Women and subtle abuse in relationships

Calling out the ‘subtle’ abuse in relationships

Women and subtle abuse in relationships

For many women in relationships, experiencing violence is nothing new and is unfortunately common.

According to World Health Organisation research, 35% of women worldwide currently experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, fostering a world where one in three women are, or know someone who is living with physical and/or sexual violence.[1] Additionally, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2018 Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia report, intimate partner violence is the greatest health risk factor for women aged 25-44.[2] Clearly, these statistics on women in abusive relationships are sobering and they bring focus to the depth this problem is having in women’s lives globally.

While these statistics are alarming and draw attention to the extent of this problem on a larger and more extreme scale, what about the more ‘subtle’ forms of abuse that we allow to infect relationships, both intimate and non-intimate, such as verbal and emotional abuse, angry reactions, belittling, put-downs, silent treatment, deceit, game playing, undermining and control, to name just a few?

All of these behaviours are abusive and are therefore unacceptable. But when we look at this problem, if we really want to understand it, we need to ask the question: why do we accept these behaviours of subtle abuse in relationships? For until we have a truthful answer to this question, we will not get to the root cause of the problem.

At the end of the day, abuse is abuse – there are no acceptable ‘grades’ or ‘levels’ of abuse.

I know for myself I have been in relationships, both intimate and non-intimate, in which I have been on the receiving end of verbal and emotional abuse. I have also been the perpetrator of them. In some of these relationships I have pulled up the behaviours in others, and I have also been pulled up when I am the abuser. Pulling up someone’s unacceptable behaviour is truly loving. It allows the space for reflection and brings honesty to undermining behaviours – getting them out of the closet so that they can be worked on. If we don’t pull them up, we are effectively ignoring the abuse and if we ignore something, it doesn’t just continue, it grows.

In our relationships maybe we choose to not be aware of the subtle abusive behaviours, or maybe we are aware of them and choose to ignore them? Maybe we pull them up, but if they continue, still accept them. So why is this? Why do we accept these behaviours and therefore abuse in our relationships?

At the end of the day it all comes back to the level of love we hold within. The truth is, if we truly loved and valued ourselves, we would put aside the fears that can plague the mind around loneliness and security or hurting someone by standing up for ourselves. We would say to ourselves... “These behaviours are not good enough. I am worth a whole lot more. I will not accept this and if the behaviours don’t change, maybe to truly honour myself I will choose to leave the relationship”.

"Let a man know that anything other than his natural caring love will not be accepted. He will then learn that he cannot get away with being less than he truly is."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 562

Deep down in the essence of our being, we know we are love, but how do we nurture this love and with this our confidence and our self-worth so that we don’t accept subtle abuse in relationships? It can start by looking at how we care for ourselves: our self-care.

Self-care supports us to establish a foundation within ourselves that allows our confidence and self-worth to build and flourish.

This may begin with baby steps: looking at what foods we eat that truly nourish our body, whether we are ‘pleasing’ and saying ‘yes’ to things when our bodies are asking us to say ‘no’, looking at how we move, how we speak to others, how we shower, groom and dress ourselves, how we care for our spaces and how we put ourselves to sleep at night. It begins with paying attention to how we treat ourselves and setting new standards for this that develop a connection to the way this self-care feels, the self it nurtures and develops, and the way it liberates us from the prison of self-loathing that allows abusive situations and relationships to exist in the first place.

For women in relationships, how can we teach others how to treat us and stamp out physical, verbal and emotional abuse if we haven’t understood that the quality of all of our relationships is determined by the quality of how we value, treat, trust and love ourselves?

There is an essence in all women that is divine, wise and powerful. It is medicine not just for ourselves, but also the world we live in when we start to connect to and trust this inner quality and nurture its wisdom into impulsing how we live. When it comes to subtle abuse in relationships, this inner compass points us in the direction of love, knowing that true love for ourselves and another means accepting nothing less than love.

We know how love feels because it is what we are made of; it is our incorruptible essence, and because we know love we can sniff out abuse, even in its most subtle forms.

As we start appreciating and honouring our remarkably sensitive selves and the inner essence that ‘knows’ beyond the knowledge of any book or university degree when something is not love, the tide begins to turn. This gradual shift is hugely empowering for all women, but especially for women in abusive relationships.

A starting point is acknowledging that we feel it when something or someone either leaves us feeling respected, valued, safe, lovely, encouraged and free to be … or unsafe, yuk, wrong, bad, invisible, on eggshells, tolerated, sexualised, diminished, threatened, owned, dismissed or controlled – and then acting upon it, even if it means disturbing another or bringing up reactions. Pull-ups are not personal; they are saying, ‘It’s the behaviour that is loveless, you are loved always’.

60% Complete

Say no to abuse not to the person

Understanding why abuse and the abuser are two separate things.

Choosing to pull up the emptiness behind abuse – those subtle, loveless behaviours such as brushing things off or downplaying how the abuse feels in our bodies – makes it hard for abusive relationships to exist in the first place, or to continue when they do sneak in.

It’s an absolute game-changer when we instead say ‘no’, nip things in the bud and nurture the love and harmony we innately know is the basis for every relationship. Such a way of life is a continually evolving process with the beautiful ripple effect supporting not just women in relationships to thrive in a healthy fashion, but also those around them. What’s more, it confirms just how much difference each woman can make to life as we currently know it.


  • [1]

    World Health Organisation. Violence Against Women. News/Fact Sheets/Detail 2017 [cited 2019 17/02/2019]; Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women.

  • [2]

    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence in Australia 2018, AIHW, Editor. 2018, AIHW: Canberra.

Filed under

AbuseRelationshipsBehaviourDomestic violence Relationship problems

  • By Susan Potter, B.Sc, B.Com, Dip Aud, Dip Counselling.

    I am a tender, loving woman who Ioves life and supporting others, both personally, through family/friendship/relationship and through work, supporting people to support themselves with health and disability challenges.

  • Photography: Cameron Martin, Video and Photography