A Description of Physically Abusive Relationships

Physically abusive relationships are characterized by one partner using physical force against the other as a means of control, intimidation, or punishment. This can manifest in various forms, from slapping, hitting, and shoving to more severe forms of violence. Physical abuse often doesn’t occur in isolation but is usually accompanied by other forms of abuse, such as emotional or verbal abuse. The abusive partner seeks to establish dominance and control, often stemming from deep-seated issues. These include past trauma, feelings of inadequacy, or learned behaviors from observing other abusive relationships. The abused partner might feel trapped, fearing retaliation or further escalation if they attempt to leave or confront the abuser.

Over time, the continuous cycle of abuse and reconciliation can lead to a state of learned helplessness, where the victim believes they cannot escape the situation or that they somehow deserve the treatment. Such relationships are hazardous, causing physical harm, long-lasting emotional trauma, and, in extreme cases, can even be life-threatening. It’s crucial for anyone in a physically abusive relationship to seek help, support, and safe avenues to distance themselves from the abusive environment.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

The Perspectives of Partners

Abusive Partner:

  • Perception: Views physical force as a necessary or justified means to establish dominance, control, or to “correct” perceived wrongs in the relationship. They might see themselves as the “enforcer” or believe they’re maintaining order.
  • Emotions: Often harbors deep-seated anger, feelings of inadequacy, or unresolved past trauma. They might experience a mix of guilt and justification after episodes of violence.
  • Behaviors: Engages in acts of physical violence, ranging from slapping, hitting, and shoving to more severe forms of harm. This is often accompanied by emotional or verbal abuse.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that their partner “provoked” the violence, that it’s a “normal” way of handling conflicts, or that they’re teaching their partner a “lesson.” They may also deny the severity of their actions or blame external factors (e.g., stress, alcohol).

Abused Partner:

  • Perception: Feels trapped, constantly on edge, and fearful of when the next episode of violence might occur. They might believe they’re walking on eggshells, trying to avoid any triggers.
  • Emotions: Predominantly experiences fear, sadness, and a sense of helplessness. Over time, feelings of diminished self-worth, shame, and guilt may emerge, especially if they start to believe they “deserve” the abuse.
  • Behaviors: Often tries to appease or avoid the abusive partner to prevent violent episodes. They might also hide evidence of abuse, withdraw from social circles, or make excuses for their injuries.
  • Rationalizations: They might convince themselves that the abusive partner truly loves them and that the violence is just a “phase” or a result of external stressors. Alternatively, they may blame themselves, thinking they’re the reason for the violent behavior, or believe they cannot escape the situation due to financial, emotional, or other dependencies.