is as follows:
An abusive relationship is one in which one partner uses methods to gain power and control over the other.
An abusive relationship is not reserved only for cases where one partner is physically violent toward the other. An abusive partner may also use emotional or psychological methods to gain control and exert power over their significant other.
Stalking, sexual abuse, and financial abuse are other methods that constitute abuse in a relationship.
If your partner is showing one or more of the behaviors above, you are probably involved with an abusive partner.
In addition to wondering what is an abusive relationship, you may want to know how you can tell if you are in an abusive relationship.
The signs of being in an abusive relationship can vary based upon whether your partner is physically abusive, emotionally abusive, or a combination of these. Some signs you’re in an abusive relationship are as follows:
Your partner throws items, such as books or shoes at you.
Your partner physically strikes you, or engages in other physically abusive behaviors, such as hitting, kicking, punching, or slapping.
Your partner grabs your clothing or pulls your hair.
Your partner prevents you from leaving the house or forces you to go certain places against your will.
Your partner grabs your face and turns it toward them.
Your partner engages in behaviors such as scratching or biting.
Your partner forces you to have sex.
Your partner threatens you with a gun or other weapon.
Your partner kisses or touches you when it is not wanted.
Your partner makes insults about your sexual behavior, forces you to try sexual acts against your will, or threatens some sort of punishment if you do not perform certain sexual acts.
Your partner embarasses you on purpose.
Your partner frequently yells and screams at you.
Your partner blames you for their own abusive behavior.
Your partner accuses you of cheating, tells you how to dress, and limits your contact with friends or family.
Your partner damages your property or threatens to harm you.
Your partner will not allow you to have a job, stops you from going to work, or causes you to lose your job.
Your partner does not allow you to access the family bank account, deposits your paychecks into an account you cannot access, or does not allow you to spend money.
Remember, an abusive partner is one who tries to gain power or control over you, in order to bend you to their will. The signs you’re in an abusive relationship all involve a partner controlling you, whether financially, physically, sexually, or emotionally.
Aside from these more specific signs, in general, abuse in a relationship can involve your partner making you feel bad about yourself, eroding your self-esteem, and placing you in a situation where you are dependent upon your partner financially, so it is difficult to escape the relationship.
Another way to know you are in an abusive relationship is that it will become a cycle.
There is typically a tension building phase, during which the abusive partner begins to show signs of anger or distress,followed by an escalation period, where the abuser attempts to gain control over the partner and increases abusive tactics.
After an outburst of abuse, there is a honeymoon stage, during which the abuser apologizes and promises to change. A period of calm follows, only for the cycle to begin again.
Unfortunately, an abusive partner can lead the victim to believe the abuse is the victim’s fault, but this is never the case.
Abuse in a relationship is the fault of the abuser, who uses coercive methods to gain control over their partner.
An abuser may engage in a behavior called gaslighting, in which they use tactics to make the victim question their own perception of reality as well as their own sanity.
An abuser who uses gaslighting may call their partner crazy and deny saying or doing certain things that the abuser has, in fact, said and done.
The abuser may also accuse the victim of remembering things incorrectly or overreacting. For example, after an incident of physical or verbal aggression, the victim may appear upset, and the abuser may deny that the incident ever occured.
Over time, this gaslighting behavior from an abusive partner can lead the victim to believe that the victim is to blame for the abuse. Regardless of what the abuser says, abuse is always the fault of the abuser.
There is no single answer to what leads someone to become an abuser, but the psychology behind abusive relationships provides some explanation.
For example, one study in the professional publication Aggression and Violent Behavior found that women who become abusive partners are more likely to have a history of trauma, attachment issues, drug abuse, child abuse, and personality disorders.
Having a difficult upbringing or struggling with mental health issues or addiction therefore appears to be linked to abusive relationships.
A second study in the Mental Health Review Journal confirmed these findings. According to study results, the following factors are linked to becoming an abusive partner:
Both of the studies mentioned here suggest that mental health problems and addictions can lead to someone becoming abusive in relationships.
The first study also suggests that childhood trauma and abuse are linked to abuse in relationships. While these findings do not excuse abusive behavior, they do suggest that there is psychology behind abusive relationships.
When someone is struggling with mental illness, addiction, or unresolved trauma from childhood, they may engage in abusive behaviors as a coping mechanism, because of learned behavior, or because abuse is a symptom of the mental health problem.
