Sunday, November 18th, 2018

Let’s Talk About It: Abuse

Posted on October 24, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Johnna Ossie

Question: My friend has been with her partner for a year. On the outside, things seem to be normal. However, I am starting to become concerned. It started when we moved off-campus to Portland. She has a job, and we are getting out and meeting a lot of new people. Her partner still lives in the Gorham area, and they see each other pretty much everyday. They have been guilt-tripping her for spending less time together, even though she bends over backwards to make that time. They keep going through her phone and social media, even telling her who she can or cannot text. Last weekend, we had to cancel a hiking trip because they got so upset over a series of texts between her and a classmate she was working on a project with. I can see how this is impacting her. They are really good at making her feel at fault. They are manipulative, do not treat her like an adult and are constantly putting her down. How can I approach her about this? I cannot seem to get her to listen.


Answer: One of the most important things that I have learned is that relationship abuse does not always look like an episode of Law and Order. Sometimes, it looks like someone demanding to check their partner’s phone to know who they are texting or making them feel less than. It can look like controlling someone’s time and using emotional manipulation to get your way. Abuse happens in cycles. It wears the victim down. It makes them feel like they are always in the wrong. There’s a lot of red flags in what you are telling me about your friend’s relationship. The things happening between your friend and her partner are not signs of a healthy, respectful relationship.

At times, everyone feels jealous. Everyone feels disappointed when they want to hang out with their partner and their partner is busy. Those feelings are normal. What is not normal or healthy is demanding to go through your partner’s phone, guilt tripping them for having a job or other friends and/or constant put downs.

A common tool for discussing relationship abuse is the Power and Control Wheel. The wheel shows the way abusive partners use different methods of power and control in relationships. These are: coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying, blaming, using children, using privilege and economic abuse. A relationship does not have to have all of these factors to be abusive.

What I see happening in your friends relationship is emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming. There may be other things happening that you and I do not know are happening between them. So, much goes on behind the scenes in a relationship that only the people involved know about.

You seem to know that your friend’s relationship is not healthy. So, how can you approach her about this? It can be so difficult to support a friend who is in an abusive relationship.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I found myself in an abusive relationship. I thought I was too smart and strong to ever find myself in the type of situation that I was in. I knew that abuse does not discriminate, but, somehow, I still felt outside of that. I think a lot of people feel that way, which is one of the reasons it can be so hard to realize your relationship is abusive when you are in it.

One of the things that kept me from reaching out to my friends was the shame that I felt. Another was trying to protect my partner’s reputation. Despite the fact that this person was demanding to check my messages regularly, screaming at me, using physical intimidation and emotional abuse, I was so wrapped up in our relationship that I really thought it was my job to protect him. I had a few friends approach me about the ways they had seen him treating me, and my reaction was always to defend him.

Looking back, I am so grateful those friends said something because I knew that someone was paying attention. Despite how wrapped up I was in the cycles of abuse, I knew that someone had noticed what was going on, and that they cared. I knew that I could count on them to be there for me when I finally decided to get out. Not everyone has that privilege, and your friend is lucky to have someone like you who notices what is going on for her.

Remind your friend that you love her, that you want her to be in a relationship with someone who treats her with love and respect and that you will be there for her as best as you can. You could provide resources to Family Crisis Services or other relationship abuse support programs.

You do not want to isolate your friend even more in her relationship. That being said, you need to keep yourself safe, too. If you do not feel safe having this person in your apartment, you need to approach your friend about it. If you are worried about your friends physical safety, maybe speak with another trusted friend or discuss the situation with a school counselor to look for more advice.


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