December 4, 2023

Different Types of Abuse in a Relationship

A Couple Fighting


Episode Summary 

Welcome to The Communicate & Connect Podcast! In this episode we have a vital conversation on our agenda: Different Types of Abuse in a Relationship. We delve into this sensitive topic due to an unexpected rescheduling, but it’s a discussion that cannot be overstated in its importance.

In our episode, we’ll explore various forms of intimate partner violence, from the more apparent physical and emotional abuse, to the often-overlooked financial and digital dating abuse. We’ll dissect the differences between situational partner violence and intimate terrorism and discuss why understanding these distinctions is crucial before considering measures like divorce.

Statistics reveal that intimate partner violence and emotional abuse are alarmingly common, and we’ll talk about the stigma faced by male victims and the prevalence of bi-directional violence, with a specific look at its impact in military relationships.

We’ll also scrutinize traditional therapy approaches and why they may have fallen short, leading us to the growing research that supports the use of couple therapy, especially emotionally focused therapy, for situational couple violence.

We acknowledge the societal pressures and the risks of escalation that come with experiencing violence in a relationship. Our goal is to offer a haven for listeners to learn, seek support, and understand the reality of abuse, and the importance of professional help, whether through resources like the National Domestic Violence HotlineMilitary One Source, or our own ten-week Relationship Email Course.

Remember, this podcast is not a substitute for therapy, but a guide to educate and support. If any content in today’s episode triggers you, please reach out for help from a professional.

​Prepare to learn, grow, and connect as we navigate the complex and troubling waters of relationship abuse. Stay tuned as we dive deep into the different types of abuse, their manifestations, and steps toward healing and healthier relationships.

