This article was prompted by a conversation I had with a woman seeking coaching earlier this week. She feels ready to move ahead in her life. However something serious is holding her back. She feels there's lots of positive happening in her life and also is aware of quite a bit of anguish (as they are many of us right now). But in this woman's case, 75% of her anguish was coming from her relationship … specifically her partner's bad treatment of her.
Here's what I wrote for all the midlife women out there (or women of any age) who are in challenging relationships:
Relationship abuse comes in many shapes and colors. What's a common interaction pattern for one woman may be considered totally unacceptable by another. There are, however, clear guidelines about the subject.
Many of us believe that abuse is confined to the physical body … if a woman's not thrown across the room, it's not violence. That's not true though. The definition is considerably more expansive than that.
Verbal and emotional control and intimidation are usually more common than physical threats. After a period of time has elapsed in such a relationship, the implied threat of negative or stressful consequences is enough to keep a woman minding her "p's and q's".
A power differential is at the root of the whole thing … an unequal power balance between the partners. It could be material including finances or income, physical, or personality driven (ie dominant personality type and passive type). Patterns are often adopted early in a relationship that follow a couple through their life together.
If you feel bad in your relationship much of the time and are not able to communicate this to your partner for fear of repercussions, you may be in an abusive relationship. If your self-esteem is plunging and you have unexplained illness that could be stress-related, perhaps your relationship is dragging you down.
Even though women may recognize the mistreatment, we often do not do anything about it or speak of it for many, many reasons for a long time. We are embarrassed, ashamed, our loyalty shackles us and so on. Another important reason is that telling makes it real, then we may have to act and we may not be prepared to yet.
Women who are experiencing physical as well as emotional, mental and spiritual violence leave their partner many times on average before the final breakup. Some women experiencing non-physical abuse may leave sooner and some deny the abuse by not labeling it as such. There's no hard and fast rule for this.
Most communities have services for women experiencing relationship violence of any sort, be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. These services give women and their children a safe place to stay. Many women never actually go to safe homes – they find ways to get the support they need by random or ongoing telephone conversations with support workers who staff the houses, or from family and friends.
If you feel threatened, stressed or abused in your relationship, speak up to a safe person. You'll be surprised how many other women are experiencing similar issues. Our silence isolates us from each other. Isolation slowly erodes our sense of self and our joie de vivre.