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How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy Arguments and Abuse

By Amy Thomson

We all hope for our relationships to be as peaceful as possible. However, regardless of how healthy our relationships are, there are occasions where we will disagree with our partners and have arguments. When both parties are willing to seek a resolution to the disagreements in a healthy way, it is indicative of healthy dynamics. Unfortunately, not all relationships are built on a sense of respect and equal partnership. If you have found yourself wondering if the arguments with your partner are abusive, there are few things to look out for.

Arguments that occur in healthy relationships tend to be isolated incidents, which are resolved by both parties actively working to come up with a solution that is fair to both people. Characteristics of healthy arguments may include the following:

  • Arguing about chores, spending habits, grooming or hygiene, raising children, or difficult family or friends typically occur as a result of one party feeling unheard or from built-up frustration.
  • Either partner may say something insensitive or hurtful during an argument, but let’s be honest – we all lose our tempers and say stupid things or things we later regret. In healthy relationships, this can occur occasionally, but it is not a part of an established pattern of behavior. The offending partner will feel bad about their actions and make genuine apologies.
  • Partners in healthy relationships can admit when they are wrong, take responsibility for their actions, and compromise.
  • Tension is usually short-term and is resolved quickly.
  • Your partner may question some goals or decisions you make, but they do so with the intent of wanting you to think about negative consequences you may be ignoring or unaware of. They do not withhold support from you in general.
  • You and your partner may disagree about significant life changes – buying a home, whether or not/when to have children, or moving long distances – but all final decisions are reached by mutual compromise and agreement.

Arguments that occur in abusive relationships are indicative of a well-established pattern of behavior marked by rigid control and manipulation. Abusive arguments are one-sided and impossible to win. Characteristics of unhealthy arguments can include the following:

  • An abusive partner will be consistently insensitive to how their words and actions affect you. They will often accuse you of being “hyper-sensitive” and make you feel like you are unreasonable, selfish, or both. It is also common that they will manipulate you, use guilt trips, and gaslighting to confuse you or twist your words to use them against you.
  • Your partner will be dismissive of your needs and feelings and may tell you that you have no right to need, want, or express opinions. They make it clear that you are there to do as they command (or pressure) you.
  • You are pressured to give into them or feel unsafe and insecure about expressing your emotions to them during an argument. You will feel obliged to comply out of fear of your partner’s anger or expectation that they will retaliate against you.
  • Arguments always make you look like you are at fault; abusers will refuse to talk about anything that makes them out to be the guilty party, and they will not acknowledge when they are in the wrong.
  • Your partner will maintain or escalate tensions until you give in to their demands or tell them what they want to hear. There is no discussion and fair compromise; you always sacrifice for the sake of peace. Some abusers may later punish you for non-compliance to enforce the idea that you must always do as they say.
  • Some abusers will attempt to block an exit or follow you around to prevent you from disengaging from the argument. You may be forced into agreeing with the aggressor in order to keep the abuse from escalating. The abuser uses this tactic to make you feel unsafe and pressure you into giving in.
  • An abuser may choose to argue with you in front of others – friends, family, or even in public with strangers watching – and say things to deliberately shame and embarrass you.
  • Your partner consistently refuses to be supportive of any of your goals, dreams, or accomplishments and uses them as a way to discourage you.

If you have noticed any of the above signs while arguing with your partner and you feel that they may be abusive, know that this is not your fault and that you are not the cause of the tension. You deserve to be treated with respect and loved in a healthy way. Try confiding in someone you trust or seek help from a domestic violence organization like Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence.

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