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Playing Their Part: How an Abusive Partner’s “Good” Behavior is Part of the Act

By Bri, a Hotline advocate

“He’s really a great guy, though.”
“I know this isn’t okay, but she’s made me feel so special, and I just love her so much.”
“They were so loving and sweet, and the good times are the best I’ve ever had.”

playing-the-partWe often hear statements like this from people who contact us. Many struggle to understand why their partners, who were once incredibly kind and loving, now treat them in hurtful and abusive ways. It can be so confusing because the abuse isn’t constant. Most partners aren’t abusive all the time, so it makes sense to think they could go back to being that “kind and loving” person and stay there. In most of these relationships, though, when a partner acts nice, it’s really just that: an act. Thinking about their behavior in this way can be helpful by allowing you the space to prioritize your safety and well-being.

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Taking Action Against Abuse: VH1’s Black Ink Crew

dvinthenewsDomestic violence can happen to anyone and doesn’t look the same in every relationship because every relationship is different. But, there is one thing that most abusive relationships have in common – the abusive partner does many different things to have power and control over their partner.

In the season premiere of “Black Ink Crew” on VH1, Donna receives a phone call from her husband Maxwell while he is behind bars. It quickly escalates, and Maxwell has some nasty insults for Donna. This season, Donna will open up more about their tumultuous relationship.

To help continue the conversation, The Hotline partnered with VH1 to share information on the warning signs of abuse and what to do if you or your friend is in an abusive relationship. Head over to VH1.com to read our full post!

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“Why Do I Love My Abuser?”

why-do-i-love-my-abuserWe hear from many people who are in abusive relationships, and even those who have left relationships, but say that they love their abusive partner. They wonder, “Why do I love someone who has hurt me so much?” It can feel strange, confusing and even wrong to love someone who has chosen to be abusive.

While these feelings can be difficult to understand, they aren’t strange and they aren’t wrong. Love isn’t something that just disappears overnight. It’s a connection and emotional attachment that you create with another person. Love comes with a lot of investment of time, energy and trust. It’s not easy to just let go of a life you’ve built with someone, whether they’re abusive toward you or not.

If you’re struggling with feelings of love for an abusive partner, it could be for a number of reasons:

You Remember the “Good Times”

Abuse typically doesn’t happen right away in a relationship, and it tends to escalate over time as an abusive partner becomes more controlling. You may remember the beginning of the relationship when your partner was charming and thoughtful. You may see good qualities in your partner; they might be a great parent or contribute to their community. It’s not shameful to love someone for who they could be, or for the person they led you to believe they were.

After hurtful or destructive behavior reaches a peak, there may be periods of “calm” in your relationship when your partner makes apologies and promises that the abuse will never happen again. During calmer periods, it might seem like your partner is back to being their “old self” – the wonderful person they were at the beginning of the relationship. You might feel that if you could just do or say the “right” things, the person you fell in love with would stay and the abuse would end. But, there is nothing you could do or say to prevent the abuse, because the abuse is not your fault. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the choices your partner makes. Those periods of calm are often a tactic that an abusive partner uses to further confuse and control their partner.

Your Partner Has Experienced Their Own Trauma

Abusive partners are human beings who are complex, like everyone else. They may be dealing with their own traumas, past or present. As their partner, you care about them, and maybe you hoped you could help or “fix” them. But whether they’re dealing with a mental illness, addiction or an abusive childhood, there is NO excuse for them to abuse their partner in the present. Abuse is always a choice and is never okay. The truth is, even though you love your partner, you can’t “fix” another person. It’s up to them to get help addressing their own trauma and their abusive behavior.

Love Can Be a Survival Technique

For many victims, feelings of love for an abusive partner can also be a survival technique. It is very difficult for a non-abusive person to understand how someone they love, and who claims to love them, could harm or mistreat them. To cope, they detach from their pain or terror by subconsciously beginning to see things from the abusive partner’s view. This process can intensify when an abusive partner uses gaslighting techniques to control or manipulate their partner. The victim begins to agree with the abuser, and certain aspects of the victim’s own personality and perspective fade over time. By doing this, the victim learns how to “appease” the abusive partner, which may temporarily keep them from being hurt. The need to survive may be compounded if a victim depends on their abusive partner financially, physically or in some other way.

You might want to believe your partner when they say that things will change and get better because you love them, and they say they love you. It’s okay to feel that love and want to believe your partner. But it’s important to consider your own safety and that what your partner is giving you isn’t actually love. Love is something that is safe, supportive, trusting and respectful. Abuse is not any of these things; it’s about power and control. It IS possible to love someone and, at the same time, realize that they aren’t a safe or healthy person to be around. You deserve to be safe, respected and truly loved at all times.

Want to speak confidentially with an advocate about your own situation? Call 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat with us here on the website between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m. Central time. 