Episode Transcript

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:00:02]:
This podcast is sponsored by my counseling practice, Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling, where I offer weekly marriage counseling, weekend long, marriage intensives, and therapist training in emotionally focused couple therapy. To learn more about my marriage counseling services, visit Welcome back to the Communicate and Connect podcast. This is episode 45 on different types of abuse in a relationship. I am doing this episode today. I’ll say this was not originally what I had planned for December 2023 episode. I have a couple, they were a dual military couple that stayed together and they’re now veterans. And I’m really excited for them to come be on the podcast. But they had to reschedule.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:01:09]:
So you will be seeing them again hopefully in a few episodes. And so this gave me an opportunity to talk about something that impacts a lot of couples, which is some form of intimate partner violence, domestic violence or abuse that happens in relationships. And why am I talking about this? Well, outside of the fact that it impacts so many people and that it is relatively common among military relationships, I also am part of tons of military spouse Facebook groups. And there was recently a post that I saw in one of these groups where someone posted anonymously about how they thought their partner was controlling a lot of the money and they were thinking that it was considered financial abuse and what should they do, how should they handle that situation? And as I was reading this post in this Facebook group, I was really interested in the comments and the advice that was being given by other military spouses, which was to leave, was to leave the marriage, divorce the person and move on, which is certainly a possibility if that person is even considering leaving the marriage. But there are also a lot of other possibilities when it comes to types of abuse. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about the difference between something called situational partner violence versus intimate terrorism. And why this is important is because this is kind of complex to talk about because abuse is never okay. And all forms of abuse or all forms of problematic behaviors that happen in relationships have sort of, in our society, just gotten lumped together under this umbrella of you should leave if you don’t like someone’s behaviors.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:03:33]:
You should just leave without having a deeper understanding of what is okay, what is not okay, what is somewhat normal, what is something that could be worked through and improved on in a relationship versus when should you absolutely, 100% leave? We’ll be talking about situational partner violence versus intimate terrorism, talking a little bit about the research on abuse and the prevalence rates, types of abuse that happen in relationships. There can be physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, sort of this like digital dating abuse that happens over technology and stalking. And I’m going to give some examples of each of these so that way, if you are encountering this in your relationship, you have an idea of what it is and then how to find help is what we’ll cover at the end. So the first thing that I want to talk about is something called situational partner violence, also sometimes called common couple violence versus intimate terrorism. So intimate terrorism is when there is an attempt to dominate one person, when one person tries to dominate their partner and exert control over the relationship. And so I guess I should probably just say have a little trigger warning blurb. If you have been in a relationship where there was violence or if you’ve experienced abuse of some kind in the past, this may be a challenging episode to listen to. I would definitely recommend skipping this episode if you need to, to be okay or following up with military one source or your therapist to help process any difficult feelings that this episode might bring up.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:05:45]:
Intimate terrorism is where there’s this pervasive pattern in the relationship where one partner is trying to control the other partner. And so it’s not situational, it doesn’t happen sometimes it’s a pervasive pattern and the attitude is won by the partner who is controlling. They would have this sort of attitude of control in the relationship. Situational or common couple violence actually ends up being the majority of all of the intimate partner violence cases and it is where there’s intimate partner violence that is not part of this general overarching pattern of controlling behaviors. Instead it’s kind of about conflict and where the stress gets really high in a family or a couple and the conflict situation between them is so high, then the conflict might escalate into violence on certain situations. And this is where that’s a very different thing than having a partner who’s controlling you all the time. When there is situational violence, which is the majority of cases, that is something that therapy can help with. Reducing stress in the family, helping improve coping skills for stress, helping improve communication, conflict resolution skills, how do we compromise? There are so much that can be done to help stress and conflict be appropriately handled in a relationship and then prevent future violence from happening.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:07:36]:
So when there is intimate terrorism that tends to be more clear cut. A lot of people would say that’s for sure when you should leave a relationship. But what people don’t always realize is that most couples actually have some sort of situational couple violence in their relationship. So here is some research for you. So, 24% of people are assaulted by a partner in a lifetime at some point in their lifetime. 25.3% of people have perpetrated intimate partner violence at some point in their lifetime. So already we’re talking about one fourth of the population will experience it, experience violence and will perpetrate violence at some point in their lifetime. 80% of the population will perpetrate emotional abuse in their lifetime.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:08:45]:
And this is something that I see often in couples therapy where somebody comes in and they say, my partner is abusive or they pushed me away or they did something that was abusive, but the other partner doesn’t recognize how they were also perpetrating emotional abuse towards their partner. That is a very common experience that one person is being emotionally abusive and then the other person sort of like pushes them away or something to get them to stop the emotional abuse. But then only the person who did the pushing away to try to get the emotional abuse ends up being labeled as the abuser. So this is an example of where stress and conflict escalate into violence versus something that would be in a more intimate terrorism sort of situation. It still can be really rough and potentially lethal, like, especially if someone fell down the stairs. So it’s not something that we want to ever have continue and it does absolutely need to be addressed. But a situation like that is not necessarily a 100% you should go get divorced or leave your partner back to research. 57.9% of intimate partner violence is bi directional.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:10:19]:
So just under 60%, this sort of goes back to that example I gave. So often when people have concerns about abuse, one person ends up being labeled the abuser. But that is very rarely the case. Most of the time, people are being abusive back and forth to each other. And so that gets more complicated to just say one person is the bad guy. About 42% of violence is one direction. And in the research that shows that violence is one direction, we actually have females being higher than the rate of males for being the perpetrator of violence. This is very rarely talked about.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:11:13]:
