Intimate partner emotional (and physical) abuse is usually portrayed as the man mistreating his partner; however, as we all know, it goes both ways. The reasons may differ however.
Research suggests that men emotionally abuse their partner as a way to keep them, and as a way to control and manage them—it’s designed to ensure that their intimate partner remains exclusively engaged in the relationship (i.e., “the more I control and mistreat you, the easier it is to make sure you don’t leave me”). Interestingly, there is far less research on how and why women emotionally abuse their male partners, so this article will focus exclusively on male partner abuse.
Partner abuse generally surfaces in several ways; insults are but one strategy. Other less obvious ones may include:
- Dropping by at the partner’s home to check up on the partner, or dropping by the house at odd times
- Checking the partner’s cell phone, Facebook page and other social media
- Matching mileage on the partner’s vehicle to distance required for the partner to go to work or the store
- Putting a tracking device on the partner’s cell phone
- Accusing the partner of being with another person
- Ignoring the partner’s requests for emotional support or time
The more common strategies used by men typically fall within three categories:
- Attacking the partner’s appearance (pushing the idea that the partner is not attractive enough to be noticed by someone else)
- Attacking the partner’s value (suggesting that the partner’s value is so low that she could not get a better man, thereby ensuring that she won’t desert the relationship)
- Attacking the partner’s mental health (repeatedly suggesting that the partner is crazy, emotionally unfit, or psychologically injured so she comes to believe that she is damaged or tainted in some way)
- Accusations that the partner is seeing other men
In session, men have confessed that their goal is to make their partner believe that she can do no better than where she is—she will not find a better relationship, or is not capable of finding a better man—in order to keep her. On occasion, a male will confess that the emotional abuse is designed to drive his partner way— specifically, to break off the relationship because he’s no longer interested in it, or his needs have been met and now he needs to look elsewhere because “she is all used up”.
One thing to keep in mind—we all train our partner to treat us the way they do, and conversely, they train us to treat them the way we do. A partner who initially allows small abusive slights to go unchallenged will often find themselves slowly dragged into the deep end of the pool where they are less able to differentiate moderately higher levels of abusive behavior from even small humorous jabs. The distance and time between small slights to questionable and more severe abuse is small and brief. Once at the deep end of the pool, challenging the abusive behavior or attempting to break things off can be more difficult and even dangerous if the man has a proclivity towards violence.