By: ASHLEE WONG, M.A., MFT
Whenever people are prompted to think of an abusive or unhealthy relationship, there are several common characteristics that are recognized as unhealthy. An unhealthy relationship is commonly recognized when there is physical or sexual violence, extreme limitations of finances, and social isolation from everyone but the abuser. However, there are often more subtle or less accepted signs that are easily dismissed because the previously mentioned characteristics are not present. Therefore, people tend to stay in an unhealthy relationship far longer than they would choose on their own. Discussions on these additional signs are vital to raising awareness not only to avoid these characteristics in a partner but to then actively choose partners who treat us with love and respect rather than power and control.
Gaslighting is among the most common aspects of an abusive relationship that I see in my work with clients. When someone is gaslit by their partner, they are made to believe whatever abuse exists is their fault. Minimization of the responsibility from the abuser ensures control over the survivor. It gives the survivor hope that the abuser will change if they work hard to change their behaviors without equal effort from the abuser. In families with unhealthy relationships, children can often be used to exert power from the abuser towards the survivor. This can range from guilt about the survivor’s parenting skills to threats of taking the children away entirely. Other threats that might go unrecognized as abuse can include the abuser threatening to commit suicide if the survivor leaves, making the survivor drop charges if they do move forward with legal action, or even the insistence that the survivor commit illegal acts to retain the abuser’s “love”.
Power and control often lie at the heart of an abusive relationship but this is not the only way to be with your partner. Equality and fairness are the key traits of being in a healthy relationship. Often, the signs for an equal relationship are the complete opposite of what is seen in an abusive relationship. Partners who are equal and fair communicate by listening non-judgmentally, affirming their partner’s emotions, taking accountability when appropriate, and being truthful in all situations. Physical interaction is requested rather than demanded or taken without consent. Equal partners share the responsibility of making decisions from finances or how to raise children. Whenever there is a disagreement about these decisions, equal partners seek to find a mutually satisfying compromise that allows both of them to get as much of their desires as possible.
Written By: ASHLEE WONG, M.A., Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist 103135. Supervised by Dr. Joselyn Josephine Ayala-Encalada Psy.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 96987