I have had couples come to see me where the male spouse was not violent, but the female spouse was violent. And there can be a lot of shame, especially for men who are experiencing violence. Like they’re sort of a cultural stigma of I’m supposed to be strong, I can’t be the victim. Men don’t get abused by women. There are lots of social scripts around abuse that are not always accurate. And so when abuse is just one direction being happening by one person versus both people back and forth, it ends up being females who tend to be more violent and be perpetrating more violence in their relationships than men. The one caveat to this is when it comes to the military. So in the military it’s a little bit higher with men being the primary perpetrator.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:12:23]:
But still, even within military couple relationships, 40% of the intimate partner violence that takes place in military relationships is bi directional with both people being abusive back and forth to each other. So generally, when you take all of this research together, most violence is bi directional. And I’ll say it’s even a little bit higher for college students. There’s like some interesting research around college students. That’s not most of people listening to this episode. So I won’t go into that too much. But most violence is bi directional and most violence is actually situational. Not where their stress and the conflict between the couple escalate into violence.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:13:15]:
But it’s not part of a pervasive pattern. So it is good to know the types of abuse that can happen and I’ll give a couple of examples. So, physical abuse is any intentional unwanted contact that is with you or something close to your body or any behavior that causes or has the intention of causing you bodily harm, injury, disability or death. So examples of that might be scratching, punching, biting, strangling, choking, kicking, throwing items, pulling your hair, pushing you, pulling you, forcefully, grabbing you or your clothing, threatening to use a gun, a knife, box cutter, bat, mace, or other weapon against you. Touching any part of you without your permission or consent, forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act, grabbing your face to make you look at them, or preventing you from leaving or forcing you to go somewhere. These would all be forms of potentially physical abuse. There is some nuance there touching any part of you without your permission or consent. I know a lot of couples where there isn’t abuse, where they will just go hug each other or they’ll lean their head on someone’s shoulder.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:14:50]:
Technically that is touching somebody without their permission or consent. So you would have to be looking at this as like this is a harm right? There’s some sort of intentional unwanted contact where the intention is to cause me injury or disability or death. So emotional abuse includes nonphysical behaviors like threats, insults, constant monitoring or checking in, excessive texting, doing things to create or cause someone to experience humiliation, intimidation, isolation, or stalking. I’m going to talk about stalking on its own, but that’s still good to maybe include here. So an example might be calling you names, putting you down, telling you what to wear or telling you what to do, yelling or screaming at you. This is very common for couples. I’m just thinking the bi directional violence. There are a lot of couples who end up getting into yelling and screaming matches at each other and this is where that stress and that conflict has escalated.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:16:07]:
But it doesn’t necessarily mean that one partner has this overarching control and dominance over the other person. Other examples of emotional abuse intentionally embarrassing you in front of others or starting rumors about you. Preventing you from seeing or communicating with friends or family, or threatening to have your children taken away from you. Damaging your property by throwing objects, punching walls, kicking doors, things like that. Using any sort of online community or communication to control, intimidate or humiliate you. Blaming abusive or unhealthy behavior on you or your actions like well you made me do this. That would be a form of emotional abuse. Being jealous of outside relationships, or accusing you of cheating, stalking you or your loved ones threatening to harm you, your pets, or other people in your life.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:17:09]:
Threatening to harm themselves to keep you from ending the relationship. So if they threaten suicide, that would be a form of emotional Abuse gaslighting is an interesting term that has kind of gotten watered down in our general population. I’ll probably do a whole episode on gaslighting at some point, but gaslighting you by pretending not to understand or refusing to listen to you if they’re questioning your recollection of facts, events or sources trivializing your needs or feelings, or denying previous statements or promises. This can be a form of gaslighting. But again, that feels like a really loaded topic that we will probably do a whole episode on at some point. Other forms of emotional abuse might include making you feel guilty or immature if you don’t consent to some sort of sexual activity, or threatening to expose your personal details such as your sexual orientation or your immigration status. So the next category is sexual abuse. It’s any behavior that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:18:31]:
So unwanted kissing or touching unwanted rough or violent sexual activity, refusing to use condoms or restricting someone’s access to birth control, preventing someone from using protection against unwanted well, I’m thinking this is probably always unwanted. So I’m sorry. For my little flip up with words there, but I was thinking preventing someone from using protection against sexually transmitted infections or diseases, which is probably unwanted in the majority of cases. Sexual contact with someone who’s intoxicated from drugs or alcohol, who’s unconscious, asleep or otherwise unable to give clear and informed consent threatening, pressuring or otherwise forcing someone to have sex or perform sexual acts, or using sexual insults towards somebody. Those would all be forms of sexual abuse. Financial abuse often is in more subtle ways than the other forms of abuse, but can be harmful as well. Financial abuse might include things like giving you an allowance or monitoring what you buy. Depositing your paycheck into an account that you can’t access, preventing you from seeing shared bank accounts or records forbidding you from working or limiting.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:20:05]:
The hours that you are allowed to work, preventing you from going to work by taking your car or the keys or whatever other mode of transportation you might have, getting you fired by harassing you, your employer or your coworkers hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or other financial support, using your Social Security number to obtain loans without your permission, or using a child’s Social Security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission. Maxing out your credit cards without permission refusing to provide you with money, food, rent, medicine or clothing using funds from your child’s tuition or a joint savings account without your knowledge spending money on themselves while preventing you from doing the same thing giving you presents or paying for things with expectation of something in return, or using financial circumstances to control you. So these would be different types of problematic behaviors that would fall under the larger umbrella of financial abuse. There can also be something called digital dating abuse which is the use of technology like texting and social media to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. It’s really like a form of verbal or emotional abuse but it’s just done online. So telling you who you can or can’t follow or be friends with on social media sending you any sort of negative, insulting or threatening messages or emails. Using social media to track your activities, insulting or humiliating you on their posts online, including posting unflattering photos or videos sending, requesting or pressuring you to send unwanted explicit photos or videos, sexts or sexting or otherwise compromising messages. Stealing or pressuring you to share your account passwords constantly texting you or making you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone looking through your phone or checking up on your pictures, texts and phone records using any kind of technology such as spyware or GPS in a car or a phone to monitor your activities.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:22:47]:
