‘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.