Tuesday, 1 May 2012

What is abuse?

Many couples contact us because they're worried about their arguments. What they want is a quiet happy life, where they are able to discuss sensitive issues without setting off World War III. What they don't like is any form of conflict. Yet they keep falling into the same old arguments and fail to agree about important issues.

That isn't abuse, it's a failure to communicate.   

 So what is abuse?

Sometimes arguments escalate into something more sinister, when simple jockeying for position turns into a power game, where absolute control is the goal. Abuse can be verbal or emotional as well physical. The key thing with abuse is the repeated pattern of behaviour that seeks to control. And control or power games do not form part of a healthy relationship.

Verbal or emotional abuse is harder to identify than physical abuse, making it easier for the abused partner to blame themselves for what is happening. If you find yourself continually excusing your partner's behaviour on the grounds you have once again triggered their response, then it is time to take a long hard look at your relationship. This is a sign you have allowed your partner's statements to take hold and you have begun to believe the fault is yours.

We have identified a few key questions which help us check whether someone is in an abusive relationship:
  • Does your partner physically hurt you or repeatedly put you down?
  • Are you able to make your own decisions about what you do / don't do?
  • Are you afraid of your partner's anger or threats?
  • Do you tread on eggshells so you don't upset your partner? 
  • Is your partner excessively jealous or possesive? 
  • Does your partner use your children or money to get you to comply with what they want?
There is a more comprehensive checklist on: Women's Aid - Recognising Domestic Violence 
This website has practical information about the causes of abuse and the options open to women (and men) who are experiencing abuse. If you think you might be experiencing abuse then we heartily recommend you follow this link.

What is the role of marriage guidance / couples coaching when there is domestic abuse?

When we see couples who tell us they want to repair their relationship we can generally be certain there are behaviours on both sides up for improvement. We work with both of them to teach them better communication techniques and understand their unique differences in communication. We help them share their inner thoughts about what they really want and need from their relationship, based on what is most important to them in life. Occasionally we might help one or both partners deal with some old baggage, which is getting in the way of moving forward or causes difficulties in their relationship.

This model of shared responsibility is not a good approach for dealing with an abusive relationship, because it only perpetuates the belief that the abused partner is somehow at fault. It is essential the abuser recognises their behaviour for what it is and enters into a specialist programme before any other form of coaching takes place. There are many reasons why people become abusers and they deserve help.

On those occasions when we have seen clients who are being abused our aim is threefold:
  • to help them see the abuse is not their responsibility and they, like everyone else, deserve respect
  • to support them in maintaining or re-building their own self-belief and inner strength
  • to respect their own assessment of the risks they face, so they choose if and when they will take action. Within this we provide information about the help available to them.
If this has caused you some concern about your relationship please call us in confidence to see how we may help.


  1. This is a fantastic post, relationship advice for abused victims would be to get out of the situation although I am too aware of how difficult that is. Just get out and get help!

  2. The greatest risk comes at the moment of deciding to leave. Other than an emergency when you should just get yourself get out, it pays to plan what you will do carefully. There are two key aspects to this planning:
    - make sure you have the essential and practical things you need to have in place, like somewhere to go, food and clothing
    - think about what mental resources you have in place to see it through.