How to Tell if Your Relationship is Healthy
By Z Zoccolante
This week I’m working on a film, it’s a documentary style based on true stories of women who’ve been in abusive relationships.
Often when we hear the word abuse we think of physical abuse. If he’s not hitting me then it’s not abuse, right?
Wrong. A healthy relationship doesn’t involve any type of abuse.
There are many women who will never be hit, that are still victims of domestic abuse. When you’re in it, it can be harder to see or pinpoint that you’re being abused. Being on set and chatting with people through the course of this project has made me realize that there are people everywhere who have stories of being in that “crazy” relationship, of that moth to the flame attraction, of relationships that destroyed their self-esteem.
When you’re being abused you keep it secret for many reasons including being ashamed. You love the person and are invested emotionally in them. You may be afraid to leave. And if the person lies to you or puts you down enough you begin to believe what they say.
The three types of abuse are:
1) Physical – Hitting, punching, slapping, grabbing, being pushed against a wall or held there, restrained, having something thrown at you, or any other type of physical harm.
2) Emotional/Psychological – The popular term “gaslighting” falls under the emotional abuse category. This is the most insidious form of abuse because it makes the victim feel as though they might be going crazy. It includes lies, manipulation, blaming, shaming, jealousy, name-calling, humiliation, and emotional unpredictability.
3) Sexual – being forced to have sex or engage in any sexual act, control through sex, withholding sex, or any way that sex is used for manipulation. This can also include having affairs.
Some forms of abuse that people might not recognize are your partner cheating on you (if you don’t have agreements around open relationships), taking your phone or checking your phone or passwords, insisting on coming places with you when you said you’d like to go alone, when you stop hanging out with your friends or family because you are always together, and even saying I love you too quickly.
People I’ve talked with said that the focused attention from the person in the beginning of the relationship felt nice. Who doesn’t like attention? Every person talks about meeting this amazing person who was wonderful and everything they hoped they would be.
This is called meeting the representative. You meet the amazing person that you think is your dream person and they say and do all the right things. The problem is this is not who they really are, so when you’ve become attached emotionally or love them that’s when they no longer hold up the façade. The mask collapses and then you see the real abusive person and the abusive behavior starts. This is a confusing experience for the victim because they somehow think that they can do something to make things go back to the way they were. They might hold onto the hope that the person they fell in love with will come back. But sadly, they have gone. The person they fell for was the façade.
What makes it even more confusing for the victim is that to everyone else, the abuser will appear charismatic, wonderful, helpful, amazing. The victim is the only person that will see the dark side of the abuser. Both men and women are abused, but for the sake of this piece let’s just say that the man is the abuser.
The abuser has a pattern of abuse that has been learned in childhood. It will repeat with every women who is their intimate partner. Often women think that they are the only person that their husband or boyfriend acted this way with. Nope. Every woman before them, and every women after them, will experience the same abuse.
The abuse cycle has three phases:
1) The Honeymoon Phase – This is the calm phase where the abuser will do and say nice things, make promises, apologize, cry, tell the person they love them and it will never happen again. It can be known as the reconciliation stage. The victim wants to believe this stage will last forever and is the real part of the relationship.
2) The Tension Building Phase – This is when tension is building. Victims describe feeling as though they’re walking on eggshells. There is anxiety and stress that they may do something or say something and set the person off.
3) Acute or Crisis Phase (The Abuse Phase) – This is when the actual violence takes place in its various forms including the victim being hit, kicked, tripped, emotionally abused, etc.
This cycle repeats over and over again and each time the frequency gets shorted (the Honeymoon period gets shorter) and the severity of the abuse get’s worse.
The only way that the abuser will stop is if they unlearn this abusive pattern. This takes time and professional therapy. But any pattern that is learned can be unlearned.
This goes for the victim as well. They have either learned this pattern in childhood or are learning it with an abusive partner. Often at the end of the relationship, the woman’s self-esteem is severely damaged, she’s exhausted, and may feel stupid for having thoughts about still thinking the guy can change. Often women wonder if they can ever trust anyone else ever again.
It takes time and therapy to unlearn an unhealthy dynamic and relearn a healthy one. But there is always hope. It is possible. Healthy trust is something that is built through time and consistency.
If you are being abused, it will get worse. Your safety is the most important as you find a way to leave.
If you or someone you know is being abused you can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Call their trained advocates who are available to take your calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call the toll free hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
As you heal, I highly recommend therapy with a licensed professional. Find a therapist.
Three book recommendations to buy and read on this topic:
If you’d like to see a therapist in Orange County, California who specializes in this subject, I have a recommendation. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how I can safely get you the contact info.
You are not alone. You can do this. You deserve a healthy, loving relationship.