by Phyllis L. Neumann, MS, MFT

      • Do you tend to hold back your feelings to prevent an argument?
      • Are you afraid to express your opinion for fear your partner will disapprove?
      • Are you often put down or ridiculed by your partner?
      • Do you usually offer to do more than your share?
      • Do you feel you should try harder, that what you do is never enough?

Emotional and verbal abuse takes place in many relationships and is actually far more prevalent than most people realize. Realistically, some degree of abuse occurs in every relationship at one time or another. Even warm and loving relationships can have abusive elements in them.

In any abusive relationship both partners contribute equally to the abuse. If you accept abuse, for whatever reason, then you participate in an abusive relationship. Remember, there can be no abuser if there’s no one willing to accept the abuse.

Abuse comes in many forms, ranging from disapproving glances and minor “put-downs” to extreme mental cruelty and physical violence. One partner may be overtly abusive by insulting his or her partner, while the other may be covertly abusive by forgetting an important message, a request, or even a birthday. Even teasing and sarcasm, though appearing harmless enough on the surface, have the effect of embarrassing or humiliating the other person, and can also be considered abusive.

The following are some ways you can prevent abuse:

Be at the top of your priority list. Putting everyone else’s needs ahead of your own says, “My needs aren’t as important as theirs.” It’s important to learn how to nurture yourself. Putting yourself first is not a selfish thing to do — it’s actually a form of self-caring.

Maintain your own identity. Don’t live in the shadow of someone else’s personality, career, fame or wealth. Being known as “Michael’s wife” or “Carol’s guy” links you with that person, but also robs you of your own identity. Find ways you can feel important that’s uniquely you.

Don’t put your partner on a pedestal. Believe that you have something to offer the relationship, and that your contribution is equally as valuable.

Believe that your feelings are justified. Feelings are never right or wrong — they just are. And you’re entitled to express them.

Don’t avoid confrontation. It’s important to express your feelings with your partner. Stuffing them inside only builds tension in your relationship. The sooner you both talk about the problem the sooner it can be resolved. Try to develop an honest relationship with your partner, one without harboring resentments and long-term grudges.

Don’t accept insults or abusive remarks. No person should ever feel insulted or offended by another person — even by those in authority positions. The sooner you believe that you are worthy of respect, the sooner you will be treated with the respect and dignity you deserve. (That includes your boss as well!)

Don’t do more than your share. Everyone in the relationship should participate equally. Resentful feelings build when one person feels that they are doing more of the load. Ask for help when you need it, but don’t make a habit of taking on more than your share.

Don’t ask for permission. In an adult relationship each partner is a free agent. It’s a matter of consideration to let your partner know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but you should not feel restricted from doing what you want to do. Don’t let your partner take on the role of parent — it puts your partner in charge of you, but not equal to you.

Make your own decisions. You are the best judge as to what you need. Friends may offer you advice, but ultimately the decision should be left up to you as to how to run your own life. Believe in yourself, that you really know what’s best for you.

Learn how to receive as will as to give. It’s important to receive as much love and appreciation as you give. Learn how to accept compliments and gifts. Especially learn how to accept love from someone else — believe that you are a lovable person who’s worth loving.

In general, you are entitled to be treated with love and respect. To settle for less is to put yourself in a position of being abused.

Published in the Half Moon Bay Review on February 13, 2008