Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

‘Abusive relationship’. When did this become a thing?

Last time I checked, abuse was actually about an abusive person choosing to behave abusively, in the context of a relationship. Unless the whole dynamic of domestic abuse has changed and nobody told me, it’s not actually possible for a relationship to be abusive, only a person. Abuse is a choice, made by one person, to inflict pain and torment on another, to reduce a person to nothing more than an object and a possession, to be used, degraded, scorned. Abuse is not a relationship issue.

The term abusive relationship allows an abuser to hide behind the excuse of relationship issues. It invites comments such as, “It takes two to tango” or “Oh, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other.” The context may be a relationship, but it is no more an “abusive relationship” than it is an “abusive house”, or an “abusive car”. Where the abuse takes place is not the thing that needs to be labelled. The person who is abusive needs to hold that label. In every single conversation we have. In every sentence we speak or write, in every thought we have. The label of abusive belongs solely to the abuser. Every. Single. Time.

If the relationship is the problem, then the solution will lie in relationship counselling, in conflict
management and crucially, in both parties taking some responsibility for the abuse. Many women, including myself, have attended relationship counselling with an abuser. Sometimes a well trained counsellor manages to spot the abuser. Often they don’t. And we sit in those rooms, with the tissues and the pastel colours and we are invalidated and blamed for things we never did. We get told to “acknowledge our responsibility” and that “he’s trying really hard, and so must we”. And we begin to believe the counsellor, because they are trained and even though our breath twists within us and we feel failed, we begin to buy lies that he’s sold the counsellor. The counsellor goes home, buying the lie that they’ve made a difference, but what we buy is the death of our very soul, of all that we used to be and anything we imagine we could become.

The problem is much bigger than individual language, it is written into the UK’s legal definition of abuse. The definition begins:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.”

The use of the word BETWEEN in this definition, infers the same thing that the term “abusive
relationship” does. Abuse does not happen BETWEEN two people. It happens FROM one person, TO another. Between infers reciprocity. It infers that this is a relationship issue. It. Is. Not.

Our words are powerful. There is no neutral when it comes to an abuser or gendered oppression.

We either reinforce wrong beliefs or through intentional, mindful communications, we challenge the Powers and enable each person that we speak with to move closer to a correct understanding of abuse. Please choose to use language which challenges the myths and misconceptions about male violence. And one sentence at a time we can begin to unpick the lies which allow abuse to go unchallenged.


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5 thoughts on “‘Abusive relationship’. When did this become a thing?

  • Tracy says:

    Women who have been abused should never be sent to couples counselling. They can reinforce the blame onto the victim and actively (or passively) the counsellors collide with the perpetrator. Female victims need specific counselling for victims of abuse. Only those professionals will be able to acknowledge the pain and suffering and take away feelings of blame and put the abuse in context using power and control etc. I dread to think how many women have continued to heap blame on themselves with the ‘help’ of a ‘counsellor’.

  • I just wanted to say that this is an extremely well written article and everything in it rang true! I left my abusive husband in October and tried one session of couples counselling. I quickly realised how I was supposed to take part of the blame for being attacked and the counsellor defended my husband because he was ‘sorry’ for actually attacking me, even though he felt it justified! It’s these people that fuel DV and make abusive men feel it’s ok to do what they do. I told him to go to hell after just one session. No way would I ever take blame for being hurt. His mother & infact entire family condone his behaviour, with his mother asking me what did I do to provoke him!

    It has to change for our sakes and our children’s. Break the cycle of myths surrounding DV.

    Thank you for such a wonderful informative article. I have actually been guilty of using the term ‘ I’m recently out of an abusive relationship ‘ … I didn’t even realise what I was saying. Obviously drummed into my head. I shall no longer be saying this!

    Catherine x

  • Jennifer Drew says:

    This is universal male language wherein men continue to proclaim they are the only ones capable of defining what is and is not the truth.

    There is a term for this language and it is called Patriarchal Universal Discourse. Read Speaking Freely: Unlearning The Lies of The Fathers’ Tongues by Julia Penelope because men have for centuries consistently hidden male accountability and denied women’s lived experiences of how male oppression over women and girls operates.

    Counselling is not appropriate for any woman who has/or is experiencing intimate male partner violence. But men once again have succeeded in proclaiming ‘family violence; abusive relationships’ are the issue not the power dynamics of a male who believes women exist to be men’s sexual property.

  • Exsugarbabe says:

    Don’t go to a Councilor with an abuser unless you are sure they wont manipulate the situation, some will look like the “good one” while they wrap the unsuspecting councilor and play with your heads and lie. I was told I wound my ex up by asking him to get a job,or telling him I couldn’t afford his drug and alcohol habit so it was my fault, breathtaking. He never came to counseling with me because I couldn’t cope with it, that wasn’t the reason, he was scared that somebody would find out what a nutter he was and tell me, then he would lose my wages and not be able to pay for fags booze and cocaine. Just leave an abuser, full stop.

  • Rebecca says:

    When I broke up with my abusive ex, we were sent to a mediator. Upon being shamed by the things he had done, he started crying and said he was worried for my children being in the company of my new partner and he was afraid they were seeing inappropriate things of a sexual nature.
    At that point the mediator had to end the session because of his accusations. So my investigation from social services began. Of course nothing came of the investigation, it was just another way to turn the spotlight of his behaviour and on to me. His whole family have never spoken to me since I testified against him for attacking me and I have had to defend myself against his lies ever since.