The Dynamics in an Abuser-Victim Relationship

From domestic violence to verbal abuse, abusive relationships are alarmingly common in modern times. Statistics show that 20 people are being abused by their partner every minute in the United States.

The abuser-victim relationship is an extremely dangerous one. The outcome of abusive behavior can include stalking, emotional and physical turmoil, economic hardship, rape, isolation and more.

It is not always easy to spot domestic abuse, even for those in the situation. A partner may reason that since their spouse does not physically hurt them, they are not experiencing abuse.

The unhealthy relationship that occurs between an abuser and their victim can be difficult to escape from. It is important to be able to identify whether or not you are in a toxic marriage so that you can take positive steps to get yourself out of such a dangerous situation.

Here is a list of the dynamics commonly found in an abusive relationship and how to get free from it.

The Cycle of Abuse

Cases of domestic abuse differ from couple to couple, but there is often a familiar cycle that is repeated in nearly every case. However, the cycle of abuse will often start by the abuser putting on their “best behavior”.

Soon, tensions will build between partners. The victim will feel threatened or fearful, tensions rise, and soon there is a breakdown in communication.

During the second “Incident” phase of the cycle, there will be frequent arguments. The abuser will “Victim-Blame”, threaten, and intimidate their partner. Soon there will be an incident such as emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.

Phase three is the time for reconciliation. The abuser will apologize for their behavior and beg for forgiveness, claiming they will change their ways. Opposite of this, the abuser may instead choose to deny that any abuse ever occurred or downplay the events instead of apologizing.

Phase four is the calm before the storm. Perhaps some time has passed since the incident and things have gone back to “normal”. The couple resumes a honeymoon-like phase of happiness before tensions begin to build again.

Then the cycle continues to repeat.

The Victim’s Relationship to the Abuser

Denial and Defence: Since the cycle of abuse does cover a honeymoon period where there is a period of calm in the relationship, some victims may deny that there is any abuse happening. They may even go as far as defending their spouse for their bad behavior.

Disgust: A partner understands the toxic nature of their relationship and is disgusted by their partner, but feels trapped in the marriage.

Guilt: The victim believes they are responsible for, or have somehow triggered, the emotional abuse or physical violence in the relationship.

They may also feel too embarrassed or ashamed to talk about the abuse with others, or may feel there is something inherently wrong with them that makes them deserve the pain they are experiencing.

Fear: The victim feels too afraid to leave the relationship for fear of physical violence to themselves, their children, or their extended family. They may also feel that if they leave, research ways to leave, or talk about the abuse with someone else, then their abuser is somehow “omnipresent” and will find about the perceived “betrayal.”

The Abuser’s Behavior and Relationship to the Victim

The abuser has often experienced severe psychological trauma in their life, perhaps experiencing traumatic abuse as a child. In an effort to regain “control” of their lives, the victims will then become abusers to their spouse.

An abuser’s relationship with their partner, or victim, is often a controlling and insecure one. To help you identify whether you are in an abusive marriage, here are some of the most common signs.

1. Verbal Abuse

Criticism: Name-calling, derogatory comments about appearance, telling the spouse they are stupid or worthless.

Threats: Initiating threats of physical violence on the victim, the victim’s family, or the abuser themselves (such as threatening suicide if the victim ends the relationship).

Isolation: According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, partners who are in a relationship with a violent person have an increased chance of depression and suicidal behavior due to mistreatment and isolation.

Abusers commonly isolate their victims from their close friends and families so that they will feel dependent on the abuser. This ensures the victim has nowhere to go if they try to leave.

Victim Blaming: Insinuating that the abuser only lashed out because of their partner’s behavior. Saying, for example, “I only hit you because you provoked me!”

Gas lighting: When an abuser denies any verbal abuse or domestic violence is occurring and makes the victim question their own sanity or memory. This is a common power tactic in abusers.

2. Physical Abuse

Physical Violence: Becoming physically aggressive and violent with one’s partner either with a weapon, household object, or other physical force.

sexual abuse: sexual abuse covers any non-consensual sexual contact. It may include rape, forced foreplay, refusal to use contraception, unwanted use of objects or name-calling during sex or deliberately causing sexual pain or humiliation to the victim.

Abusers may make the victim feel humiliated or ashamed about the sexual abuse, or may act like it was completely normal. Both responses are intended to make the victim feel that they should keep the abuse a secret.

3. Economic Abuse

Economic abuse covers the refusal to provide for the abuser’s family or partner in an effort to “punish” them. Financial abuse can also cover being the only source of financial income in the family and using that fact to make a partner feel trapped or unable to leave the relationship.

Getting out of an Abusive Relationship

It is imperative that a victim remove themselves from the abuser-victim relationship. Doing so can be difficult and extremely dangerous. Statistics reveal that a woman is 70-times more likely to be murdered in the first week after leaving her spouse than at any other time during the relationship.

women are also eight times more likely to be killed by their spouse if there is a firearm in the home.

In order to get out of an abusive relationship safely, the victim must reach out for protection. There are many resources available to those looking to get out of a dangerous relationship.

Confide in a trusted friend or family member, download a domestic violence app, call 911, or contact any of the resources listed at the anti-abuse organization When Georgia Smiled.

There are many different types of abusive relationships, all which carry their own side-effects that can last for years to come, if not for the rest of your life. If you are the victim of verbal abuse or domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or confide in a counselor or trusted friend. You deserve more than abuse.

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233


Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash