Fairfax Mental Health Blog

Abusive Relationships I

The following is an interview with Dr. Roy Stefanik and hercampus.com. Hercampus is a website that is dedicated to college women. This interview focuses on the “why and what” of being in an abusive relationship. Fairfax Mental Health strongly encourages you to seek help from family, friends or a professional if you believe that you are in a relationship that is abusive.

1. What makes a relationship unhealthy and/or abusive?

There are many different forms of unhealthy relationships.  An example of an abusive one would be the partner who never lets their girlfriend out of their sight, or becomes very angry if she talks to any other potential significant other besides themselves.    In this scenario, the girlfriend is often either afraid to end the relationship out of a fear of being lonely, or perhaps she feels some sense of inadequacy or poor self-image if she’s not in some kind of relationship. Another example would be the partner who manipulates the other by demanding attention from the other, and punishes the partner if it’s not given.  Whatever the case, the relationship is unhealthy on both sides, and different forms of abuse can be hurled at each other from each end.

2. What are the different kinds of abuse?

Abuse can take of the form of physical harm, when partner strikes the other out of anger or jealousy.  Another more insidious form of abuse is verbal, when one partner explodes at the other in a torrent of obscenities or greatly devalues the other.  The verbal attacks can be calling the partner stupid, or lazy, or generally minimizes their worth as a human being.  Abuse can even be passive and subtle, when one partner relies heavily on the other for certain responsibilities and the other partner consciously chooses not to do it as a way of being hurtful.  Abuse can occur when one party wants to feel powerful or omnipotent, or feel some sense of mastery or control in a very unhealthy way.

3. How can a girl tell if a relationship is abusive (are there signs)?

A prominent sign is if the girl feels fearful about breaking up with her partner.  If the partner is prone to explosive rages when she doesn’t acquiesce (particularly when s/he’s drinking), that should be a red flag.  Any time a boyfriend/girlfriend hits their girlfriend, it’s a definitive sign that the relationship is abusive.  If they are hitting you, it is inevitable that the physical abuse is only going to get worse, and you should get out NOW.

4. Why do girls stay in an abusive relationship?

A number of factors can come into play.  Sometimes a girl will stay in abusive relationship because she is recreating a relationship she saw at home.  In other cases, she may have a very poor self-image, and staying in an abusive relationship may (perhaps unconsciously) reinforce that belief.  Still others remain because they fear abandonment or are very uncomfortable with dealing with the unknown (i.e., not being in any kind of relationship).

5. Why are some partners abusive?

Reasons vary widely.  Some are victims of abuse themselves.  Others may have narcissistic features to their personality and are unable to recognize how their actions impact on others.  Still others may have significant substance abuse problems and only become abusive when drunk or high.  Many perpetrators of abuse have serious anger problems.

6. How can a girl get out of an abusive relationship?

Once the relationship is identified as abusive, it becomes essential that the girl makes sure she has established a solid support system for herself (family, friends) before informing her partner she wants out.  Each situation is different, but it is essential to tell the significant other in a respectful but emphatic way that the relationship is over.  If there is fear of harm or retribution, It may be helpful (and in some cases, necessary) to tell them in the presence of others (such as a family member or close friend), and that it be done in a public place.