Here’s how to tell if a relationship you’re in is “Love” or “Abuse”:
1. Love allows–Abuse controls
When truly loved, you are seen for both your best and worst qualities. You can be fully yourself.
In a loving relationship, there can be some quality of wanting to please the other person because you care about them. That’s normal. But you have the feeling that being yourself is what’s pleasing to the other person!
If the relationship is abusive, your actions are calculated to get a response from the other person. If I do XYZ, will they still love me? Will they criticize and reject me? You monitor their actions toward you out of fear you will lose their love or set off a reaction that hurts you.
If it’s abuse, you’ll feel controlled, like you have to abide by what they ask of you in order to keep their love. You’ll resort to behaviors that aren’t normally like you (e.g, defend your good qualities, beg, yell, shut down, etc) – these are efforts to try to control the other person to stop being abusive and instead to find you loveable.
You’ll find yourself walking on eggshells, always trying to perform as the “perfect” version of who they think you should be…but never feeling that you live up to that ideal they have in their head. You get the sense you can never really connect with them or make them happy.
You’re Not Yourself, and it Shows
Do you feel loved by the other person, or are you TRYING to get them to love you?
Does your reaction to the other person’s behavior make you feel like you are not yourself anymore?
2. Love comes from within, abuse doesn’t
Real love comes with the understanding that no one is responsible for making you happy but you. It’s the joining together of two separate people who are each able to make themselves happy to share that joy with each other and support one another when one is temporarily not able to feel that love for themselves.
In an abusive relationship, one person is using the other person to have their needs met and the other person allows it. If you allow it, it might be because you feel endangered for yourself (or children). Or you might have your own need for someone to find you loveable.
Abuse is a one-sided relationship in which one person tries to control the other person in order to feel powerful. Or it’s a relationship in which two people are trying to control the other in order to feel love inside that they can’t access themselves. The relationship is characterized by two people trying to control each other.
Do you feel there are two whole people in your relationship?
Do you feel seen and accepted, or do you feel that the other person’s behavior shapes you to act only in certain ways under threat you will be rejected?
3. You Can Have Love and Abuse in the Same Relationship
Contrary to what we’re often told in movies and songs, it takes more than love to make a relationship work. The presence of love doesn’t mean the absence of abuse. It’s possible to have a relationship in which there is an underlying feeling of love even while abuse dynamics are present.
When a relationship is characterized by both love and abuse, it can be confusing. One minute you feel bonded, and another minute you feel belittled or controlled. Which is it? It can be both.
The abusive person can have some abilities that make them fun or even loving at times, AND they might also have longstanding relational patterns that get triggered when they feel threatened by you or don’t feel good about themselves in the world. Then they seem to ‘turn into a monster’.
This is why the person may apologize for their behavior and promise to change…but then do it again.
And this is why you may have a constant ‘back and forth’ between your love for the person and the voice deep inside of you that ‘knows’ you are not being treated right.
Do you have an intuition that something is ‘not right’ in the relationship even though you want it to be?
Do you spend a lot of your time trying to understand why the other person behaves the way they do, and it doesn’t seem right or natural to you?
4. Real Love is Worth Celebrating
In a loving relationship, you want to share your experience with people who you feel safe with. You don’t want to tell them too much so you can keep the experience special between you and your new love.
When abuse comes into play, your reality becomes a secret. You become so involved in covering for your partner, that you begin to disconnect from reality and yourself.
You don’t want others to judge your partner for what’s happening or even judge you for staying. You also don’t want others to force you into a choice you aren’t ready to make yourself.
Do you find yourself either not talking to anyone out of fear of what they will say, or talking to anyone who will listen because you are so anxious and confused about why the person acts that way?
If you answered Yes to any of the Ask Yourself questions, it may be time to think again about the relationship you are in. If you truly acknowledged what the reality is, you might have to end the relationship and face the fear of being alone.
Or maybe you’ve started to question yourself because the abusive person has been so strong in their conviction that you are the source of their disappointment.
Pay attention to that ‘deep knowing’ you have inside. Talk to people who truly have your best interest at heart. It can help to start re-connecting with the part of you that still believes you are worthy and beautiful. Be inspired by the experiences of other women who have remembered that their own life has purpose, they are not just on the planet to be someone else’s punching bag. Any woman who has left an abusive relationship wishes she had ‘done so earlier’, so it might be time for you to get clear whether your relationship is more like love or more like abuse.
The insights in this article are the opinion of the writer.