Relationship abuse is a common terminology explicitly coined to refer to threats, verbal abuse, isolation, intimidation, physical/sexual harassment, mental/psychological torments and so on meted out to the victim within the realms of a so-called romantic relationship.
Yet, the romantic relationship of any sort is meant to be a place of comfort, warmth, affection, care, and safety.
Romantic partners ought to support each other, grow together, and be able to lean on each other. And although relationships are rarely, if ever, perfect, expecting those basic features truly isn’t too much.
Still, so many abusers and their victims live their shared lives in a way that contradicts this foundational truth. And so many are entirely oblivious to that fact.
The reason lies in the dynamics between the abused and the aggressor, the dynamics that make them a perfect fit, however contradictory that might sound.
Why do abusers abuse?
So, what are the causes of abuse in intimate relationships? Every abuse is an attempt to control the victim.
Every abuser, same as every victim, suffers from overwhelming insecurity. Deep-seated insecurities, a false sense of entitlement, child abuse and neglect, substance abuse and unrealistic expectations are a few of the causes of abuse in relationships.
It’s also often very simple to be judgmental of the victim as well. An aggressor is just an evil person with abusive tendencies who doesn’t deserve any sympathy. And the victim should have been stronger and more assertive and should have never let that happen to them. However, even though abuse cannot ever be excused, the matter is a bit more psychologically complex.
The abuser, especially when the abuse is purely emotional, often does not perceive what they are doing as abuse at all.
How is that possible? Well, when asked to explain their behavior, most of the aggressors in relationships feel very strongly that they were just setting their partner straight, trying to make them do the right thing – whatever they consider is the right thing.
If they worked really hard to separate the victim from her friends and family so that they can control them easier, they often honestly believe that they did it because of the “bad influence” that had been coming from the side of those people.
The abusers also don’t realize their sense of insecurity
The lack of self-confidence that they feel proves to be elusive, as many aggressors don’t know how to experience different emotions other than anger.
If their partner seems aloof, even though the perpetrator’s genuine reaction is fear and emotional pain, their mind is hardwired so that it doesn’t allow them to feel that way.
Experiencing anxiety and despair in the face of the prospect of being abandoned by the one we love is more difficult than just be angry and act out in that anger.
So, the aggressor’s mind protects them from an array of negative emotions and gives them a safe alternative – rage.
Recognizing what is abuse in a relationship can sometimes be a challenge. Watch this video on confronting the abuser for abusive behavior.
How do abusers pick their victims
Unlike the popular and obvious belief that the abusers prey on the weak, fragile and vulnerable, abusers are often drawn to seemingly strong and successful people with a deep sense of empathy and compassion. It is only after the attachment deepens that they are able to tear down the dynamism and self-confidence of their target with their abusive behavior.
The victim of relationship abuse is also commonly unaware of how things really stand.
Often outwardly confident they usually come from families in which they were taught how inadequate they are, how unlovable and undeserving they are.
So, they often spend their lives unconsciously searching for people and situations that will confirm such belief to them. And once they meet their aggressor, the game begins, and none has much chance of escaping it without an outside, preferably expert, help.
The victim hurts all the time, feeling more and more like they’re drowning in the sea of guilt, self-blame, self-hatred, and sadness. But they don’t have the strength to end it (not anymore, not months or years of listening to all that demeaning talk). That’s what makes a relationship abusive and a vicious cycle.
Abuse is a harmful pattern of behavior and thinking that has an eerie potential of destroying many lives. Psychological abuse or domestic violence is a learned behavior. Abusers have grown up seeing it in their own families, around friends or close social interactions.
And relationships should be places where no such thing can happen. But it does. Relationship abuse happens in a recognizable pattern. Just when the victim recognizes that they’re living an abusive relationship and seriously starts to think about leaving the aggressor, the downright abusive behavior will momentarily cease. They often try to give reasons for abuse that will project them in a different light of a well-meaning partner.
The abuser becomes the kind and loving person the victim fell in love within the first place.
All the old romance is back, and the honeymoon starts all over.
Yet, as soon as the victim of the abusive spouse behavior begins to second-guess their decision and lets their guard down, the abuser will take over the control again and the whole abusive behavior will repeat itself until one of the two breaks the cycle. And this takes courage, faith, and mostly – help.
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.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.