Abusive Relationships

Relationships can be loving, supportive and empowering, but this is not always the case. Sometimes they can be destructive and lead to ongoing abuse which the victim feels powerless to stop.

This can happen at any age both inside and outside of marriage. Even if a couple is not bound by marriage, the abused partner may feel powerless to leave and get out of the downward spiral of abuse.

Is this you or someone you know?

Do you find yourself in a relationship which is destructive but cannot seem to leave it? You may feel powerless to change the situation on your own. You may have become isolated from your support network: from friends and family. You wonder what happened to the person you thought you were. Your self confidence has been replaced with anxiety, depression or low self esteem.

What makes a relationship healthy?

A healthy relationship is characterized by mutual respect, equality, trust, communication, and freedom. Each person is allowed to be an individual within the relationship, and both people grow independently of each other, as well as grow as a couple. When partners in a healthy relationship engage in sexual activities, they communicate openly and respectfully. While no relationship is perfect, and we all have bad days, partners should feel, on the whole, that their relationship is positive and healthy.

What is relationship abuse?

It is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. It occurs at about the same rate in LGBTQ relationships as it does in heterosexual relationships. Abusive relationships rarely begin with physical violence and incorporate numerous methods of one person exerting power and control over another. Abuse can be emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, or physical. It can include threats, isolation, and intimidation, and it tends to escalate over time.

Sometimes it may even include pressure to have sex with other people. Pressure by one partner on another to “swing” or engage in sexual behavior with a third party which they are uncomfortable with is NOT a sign of an open, healthy relationship.

What are some signs of an abusive relationship?

  • One partner feels pressured by the other in regard to sex.
  • One partner criticizes or humiliates the other in front of people.
  • One partner frequently checks up on the other and questions what that person does when they’re not together.
  • One partner’s jealousy stops the other from seeing friends or family.
  • One partner feels scared by the other person’s violence or threatening behavior.
  • One partner threatens harm (either to him/herself or the other person) in the event of a break-up.
  • One partner makes excuses for bad behavior. For example, saying “it’s because of alcohol or drugs,” or because “I can’t control my temper,” or “I was just joking.”

Why do victims stay in abusive relationship?

  • Fear: Fear of what the abusive partner might do to her if she leaves. Fear no one will believe her side of the story. Fear of what people might think of her if they know she’s being abused.
  • Forced contact: She has to see her partner all the time at work or on campus. Her partner is friends with all of her friends and leaving the relationship may mean losing some of these friends.
  • Forgives: She forgives her abuser. Many abusive relationships do not start off abusive and do not feel abusive 100% of the time. She may believe her partner’s promises to change
  • Fatigue: She has tried leaving before and it didn’t work

How to help a friend

  • Listen, without judging. Be there to provide support.
  • Tell your friend that the abuse is not their fault. There is no excuse for abusive behavior and it is never acceptable.
  • Empower your friend to make his or her own decisions. Don’t be another person to control them.
  • Get advice and direct your friend to support and resources.

What can I do if I find myself in an abusive relationship?

  • Talk to a friend or parent: sharing your experience will help you feel less isolated.
  • Talk to AWARE: Our helpline is open weekdays from 3pm – 9:30pm
  • Talk to a counsellor: If you are a student, you may seek counselling support at your school / poly / uni. AWARE also offers a counselling service: to book an appointment, call the helpline.

AWARE Helpline

Is this a crime? Can I report it to the police?

Both physical and sexual abuse is a crime. If you have been physically assaulted, you can press charges. If you believed you were coerced into sex unwillingly, you may also press charges.

Note, however, that if the sexual abuse has been ongoing (say you stayed with your partner despite being raped and were sexually abused repeatedly over a period of time) it will be much more difficult for the police to prove there was no consent. The investigation may be more lengthy and stressful and you will be required to recount your experiences.

Before deciding to go down this route, it is advisable that you first talk to a counsellor and consult a lawyer at our free legal clinic.

Adapted from Stop Relationship Abuse (PDF)