Changing abusive behaviors can be difficult. An abuser may deny that there is a problem, or they may be ashamed to seek help. If you’re wondering can abusers change, the answer is that it is possible, but it is not an easy process.
For change to occur, the perpetrator of the abuse must be willing to make changes. This can be a lengthy, challenging, and emotionally taxing process.
Remember, abusive behavior is linked to mental health and drug problems, as well as issues stemming from childhood. This means that the abusive partner must overcome deep-seeded behaviors in order to demonstrate real change.
The perpetrator of the abuse must also take the responsibility to put an end to abusive and violent behavior. In the meantime, the victim in the relationship must be prepared to stop accepting abusive behavior.
After the victim has healed and the perpetrator has demonstrated a commitment to changing abusive behavior, the two members of the relationship can come together to try to heal the partnership.
How to recognize an abusive partner’s commitment to change?
As mentioned, abusive partners can change, but it requires hard work and effort, and the abuser must be willing to make changes. This often requires undergoing individual therapy and eventually couples counseling.
If you are looking to recover from an abusive relationship and want to know whether you can trust that your partner is committed to making changes, the following signs can be indicative of real change:
Your partner expresses empathy and understands the damage they caused to you.
If you have been the victim of abuse in a relationship, it is up to you whether you are able to forgive your partner. You may need to explore your emotions with a therapist or other mental health professional.
It is normal to feel conflicted when deciding can an abusive relationship be saved. On the one hand, you may love your partner and want to reconcile with them, but on the other hand, you may be fearful of your partner and exhausted after enduring emotional and perhaps physical abuse.
You will need time to recover from the trauma that the relationship has caused, and your partner will need to be patient with you during this process.
Finally, your partner must also be willing to make real changes and participate in therapy to achieve these changes. If your partner is not able to make changes, it may be time to move on from the relationship instead of trying to forgive your partner.
You can fix an abusive relationship, but healing from emotional abuse is not easy. Both you and your partner will likely have to undergo individual therapy, before coming together for relationship counseling.
During the process, you, as a victim, will need to hold your partner accountable for making changes, and your partner will have to unlearn the abusive behaviors and patterns they have learned.
The process will take time, and both you and your partner must be willing to participate in the process of healing.
If you have determined that you would like to forgive your partner and learn how to fix an abusive relationship, it is time to have a conversation with your partner.
Pick a time when you will be able to remain calm, because an abusive partner likely will not respond well to anger. Use “I” statements to tell your partner how you feel.
For example, you may say, “I feel hurt or scared when you act this way.” Using “I” statements can lower your partner’s defenses, because this form of expressing yourself shows that you are taking ownership for your feelings and sharing what you need.
When initiating this process, it is helpful to work with a counselor or therapist so you can have a neutral perspective as well as a safe place to process your emotions.
During the conversation, your partner may become defensive, but it is important to remain calm and stay on track with the purpose of your conversation: to communicate to your partner that you are hurting and seeking changes.
If the relationship can be fixed, the ideal outcome of this conversation is that your partner will agree to get help to stop the physically or emotionally abusive relationship.
The answer to can an abusive relationship be saved depends upon whether both you and your partner are willing to engage in professional therapy or counseling.
While your partner does individual work to put a stop to violent and abusive behavior, you will need to work with your individual therapist to go through the process of recovering from abuse.
Once you and your partner have completed individual work, you are ready to come together for relationship counseling to begin to rebuild a healthy relationship.
A studytrying to understand domestic violence and abuse in intimate relationship from public health perspective concluded that the occurrence of abuse in relationship has multiple consequences and as long as violent behavior patterns may be accepted as a private matter, its causes and effects will be overlooked
It is necessary to involve efforts which reduce aggressive incidents in intimate relationships.
Fixing an abusive relationship is not easy, but it is possible. If you are stuck in a cycle of abuse and are willing to forgive your partner and heal, have a conversation during which you express why you are hurting and what you need from your partner.
If the conversation goes well, you can begin the process of going to individual therapy while your partner does individual work to learn how to overcome abusive behaviors. Finally, the two of you can begin relationship counseling.
If your partner shows a real commitment to change and accepts accountability for the damage that has been caused, it is possible to fix the relationship.
On the other hand, if your partner is not willing to make changes or promises to change but continues the same behavior, it may not be possible to fix the relationship, in which case you can continue individual therapy to help you with healing from emotional abuse.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.