Relationships can be wonderful, joyous and exciting, they can develop into functional and mutually respectful companionship. Sometimes , a healthy relationship dynamic can be really difficult for some to identify and recognise. To be in a healthy relationship I believe we need to have been raised to trust our instincts. Sadly we live in a world in which our instincts can often be undermined, challenged or dismissed, particularly as young children growing up. This can sometimes continue throughout our education and into adulthood. It then becomes very hard to trust our instincts if something feels wrong in our adult world.
Think about your daughter, what sort of relationship will you want her to be in when she grows up? Think about your sons, what qualities would you like them to bring to a relationship when they are older? We can often identify the important things in a relationship when we are thinking about the small people that we made and therefore love unconditionally. Does your own relationship look like the one you want for your child?
What Is An Abusive Relationship?
A healthy relationship is one in which both partners are kind, respectful, respected and supportive. When disagreements occur no one is hurt physically, or intimidated, or threatened with verbal aggression. Both partners are willing to listen and are eventually driven to find mutually acceptable solutions. Your partner will want you to succeed, achieve and be happy. Sometimes you might go through difficult times, but ultimately you will communicate respectfully.
NB: For the purpose of this writing I am referring to abusive relationships in the most common dynamic, male perpetrator and female victim. I acknowledge that the dynamic can be the other way and can occur in same sex relationships.
Sadly sometimes it is the very experience of being in a disrespectful, unequal relationship that will cause a woman to learn it is not a normal healthy dynamic through their lived experience.
Often the doubts are there early on, as in the challenging story shared below. It can become easy to normalise what is going on in our relationship, to hide it from others, to minimise or downgrade what is actually being experienced to fit a different dialogue that we have created for ourselves. Sometimes we feel so embarrassed and ashamed. How on earth did I get myself in this situation? Living in this dynamic can often mean woman are being, harmed, being physically or mentally hurt, blamed, accused and put down and undermined which can often lead to them doing the very same thing to themselves internally. So often for one or both people in the relationship there are mental health issues, depression, low self-esteem, struggling acceptance of new parental roles, postnatal depression, post-traumatic stress and a lack of being able to ask for help or even knowing where to go for help. Domestic Abuse knows no bounds. It affects women across every description of race, age, class, socio-economic or educational status.
Sometimes woman will confide in someone and the person they confide in may inadvertedly say things that are unhelpful or dismissive. The first time a woman confides in someone can cause them to feel they have said too much, made a bigger deal of something that they shouldn’t have. They can subsequently regret saying it out loud, particularly if the person they have confided in suddenly may have an expectation of them to do something about it. Many woman will just not be ready to take those steps yet. Many people that learn of disrespectful or abusive behaviour just cannot understand why a woman would remain in that situation and may very quickly become judgemental of the situation. The victim may only just be acknowledging to themselves the unhealthy and damaging relationship dynamics that are going on. Many woman that have been in abusive relationships will struggle to call it that. They will struggle to feel that what was happening to them warrants such a strong and descriptive term. They may not wish to refer to themselves as a victim or later; a survivor. Although to an outsider listening to what is going on there is a clear perpetrator and a clear victim it is unlikely either of them will see it that way. There will also be a lot of fear. Fear of the future, Fear of decision making, Financial and housing Fear, Fear of threats, Fear of harm, Fear of the perpetrator self-harming/threatening suicide, fear of having children taken away, either from social care or by the perpetrator partner.
What Support Is Available?
The services that are out there and the pathways that follow can feel incredibly frightening. Finding yourself brave enough to confide in a service, such as the police to report abuse takes a lot of courage and strength. The first time a woman contacts the police about abuse will almost never be the first time they have experienced abuse. Again sadly reflected in our story here, sometimes the services you confide in may not follow a pathway that ends up leaving you supported and connected to other services that will support your whole family. This is a tragic and avoidable situation. I sadly see so many people fear Social Care support. It is Social Cares responsibility and role to keep families together, it is also their responsibility to safe guard children. They will work with a family to do everything they can to support the family to a healthier and more supported dynamic. Although sadly with services struggling financially, sometimes you may find yourself navigating a situation without a clear pathway but with a bit of knowledge of where to go you can hopefully access support through various different places.
If you are in a disrespectful or unequal relationship. If you are scared, fear your partner or have to work very hard to try to prevent him from being angry, upset or physically or emotionally controlling or abusive and you are wanting to find support or someone to talk to, there are lots of places out there that have lots of experience of supporting families through this. You may have a friend that can help you to navigate the pathway so you don’t have to do it alone. Leaving a relationship like this can be a dangerous time. Sometimes the plans you make will need to be done in confidence. It is very important that you have appropriate support in place and confide in people that you can trust.
Sadly there are limited options available to a perpetrator of violence. Many of those that are using force or anger to control their world may not be able to accept that their behaviour is unacceptable or damaging. Getting the support to get to that place is not easy. There are some places and options available, particularly if the person recognises their behaviour is damaging and causing devastation.
For help for families living in fear, or needing support
The free 24hr National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership with Womans Aid and Refuge) is 0808 2000 247.
You do not have to wait for an emergency to get help. The following NHS website has some really good signposts for identifying whether you are in an abusive relationship and where to go for help.
If you are in immediate danger, the police are there to protect you and your children. If your partner is physically hurting you, damaging your home, intimidating you or your children then you can call the police for emergency support. Hopefully the police will send someone who has experience of supporting victims of Domestic Violence. Do not fear asking if there is an officer with experience of Domestic Abuse. The support and signposts you get may be very different. You do not have to wait to be invited to contact other services alongside the police. You can contact other places alongside the police for full support. You do not have to press charges against the perpetrator if you do not want to. You can still ask the police to help you in that moment.
