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Never Date a Man Who Can't Commit to an Abuse-Free Relationship

Abuse falls on a continuum.

Key Takeaway: Abusive behavior often follows a pattern: Attempts to verbally dominate or spar, followed by disdainful gestures and micro-expressions, followed by outright verbal abuse. Here’s how to head off the first sign of a problem.

"Never date a man who can't commit to an abuse-free relationship." I know, I know, it sounds both like a no-brainer and a darn good idea, but if you look around you'll see a lot of abusive relationships and, believe me, you don't want one, and here’s why: Virtually every abused woman (or man) out there started with someone they thought was perfect and absolutely wonderful, right? And then the day came when the abuse started.

How Abuse Escalates: From Signs of Dominance to Physical Assault

Please know that abuse doesn't start with the worst of behaviors, like physical abuse. Abuse, like most human behavior, falls on a continuum—just like sexuality. Sex doesn't start with intercourse, does it? It starts with a thought ("So hot!"), then a few fantasies we try on for size, like, "I wonder what would happen if I just went up and started a conversation." That’s usually followed by more overt flirting, followed by initiating a date, until finally we're what discrete people call "involved." Likewise, abuse begins subtly, such as a throwaway remark about how your taste in music is stupid.

Physical abuse is preceded by verbal abuse (name-calling, put-downs) which itself is usually preceded by nonverbal abuse (attempts to communicate disdain like eye-rolling, making that angry "air coming out of a tire" sound, and so on). Nonverbal abuse is likewise preceded by power-seeking and domination behaviors. Put-downs can morph into a philosophical discussion of ethics, as in, "I just think that when someone acts like a bitch, it's OK to call them a bitch." Yes, you can't possibly be offended because this deep thought isn't even directed at you, so does it even matter?

These sorts of philosophical/ethical conversations do matter very much because your would-be partner is letting you know that, under certain conditions, it is actually okay to be abusive. This behavior is their mind, and so you might need to be called out for being a bitch because, after all, you might be acting like one. This way of thinking ignores the fact that abuse, by its very definition, is treating people wrongly ... disrespectfully. In fact, logically speaking, it could never be ethical to treat someone disrespectfully. The remedy to a perception that someone is behaving badly, even abusively, is not to add more abuse to the inferno. The remedy is confrontation and then, if serious changes are not forthcoming, moving on.

Sexual Safety and Relationship Safety

There are other objections to tolerating abuse. The whole idea of being in a loving relationship is based upon the idea of that relationship being safe. You should be able to breathe. Freedom from abuse of any kind is part of any romance's implied warranty. I talk about this (and related topics) in my book, We're All Like This. Our need for sexual safety includes freedom from sexual abuse as kids, for example, but it also includes freedom from any abuse in our sexual relationships.

The other reason that it's a good idea to ditch men who bring any abuse with them is you're now being intentional about having a romantic relationship that is also a safe relationship. This is pretty different from the relationship education we got back in school ... oh, wait a minute, none of us got any relationship education, right? Stuff happened and then stuff just didn't work out and then we went on to try again doing ... stuff. Having a great romance, like having a great life, requires a specific set of skills. BTW, if you were wrong about his commitment to the abuse-free life and he tricked you, then learn to do a better job of due diligence in qualifying potential mates. Sorry if that sounds cold, but you are the one doing the picking here.

In the HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, one character says, "There are two types of people in this world. Those who want to be free and those who want to have control." What type of person are you? What type of romance do you intend to build?

More from Steven Ing MFT
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More from Steven Ing MFT
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