Regardless of how intelligent and confident we are, some of us still have misconceptions about abusive relationships. I should know - I was in one through most of college. There have been plenty of times when I've thought of how things could have been had I never met him or listened to my friends when they tried to tell me how hurtful and fake he really was. I thought his behavior toward me was somehow my fault, but now I know that isn't true. In fact, a lot of things I thought weren't true. So you won't make the same mistakes I did, here are a few of the more common misconceptions about abusive relationships.
One of the biggest misconceptions about abusive relationships is that survivors (I hate the word "victim") seek these relationships out. Perhaps that would be true if you could tell an abuser early, but this almost never happens. Think about it: if a guy hit or insulted you on the third date, you'd think he's insane and drop him flat. Abusive patterns usually emerge after some sort of anchor - emotional attachment, legal ties, having children together, etc. - has been formed. This is part of what makes abusive relationships so difficult to leave - they affect so many parts of your life that leaving can literally mean starting over. My ex and I weren't married and didn't have any children together, but we must not underestimate the power of emotional connections and the sort of manipulation abusers tend to employ.
This is what I thought too, which is why I didn't see the relationship for what it was. Things like putting you down, playing stupid mind games, picking fights, lying, trying to guilt-trip into doing things you don't want to do and otherwise making you feel bad about yourself is abusive too.
I don't care what you did or didn't do, it is never acceptable for someone who claims to love you to treat you this badly. Abusers control you by making you think that you deserve the type of treatment you're getting or that you can't get any better. I always thought that I had to do what would make other people happy and that hurting someone made me a bad person, which he used against me on a number of occasions. I know now that his behavior had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him. Even if you're more confident than that, he can still control you by threatening to take your children or otherwise exploiting whatever anchor you have.
This is something my ex used to do all the time. I can completely understand why someone might think this, but it's not true. You might have enjoyed sex before, but that doesn't mean you have consented to this particular act at this particular time. Besides, isn't sex in a relationship supposed to involve some sort of love? There's no love in forcing or coercing someone to do something they don't want to do.
Some people think it's sweet that he wants to be with you all the time, or that his need to know where you are and who you are with at all times just means he wants you to be safe. This might have been true for your parents, but not for your partner. If he tries to isolate you from others either by actively being rude toward your friends (as what happened with me behind my back) or needing to be in your presence at all times, there's a big problem.
It shouldn't be happening at all. Real men deal with their problems in a mature, adult way rather than the childish ways we saw on the playground in third grade.
No, it's not. This is part of the pattern. If you call him on his behavior or leave, he's likely to do whatever he has to - gives you things, pledge to treat you better, agree to counseling, etc. - to keep you. Once he's confident that he's back in your good graces, he'll be up to his old tricks. This is what happened with me and what happens with pretty much every other abusive relationship. One question to ask yourself is that, if he says he means it this time, why didn't he mean it before?
Not true. Abuse has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction with you. It's about control. He will always find some sort of fault, regardless of what you do.
Not necessarily. This is one reason he'll attempt to isolate you from others - he doesn't want to be called on his behavior. Even if someone's friends do try to tell them their partner is abusive, they're not likely to listen because they'll remember all the good things (however few they are) about the relationship and make some sort of excuse - he was stressed, I made him mad, etc. No matter how stressed someone is, they are not entitled to mistreat the people around them. Also, abusers often have a way of making themselves seem a lot better - more charming, nicer, more considerate - than they really are. Remember, Ted Bundy seemed smart and charming too. Most abusers aren't serial killers, but you get the point. They're good at putting on a face.
This is probably the most common misconception about abuse: the assumption that a woman who is being abused can just eave. It's not that simple. First of all, more than half of women who are killed by an abusive partner are killed after they leave. In short, when a man threatens to kill you if you leave, you have to believe him, and have a definite safety plan in place before you go, if you decide to go at all. It's just not as simple as grabbing your purse and heading out the door, and while it's nearly impossible for someone on the outside, who's never been abused, to believe, it's true.
I will never understand why a person who claims to love someone else will treat them badly, let alone abuse them. At least now I know the truth about who my ex was and how he behaved. Have you or anyone you love ever been in a relationship like this? What sorts of things have you heard that you later found not to be true?
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