Love is Progressive Part 7: Being in Love Shouldn't Hurt
Rates of Abuse in Intimate Relationships
Unfortunately, all too many so-called "romantic" or "love" relationships contain a systematic element of abuse, ranging from the various forms of emotional abuse, which are most common, to severe physical abuse and murder. In fact, according to statistics, about 1,400 women per year in the United States are murdered by their "love" partners, and surely the overall figure worldwide is much higher than that (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/survey-30-percent-of-women-abused-in-relationships/). The same link says that overall about 30% of women had been physically abused in a relationship, and another 30% emotionally or otherwise abused.
A survey of relationship abuse among college students was even more distressing. It found that 70% of college students had been victims of relationship abuse. It also found that relationship violence typically begins early, between the ages of 12 to 18 years old, and that women between the ages of 19 and 29 were most likely to be victims of violence in intimate relationships. Perhaps worst of all, about 70% of college students reported having been sexually coerced according to this survey (http://counseling.uoregon.edu/dnn/SelfhelpResources/SexualAssaultSexualAbuse/AbusiveRelationships/tabid/388/Default.aspx). Now, for a second opinion...Another survey, by Liz Claiborne, Inc. of all places, had somewhat less alarming results. It found that 43% of college women had experienced dating abuse and about 1/3 had been in an abusive relationship. However, the same survey also found that 57% had experienced "dating violence," which seems to contradict the first finding of this study. (Huh?)
Types of Abuse in Intimate Relationships
As mentioned previously, the most common type of abuse in intimate relationships is emotional abuse, which has many synonyms. It is my view that all types of abuse have an emotional element, but what is termed "emotional abuse" is focused on causing mental harm rather than other forms of victimization. The forms which emotional abuse can specifically take are so varied, that I would rather refer you to a table listing them than repeat them here, for the sake of succinctness (http://www.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/defining.shtml).
However, emotional abuse in intimate relationships can be categorized into 3 general kinds (http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/self-help-brochures/relationship-problems/emotional-abuse/.) The first is called aggressing. Aggressing itself can take 2 forms. The first kind of aggressing is direct, including "name-calling, accusing, blaming, threatening, and ordering." The second type of aggressing is indirect, which includes activities often disguised as helping, such as when "criticizing, advising, offering solutions, analyzing, probing, and questioning" is actually done in such a manner that it demeans the person's partner.
The second form of emotional abuse is called denying. Invalidating is when the abuser denies the validity of the abuse victim's perceptions, such as saying "I never said that," when in fact, the abuser did say that. Withholding is basically the "silent treatment" or failing to listen to one's partner, and countering, is when the abuser denies the existence of the victim's own perspective.
The third form of emotional abuse is called minimizing. There are 2 types of minimizing. The first is itself called minimizing, which refers to downplaying the importance of the abuse victim's emotions, by saying things such as "You are being too sensitive," or "You're blowing this out of proportion." The second form of minimizing is called trivializing, which refers to the abuser denying the importance of something the victim has said or done.
Emotional abuse overall has the effect of putting the relationship on an unequal footing. People who are emotionally abused tend to have diminished self-esteem and question their own perceptions and judgment over time, due to the constant denial of their validity. They also tend to feel powerless, fearful, anger and consistently hurt and in conflict in the relationship; these effects are actually not very different from the effects of other types of abuse in intimate relationships. In fact, unlike sexual or physical abuse victims, victims of emotional abuse tend to blame themselves, making it worse than these other forms of abuse in this sense. It is important to note that frustrated people may occasionally engage in a few behaviors which seem similar to those just described, without the relationship reaching the level of being emotionally abusive. An intimate relationship is emotionally abusive when such behaviors become a consistent pattern, unlike physical or sexual abuse, in which a single traumatic incident can make it an abusive relationship. Most emotional abusers are people whose parents were controlling and defined their emotions and perceptions for them. Also, interestingly, they also tend to struggle with the very same feelings of inadequacy that they perpetrate upon their victims.
Another form of abuse in intimate relationships is called economic abuse, although this is actually considered a subcategory of emotional abuse. The focus in economic abuse, however, is the use of various strategies by one partner to control the relationship economically, thus making the other partner economically dependent on the abuser. Not only does it involve the withholding of economic resources, but also, the denial of educational or work opportunities for the victim.
