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Abuse In the Bedroom

Updated: May 15

“Things Like This Don't Happen To Me

One of the most bizarre and frightening parts about abuse is when it’s happening to us, we don’t always recognise it as abuse. Abuse is rather extreme of a word isn’t it? “I am not an extreme person,” we say. “Extreme things do not happen to me, my existance is all quite ordinary, nothing to see”.


When you think of an abuse victim, what do you think of? Possibly you think of a situation far worse than your own, and you may feel yourself lucky your situation isn’t quite that bad. You may get stuck on the word ‘victim’ - someone helpless, no agency, someone frail. You don’t resonate with that… after all, the amount of strength you exert to put up with your current troubles couldn’t put you any further away from the description ‘frail’. And you could leave, the difference between you and a victim is you don’t want to, it’s your choice, you still have freewill… Right?


Let’s think of an ‘abuser’ too - shall we imagine them as an evil monster, someone irredeemable? I suppose the ground shakes when they walk on the room, and a black smoke drips off their shoulders akin to Voldemort. An ‘abuser’ has no love for you. It is simple… right?


Alas… this is the trap. (Well, one of the most common traps)  Of course abuse can be really extreme… but like all things, the majority of cases are not simple.


In most cases, abusive behaviour is only a side of your partner that comes out on occasion, sandwiched with kind or neutral behaviour. They do not look like an abuser, because they look like anyone else - big or small, feminine or masculine, personable or reserved, introverted or extraverted. They aren’t inhuman either, they have a childhood, a sweet side, can show empathy, you do have a bond with them - and depending on the abuse, maybe a healthy relationship can be salvaged with this person you may validly love. 

And the victim does not look like a victim - they don’t identify as a victim, and any sense of what they are struggling with is very hidden; in other areas of their life they may demonstrate strength and achievement. They look like anyone. 


Where is the line – what is abuse?

As a therapist the most helpful definition I teach my clients is having no regard for hurting someone.


What to do

We come back to the importance of honest and brave communication: “Hey this thing that you do is hurting, I don’t like it, we’re not doing that anymore” – and from there you must judge their response, because that will tell you everything you need to know.


Let’s consider negative responses:

-              Turning it back on you: “It’s funny how you ask me to stop this, but you didn’t stop when I said I wanted your thing to stop last month, etc” Notice the theme here is justice via revenge. They are moving the focus away from the current issue onto another, and if you take the bait, the current issue will remain unresolved.

-              Going Cold: Verbally they may say “fine okay” but their manner changes, they pull away, they don’t explain how they feel, they have an attitude. This is a punishment for you, making you comply next time instead of rebel. It’s impossible to talk them about this now, and notice how again… it remains unresolved.

-              Peer Pressure: “Oh don’t be stupid, everyone I know does this, literally everyone I’ve dated – you are the only person who has ever felt like this. It’s the 21st century for god’s sake, I can’t believe we’re even talking about this, seriously what’s wrong with you.” Suddenly the behaviour isn’t the problem, it’s you, personally. Your argument is crazy, illogical, ill-informed – and with this frame, your voice has been robbed.

-              Threats to Withhold: If you give me any more grief about this you can forget about me helping you on Wednesday, and that holiday, you can forget about that too. You could show a bit of gratitude for god sake.” This is by every definition emotional/financial abuse. You bare the discomfort and loss of power for the functional relationship to continue.

-              Threats of Violence: They may threaten it verbally, or you may just feel it. You know them to have a temper. You don’t know they’ll attack you, smack you, shove you, throw things – but you would not be surprised. To make sure you avoid that, you do not raise complaints.


What are the right responses:

1.        Apology: Oh my god I genuinely had no idea, I’m sorry”

2.        Empathy: “I want to understand. What does it feel like? How long have you felt that way? What do you think I feel about that?"

3.        Adjusting the relationship: "If it was like this instead, would that still be too much? What could we do instead?”


You may be thinking “Ha! Yeah right, that’s not very realistic! Partners don’t react like that ever.” You’re right… about your previous partners. If you think this kind of response is uncommon you are wrong. In fact it’s the cornerstone of happy relationships, and is the standard for most people’s relationships. Boyfriends and girlfriends are doing this all around – this is the standard to set for your relationship.


If you fear you are in abusive or difficult relationship and would like my personal help, you may be interesting in having therapy sessions with me, where I can give you my thoughts and coach you into a better situation.


Abuse is never justified, and survives by feeding off your tolerance.

If you are a woman suffering abuse, you can seek help and resources from The National Domestic Abuse Helpline (website) for direct advice and resources. The phone number is 0808 2000 247 and the website is


If you are a man suffering abuse, you can seek help and resources from ManKind Initiative for direct advice and resources. The phone number is 0182 3334 244 and the website is


If you suspect your behaviour may be abusive and would like improve, you can seek help from Respect (website) for direct advice and resources. The phone number is 0808 8024040 and the website is

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