Abusers are sly. Some of them are so clever and cunning and manipulative that you don't even realize how bad things are until you're already drowning in despair. That's because a lot of abusive behaviors can look like love. They can be disguised as caring, or as protecting you, or even as tough love.
When I worked in a women's shelter as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate, and sometimes when I talked to people or couples as a Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I heard loving tales of sweet partners who just happened to sometimes do horrible things, but really those horrible things weren't that bad, and didn't happen all the time. Not to disrespect anyone's journey or judge anyone's relationship, but the harsh reality is that those people were describing abusive relationships.
Abusers aren't always monsters. They're not always evil. They don't always punch you in the face when you talk back or do something they don't like. Sometimes they're you're most favorite people in all of the world. Sometimes they're truly your best friend and your family. That doesn't mean they're good for you, and it doesn't mean that those terrible times are OK.
Here are some more confusing situations where abuse can look like love. Remember, if you feel like you need help leaving your partner, or if you're just not sure if your relationship is healthy, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. They can help.
1. Justifying Everything With "I Just Love You So Much"
Translation: Jealousy. Jealousy seems cute and sweet at first. Like "aww, they really love me and don't want to lose me." But mostly, jealousy is a toxic behavior with its roots in insecurity and control. Remember your partner's feelings aren't an edict that states you have to dress a certain way, skip going out, or lose some good friends just to keep them from feeling uncomfortable. This is where trust and mutual respect comes in
2. ...And "I Want To Take Care Of You"
In this situation, it's abuse when one partner insists the other stay home. That person can refuse to let their partner work or go to school for all kinds of flowery reasons. They want to take care of you. You deserve to be provided for. No partner of mine is going to work some crap job. We can't afford school. The difference between these situations and non-abusive situations is choice. If you wanted to, could you work or go to school? A lot of abusers keep their partners without income, education, and work experience so that it's harder for them to leave.
3. Finding Excuses To Make A Fresh Start
A fresh start can be great for a relationship. But it can also be a form of abuse. How? Well, isolation is a common means of control for abusers. They often miraculously find a great job or fantastical reason to move to a place where their partner's have no friends, family, connections, or even familiar places. It can be packaged as a loving decision for the family and be a smoke screen for abuse.
4. Saying "If You Love Me, You'll... "
This phrase is the start of a classic manipulation. You don't have to do something you don't want to do in order to prove your love. You don't have to move, have sex, buy things, or even take out the trash in response to this manipulation. People who love you and want true, healthy relationships don't use manipulation tactics to get what they want. This behavior seems innocent, or at least minor, but it's a really powerful means of control.
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5. Threats Of Suicide
This is the ultimate manipulation. If your partner says they love you so much that they'll kill themselves if you leave or if you don't do what they want you to do, it's not romantic. It's abusive. From my training, I can tell you that the thing to do if you're trying to leave and you hear the suicide line is to say, "If you're feeling suicidal, I'll call the police or paramedics to come help you, but I'm not going to stay/come back/etc." Nine times out of ten they just get mad that you called their bluff and they stop the manipulation.
6. Explaining Irrational Behavior With, "I Want What's Best For Us"
This line sound loving, but in abusive situations, it really translates to "I want what's best for me." It's used to justify a ton of abusive and controlling moves, like convincing a partner to cut ties with her family or convincing partners to give them all their money. Ask yourself if what's happening truly is best for you, or just for your partner. You might be surprised how self-serving your partner really is.
7. Saying "I Want Us To Be A Family"
I know it sounds gross, and you might thinking "really?" but this happens way more than it should. One partner uses love and family as an excuse to rape their partners, make them keep an unwanted pregnancy, or try to keep them from leaving. If your partner really wanted to be a family, they would respect your body and your choices. Family has many definitions. None of them should include rape, control, or abuse.
8. The "I Just Want Our Kids To Have The Best" Manipuluation
Playing the loving parent card is another seemingly loving situation that's a front for control and abuse. It can be lobbed at the other parent to shame them into staying home and caring for the children, homeschooling the children, disciplining them certain way, or controlling their food, toys, and who get to see them. Again, not to sound like a broken record, but this behavior is self-serving, and rooted in insecurity and a need to control a partner and the children.
9. Saying "This Is How Much I Love You"
Love is a powerful weapon. An abuser will use it to keep the upper hand over their partner. They'll say things like "nobody will ever love you as much as I do" and "nobody else knows how you need to be treated" and "we really need each other." In the right light, these things sound sweet and can make you feel loved, even when they come from an abuser. Abusers can be really charming and romantic, remember. Unfortunately, they usually say it when they feel their grip on you lessening or they sense that you're vulnerable.
10. Using Gifts As A Weapon
Gifts are great! But abusers can use them in crappy ways. They can buy gifts to make you believe their apologies when they hit you (and sometimes they really are sorry). They can buy you clothes to control how you dress. They can buy you expensive things and pay your bills so you won't leave them (or so you feel like you can't leave them). Gifts are always gifts. Sure, we all get and give gifts sometimes to say we're sorry, but in healthy relationships, we don't do it with such a weighty agenda.
11. Saying "It's Other People I Don't Trust"
Being protective is totally sweet. It's something that gets me every time. But there's a line between being protective and being controlling. If your partner uses lines like "it's other people I don't trust" or "I need to take care of you" when they won't let you go places alone or do things you want to do, then it's a problem. In a healthy relationship, you can feel safe, and feel like your partner has your back without also feeling like you need permission to live your life.
It's a harsh pill to swallow, but sometimes what feels like love is actually abuse or unhealthy behaviors. That's why it's such a powerful manipulation.
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