"I can change him"

"But I love him"

"He promises to change"

"I know he loves me"

Intimate relationships are one of the few areas in our lives where we find love, meaning and happiness. No matter where we're from or what we do, each one of us strives to build meaningful and loving bond in our lives. Relationships may be of many kinds: parent-child, friend, work relationships and  intimate partnerships.

But what happens when abuse seeps into this close bond? Relationship abuse comes in many forms- physical is the most obvious however we also commonly see emotional, sexual, financial. Whichever the form of abuse, it usually follows a predictable pattern or cycle: tension, violence, wooing, silence, tension, violence.

How does break this cycle? First, it is important to understand what is happening. 

1. Sometimes both the abuser and the abused are not aware of what is going on.

 Often one (or both of them) may have dysfunctional family relationships growing up which leads to them seeking the same pattern in later relationships in life. They may be so deeply involved in the cycle that anger/violence is seen as normal, and they learn that love and violence go together. Thus, healthy standards for intimate relationships are not established since childhood.

2. Abuse is not necessarily physical.

Emotional abuse is surprisingly common today and is highly damaging. Some signs of emotional abuse include trivialising the partner, humiliating in front of others, emotional manipulation to get their way and using threats, blaming and sarcasm. This usually results from a lack of healthy emotional boundaries within the relationship and unaddressed individual insecurities and dysfunctional coping mechanisms. 

3. Both partners can be abusive.

While it is usually believed that there is one abuser and one victim, this may not be true. Children may abuse aged and helpless parents, siblings may abuse one another, bullying is very common in groups of children at school (this later converts to a more serious form of ragging) and both partners in a relationship can be trapped in a cycle of mutual abuse.

What can you do?

  1. Recognise abuse and acknowledge that denial or minimisation from both partners is a normal but dangerous phenomenon.
  2. Understand that continuing the cycle of abuse is a choice made on a daily basis. While the truth is painful to acknowledge it is the first step in breaking the cycle.
  3. Guilt is normal. Realise that you are not to blame. 
  4. Become familiar with support systems- people, organisations and legal exit routes.
  5. Remember- first learn to love yourself! Love is usually seen in terms of trust, care and respect. Ask yourself (or the victim) - is this action going to harm you? Does this action show that you care for yourself? Is this something you do when you respect yourself?