Additional Reading:

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Narcissism and Abuse

by Caroline, a Hotline advocate

narcissistTrying to find an explanation for an abusive partner’s behavior can be an exhausting task. It is natural to want to understand how someone we care deeply about, who says they care for us, is capable of saying and doing things to us that are hurtful or even dangerous. Additionally, the sheer amount of articles and opinions on abusive behaviors can become overwhelming. Terms like narcissistic, antisocial/sociopath or borderline personality often come up in that search for answers. Many of these labels are used loosely in the media we read and watch, and here on the lines, we hear them a lot.

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Tips for Safely Reaching Out for Support

This post was written by advocate Lauren C.

Graphic with yellow background of a cell phone with a caution symbol on its screenBeing in a relationship should not mean you lose your right to privacy or your right to talk to whomever you like. But in an abusive relationship, an abusive person may isolate their partner from sources of support. This is often done by checking their partner’s call log and text history or denying their partner the right to a phone.

Reaching out for support when you’re in an abusive relationship is scary, especially if there are barriers to having a safe phone. If you are having trouble finding a safe way to communicate with others for support, below are some options to consider:

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Supporting Survivors with Disabilities: When Your Abusive Partner is Also Your Caregiver

By Marilyn, a Hotline advocate

Graphic with purple background and a silhouette of a person's upper torso with another person's hand on their shoulderHere at The Hotline, we know that abuse occurs in intimate partner relationships when one person tries to maintain power and control over their partner. When a person depends on their partner for any form of caretaking, there may be additional risk for abuse because of a power imbalance. People with disabilities often experience higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and abuse, and the impact of abuse may compound the disability.

When abusive partners are also caregivers, they may try to gain control in different ways:

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Graphic on green background of the outline of a house; at the center of the house is a lighter green heart with an exclamation point in the middle

Seeking Shelter

Staying in a domestic violence shelter may be part of your safety plan. If you’re in an abusive relationship and considering your options, it can be very helpful to locate the safe shelters that are near you. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a shelter within your town or city, or you may have to travel to a nearby city. The location of your safest shelter may also depend on your situation: whether you need to stay in your community to be close to family or a support network, or if it’s safer for you to be as far away from your abusive partner as possible.

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“But Isn’t Divorce a Sin?”

by Monesha, a Hotline advocate

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Religious beliefs are extremely personal and can have a powerful influence on a person’s life. A rich religious or spiritual life can provide meaning and purpose, as well as comfort and hope during dark moments. Unfortunately, in an abusive relationship a victim’s religious beliefs can be used against them.

We have previously discussed the signs of religious/spiritual abuse, and one related question we hear from married people who are considering leaving their abusive partner is, “But isn’t divorce a sin?” Abusive partners will often use the “divorce is a sin” tactic to keep a victim ensnared in a marriage. This plays on a victim’s feelings of guilt or religious duty and can be a very effective way for an abusive spouse to maintain power and control in the relationship, which is their goal.

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Reporting to Police: Options & Tips for Being Prepared

With special contribution from Brandy, a Hotline advocate

police-responseIf you or someone you care about is being abused, you may feel that contacting the police is one important step in your safety plan. We’ve seen that police intervention can be life-saving and can help survivors get connected to other resources. But we also know there are very real barriers for some survivors in contacting the police. In our 2015 law enforcement survey, survivors told us they were afraid calling the police might result in losing privacy, being stereotyped, having an abusive partner retaliate or negatively affecting their children.

We believe it’s important for all survivors to feel as prepared as possible if they choose to contact the police. The information below is meant to be a general primer for speaking with police and making a report, but keep in mind that people’s experiences may vary and your personal safety is the priority. You know your situation best; you do not have to take any actions that you believe would jeopardize your safety.

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Graphic on a green background of the silhouette of a person's head, neck and shoulders

The Dangers of Strangulation

This post was contributed by Heather, a Hotline advocate

strangulationAt The Hotline, we often speak with people who don’t think they are being abused because they aren’t being hit, aren’t being hit with a closed fist or aren’t being physically abused on a regular or daily basis. While abuse can include frequent, violent attacks, abuse can also include monitoring your phone, restricting access to finances, controlling who you spend time with and many other behaviors that aren’t physical at all. However, one of the most serious and deadly forms of abuse is physical, but many survivors are still hesitant to label strangulation or “choking” as abusive.

The information in this article is not meant to scare you, but you deserve to know the facts so you can make the best plan to keep yourself safe. If your partner has ever put their hands around your neck, put you in a “sleeper hold” or used anything else to strangle you like a scarf, necklace, belt, rope, etc. keep reading.

