Abuse Isn’t Just Physical


I have a friend who asked me if she thought her neighbor might be being abused.  “She never leaves the house, there are security cameras everywhere.  It seems like her kids aren’t allowed to play with anybody.  And come to think of it, I hear him yelling alot. Do you think anything is going on?”

Isolating is the most important tactic for an abuser. Less obvious isolation tactics are telling them that their friends and family are bad for them.  Telling them that they are better off being at home doing the work that is needed…One tactic a man I know uses is he makes the house a pig sty and doesn’t take care of the kids so she feels like she can never leave. Another popular tactic is rushing your wife/partner when they are outside the house with frequent cell phone calls about “where are you?!”

Abuse isn’t always physical.  Sometimes, it is being in a relationship with someone who is sarcastic and hostile about one’s appearance.  Sometimes, abuse is how someone is discounted in front of friends or laughed at. Sometimes, abuse is withholding support or trying to make somebody feel bad about stuff they shouldn’t feel bad about.  It is complex.  But, if you are feeling abused in a relationship, then you probably are.


There are all kinds of ways partners can abuse each other.  I like people to look at the power and control wheel and see if any of those manipulation tactics hold true in their relationship.

Notes From Couple’s Therapy: No Such Thing as Mind Reading

People who excessively caretake others rarely ask for what they need. They are typically overly responsible, hard-working and loving. Once in a while, they manage to squeeze in tending to their own needs after everyone else’s needs are met — rare but sorely needed.

Trouble in the making
When detrimental caretakers (Give Away Girls) put their needs away, it’s natural for them to feel a loss.  Their needs don’t just go away though. They’re temporarily stuffed into a chest of drawers that begins to overfill. Eventually, somebody has to give the overstuffed drawers some attention. When a detrimental caretaker finally is ready for someone else to “help,” she longs for her loved one to take charge and take care.

Meet Give Away Girl Samantha
Samantha works all day, comes home and gets the house picked up, helps kids with homework, and makes dinner. She does it all. When her husband gets home, he might help with the dishes but then picks up a newspaper, kicks his feet up in the recliner and takes a break. Remember, Samantha is exhausted. She secretly expects her husband to notice her need and when he doesn’t, she makes up a story in her head that he just doesn’t care.

Samantha feels angry. She soothes her kindling emotions by drinking a glass of wine and detaches from her husband … doesn’t look at him, gives the evil eye, doesn’t ask him about his day and wonders if she ever really knew him at all. After a few more glasses of wine, she lets it all hang out. The fight is a big one, and it all starts over again a couple days later.

Your needs: the importance of being clear and direct
One of the biggest problems here is that Samantha doesn’t ask for what she needs. She is neither clear nor direct with her husband (until she’s just pissed and ready to unload her anguish on him).

Give Away Girls sacrifice themselves daily. They don’t know they’re doing it. Interestingly, they really want and need their partner to know what they need, how they need it and when they need it. Usually, in couples therapy, we discover that these tendencies have more to do with what they didn’t get as children than anything else. Nonetheless, this wanting, expecting or hoping your partner will “just know” happens a lot in intimate relationships, and it can be very destructive.

The takeaway: As hard as it may be, speak up. When you are specific about what you need, a good man will respond. He’ll be there. He’ll help. You just have to let him know what, how and when. There’s no such thing as mind reading.