Do You Have a Violent Relationship or Is It a Safe Place? Part 3

arm outstretched with lantern at night

A Violent Relationship Cannot Be An Intimate Relationship Because It Is Not Safe.  Part 3

 Relationship Key Feature 3 says that for a relationship to feel good it must be 100% safe for both partners at all times.  Therefore, if there is any kind of violence, it is not safe.  Without safety there cannot be intimacy, vulnerability, discovery, growth, trust and acceptance, all qualities of a successful relationship that not only feels good, but supports both partners in the quest for a high quality of life together, personal and spiritual growth and the ability to sustain the relationship over time.  A violent relationship has none of these qualities.

Are you in a violent relationship, or have you ever been?  It is possible that you aren’t sure.  I’ve run into lots of partners who were not sure, because they were using euphemisms and they were relabeling behavior to avoid shame, and some were simply in denial.

In this post, I have chosen to be very straightforward, very blunt in my message.  Why?  Because most batterers are in denial about the damage they do.  A lot of victims are in denial about that fact that a healthy, successful relationship cannot occupy the same space as a relationship with violence.  I want to be crystal clear about the info I provide, about what the facts are, what impact a violent relationship has on both partners, what my professional opinion is regarding a violent relationship, and what, exactly, constitutes violence as it pertains to a relationship between two women.  Additionally, having this information might mean the difference between life and death for a woman in a violent relationship.  No hyperbole on this issue.

All of you are likely not going to agree with what I have to say, or how I say it.  That’s okay.  Have at it!  I love a good discussion.  I’ll try to answer any questions or concerns you have about the material, if you comment or send me an email.  Please understand, however, that the information I included in this article is evidence-based, and can be found in reports and articles about studies on domestic violence through numerous resources, both online and in print.  Nevertheless, experience tells me that some of you will want to argue.  That’s totally cool with me.  Argue all you want, just so long as you read the article.

Some of you will feel that you would never, ever, ever, ever put up with any kind of physical violence in your relationship.  Some of you will have a variety of responses, all of which circle around the undeniable fact that you yourself have been violent toward a partner, or you yourself have been a victim of violence from a partner.  Some of you will have been both a victim and a perpetrator of violence in your relationship.  Sometimes more than once.

Read on...

Key Feature #3 says that violence has no place in a healthy relationship.  It is, in fact, a deal-breaker.  It isn’t a deal-breaker because the one who hits is a bad person.  Nope, that’s not it.  It is a deal-breaker because two people cannot have true intimacy and unconditional love unless there is unconditional safety.  A woman cannot let down all her walls and make herself vulnerable to her lover in order to be soul-close when she is remembering the last time her partner smacked her, or if she’s worried about whether it will happen again when she lets down her guard.  It just won’t work.  All healthy relationships are safe.  Period.

Some of you may want to ask what counts as violence.  Okay, that’s an honest question, although it is also a sign of our culture and times that people feel like they have to ask because there might be some question about whether a particular kind of pain inflicted on a partner should be considered violence or some other category of behavior.  So let me be as clear as the sound of a church bell on a frosty cold night.

A violent relationship is characterized by any effort whatsoever to cause physical pain, or to exert the will of one person over that of the other for any reason.  This can include:
•restraining, holding down,
•locking out or locking in,
•withholding money, food, necessities or transportation,
•making threats against the other partner’s loved ones,      threatening to take custody of the child(ren),
•isolating the partner from those who might object to her treatment by the violent partner–if they knew of it,
•any pushing, shoving, throwing,
•slapping, punching, pinching, twisting,
•cutting, stabbing, burning,
•kicking, stomping,
•choking, strangling, smothering, or
anything labeled as “she made me do it.”
•Anything prefaced by “she knew  better than to  push my buttons” or “she wouldn’t stop when I told her to stop” or “I warned her I was going to lose it,” or
•any related comments that deflect personal responsibility for the violence and are a part of the pattern of violence in the relationship.
•Anything done to the victim’s property or, heaven forbid, her pets, or
•anything else done  to frighten or terrorize or manipulate the other person as a means of exerting power and control over her and anything else that serves the same purpose that I haven’t included in this list.