Because strangulation can be very serious and symptoms of brain damage can take hours, days or even weeks to develop, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible, especially if you have:

  • a sore throat
  • difficulty swallowing
  • neck pain
  • hoarseness
  • bruising on the neck or behind your ears
  • discoloration on your tongue
  • ringing in your ears
  • bloodshot eyes
  • dizziness
  • memory loss
  • drooling
  • nausea or vomiting
  • difficulty breathing
  • incontinence
  • a seizure
  • a miscarriage
  • changes in mood or personality like agitation or aggression
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • changes in vision such as blurriness or seeing double
  • fainted or lost consciousness

It’s possible to experience strangulation and show no symptoms at first but die weeks later because of brain damage due to lack of oxygen and other internal injuries. For this reason, and for a safe way to document the abuse, we strongly recommend you consider seeing a doctor if your partner has strangled or choked you. Also know that you always have the right to file a police report, press charges for an assault or seek a restraining order against someone who is choosing to be abusive towards you.

Facts You Deserve To Know:

Filling out the lethality assessment, especially with an advocate at your local domestic violence agency, can help you learn more about your personal risk from your partner. This survivor’s story talks about how long-term memories can be affected by traumatic brain injuries caused by strangulation and concussion. We know that the details of abuse can get fuzzy, sometimes from gaslighting or from the abuse itself, so if it’s safe to do so we recommend documenting as much of the abuse you’re experiencing as possible. If you need to call the doctor, The Hotline or your local domestic violence agency but making calls is dangerous for you, here are some helpful tips that might work for you.

To find a domestic violence agency near you, or for help making a plan to stay safe, please call our advocates 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or chat with us from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.

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Safety Planning Around Guns and Firearms

This post was contributed by Heather, a Hotline advocate

Please note that this post may be highly triggering for some readers.

*The following safety planning suggestions require you to be able to use a safe computer. We strongly discourage you from using your personal phone, tablet or computer to utilize these tips. We recommend going to the public library, using a safe friend’s or family member’s device or paying with cash at an internet café.

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The Myth of Mutual Abuse


This post was contributed by Jessica R., an advocate at The Hotline/loveisrespect

myth-mutual-abuse“What you said made me act that way.”

“You hit/shoved/pushed me, too.”

“You started this.”

“You’re abusing me, too.”

Has your partner ever said things like this to you? Here at The Hotline, we talk with a lot of people who are able to recognize that their relationship is unhealthy or even abusive, but they also believe that the abuse exists on both ends, or that both partners are at fault for the abuse.

Many times, we speak with survivors of abuse who want to address concerns they have about their own behaviors. They will often express that their relationship is mutually abusive, a concept used when describing a relationship where both partners are abusive towards one another. But “mutual abuse” doesn’t exist. Abuse is about an imbalance of power and control. In an unhealthy or abusive relationship, there may be unhealthy behaviors from both/all partners, but in an abusive relationship one person tends to have more control than the other.

So, why doesn’t mutual abuse exist?

Self-Defense

If you’ve ever yelled at your partner, participated in an intense argument or used physical force, there are certain instances where this would not be considered abusive.

Enduring abuse over time can lead to broken down self-esteem, feelings of low self-worth and intense emotional stress or even PTSD. While it’s never healthy to yell back at a partner or be violent with them, if you are experiencing abuse you might have used one of these strategies when you felt your safety was at risk or you were trying to re-establish your independence in the relationship. Self-defense is not abuse, and identifying it as such can increase any fear you already feel in the situation. Everyone has the right to defend their safety, both emotionally and physically.

Blame Shifting

The excuse of “mutual abuse” also allows the abusive partner to shift blame.  We know that abusive partners rarely take responsibility for their actions and that blame shifting is a common tactic. If your abusive partner is claiming that you’re equally or more responsible for an incident, or that you too were abusive, this is their way of manipulating you into believing you did something to deserve this treatment. Believing you’re at fault helps the abusive partner continue to have control and often leaves you feeling as if you’re the one who needs to make changes.

For example, an argument occurs in which your partner tries to keep you from leaving the room. They may physically block the doorway, and in your attempt to rightfully leave you shove your partner out of the way. Your partner chooses to lash out at you for this with physical violence. Afterwards they claim that you were abusive too because you shoved them. Your partner’s attempt to keep you from leaving already exhibits efforts to gain power and control. Their extreme reaction to the shove does as well. They felt threatened by your choice to leave, when in a healthy relationship your partner would respect your right to walk away from an argument. When it’s over they blame you for their actions of violence in a final pursuit of control. You shoving your partner in order to get away from them does not constitute abuse. Abuse is a pattern of behavior intended to have power over someone else, usually a partner.

Difference Between Survivor and Abuser

In assessing your own and your partner’s behavior, you might notice certain things that correlate with red flags of abuse. That, along with an abusive partner’s constant manipulation and blame shifting, can make it hard to accept that you are in fact the survivor and NOT the abuser. One way to recognize the difference between an abuser and the person they’re hurting is the willingness to seek change. Admitting to unhealthy or abusive behavior, committing to stopping, reaching out for help and asking about the process of change are things that abusive people rarely do. If you’re reading this post because you’re thinking about how you can change your own behaviors and create a healthier relationship, ask yourself: Is this something you could see your partner doing?

If you have concerns about your relationship, Hotline advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233 or via live chat from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.