The classic “villain” (abuser) in domestic violence and relationship abuse stories is a husband, ex-husband, or boyfriend. The classic “victim” is a long-suffering wife, ex-wife, or girlfriend. Now, thirty years after family violence first came out from behind closed doors, it has become clear that an abuser is a person who exhibits a pattern of behavior, not someone of a specific gender. There are husbands and boyfriends who are controlled and intimidated by wives, ex-wives, and girlfriends. Same-sex couples have the same frequency of domestic abuse as traditional couples. Parents can continue to abuse their children long after they are grown up and have otherwise independent lives. Children and pets are often targets of abuse, and caregivers have been known to abuse them to keep their own relationship peaceful.
An abuser is someone who has a pattern of isolating and controlling someone with whom they have regular and intimate access, like a spouse, dating partner, or parent. It’s a destructive variant of the nurturing, intimate relationships we all depend on. An abuser is someone you trust with your secrets, your life, your money, and your reputation who turns that trust around and uses it against you.
An abuser is probably not the mother or spouse you fight with over chores or family holidays, someone who threw a plate at you when you were arguing, or a partner who cheated on you. Learn more about what abuse in your personal relationships is all about so you can decide for yourself whether your situation is abusive or just not working out.
Another important thing to remember as you learn about abuse is that when a writer or speaker says “he” or “she” referencing and abuser and victim, the genders are interchangeable. It’s the close relationship or power differential that’s important, and the pattern of behavior within that relationship that makes it abusive.
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