“Is my relationship unhealthy?” The subtle escalation of abuse could trick any of us...



Abusive intimate partner relationships (also known as dating abuse or domestic violence) tend to sneak up on us. They are not obvious. 


In the beginning, there is connection and often no sign of abuse. We are drawn to each other. We may fall in love. We find companionship and joy in another person. 


Then one day something goes wrong. Our partner says something extremely hurtful during a fight - or they punch a wall. Whatever it is, something happens that goes over the line. It sets off alarm bells in our head. How could they do this? That was so out of character! I don’t like being treated this way. 


But then they apologize effectively. They have a good excuse or explanation. Maybe they just did it because they were drunk or high - or stressed out from work or a conflict with friends or family. Maybe they had a rough childhood. We accept their apology or explanation. They become their old self again. We feel reassured and don't expect it to happen again.


But then it does. Maybe in a different form this time. There is a moment where they cause us pain. Maybe it is by insulting us in front of our friends - or yelling at us. Maybe it is pushing us to have sex when we do not want to. There is explosive or hurtful behavior. 


The escalation is slow and as we get “used to” certain behaviors, the next worse action feels less shocking and is harder to view as unacceptable. 


Abusive relationships tend to get worse not better, but this can be hidden in a pattern known as “the cycle of abuse”. 


In between fights, conflicts, or moments of pain, we might have good times with our partner, even great times. We might have calm times. But eventually we begin being fearful of the next episode. We try to keep the peace. We try to do what will make them happy or keep them calm, even if following these “rules” causes us to ignore our needs and wants. We are walking on eggshells around them, living in tension. And the tension builds. Until the next explosion. Over time, the explosions get worse. 


When our relationship tends to repeat a pattern of:

1) apologies, promises to change, calm, happiness, good times

2) tension building, walking on eggshells, fear

3) explosive or hurtful behavior...

(or just a pattern of 2 & 3 repeating)


...we may be in “the cycle of abuse”. 


Abusive relationships are often portrayed as being physically violent. However, we do not need to be physically hurt to be experiencing abuse. Abusive relationships are always emotionally abusive, and may also be: verbally, physically, sexually, or financially abusive. Relationships that are solely emotionally abusive are just as legitimately hurtful and also impact our health in serious ways. 


Click here to learn more about Intimate Partner Abuse.


*Seek support + more information for yourself or a loved one at loveisrespect.org and/or Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence 24/7 Hotline (408) 279-2962*

*Consider your partner may be monitoring your web searches. Stay safe.*

Written by Emma Rouda, ACSW

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