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What I Know For Sure About Abusive Relationships

17/09/2015 6:13 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Shaming and blaming victims of domestic violence is ignorant and unfair. I know, because I stayed for years, excused his behaviour, made deals with myself, believed his words, and thought I still loved him. I also know because my work as a legal advocate regularly presents me with women in the same position.

So let me be clear right now; this article will tell you what I know for sure, and wish I had known a long time ago, about abusive relationships, in the hope that it might empower and help anyone in a similar situation, whether it's early on or decades in.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Do not ignore unkind words, because they are still disrespectful, and they will most likely escalate to unkind actions sooner than you think.

Your partner will not change for you, because their behavior is about their own issues, not you. You cannot fix them, nor is it your responsibility to.

Do not wait, as I did, until you are firmly in each other's lives, married, cohabitating, sharing finances, with children, and you have invested years of your life. It is much easier to walk away when things are simple. Believe him the first time he shows you his character, before there is too much at stake.

Just because it doesn't happen every day, or even every week, does not mean it's not an abusive and dangerous situation. There are many unexpected life factors that could change things very quickly. And living in suspense about when the next episode will be is not living at all.

It is absolutely possible to have a relationship where disagreements are resolved with mutual respect, and immature bullying behavior never happens. Every person deserves to be in such a relationship.

If someone has demonstrated that their conflict resolutions skills are poor, or incompatible with yours, if they are capable of bringing out the worst in you, or react hysterically and out of proportion and insist that's normal, then stop investing in them and take immediate steps to minimise or exclude them from your life.

That may sound harsh, because I know people say and do things they don't mean, in anger, but there must be limits. Accepting poor conflict resolution as part of your relationship will help establish a pattern, and strengthen the other person's opinion that you are not equals.

Never believe anyone who tells you that you are being too fussy or that your standards are too high. I respond to such accusations with the truth; for a long time, my standards were not high enough.

No one has the right to tell you how you should feel about anything; not your partner, your mother, or your friends. You are the arbiter of what you should or shouldn't accept, because only you will live with the consequences.

There is no such thing as a "failed" relationship; that is an archaic description. We have all been young, naïve and in love. Most of us married or partnered with people we believed were good for us. You can acknowledge your decisions as something you learn from, but do not feel ashamed.

Shame results in silence, and that silence keeps his secrets for him. I have repeatedly seen that a lack of accountability outside of the family reinforces the abuser's belief that the situation will continue forever, which makes them all the more infuriated, and dangerous, when their partner decides to leave.

I cannot stress how important it is to regularly remind yourself of your full maiden name. In long-term relationships, it is so easy to forget that you were once an individual who was perfectly fine on her own (which I promise you were, even if it didn't feel like it at the time). Abusers rely on that being a distant memory.

You still have an identity outside of the relationship. Say your name aloud. Try to remember seeing it on your schoolbooks and think of what you had wanted for yourself back then. That hopeful girl is still inside you.

People truly care about you. There is so much more free support out there than you may realise. Use not only family, friends, and charitable organisations, but think of other people in your life that you could trust and who would want to help you. For example, staff at your children's school/childcare, your local church (no matter the denomination, even if you have never been), a neighbour, your landlord, a colleague, your doctor. And I will always make myself available to anyone who needs my time.

The immense kindness of strangers will be unexpected and overwhelming. You are definitely not alone.

Do not wait for him to leave if he does not accept the relationship is over. So many times I have seen the woman remain in the shared home, waiting for her partner to make other living arrangements. This situation can drag on for months, and often is simply a chance for more damage to be done.

You may feel entitled to stay because it is equally your home, or you may be concerned about unsettling the children. It may take time but the law will protect your property rights, and children are resilient and comprehend much more than you think.

Do not accept everything you are told by your partner. Almost every client comes to me with false and misleading information, usually given to them in the forms of threats, regarding separation. From legal issues, to custody arrangements, to financial settlements, constant attempts to manipulate the leaving partner are very common.

I understand that often it's hard to accept that you are being lied to by someone you had hoped would be fair and civilized to you and your shared children. But honestly, if he were fair and reasonable, you probably wouldn't be talking to me in the first place.

If he claims to be quoting a professional opinion, or is a professional himself, you must obtain information and establish the facts independently, even if you need to ask someone you trust to do it for you.

I dedicate this article to Tara Brown and Karina Lock, two immensely brave women who were allegedly murdered by their former partners last week; and to the many women out there enduring abusive relationships, who are much braver and stronger than they think.

This blog first appeared in September.

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If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 131114 or 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

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