This is what constitutes a violent relationship.
Is that clear enough?  Are you able to determine whether there has been violence in any of your relationships, either done to you or by you toward the other person?  I truly hope you have so.  Not because I want to blame you or shame you or scare you or create drama. It’s because it is so very important.

Without a total commitment to 100% safety on both your parts, your relationship has no chance of being the loving, intimate relationship your heart longs for.  No one can freely open her heart to her lover while she is also waiting for the other shoe to drop, when the violent partner loses her temper again.  No one can open her heart to her lover when she is seething with rage and resentments from a hundred emotional wounds, large and small, that no one seems to understand.  Do you see how vital safety is for the very existence of the relationship?

Here’s another aspect you might not have thought about–that of practical jokes.  Because here’s the thing–practical jokes are neither practical nor funny.  They are purposely designed to hurt, frighten or humiliate the recipient.  Therefore, practical jokes have no place in a relationship that is 100% safe.  If you have a partner who does mean things and then says, “I was just joking–where’s your sense of humor?” please refer to this article.

If violence, property destruction or terrorizing has happened to you in your relationships, the non-violent times probably feel pretty good after going through the violence. If you buy into it, though, you’ll end up with a violent relationship and nothing more.

If others have urged you to leave a violent relaitonship, have you responded with “But I love her!” or other such statements?  If you truly believe that it is love that has you hanging on, I gently encourage you to take a hard look at that.

Is it really true that you love the person who hurt you?  Or is it that you love the woman you wish she were, or the woman she was before the violence started, back in the early days when you two were “in love.”

Where there is violence, there is no safety.  Where there is no safety, there is no intimacy.  Without true intimacy, love cannot survive and grow.  That’s the bottom line, as I see it.

You may be with each other for reasons other than love, certainly.   Need, maybe.  Finances, sure.  Habit, definitely.  Familiarity, fear, low self-worth, abusive childhood—yes, yes, yes and yes.

A woman can get used to living with violence, you know.  She can spend so much time being stressed out, on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak, that it is almost a relief when the violence finally comes.  She can have been so hurt and betrayed by her partner’s violence that she becomes used to the grim reality of her life.  She becomes used to the cycle of the violence.

The Cycle of Violence
Relationships that involve violence often have a pattern to the violence.  There has been a lot of research and study about this.  It’s called the “Cycle of Violence.”  It goes like this: first there is a build up of tension, and arguing.  The person who is the victim is often aware of walking on eggshells to try to keep the other from blowing up, or she may instigate a fight just to get it over with rather than living with the building tension.  Then comes the violent episode.  Maybe it’s upsetting, or results in minor injuries only. Or maybe somebody really gets hurt–there’s no telling.  The episodes usually escalate over time, as well, getting more serious as time goes by.  After the blow-up is over, the perpetrator usually feels bad.  She’s genuinely sorry it happened and she may worry that her partner will leave her now.  She will still have difficulty taking responsibility for her violence.  She may say something like, “if you hadn’t done x, then I wouldn’t have gotten so mad.”  But she is sorry enough to want to make up with her partner. woman weeping into her hands on park bench

She may buy flowers or gifts, or do something nice around the house.  She may seem so sweet, for a while.  The abused partner wants so badly to believe her partner when the partner says she’ll never do it again.  The violent partner might even really mean it when she says she’ll never do it again.  The victim may begin to believe that things are a whole lot better now, and that the bad times are behind them.

Until the tension begins to build again.  The violent partner gets grumpy, then begins to snap, control and criticize, just like before.  The victim can see the tension build and knows it is starting all over again, but she feels helpless to stop it.  The outcome is inevitable, because neither one of them has gotten any help to change the conditions that perpetuate the violence.  It doesn’t just magically stop, even with the best intentions of those involved.  Significant changes in core beliefs are required–of both parties.

