By Kelcie McKenney
One-in-three women have been victims of domestic violence.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one-third of women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. For men, it is one-in-four. Those types of statistics paint a vivid picture for the reality of unhealthy relationships: they’re far more common than you’d think.
“In an unhealthy relationship there almost always tends to be a power dynamic in place and the person who’s being abusive, whether it’s emotionally or psychologically or physically, makes it pretty much impossible for that other partner to be able to win any kind of argument,” said Becky Redetzke Field, the University of Minnesota Aurora Center Legal Advocacy Coordinator.
Beyond that, in the United States every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten, according the NCADV; which explains why there are over 20,000 phone calls made on average to domestic violence hotlines every day. Fear is a large factor in those calls about unhealthy relationships.
“It’s this constant walking on eggshells sort of feeling of there’s this invisible set of rules to live by that’s not shared with the victim/survivor in the relationship. The abusive/manipulative partner holds all the cards and makes up the rules and changes them at will,” said Redetzke Field. “It’s the inability to be yourself in that relationship because so much of it is tied up into what that other person—that abusive/manipulative partner—is thinking, feeling, whatever. It’s all about them rather than anything about you.”
In Catcall’s recent story, “If You Have to Tell Yourself Something Isn’t ‘That Bad,’ Then it Really is Worse Than You Think,” a women shares her experience in an abusive relationship, where her boyfriend would lash out at her when she least expected it. She explained that because she was in love with him, she couldn’t see herself leaving. After he hit her, pushed her, or shoved her, he’d say he loved her and that he wouldn’t do it again, and each time part of her believed it.
“I didn’t have the strength to leave him on my own,” she said. “He made me believe that there was never going to be anyone else for me.”
A lot of times, women, and men, in abusive relationships feel like they cannot leave because they feel like it is their fault for what has happened.
“Basically if you’re with this partner, this manipulative abusive partner, and you keep being told over and over ‘maybe you started it’ or ‘it’s not that big of a deal’ you start to believe it,” said Redetzke Field.
But beyond the threat of being hurt by an intimate partner, not leaving an unhealthy relationship can build up stress and increase anxiety, said Sarah Keene, a Rothenberger Institute instructor who teaches public health classes such as “Success over Stress” and “Sexuality Matters.”
“I think more long term, if it’s a very stressful relationship you know that might be categorized as a chronic stressor. And chronic stress has all sorts of implications with health,” said Keene.
With the fear and stress of an unhealthy relationship building up, finding the strength to leave—whether it be with help from friends, family, or an organization or on your own—can be the most freeing experience.
“I’ve worked with many people who are able to be in a healthy relationship and then will see the gigantic differences of wow I don’t have to constantly live in fear, walk on egg shells, or feel like I’m going to be in trouble with my partner, or those types of things that are really commonly seen in unhealthy relationships,” said Redetzke Field.
That woman from Catcall’s earlier story was able to leave.
“I’m on the journey back to finding myself. It’s not easy, but I know that every day I go without him, I become a little bit stronger,” she said.
If you are wondering if you’re in an unhealthy relationship or if you have a friend who you are concerned about, reach out to the Aurora Center or your local agency that deals with advocacy and education towards sexual and relationship health.
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as Digital Editor at The Pitch , where she writes and edits for Kansas City’s alternative magazine. You can find Kelcie watching internet cat videos, eating brunch, taking photos, and reading mystery novels.