‘Mutual abuse’ and 16 signs that your relationship is toxic

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An alarming statistic out this month sets domestic violence between same-sex couples — both male and female — apart from straight couples. More than half of gay and lesbian cases include mutual abuse by both partners.

The 2019 report by the National Association of Social Workers states that 52% of the guild’s cases with gay couples involved a tit-for-tat pattern of control, explosive anger, emotional and physical eruptions. It purports that 2020 will be even worse as couples are quarantined together.

Mutual abuse goes against the power dynamic of only one person mistreating the other. Often partners in mutual abuse are thought to be “giving as good as they get” or “holding their own,” and both are likely suffering.

In a letter to Q Advice last year, such a case made clear the pitfalls of such toxicity.

“We both have hair triggers and short fuses, so the anger is just as explosive. The longer we are together, the worse the eruptions get. I don’t mean physical outbursts, though those have happened.

We’ve both lash out unfairly, even cruelly, at each other. We aim to wound instead of heal. When I’m not afraid of my partner flying off the handle, I’m worried I’ve created the same fear. 

I couldn’t say I’m abused without admitting I’m also abusive sometimes. We can’t both be victims and perpetrators, or can we?”

It may feel like a paradox that both partners can play abuser and abused, but making matters worse, each partner can be drawn to the very thing in each other that causes the trouble. Like addicts, there’s a love-hate correlation with destructive behavior that makes their synapses fire.

Below are 16 toxic behaviors that are signs of abuse. See if you and/or yours check off more than a few.

1. Blame you for how they treat you.

2. Blame you for everything bad that happens.

3. Speak ill of family, friends or children.

4. Try to control whom you see or where you go.

5. Force or manipulate you into things you don’t want to do.

6. Lying or being unfaithful.

7. Make you feel fearful, insecure or unfree.

8. Physically rough with you.

9. Not happy when you don’t do it their way, not happy when you do.

10. Show little interest in your opinions or feelings.

11. Ignore you or give you the silent treatment as “punishment.”

12. Regularly compare you with others.

13. Threaten to do bodily harm to themselves or someone else.

14. Extreme mood swings — telling you you’re the greatest one minute and the worst the next.

15. Putting you down — calling you dumb, stupid, ugly, fat, etc.

16. Abusive behavior gets worse over time.

If you don’t know where to turn, one local resource is atlantalegalaid.org. They offer help to research shelters, find hotline numbers, and look for legal advocacy.

Sources: Jim F. Jackson via Banlican House Publishers, National Association of Social Workers

This article appeared in Q ATLus magazine. Read the full issue online here

Pick up each new edition of QATLus at LGBTQ and allied venues around Atlanta.

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