Here is my professional opinion: If you are in a violent relationship, get out.  I can’t be any more clear than that.  If you stay, you are risking your physical well-being, perhaps even your life.  Certainly, your self-worth is getting dismantled.  Only when the two of you get significant help for the violence in your relationship is there any chance of turning it into a healthy, safe, relationship.  Love is never enough to fix things like violence.

If you are the one who becomes violent, you need to not be in a relationship right now.  It’s too much for you.  You can’t control yourself.  You try to control her in order to manage your anger and anxiety, but it doesn’t work.  It’s not her fault it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because violence just doesn’t work. Control doesn’t work.  It doesn’t get you what you want or need.  You’d like it to be her fault so that you can pretend to yourself that you could control yourself if she would just behave.  But deep down, you know that isn’t true.  You know are deeply angry and hurt.  You need help with that, beloved.  Anybody would.

The good news is, you can get help for your violence.  You can get recovery from your anger and your habit of lashing out or losing control.

If you’ve been the victim living in a violent relationship, you need some help, too.  You have scars from allowing yourself to be in a violent relationship, maybe because you thought that was the only way you could get love.

It is possible that neither one of you want to hear this message right now, but I’m glad you’ve at least read it.  Because you’ve read it, I know it’s in your heads now, and maybe, when the violence happens again you will be ready to hear the message: violence precludes real love and a successful relationship because it makes the relationship unsafe.  And, you now know there is help if you want it, to end the violence and live a life in peace and safety.  But if you want to try it together, both of you have to want it badly enough to go to any lengths.  It won’t work if only one of you is ready to change.  That’s just the drop dead truth.

young ethnic woman looking up with puzzled expression

There is wider recognition now that domestic violence happens in same-sex couples with nearly the same frequency that it happens in opposite-sex couples.  And just like with hetero couples, alcohol and drugs make it worse.  What this knowledge means is that there is help specifically designed for you, as a Lesbian or Queer couple.

There is a domestic violence hotline for those seeking information and help on how to get safe: the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or It is anonymous and requires no commitment to action if you aren’t ready.  The people who answer are highly trained.  You can call even if you just want to talk.

Look in your local area for more help, including help for same-sex couples and for batterers, female or male.  Find referrals through your therapist, coach, or by checking online or calling your county mental health department or google “women’s shelters,” “domestic violence,” or “battered women’s services.”

For those of you who are not in a violent situation and have no concerns that you ever will be, that’s great.  This information is still a good thing to know–who knows? You may be called upon to help a friend or relative someday.

For those of you who are not in a violent relationship now but have been in one previously, if you have any concern about your ability to spot someone who may have the potential to be violent, you can work on that by working on yourself.  You can improve your boundaries and enhance your feelings of self-worth.  That way, your inner radar will let you know when someone who might be trouble crosses your path.  You can do this work with a therapist, counselor or coach who is qualified and experienced in this kind of treatment.  You do not have to live out the rest of your life as a potential victim or as a potential threat to every woman you might meet.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway–those of us who have had violence or sexual abuse in our childhoods are more vulnerable to becoming victims of domestic abuse.  That’s because our natural aversion to being hurt and emotionally abused got erased when we were kids.  We just don’t have the same armor that non-abused people have.  But we absolutely can replace that lost self-protective instinct.

And if you were abused as a child and you learned to keep everyone at arm’s length so you wouldn’t be hurt again, you also can learn to have a healthy self-protective instinct.  You can learn to trust yourself to be able to judge who is a potential abuser and who is safe.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Safety in a relationship is a non-negotiable.  You absolutely need it if you are to have any hope of having a healthy, satisfying and successful relationship that is everything you want from your relationship.