Look for your local Womans Resource Centre as they will have woman employees with experience of supporting and guiding families with abuse.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) can support anyone that is being threatened with domestic violence to apply for an emergency court injunction. This can be issued within 24hrs of making contact with them. The NCDV work in close partnership with police, solicitors and other support agencies like Womens Aid and Refuge to help victims obtain swift protection.
If you are worried about a friend (from the NHS website):
“If you’re worried a friend is being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong.
They might not be ready to talk, but try to find quiet times when they can talk if they choose to.
If someone confides in you that they’re suffering domestic abuse:
- listen, and take care not to blame
- acknowledge it takes strength to talk to someone about experiencing abuse
- give them time to talk, but don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to
- acknowledge they’re in a frightening and difficult situation
- tell them nobody deserves to be threatened or beaten, despite what the abuser has said
- support them as a friend – encourage them to express their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions
- don’t tell them to leave the relationship if they’re not ready – that’s their decision
- ask if they have suffered physical harm – if so, offer to go with them to a hospital or GP
- help them report the assault to the police if they choose to
- be ready to provide information on organisations that offer help for people experiencing domestic abuse”
The book ‘Helping Her Get Free’ by Susan Brewster is a wonderful resource for those that have a friend or family member that is in a damaging relationship.
Last but not least, if you think you are a perpetrator of violence, if you are struggling with a relationship and your need to control things by using anger or force there is support out there.
Contact your local CAFCASS office and talk to someone about the Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programme: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-perpetrator-programme/
One Story of Domestic Abuse
Domestic abuse. Domestic violence. Tough topics to talk about, but it is essential to do so, because they thrive in the shadows and leave people second-guessing. Even doubting in their own mind whether what is going on is abuse or whether it is just normal.
We were married and I was pregnant less than a year after we were going out. There was some pressure behind this because of my age, although it was a surprise to get pregnant so quickly.
I had a text-book pregnancy and a lovely planned caesarean birth. We took home our little bundle of joy and started to get on with life.
Now, due to our circumstances it was me as a mum that was tasked with going out to work and it was his job to look after our baby. After 6 months he had what would and should have been diagnosed as post-natal depression if he were a mum. But even though he was the stay at home parent he didn’t get the help he needed.
He became aggressive and withdrawn. He was often jealous of me working and him looking after the baby, despite our agreement. I too had mental health problems and we had agreed that as long as he was seeking help all was good. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t long after this that his outbursts began. It could be about anything and could happen at any time. He would storm out of the house leaving me with 2 minutes to get our child from nursery and got upset over the slightest thing. But it was so gradual, and subtle. And it was so easy to put it down to his mental health. I knew that he was better if he was taking his medication properly and I would force him to the doctor when anything went wrong.
There was a lot of gaslighting too. He would blame me for things, say that it was my mental health problems that made him like that. He would say it was my fault and twist it, so I was to blame. I kept going throughout all of this because I knew that his threat of leaving with the baby was very real. I did feel trapped at times.
My health got worse a few months before the trigger for me finally leaving him occurred. I spent some time in hospital and during that time the staff there were concerned about how he was towards me. It was the first time I considered his behaviour to be abusive. He had worn me down to the point of needing hospital care for my mental health. Even then I blamed myself. I thought I was a bad mum, and not there for my child. I was so scared of losing my child at that point, not to him, but to social services. He had convinced me I was a risk to my child. It took me some time to come to fully realise how manipulative he was, but unfortunately it was too late.
Even though there were times when I simply chucked my child in the sling and ran, I ended up running to his parents, because he had convinced me that my friends and family didn’t understand me and didn’t know me. His parents always listened but always just sent me back to him. Looking back, I can see it’s where he learnt it from.
Unfortunately, it took one big thing for me to realise how bad it was. I went in a daze to the police station to report him for sexually assaulting me. I remember the police officer explaining the different types of offences to me and that now I had reported it they had a duty to investigate.
Unfortunately, they didn’t do a good job, and in the time it took them to investigate and decide against a charge he had managed to remove our child from my care. I hadn’t even fully realised the extent of his controlling and manipulative behaviour at that point.
It was only when the police spoke to me after; deciding not to charge him, making a comment that it was the first time I had reported anything to the police did I sit down and think about it.
I started to look back at the texts, the emails and even the videos that I had started to take out of concern for him and ultimately my safety. Over that weekend I collated together a list of incidents from the last few years. When I sat with that evidence in front of me, I finally realised and accepted what had happened. It was a turning point for me,
I once again reported it to the police, but again nothing was done. It didn’t matter to me, because I had to try and focus on getting my child back, something I’m still trying to do 2 years later. He continues to control me through our child and use my mental health as a weapon whilst hiding the true extent of his issues
I must hold on to the truth. It’s the only thing I have. To anyone who has read this and is questioning their relationship, please reach out and get help. Please keep you and your child safe. If like me you want to sit and write a list of things that’s happened, then please do so safely. I can highly recommend using sanitary towels as a good place to hide small things, just by re sealing the top of the packet.
But please reach out to someone too. Tell them your worries. If it’s someone you have lost touch with since being with your partner, then don’t feel you can’t. A good friend should understand when you explain it to them. There are some really good resources out on the big wide web, have a look at women’s aid as a starting point.
About The Author
Katie Olliffe is a home schooling Mum to 2 boys, Step Mum to 3, Partner to Rich. Birth and Postnatal Doula, CalmFamily Consultant, Public Speaker and Writer, Rewind Birth Trauma Practitioner and Positive Birth Movement Facilitator. Campaigner for: Woman and Children’s Rights, Changes to Behavioural Policies in Schools, Domestic Violence and Whole Family Support. She loves reading, rollerskating and cuddling babies. She also loves talking about normal infant sleep and brain development.
You can find Katie at