Am I unjustly labelling my partner as a systematic abuser?

This is a valid question and before we self diagnose or amateur diagnose another , it is one which should be answered seriously. As each of us is in an R or M which is failing, it is valid to ask why and is it because there is abuse. We need to be careful as abuse as diagnosis is one way of avoiding personal responsibility . There is also the question, as in my own case of reverse abuse, that is we are part of the problem. My own stance is simple and straightforward, irrespective of another's actions abuse should stop and we tackle our own issues.

We cannot escape the fact that we are not responsible for another's behaviour but we can provide an environment for change, we can provide healing and growth, acceptance and repair. Love is part of that equation in providing that environment for ourselves and others. It is up to each of us to change. That change can be an enormous gift.


However there are some key questions to ask before we label our partner

The Start of your R
Was the start of your R idyllic? Have you been together a long time, and had normal ups and downs until now? If the former is a pattern then that can be an indicator, if the latter then systematic abuse is unlikely. If you can say my H was a wonderful man until he lost his job or my W was a wonderful loving mother then this looks situational, even if there is abuse it's likely to be behavioural. It has to change of course and there is the capacity for change.

However if the start of your R was wonderful and went downhill then that could be a sign the glowing start to an R that can't be maintained. When mistreatment starts in a minor way then it is assumed. The behaviour arises assumes from something that has gone wrong inside of the other-what else can be concluded, given how wonderful it was to begin with? Do you let go of the dream or did you do something wrong. Most true targets question themselves at this point, so if you suspect abuse then it's likely you have strong boundaries and these are crossed by the other. The irony is that those who can say "this is abusive behaviour, stop" are those most likely to have strong boundaries and are unlikely to be targets. systematic abusers don't develop into that within the R, they come into it already set. In this way they are usually in Rs with those who are unaware or have weak boundaries, most systematic abusers are looking for low hanging fruit.

Does a systematic abuser deliberately plan to become abusive when beginning a relationship?

The target is looking for an equal partner to love and be loved by.

The systematic abuser is dreaming of having someone that meets all needs, is beautiful or handsome at all times of day and night, has no needs of their own and are in awe of their brilliance and charm. Desiring one who will cater to them and never complain about anything they do or cause frustrations or unhappiness. Abuse is not the goal, control certainly is. Abusers then find himself abuse to gain the control they feels they have the right to. So abuse is about control. As far as the abuser is concerned all partners are wanting and it's a case of finding the perfect one, which of course doesn't exist. put on weight, be ill, lose a job, suddenly not so perfect and the target is the next to be discarded after attempts at being remoulded.

So when you say your spouse is abusive are they trying to control you and can you be controlled?

Systematic abuse is different there has to be an abuser and a target with a strong control element. An early theory was that targets liked control, the majority of targets are unaware they are being systematically abused, there are a few (a very small minority) who relinquish control and from childhood trauma prefer to allow others to run their lives. They go from abuser to abuser and never call on it.

Systematic abusers are human beings with profoundly complex and destructive problems that should not be underestimated. They usually need clinical help to recognise their behaviour. A systematic abuser’s behavior is primarily conscious-they act deliberately rather than by accident or by losing control but the underlying thinking that drives behavior is largely not conscious. It is by creating realisation and conscious awareness that behaviour can be tackled by an abuser, but that moment of clarity has to be sustained and turned from a glimpse to a glowing sunlight exposure. That is very tough for abusers and at that stage they need support to accept, change, atone and eventually forgiveness for them and of themselves. This is enormous, I observe some LBS having these moments of awakening and becoming a spouse only a fool would leave. I am quite clear from my gam anon associations that many mental terrorists are amazing enlightened spouses and parents when in recovery, and let's be clear not every addict is abusive of others.

Accusing a spouse of abuse or being a systematic abuser without looking inwards to the self and saying my boundaries are weak or I react back isn't helpful and it lets us off the hook. Those issues can be resolved, boundaries strengthened and our reactions changed. Even if we move a new R those tendencies will be restrictive, how better to be empowered than change and DB is an amazing toolkit for change.


A systematic abuser learns manipulative and controlling behavior from several sources, including key role models (mimicry), peers (inclusivity), and pervasive cultural messages (media absorption and suspension of disbelief). By the time they reaches adulthood, they have an integrated manipulative behavior to such a deep level that they acts largely on automatic. They know what they are doing but not necessarily why. In other words a systematic abuser enters the R with these behaviours they don't have them to begin with. A happy early childhood is a good sign.
How can you know if abuse is systematic or if it's just an argument or deterioration in what could be a healthy R?

A list of abusive behaviours will assist and that is only part of the answer. Systematic Abuse was there from early in the R (in the idyllic or sweet phase although it want observed because the sweet phase is of itself fakery). They speak disrespectfully about former partners and a certain amount of anger and resentment toward an ex-partner is normal, but beware of bitterness or emphasis on it. Be cautious of someone who characterises themselves as a "victim" of abuse. Be alert if they say that previous Rs falsely accused them of being abusive. Be cautious of someone who says that you are the first partner to treat them well, or that earlier partners have not understood.

When a partner is disrespectful early in an R beware. There are stages in an R, from the limerence to the settled and dissatisfaction and disrespect early is the soil in which abuse grows. If someone puts you down or sneers at your opinions, is rude to you in front of others, is cutting or sarcastic, they are communicating a lack of respect. They do favours that you don’t want or puts on such a show of generosity that it makes you uncomfortable they are creating indebtedness. Look and consider the R stages, knowledge is key.

