Is My Relationship Abusive? 4 Steps to Leaving an Abusive Relationship

By: Logan Cohen, Licensed Couples Counselor & Family Therapist, New Leaf Counseling Group - Charlotte, NC

Is My Relationship ABUSIVE? Maybe My Relationship is Just Unhealthy? What is "Normal" anyway...?

If you are wondering whether you are in an abusive relationship, then you know it can be hard to "dial in." The descriptions can seem like SUCH a generalization.

Every abuser is different, and every abusive relationship is different. But there is certainly a lot of overlap in behaviors, and if what I’ve said so far sounds at least partially familiar, then, yes, you could be in an abusive relationship.

To be fair, I usually distinguish between what I call “capital A – Abusive” and “little a – abusive” relationships. There are relationships that are toxic, unhealthy, or unequal that have aspects of abusive relationships - but fall closer on the scale of unhealthy.

Some criteria may be met, but the red flags of power and control are several magnitudes of degree lesser. Follow this link to look at the spectrum of characteristics of healthy/unhealthy/abusive relationships:

If you’re still wondering whether your relationship is abusive, let me 4 characteristics of a positive, loving, and healthy relationship.

4 Signs You are NOT in an Abusive Relationship

1st Sign You are NOT in an Abusive Relationship - TRUST

First, a healthy relationship should involve trust; you and your partner should be able to trust and value one another and feel safe disclosing information and being vulnerable.

2nd Sign You are NOT in an Abusive Relationship - You Have Space to be "YOU"

Second, each person in the relationship should still be seen as an individual; while sometimes our culture romanticizes the idea of “two becoming one” in a relationship, no healthy relationship can exist without each person maintaining a sense of self independent from the relationship. What you fell in love with was that person for who they are, in and of themselves, and a healthy relationship doesn’t attempt to compromise or fully merge and take over the other person.

3rd Sign You are NOT in an Abusive Relationship - FAIR Conflict Resolution

Third, disagreements are fair; when you disagree with one another, the disagreements are not power-struggles or insulting. Your partner doesn’t refuse to listen or change the subject and name call.

4th Sign You are NOT in an Abusive Relationship - EQUAL Level of Influence

Finally, neither partner should feel “less than,” and the power dynamic should be roughly equal, with no one having the upper hand or trying to control the other person.

Both partners share in an environment of mutual respect and each tries their best to understand and empathize with the other, communicating openly about their feelings and desires.

To illustrate the dynamics of a healthy relationships, here’s a model intended to show the behavior that I would expect to see as a couples counselor and relationship therapist:

Psychological abuse in relationships is just as hard to escape as any other kind of abusive relationship. The clients we serve in Charlotte, NC often state they wish there were some physical abuse so they could justify leaving.

These same clients report that, regardless of the type of abusive relationship they survived, the psychological destruction and corrosive messages of their abuse were the hardest part of their abuse from which to find recovery.

One client told said, “Bruises fade. The things he said to me, the fact that he took away my ability to trust myself, the lies I now believe about being worthless….I can’t get those out of my head.”

I Think I’m Ready to Leave. What Do I Do? - 4 Steps to Leaving an Abusive Relationship: