They Don't Hold Up Signs Saying "I'm an Abusive Person" or Do They?
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
***Read to the end for a list of things to avoid in choosing a romantic partner.***
In my book, I quote the National Domestic Violence Hotline as saying "It's not always easy to tell at the beginning of a relationship if it will become abusive. In fact, many abusive partners may seem absolutely perfect in the early stages of a relationship. Possessive and controlling behaviors don't always appear over night, but rather emerge and intensify as the relationship grows."
That quote described my entire life for the last 15-20 years. When I started writing my book, it was my belief system in regards to relationship abuse.
I still empathize with that way of thinking because I lived with it for so long, but while it is a very comforting quote(because we have no responsibility for the relationship we got our self into), it doesn't give us any power either.
When I was in counseling, my amazing counselor Cindi promised me that she would put me through "Asshole Avoidance Training." I desperately wanted that training, but we didn't end up getting to it. Unfortunately I went through a few more years of struggle in the area of romantic relationships. However, since I am ever studying and learning about violence and abuse, I discovered some wisdom on "Asshole Avoidance" on my own along the way.
In order for anything else I share with you here to work, we have to establish a truth that used to REALLY piss me off before I finally understood it... When I worked at a domestic violence shelter years ago I remember people always questioning why people would stay in abusive relationships. "Just leave!" That was their simple solution. And if a person chose to stay, then they were making a choice weren't they? They chose that way of life, so they weren't a victim at all. Fast forward some years later... Oh My Gosh that way of thinking made me so mad when I was in my abusive relationships! "It's not that easy!" was my heart's cry in response.
I want to take a moment to say that for those out there agreeing with my heart's cry, I know that it isn't that easy. For SOOO many reasons it is not that easy, it's not that cut and dry, not that black and white. Relationships are complicated and messy. Life is complicated and messy. When you build a life with someone - sharing bills, sharing residences, having children - and they escalate into worse and worse abuse, it is definitely messy. I get it!
I cry for you in your hurt and frustration! This isn't the life that you saw for yourself. You wanted more. Or maybe, because of the way you grew up, this is exactly the life you saw for yourself, but you desperately hoped for better.
Can I share the truth that I came to discover with you? You have power! You have value. You deserve love. You deserve safety. You deserve to have hope for your future and so do your children if you have children. But as long as you don't believe that, you have no power because you give it away. I gave my power away for years before I ever knew that I had power to give away. Please hear me, you deserve better! Regardless of bad choices you may have made, regardless of what you have been told by people trying to put you down, you deserve better and it is within your grasp to have it at some level.
Maybe you need to start small. Choose the scent of soap that you like. Choose to walk in the park for a few minutes before going home to your chaos. Treat yourself to a $1 frozen coke at Burger King. Whatever you choose, make some choices that benefit you in some way. Some people need to take small steps towards a big mental shift.
Other people need to make big changes like yesterday. Do you feel like/believe that your life is in danger? Call the Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−7233 or a Crisis Center or your local Victim Advocate (here, they are at the police station) to make a plan. You need support. You need a plan. And then you need to leave asap.
Honestly, I feel the same way if you or your children are being abused. Get support, make a plan, get away to a safe place. Don't wait until it "feels" right. If you have been mentally programmed to stay for a while, it isn't going to feel right at first, but your intuition will tell you that it is the best thing to do. When I left my ex-husband for the last time I cried and felt like I had failed at my marriage. I felt like I had failed my kids. And it took me a good year to find some of myself again because I was a shell by the time I left that relationship, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. And in the end I didn't fail myself, my children, or my marriage. I SAVED us and the marriage wasn't something that was in my power to fix anyway.
I could talk about this for a long time, but I'm going to wind down for now. Please consider what I have said and how it applies to your life. I can't know what your exact situation is as you read this. You know what is right somewhere deep inside. But situations of abuse are usually pretty similar, with only some small differences in details.
A few things to look for when selecting a romantic partner:
Has he/she ever been violent with a romantic partner before? I knew of an incident before, but he explained what she did to make him so upset and I bought it. He explained away my red flag.
Is he/she violent or mean to animals? I knew that he killed some animals when he was younger, but boys will be boys right? No! That's is NOT normal behavior. (We're not talking hunting or fishing for food, we're talking killing just because they can, just to watch something die, just to take a life.)
Does he/she hit or break things when they get angry? One of my ex-boyfriends punched a big pipe and let out a loud "whoo!" the first time I saw him mad. We weren't officially together yet and another guy (an ex) was sitting beside me. He wasn't happy about it.
Does he/she respect your boundaries? If you tell them that you want to go slow do they respect that or try to push past it? If you say this night is for me and my girl/guy friends, do they respect that? Do they pester you at work? Do they look up and contact your family or friends without you introducing them first? There are so many ways they can not respect your boundaries. Be alert!
Does he/she treat other people with respect? How do they treat strangers? How do they treat the people working in fast food or other service industries? Do they act like they're better than them? I'm sure some people will disagree, but I would even lump racism in here. To me, if they can easily divide people into "us" and "them" you can easily go from being part of his/her "us" to a "them" and usually the "them" category gets dehumanized...making abuse more likely.
Can they keep a job? If they have a temper or problems with authority or expectations being put on them, they will not be able to hold down a job for very long.
Do they have friends or would you be their entire world? As cute as that might sound for the first 10 minutes, you DO NOT want to be anyone's whole world. It is healthy for people to have friends and hobbies outside of the relationship. Such things are what make you still "you" while also being part of "you two". If they don't have any friends of their own, you really should ask yourself why. Why don't people want to be their friend?
Do they want to move the relationship along really fast? Feeling in love is all good and well, but if a person wants to move in together, have a baby, or get married really fast, that is a sign of emotional problems that you need to consider a red flag. If you're going to be together forever in marriage anyway, what is the hurry? You've got time!
Do they have a criminal record? Any type of a criminal record, barring a one-time error in judgement or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, speaks to a mindset that they are above the law. Society's rules don't apply to this person. They're likely used to getting their own way and when they don't, they rationalize it away. They often believe that they are smarter and/or better than most people. This smarter/better thing seems to be a common personality characteristic among addicts as well.
Are they an addict? While addicts are people too and I have loved many in my lifetime, I think I would be failing you if I didn't list it here. Addicts, though not all violent by any means, will all put you through a lot of pain if you are in their life long enough. Either they will hurt you directly or you will suffer because someone you love (them) is suffering. Either way, life with an addict as a partner is not an easy road. If healthy relationships are our goal, they should be avoided as romantic partners.