Possessiveness and jealous is one of the surest signs that abuse is down the road as this masquerades as love. Jealous feelings are not the same as behaviours. Someone with insecurities may naturally feel anxious about same sex associations especially ex-partners, and might want some reassurance. But if they indicates that they expect you to give up your freedom to accommodate jealousy, control is creeping up. Possessiveness shows that you are not loved as an independent human being but rather as a guarded treasure or belonging. After a while you will feel suffocated.

Systematic abusers are selfish they haven't learned to be self interested or self centred. An interest in ones own wellbeing is healthy and necessary and well balanced individuals know that being a strong partner is in their own best interests.

Watch out for someone that does most of the talking, listens I attentively and switches the topic of conversation back to themselves. The old adage is "let's talk about you, now what do you think of me?" Self-centredness is a personality characteristic that is highly resistant to change, as it has deep roots in profound entitlement or to severe emotional injuries (in non abusers) or both (in systematic abusers). Is a row about listening to rants, can you give as good as you take?

These characteristics are exhibited from day one and won't suddenly arise. Couple can learn anger is healthy and how to argue constructively. It's a skill, if you have argued successfully in other Rs why is this different?

An R where some of this is exhibited isn't necessarily systematically abusive. Nothing is ever a systematic abusers fault there is always something or someone for anything that goes wrong. As time goes by, the target of blame increasingly becomes you. They may make promises they can’t keep, coming up with a stream of excuses for disappointing you or behaving irresponsibly, and perhaps taking serious economic advantage of you in the process.

They gets too serious too quickly, planning your future together without taking enough time to get to know you and grow close, because it can mean they are trying to wrap you up tightly into a package that they can own when you M. A big change on or soon after the wedding day is another sign. Again behaviour from very early in the M and not sudden, relaxation into 'normal' mode.

A series of out of pattern recent rows isn't usually systematic abuse, this needs resolving with relationship help of one kind or another. Each party owns responsibility.

Abuse of drugs or alcohol or behavioural addictions

Although substances, porn, gambling etc do not cause partner abuse, they often go hand in hand. This is an indication of lack of impulse control. Addictions need treatment and in many case managing the addiction first brings with it management of abuse. Twelve steps brings awareness and insight with knock on effects. Attend a support group for those affected, consider codependency, grow boundaries (b@lls).

Intimidation and Physical abuse says be safe

If the arguments have intimidation in them, physical threats, even if they appears unintentional, is a sure sign that emotional abuse is on the way-or has already begun-and is a warning flag that physical violence may eventually follow. Be safe and make sure any dependants are safe.

These are examples:

-Getting too close to you when angry, putting a finger in your face, poking you, pushing you, blocking your way or restraining you, in my case standing over me when I was naked in bed, shouting at you when you are in the shower.
- tells you that they are “just trying to make you listen.”
-raises a fist, towers over you, shouts at you, or behaves in any way that makes you flinch or feel afraid. In another sitch blocked an exit, smashed crockery, threw a phone
-makes vaguely threatening comments, such as, “you don’t want to see me mad” or “you don’t know who you’re messing with.” In my case "my brother knows someone who can make you disappear and no one will know. Downloaded personal assassin onto joint iPad account
-drives recklessly or speeds up when he is angry. Cuts people up when angry, road rage.
-punches walls or kicks doors, slams doors damages furniture or mirrors
-throws things around, even if they don’t hit you.
-States they will harm you it they know someone who will
-puts you in the position of defending yourself so you appear intimidating to others
-also doing this to others who are dependent in their intimate circle

Treats you differently around other people. Adult abusers tend to put on a show of treating their partners like gold when everyone is watching, reserving most of their abuse for times when no one else will see.

So where is the line?

Is your R like in the film wars of the roses or the breakup? Then it's crazy and reactive and argumentative and systemic abuse isn't it. Consider the film Lady Caroline Lamb or Sleeping with the enemy which are both extreme forms of systematic abuse. Think Alfie is, Arthur isn't.

A great deal of systematic abuse is hidden but it isn't temporary.

Physical abuse is always an R exit indicator and above all be safe.

Popular programs portray systematic abusers so negatively and extreme that targets don't recognise the majority, the every day kind of systematic abuser. And who would want to see themselves as a big screen systematic abuser, it's going to put a restriction on thoughts of examining behaviour ' I am not like them'.

The line is where the target sets their boundaries, in an earlier post I tried to put a number on it by allocating levels 1-5 with level 6 as physical and intimidation. Ideally we tolerate nil abuse but realistically Rs are growing and developing with teething and adaption. It will usually be the target that says enough is enough.

In other words, we can't just simply say our spouse is a systematic abuser without examining ourselves. If it is the case then NC and healing is mandatory. If it isn't systematic abuse then there is self responsibility DB and standing.

In most sitches there can be profound change.

Seek independent advice and if possible record interactions, the next argument is the time to start.

This post was created from three or four internet sites dealing with battering.

I still stand for me and for love.


Edited for V - If this is not right please advise with another post which I can delete later.

Last edited by Cadet; 07/25/15 01:01 PM.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose.
V 64, WAW