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is your sexual past used against you: image of a female silhouette in the foreground with arms crossed and a male silhouette in the background with arms crossed

Is Your Sexual Past Being Used Against You?

By Nicole H., advocate

past-used-against-youIf you’re reading this post, you might be feeling like you have to change or be someone you’re not with your current partner because of things that happened in your past. Maybe you’ve had a number of partners before, or maybe you’ve experienced some kind of sexual trauma, and your current partner is using those experiences to control, blame or shame you. This can be incredibly painful; after all, why would someone who is supposed to love you make you feel so bad? It’s important to understand that if you are struggling in this way, you are not alone. You cannot change the past. You deserve someone who is willing to understand, respect and care for you, no matter what happened before.

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Playing the Part: image of two theatre masks, one smiling and one frowning, on a teal background

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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myth-mutual-abuse

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.

couples-counseling

Why We Don’t Recommend Couples Counseling for Abusive Relationships

couples-counselingTherapy can be very effective for some couples who are working through difficult relationship issues. However, if abuse is present in the relationship, we do not recommend that couples seek counseling together.

In order for couples counseling to be successful, both partners must be willing to take responsibility for their actions and make adjustments to their behavior. Abusive people want all of the power and control in the relationship and will focus on maintaining that imbalance, even if it means continuing unhealthy and hurtful behavior patterns. Many callers to the Hotline have related stories of trying and “failing” at couples counseling because of an abusive partner’s focus on manipulating the sessions to place blame, minimize the abuse, and attempt to win over the therapist to their side. If the therapist tries to hold the abusive partner accountable for these tactics, they will often refuse to attend further sessions and may even forbid their partner to see the “biased” therapist again. The abusive partner may even choose to escalate the abuse because they feel their power and control was threatened.

The primary reason we don’t recommend couples counseling is that abuse is not a “relationship” problem. Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner. Focusing on communication or other relationship issues distracts from the abusive behavior, and may actually reinforce it in some cases. Additionally, a therapist may not be aware that abuse is present and inadvertently encourage the abuse to continue or escalate.

Both partners should feel and be safe in order for therapy to be effective. A victim may not feel safe with their abuser present and could be hesitant to fully participate or speak honestly during counseling sessions. Alternatively, a victim may have a false sense of security during a session and reveal information they normally wouldn’t disclose. Then, back at home, the abusive partner could decide to retaliate with more abuse.

A better option for abusive partners who want to change is a program designed specifically to address their abusive behaviors. These programs are often referred to as Battering Intervention and Prevention Programs (BIPPs), although what they are called can vary from state to state. BIPPs focus on teaching accountability and non-violent responses. These programs can be effective, but only if an abusive partner is truly committed, as real change is a difficult process that can take months or years.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or if you are an abusive partner who wants to change, please give us a call at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online everyday from 7am-2am CST. Our advocates are here to support you and talk through your options.

intervention

Intervention Programs for Abusive Behavior

interventionThe question “Can my partner change?” is undoubtedly at the front of a person’s mind if they’re in a relationship with an abusive partner. There are many obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship, or reasons to want to stay, so it only follows that we often desperately hope our partner changes their ways. While there’s no consensus on whether or not abusive partners can truly change, we know that some people do, but only when they genuinely want to change and devote themselves to doing so.

The other big question is “How?” Most states offer classes or intervention programs on changing abusive behaviors, and what states call these programs varies. For abusive partners who haven’t been mandated to enter into an intervention program, choosing voluntarily do so on one’s own is a big first step toward initiating change.

Anger Management

Many people assume that the best course of action is an anger management program, but this is often not a good option for a domestic violence situation. People who are abusive often express anger toward their partner, but having an anger problem means they would also behave the same way toward friends, family, co-workers and others – not just their partner.

Anger management focuses on that person’s inability to control their anger and what triggers these emotions, and this can be counterproductive for an abusive partner. Examining what triggers their anger can reinforce the idea that the victim is responsible for the violence. This takes the abuser off the hook for their actions.

Anger management courses do not address issues of power and control within a relationship, which are the source of domestic violence. A better option would be an intervention program that does focus on these issues, which are often referred to as Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (or BIPPs).

Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs

There are a few types of services and interventions in the U.S. for those who may identify as abusive. Batterer Intervention & Prevention Programs (BIPPs) are the most widespread, but they aren’t available everywhere.

A BIPP is different than other counseling and intervention programs in that it centers around complete accountability, victim safety and education about the behaviors that likely brought participants there in the first place. Certified batterer intervention programs have a wide range of durations, varying from a weekend retreat to 52 weekly meetings. They’re generally offered by a few professionally-trained facilitators, and usually have eight to ten participants.

People enter into BIPPs for various reasons. Many are required by judges to attend as a condition of probation or as part of a sentence. Others enroll to try to save a relationship and keep their partner from leaving. The best reason for joining a BIPP is genuine desire to change.

These programs teach all about abuse: the range of coercive or abusive behaviors, common abusive tactics and the effects that abuse has on partners and families. Participants learn about healthy relationships and non-violent behaviors. BIPPs also challenge pre-existing beliefs that abusive partners might have, such as entitlement/ownership and gender roles.

The program should be structured around a clear understanding that abusive behavior is chosen, and that while substance abuse or mental health issues can occur simultaneously, they should be addressed through separate services.

As a result of attending this type of program, the abusive partner would ideally learn how to:

  • effectively communicate with their partner instead of being emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive
  • support their partner’s decisions even if they disagree
  • encourage their partner to spend time with friends and family
  • build trust and empathy within the relationship
  • refrain from using coercive actions to control and intimidate their partner
  • identify ongoing harmful behavior
  • behave respectfully toward their partner

Do You Want to Change?

If you think you may be mistreating or hurting your partner, call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates can discuss the differences between healthy and unhealthy behaviors. If you’re at the stage where you know you want to seek help, our advocates can also refer you to resources in your area. As always, it’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight — it’s an ongoing process that takes work and willingness.

If your partner is abusive to you, it’s important to note that addressing the abuse with your partner may not always be safe. You know your situation best, so if you feel that discussing the abuse with your partner would escalate his/her abusive behavior, listen to your instincts. You can always contact the Hotline to talk about ways to have this conversation safely or other strategies to explore your options.

Related Posts

Is Change Possible In An Abusive Partner?
Expecting Magic From Abuser Programs