What differentiates an abusive relationship from a normal one

Snigdha Mishra
Man abusing woman and she cried

Abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, spiritual and or religious in nature. All forms of abuse occur as a combination. For example, financial abuse may be about controlling your finances, but it’s also emotional or verbal in nature. However, physical abuse may be easier to notice as compared to other forms, because of its nature. Let’s discuss today certain markers, which must raise red flags of abuse, other than physical, in your relationship. One important aspect to understand is that the need for love, respect, acceptance and support remains common across cultures for all genders.

You will be able to notice the following in your relationship for it to be termed abusive.

DISCLAIMER: Abuse is not gender specific.

Related reading: Men can be harassed and abused in a marriage too

1. Control vs. Autonomy

Abusers look for control in a relationship. He/she may strictly control your finances, irrespective of your financial independence or dependence on them. They may indulge in or demand sexual acts as per their wish and be forceful during sex. They may force their religious and spiritual belief on you and stop you from practicing your faith. In addition, they may control your social movements.

Related reading: My husband acted very liberated but tried to control all aspects of my life

2. Criticism vs. Support

You may notice your partner almost always being critical of you, from being indifferent to showing no support at all, even at times when you most need it. Small mistakes will be blown out of proportion, with rigid demands of adhering to their standards of perfectionism. Be it your job, dressing style, life choices, simple everyday tasks or you as a person, they will point out flaws and be critical of your shortcomings, almost always in a demeaning manner, showing no regard for your achievements and accomplishments.

Criticism vs. Support

Related reading: Living with criticism from the in-laws

3. Blame vs. Responsibility

They may never take responsibility for things gone wrong. You will always be at fault and the one to blame for the unhappiness, mistakes and problems in life for them. They will never show remorse for their behaviour and/or acknowledge it as inappropriate, often blaming you for being stupid, childish, and irresponsible and/or oversensitive.

Blame vs. Responsibility

Related reading: Why am I being blamed for my husband’s failures?

4. Possessive vs. Protective

You may often see them being extra demanding of your time, over monitoring you and neglecting your need for social engagements. They will control your social movements and who you meet, often stopping you from meeting your friends and family alone or not at all.

Related reading: This is why possessiveness in any form is bad for a relationship

Notice the pattern of abusive behaviour

You must notice that for an abuser it’s always a demand for things to happen their way, else there may be a fit of anger, verbal or physical abuse, sulking, withdrawing of sex, communication and/or finances for certain periods, until ‘you mend your ways’ or ‘fall in line’.

Please note that none of the above are one-off incidents that have happened occasionally. It is a pattern of behaviour which is manipulative and self-serving in nature, ranging from extreme withdrawal to volatility. Sometimes, a mental illness such as a Personality Disorder can be the cause of such behaviour.

There may be multiple reasons for you choosing to stay in an abusive relationship. These may be financial, familial, cultural, or simply not knowing what to do. There are many organisations that can help you with legal, financial and emotional counselling to plan your next steps. You can seek help from a psychotherapist, to assist you in managing your situation/issues. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Take charge and seek support.

You never know what might work or change to make things better.

Check out the Bonobology panel of Counsellors whom you can approach for a free consultation.
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