About Unhealthy and Abusive Relationships
People use many different terms to describe unhealthy relationships. We hear words like abuse, intimate partner violence, family violence, domestic violence, and more. You might feel certain that you are in an abusive relationship. Maybe other people have just expressed concern for your relationship. It is also okay if you are not sure. What we do know is that when one partner is using power and control to threaten the emotional or physical well-being of the other partner, there is an imbalance and reduced safety. Partners who are abusive can threaten physical boundaries, hurt emotional well-being, impact or limit access to spiritual needs/communities, control finances, and exert pressure or force around sex. Some behaviors that are concerning are: jealousy, degrading you verbally, cruelty to animals, unrealistic expectations, isolating or restricting you from support people, rigid gender roles, blaming, and threatening.
We know that layers of oppression and historical trauma can also impact our ability to feel safe to report abuse or even tell loved ones/friends about what is happening. Oppression can happen in individual relationships, but is often active in systems. Systems that are racist, patriarchal, xenophobic, ableist, classist, and homophobic perceive violence as isolated and individual issues. They fail to recognize the intersectionality of race, gender, and class that impact social and systematic polices. Often these polices, negatively impact minority groups and support “othering.” They also ignore the complex differences within these groups. Therefore, we support racial justice policies and believe in language access.
Men can also experience abuse. You may worry about reaching out for support because helping organizations only serve women. At Prevail, all people are welcome.
This may be hard to hear right now, but we want you to know that whatever happened is not your fault. These patterns of abusive behaviors happen over a period of time. Some people tell us that they felt like they should have seen it coming or “got out” earlier. There are many reasons that impact our ability to tell someone about the abuse. Here are some things we often hear:
- It is not that bad.
- Other people feel like I am overreacting.
- I worry about what would happen if I ended the relationship.
- My partner has threatened to hurt themselves or me if I leave.
- I did not know that this was abuse. I grew up believing this was normal.
- I am not out to everyone in my life. My partner has threatened to or could expose this part of me to people I am not ready to tell.
- What will people think about me if they know about the abuse?
- My partner tells me that I am the problem, or it is my fault.
- I love them and they promise they will change.
- My partner is so well liked. Who will believe me or be there for me if the relationship ends?
- My culture or my faith community does not support ending marriages/relationships or my ability to make my own decisions about sex or my body.
- I rely on my partner for assistance due to a disability.
- We have a child together. What will happen to our child if we are not together?
- The police would not help the situation if I had to call.
- My partner threatens to report my immigration status.
- English is not my first language, so it is difficult to express the depth of what is going on to others.
- I have no one to turn too. I am isolated from my friends and family.
- My partner controls the finances. How could I leave even if I wanted too?
- I am afraid that my partner will disclose my health status with others (HIV, Hepatitis, etc.)
Trauma is defined as an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. What this means is, it makes sense you might be feeling and thinking differently about the world now. There is no right way to react to abnormal circumstances.
Sometimes people worry that people only want them to leave their relationship. Your advocate is focused on your goals and supporting you. We never expect someone to leave a relationship unless that is the choice YOU make. We understand that leaving may not be the safest option right now.
At Prevail, advocates know it can feel scary, but believe in you. Advocates understand the impact of trauma. This means that they listen, are empathetic, and focused on empowering you. They are really there to be with you whether that is to go to court, support you when you talk with the police, make sure you have a safety plan, or help you and your family get measures in place to increase your safety.
We hear from parents all the time about being worried about how their children are dealing with trauma too. They have fears about the impact on them and their safety. So, we have an advocate that can meet with them too.
Trauma can also be isolating and silencing. It can feel like no one could possibly understand or relate to you. That’s why we believe there is strength in numbers. Prevail offers support groups in our office. These groups are for people who have experienced unhealthy relationships or intimate partner abuse. Building relationships with people who “get it” can be valuable. We know walking into a room of strangers can feel intimidating AND there is power in not being alone. Connection is healing.