Standing Up in Abusive Relationships


Abusive relationships


Suzanna was swept off her feet by Stanley. He was charismatic, charming, interesting, and really attentive. In the early days they would go out for really long dates and the time would fly.

After 6 months of dating, Stanley asked Suzanna to move in with him and she said yes. A week prior to moving in, she began questioning her decision when they got in their first fight. Stanley tried to make love to Suzanna one day and she turned him down. She was feeling distracted by work and antsy and just wasn’t in the mood. He didn’t like it one bit.

To make matters worse, when she tried to explain what she was feeling, Stanley told her she was lying and was instead feeling it was okay to step all over him and that she didn’t care how he felt.

Although Suzanna pondered whether she should move in with him or not, when she tried talking with him about it, he became furious and threatened to end the relationship. She moved in because she loved him and didn’t want the relationship to end.

Stanley could be really loving one minute and critical and demanding the next. He would get mad at her for spending too much time saying goodbye to her family when they visited.  He would accuse her of being in love with her brother. He would criticize her friends and make her feel guilty for spending time with them instead of him. Suzanna was shocked by his behaviour and tried to make Stanley feel more secure by being more attentive.

It didn’t seem to work, however. They began to get into regular arguments about their sex life. Stanley would accuse Suzanna of being frigid, uptight, and of not being attracted to him if she didn’t have sex with him whenever he wanted it. Stanley would relentlessly attack her verbally or would give her the silent treatment until she gave in. She knew it was wrong to force her to have sex and tried to talk with him about it. Unfortunately Stanley would become defensive and would do everything he could to make her feel she was wrong and he was right.

After 6 years of being together and trying everything she could think of to make things better, Suzanna realized their relationship was not going to change. She left the relationship and tried to rebuild her life.

It wasn’t easy though. Suzanna felt blamed and unsupported when family and friends told her they would never have ‘put up’ with that kind of behaviour. They questioned why she stayed so long. Suzanna tried to explain she never ‘put up’ with anything and tried her best to make things better. She wasn’t sure they really got it.

Despite these hardships, Suzanna knew she had made the right decision in leaving and was able to move forward in her life.

Abusive relationships

We hear about victims of domestic violence regularly in the news. The Calgary Herald newspaper recently reported there’s 16 000 domestic-violence related incidents reported to the Calgary Police Department each year.

It’s an all-too-common problem that people are hestitant to talk about. Why? Perhaps because it’s too awful for many to think about. Perhaps because it’s easier for some to minimize abuser’s actions as “hot-tempered”, “passionate”, or “a little possessive”.

Unfortunately, often when abusive relationships are actually talked about, there seems to be blame put on the victims for staying–like it’s easy to leave.

I wrote about this in another blog entitled Violence Against Women: Responding to Abuse. Women are often described as putting up with the violence or passively staying when in reality, people in abusive relationships actively do things to try to stop the abuse.

Standing Up

People stand up to abusers in many ways including actively trying to talk with them about what they’re doing, talking with others, or by trying to stop the abuse however they can.

In the heat of the moment, victims may try to implore the abuser to stop what s/he’s doing. It may or may not be successful. But whether or not it is successful is not the point. The point is that victims are actively trying to stop the abuse. That’s very different from passively accepting what’s happening.

Victims may try talking with abusers when they’re calm and everything seems to be going well. They may invite the abusers to be responsible and accountable for their behavior and to get help.

Victims may stand up covertly or indirectly against the abuse by doing a variety of things to stop it. For example, they might try to keep their home alcohol-free or suggest abusers stop drinking when they think they’ve had enough. They might try to stay in public with abusers when they fear impending violence knowing most perpetrators will wait until they are alone with victims to hurt them.

They may stand up covertly by telling themselves how wrong or undeserving the abuse is. They may say things to themselves to buffer the harsh criticism such as, “If he really knew me, he’d know I’d never try to make him jealous” or “I’m going to get through this. He’s responsible for what he’s doing, not me.”

Victims may also talk with friends and/or family despite feeling ashamed or even disloyal. Speaking up to trusted people can take away feeling isolated or alone with the abuse.

Victims in abusive relationships may reach out to people on distress lines or to psychologists or other therapists to get support. They may develop a safety plan or a plan for leaving the relationship that may keep them as safe as possible.


People like Suzanna do stand up in abusive relationships. They do many things to try to make the verbal, physical, or mental abuse stop. It’s high time we honour that stance and appreciate the strength that that takes regardless of whether or not they’re ultimately successful in stopping the abuse.

What do you think?