Social Isolation is also considered a subcategory of emotional abuse. However, it focuses on controlling the victim's social environment so that the victim is socially isolated, or to the extent that the victim can socialize, the victim is dependent upon the abuser for allowing such opportunities. Social isolation is common in abusive relationships of all kinds, because it helps insulate the user from social and legal consequences of the abuse, thus making it unlikely that the abuser will "pay" for his or her emotional crimes.
Stalking is also a form of relationship abuse. Stalking is also known as "obsessional following," and is usually found after a relationship has ended or while the relationship is in the process of dissolving. However, stalking also overlaps to a degree with emotional abuse, economic abuse or social isolation. Two other forms of relationship abuse which hardly need explication are the various behaviors which may constitute physical or sexual abuse, resulting in six types of abuse altogether in intimate relationships.
Relationship dynamics in an abusive intimate relationship can take several forms according to bringthesuninmylife.com (http://bringthesuninmylife.com/article/types-of-emotionally-abusive-relationships.html). One person could be the abuser and the other, sheer victim. However, it is also possible that the abuse victim takes revenge, or both partners progressively abuse each other from the beginning of the relationship. In some relationships, it is even difficult to tell who is abusing who, as when subtle means of manipulation are being used which obscure the abuse. Other times, one person gradually turns an initially non abusive partner into an abuser, with exasperating and irrational behavior that the abuser does not know how to deal with appropriately.
What Can We Do About Abuse in Intimate Relationships?
Abuse is self-reinforcing: When people are abused, they are more likely to become abusers (even though most abuse victims do not).
Thus, the best thing that can happen is to have a non abusive society, in which people do not learn abusive behaviors from those around them, in the first place. However, given that abuse in intimate relationships is common in this society -- and many others -- we must find some way to make abusers stop, and also, to prevent abuse victims from becoming abusers. In the final analysis, this is a necessary step on the way to the social transformation that humanity needs in order to evolve into a more loving, progressive society.
The most common way of ending an abusive relationship and stopping abuse, is the termination of an abusive relationship. In fact, abuse of one form or another is consistently one of the most common, if not the most common, reason that intimate relationships end. However, this doesn't prevent the abuser from possibly entering another relationship and abusing the next victim. Perhaps though, such people are more likely to wind up alone in life, without a partner upon whom abuse can be perpetrated. It would be comforting to know that abusers in relationships tend to be shunned by potential partners, but I could find no material relating to this topic. Rationally, no person who wants to be in a healthy love relationship, would choose an abusive partner, but few people expect a partner to be abusive upon entering the relationship, and some people may actually be attracted to potential abusers, for whatever reason. Most of the websites regarding ending abuse in intimate relationships, focus on helping the victim get out of the relationship and getting help, in fact. A recent study found that when an abuse victim leaves an abusive relationship, the result is greater happiness than expected, at least among the college students studied (http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2013/Q1/study-young-people-in-abusive-dating-relationships-are-happier-when-relationship-ends-than-they-expected.html). That people may not expect to be any happier when such a relationship ends, is one reason that people often stay in such relationships. Other reasons are fear of the relationship ending, or fear of the abusive partner's retaliation, as well as commitment to the relationship and determination to make it work. The most common reason for people staying in such relationships, though, is probably dependence upon the abuser, as discussed earlier. Many victims feel inadequate to "make a go of it on their own," tragically, even though they would like to get out of the relationship.
Research on treatment programs for abusers in intimate relationships, generally indicate that although it is a difficult problem to treat, some abusers can be reformed with therapy. However, without therapy, reform is very unlikely. According to e-psychologist, treatment for abusers in intimate relationships can be effective although the dropout rate among abusive clients is high (http://www.e-psychologist.org/index.iml?mdl=exam/show_article.mdl&Material_ID=4). Some treatments which can be effective include: 1. Drug and alcohol treatments; 2. Cognitive-Behavior Therapy; 3. Empathetic-Acceptance Therapy; 4. Re-Socialization Therapy; 5. Psychodynamic Therapy; 6. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy; and 7. Group Therapies.
The overall message is that there is much hope for reducing the incidence of abusive intimate relationships, but it will take a lot of time and concerted social effort. This is the route we must go, wherever in the world such abusive relationships occur. With improved intimate partnerships, the quality of life is far better not just for those directly involved, but for everyone. I believe that someday we will have a world in which love relationships are virtually always just that -- based upon honest, real love and respect between the partners. True love is a good thing, and what really counts, after all.