Many people don’t realize that when we speak of abusive relationships, there are many ways in which people may be abused, and many ways in which people may be harmed. Abuse extends beyond the physical; it includes emotional, psychological, financial as well as threats to property and/or to ones well-being or the well-being of others. Underlying the abuse is typically one person seeking to lord power and control over another to one’s own benefit.
If you are continually having to subordinate yourself, take a one-down position, or capitulate to your partner, you may be in an abusive relationship. If the strategies to affect the power differential include threats of harm of any kind, put downs, restrictions, manipulations, acts of violence or intimidation, then you are subject to abusive behaviour as part of the other person’s strategy of control.
The degree and type of harm experienced will be different from one person to another. However, harms include emotional, psychological, financial and physical. Most people tend to concentrate on physical harm – which can include injury, permanent disability and even death. But emotional and psychological harm can create psychiatric disturbances such as depression and anxiety.
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It is not uncommon that with an escalation of any type of abuse, the target experiences multiple types of harms of varying severity and danger. If in your relationship you are experiencing an escalation of abuse, either by duration, intensity, frequency or type, then your risk of harm escalates too.
It is important to understand that in a relationship where one partner is subject to abuse, if the one subject to the abuse seeks to leave or end it, there is often a greater escalation of the abuse. This is because the abuser seeks to restore their power over the other. That is why leaving an abusive relationship can actually be more dangerous, and lead to more aggressive forms of abuse.
If you are in a lop-sided relationship where you are subject to any of these forms of abuse, please get help before taking action. It is important to have a plan in place to manage your safety before, during and after departure. It will be important to speak with a counsellor with knowledge and expertise in these matters, as well as a family law lawyer to understand your rights and obligations under the law. If you are relying on the abusive partner’s explanation of family law, you are at risk of interpretations that favour their interests over your own.