A reader asked:
Hi, I saw your post about abuse. How can you tell if your partner is abusing you? I’ve been told by a few of my friends that what my boyfriend is doing is “abuse”, but I don’t think it’s that severe. I don’t know how to feel about the situation.
I don’t know your situation, so I can’t tell you much about your relationship. What I can say is that friends can often see things going wrong from outside a relationship that are really hard to see from inside it. Whether or not you agree that what is going on is abuse, I think it’s important to listen to your friends, take their perspective seriously, and consider carefully whether they have a point.
If your friends whose judgement you respect think that you’re being treated poorly, it’s important to make sure that you understand why:
- Your friends might be wrong, but I think you should hear them out
- Let them completely explain what they mean
- In the course of that conversation, don’t argue or defend your boyfriend
- Listen, and make sure you completely understand what they are saying
- Take some time to process and consider whether they have a point
- What do they think is abusive about your relationship?
- Do you think the things they’re talking about are actually happening?
- If so (whether or not you’re comfortable using the word abuse) do you agree that those things are hurting you?
- If so, do you think there is a way to get your boyfriend to stop doing those things? Is this something you and he can work out?
- If he doesn’t stop, are you willing to tolerate those things long term, or are they dealbreaking?
- If you’re having mixed feelings about this, it’s probably a good idea to go back and talk to your friends some more about what they’re seeing and what you’re seeing
If you consider what your friends are seeing and whether you think you’re being hurt, you’ll get a better answer than you’ll get by considering in the abstract which things are bad enough to count as abuse.