And then there’s stalking, which occurs when someone watches, follows, harasses you repeatedly and making you feel afraid or unsafe by these behaviors. So maybe showing up at your home or workplace unannounced or uninvited. Sending you unwanted texts, messages, letters, emails or voicemails. Leaving you unwanted items, gifts, flowers. Calling you hanging up repeatedly or making unwanted phone calls to you your employer, your teacher or a loved one using social media or technology to track your activities spreading rumors about you online or in person manipulating other people to investigate your life including using someone else’s social media account to look. At your profile or befriending your friends in order to get information about you waiting around at places you spend time at, damaging your home, car or other property, or hiring a private investigator to follow or find you as a way of knowing your location or movements. So this is a very exhaustive list of different types of abuse that can happen. It was important to me to share that because a lot of times people are not really sure what is considered abuse.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:24:11]:
What isn’t considered abuse is your partner doing any of these things. This might help you understand if there are abusive behaviors in your relationship but because abuse is also most of it is bi directional, it might also help you understand if you might be perpetrating abuse in your relationship in some way. And if you are, it doesn’t mean that you or your partner are horrible, horrible people. Which is often the message that people get in society that they are super bad and wrong and that there is something wrong, super bad and wrong and our relationship is bad. And this sort of messaging creates more shame for people and then when people have shame, they hide and they isolate and they don’t tell other people and they don’t reach out for help to improve things. I wanted to share this because most relationships experience at least situational couple violence at some point and most of the time it’s bi directional. And so often I see couples in my office where someone is complaining about their partner being abusive and they’re not recognizing how they are also engaging in abusive behaviors in the relationship. And if this is you or your relationship, there is help available.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:25:47]:
So there are a couple of things that I wanted to share about this. I’ll say traditionally couples therapists were taught in their programs that if there is any type of violence in a relationship that you shouldn’t work with the couple, that the violence needs to be gone in order to work on the relationship. And then you just send people off to whatever domestic violence resources there are in the community and to have them engage in individual therapy. I’ll say there is more and more research that is being done around using couple therapy with clients who are working through some sort of situational couple violence that happens between them. I would say that you would want to work with a couple therapist who has some sort of some training and experience working with situational couple violence and is familiar with working on that with the couple together. So I think for many of us who do this type of work, it’s important and of value to us because for many of our clients they get that message that from the world, from their family, from their friends, from people they work with their community that just say like that’s bad, you’re wrong, you should leave. Just like in that Facebook post that I saw like tons of comments divorce, just leave him, get divorced. And it can be really devastating for the person who wants to stay in the relationship to be getting all these messages from everybody that they should leave and certainly that is their choice to leave.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:27:55]:
I want to say like everyone has the right to choose to leave at any point and we should absolutely be promoting their right to choose. But they often when they want to stay in a relationship and the only message they’re getting is that this is bad and it’s wrong and you should leave, they tend to isolate, the only person they can talk to about it is then their partner. But there’s all that stress for both of those partners and then it can escalate into more violence because it creates this pressure cooker sort of scenario. And instead, it’s much more helpful for a couple if they can work with a couple therapist who has experience in this and they can let out some of that steam and that stress within the safe environment of couple therapy to then work towards creating long term changes. So the type of therapy I would recommend for this. It’s what I recommend for most things, but I think it’s like the only one I would really recommend right now, at least for intimate partner violence, is emotionally focused couples therapy. And we’re about to do a whole series on attachment and emotionally focused couples therapy and how that can be helpful for couples in general, but especially for military couples in the next few episodes. Here the other resource, particularly if it does feel like a pervasive pattern, or if you are wanting help to leave your relationship, or you just want support and to understand what your options are if something is or isn’t abuse, how to help you feel safer even if you decide to stay in the relationship.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:29:49]:
There is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This would be the kind of like, other resource that I’d really recommend. The website is you can call them 24/7. Or you can also text them at 88788. Again, that’s 88788. So I realize that this has been a long episode full of a lot of information that can also be very divisive and emotionally triggering for people.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:30:37]:
If you need some type of support, again, I would recommend either like after listening to this episode because you found it hard to listen to, I would recommend contacting either the National Domestic Violence Hotline, your individual therapist. If you are a military member or a military spouse, you can contact Military OneSource for free confidential counseling as well. All right, thanks for listening.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:31:15]:
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If so, please take a second to go rate, review, and subscribe so you get all of our future episodes. Make sure to check out the show notes to sign up for our free ten week Relationship email course. This email course is really designed for people who are maybe having trouble with communication or connection in their relationship and helping them develop some quick wins right away to start improving it’s.

Elizabeth Polinsky [00:31:56]:
While I am a therapist, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not considered therapy and it should also not be replacement for therapy. If you think you need a professional of any kind, you should definitely go find one. Until next time.


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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