It seems like nowadays, every social media platform and magazine rack is filled with articles promising to transform relationships with just “5 new steps” or “7 easy communication techniques.” Over the years, there have been amazing advances in research that prove that relationships and communication can improve by utilizing concepts such as mindfulness, bids for connection, a magic ratio, gratitude, “I” statements, and more. But how does this translate to abusive relationships? Here at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, we often hear a common misconception about abuse: that if the couple learned to communicate in healthier ways, there would be no conflict or abusive behavior – or some version of this. Here’s why using healthy communication won’t fix an abusive relationship, and in many cases may actually increase danger for a victim of domestic violence.
- He* is controlling. This control extends to communication, particularly arguments and decision making. In his book Why Does He Do That? Lundy Bancroft explains the way an abuser thinks about conflict or a difference of opinion, even if he never says it explicitly:
- “An argument should only last as long as my patience does. Once I’ve had enough, the conversation is over and it’s time for you to shut up.”
- “If the issue we’re struggling over is important to me, I should get what I want. If you don’t back off, you’re wronging me.”
- “I know what is best for you and for our relationship. If you continue disagreeing with me after I’ve made it clear which path is the right one, you’re acting stupid.”
- “If my control and authority seem to be slipping, I have the right to take steps to reestablish the rule of my will, including abuse if necessary” (p. 52).
- He feels entitled. Entitlement is the abuser’s belief that he has exclusive rights and privileges that do not apply to his partner, and no one is allowed to challenge him in any way. From the abuser’s perspective, only he has the right to have his needs met emotionally, physically, and sexually. He believes that he is entitled to complete freedom from accountability.
- He twists things into their opposites. The abuser distorts reality, leaves out details, exaggerates, and ridicules his partner as a way of avoiding personal responsibility. This type of gaslighting demonstrates how unwilling he is to be reasonable in his communication and behaviors.
- He disrespects his partner and considers himself superior to her. An abuser will often reduce his partner to an inanimate object in his mind– a possession, something less than a human being. This objectification, in large part, is what makes an abuser more dangerous over time. “By depersonalizing his partner, the abuser protects himself from the natural human emotions of guilt and empathy, so that he can sleep at night with a clear conscience” (p. 63).
- He confuses love and abuse. Because an abuser equates love with control, he feels wronged and unloved when his partner resists his control. “The confusion of love with abuse is what allows abusers who kills their partners to make the absurd claim that they were driven by the depths of their loving feelings” (p. 63).
- He is manipulative. An abuser uses manipulation to confuse his partner and keep her from realizing that he is abusive. Some tactics that he may use are minimizing, kindness, denial, convincing her that he is acting in her best interest, false promises to change, confusing her, blaming her or getting her to blame herself, changing his moods abruptly and frequently, and more.
- He feels justified. An abuser justifies his abusive behavior by blaming his partner for making him act in the way he does and blaming her for any other disappointments he faces outside the home. Because the abuser decides that she is at fault, he feels justified in mistreating her.
- Abusers are possessive. An abuser views his partner and children with a sense of ownership. Because an abuser thinks of his partner as his possession, he feels justified to treat her any way he decides, including using verbal/emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or any other type of abuse.
In the words of Lundy Bancroft, “Consider how challenging it is to negotiate or compromise with a man who operates on the [above] tenets, whether or not he ever says them aloud” (p. 52). The very nature of an abuser’s way of thinking makes the relationship an unwelcome and hostile environment toward healthy communication. Should a victim of domestic violence implement basic concepts of healthy communication, such as expressing thoughts and feelings, setting healthy boundaries, expecting mutual respect, it is viewed by an abuser as a threat to the power and control he has over her. When an abuser perceives that his partner is challenging him, he becomes more motivated to regain power and control over her by any means necessary. Often, this results in the increase of intimidation and/or violence toward her.
If you have questions or wonder if your relationship might be unhealthy or dangerous, or know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, please call our Outreach Office at 214.389.7700 to schedule a free intake appointment. We are offering our intake services in-person or via telehealth, so we’re happy to connect with you in the way that feels most comfortable to you.
*While we often refer to the abuser as “him” and the victim of abuse as “her,” we recognize that partner abuse can occur to both men and women.
Written by Sara Campos, bilingual women and children’s therapist at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support.