In Part 4, we’ll cover emotional abuse and related issues…

A Healthy Relationship, Part 1

This post is the first in a series about the 8 Key Features of a healthy relationship.  It is an introduction about why looking at the 8 Key Features are necessary, and a review of the first Key Feature, which says that a healthy relationship is 100% mutual.  I’ll expand on that and show you how it may relate to your current situation.  So let’s jump into it.

Let me ask you a question or two.  How do you know if you have a healthy relationship to begin with?  In fact, how do you know if you have the same relationship your partner does?  How do you decide if the relationship you have is worth keeping, if you are uncertain about it?  If you’ve settled on the relationship you’re in right now, is there any chance of it becoming the relationship you really wish you had?

How Do You Know If Your Relationship Is Worth Keeping?

Obviously, if you both are blindingly happy, relatively free of unnecessary conflict, have a good sex life (however the two of you define that) and can successfully negotiate life’s trials and tribulations together as a team, then you probably don’t need to be asking yourself these questions.

If, however, you are reading this post because you have wondered if your relationship is healthy and if it is something you want to continue then, chances are, there are things about it that are problematic for you.  Perhaps you’ve had a thought like this run through your mind: “We’ve been together for a while and I really do love her, but I’m not in love with her…” or “sex can be great, but we seem to argue all the time” or this one, “We started out really in love, but now it feels like we are nothing more than roommates” or the death knell of “I love my partner more than she loves me, but we’re still together so that must mean something, right?”

Read on..

Anything sound familiar?  Painfully familiar?  If your answer is “yes,” part of my purpose here is to tell you how to determine for yourselves whether a) the both of you are really still in love, and b) whether there is a foundation upon which to build, in order to create the relationship of your dreams—that is, to co-create the kind of relationship you really want instead of just settling for what’s available right now.

If you are currently single, that’s okay.  Actually, your path is more straightforward because you get to start with a clean slate.  Everything I say to those who are coupled should go into your memory banks.  That way, when you get serious about finding a partner, you will be well ahead of most of your old mistakes and habits, and ready for some fun.

Learn How the 8 Key Features Can Change How You Do Relationships, and Then Get Ready to Have Some Fun

I’ll take you through the Eight Key Features of a Healthy Relationship.  We’ll go through them one by one because each on builds on the next.  It’s not a list of eight things to do.  It’s more like those nesting dolls where one fits inside the next one until you get to the core doll.  I’ll do them in separate posts so it’s easier to read and assimilate.  I suggest you read each one thoroughly before moving onto the next because you’ll need to understand each one as it relates to your patterns, in order to fully comprehend the next Key Feature.  This is going to be really interesting for you because soon after you start reading about the Eight Key Features, you are going to start seeing yourself and your relationships in these words.

Many of us have made some bad choices when it comes to relationships.  Sometimes we learn from them and make better choices.  Sometimes we really don’t understand how it is that we end up in what feels like the same relationship again, only with a different person.  That’s what I call having a “broken picker.”  Some of us just don’t know how to pick the right partner even when we have the best of intentions.  Some of us get a bit gun-shy and decide to play it safe and avoid relationships altogether.  Some of us do it over and over. These are patterns.

At times, I use my own experience as an example of what I mean about patterns.  Mine goes like this: Back when I was dating and looking for a partner, I would go into a party, for example, with thirty eligible women.  If twenty-nine of them were interested in me, and the thirtieth one wasn’t interested, it was always the uninterested one that I would be intensely attracted to.  If I did manage to capture her interest, the resulting relationship was always a disaster.  I would spend the whole time trying to get something from her that she didn’t have in her to give, and I would go away feeling unloved and unlovable.  Then I’d swear off dating and relationships for a while, until I got too lonely or too bored, and then I’d repeat the same cycle all over again.

It was a pattern for me.  It went on for years.  Overall, it was very, very painful with bright spots of intense feelings of being in love, and some fun times, but mostly, it was just painful.  It took me a long time to figure out that my thinking was damaged.  I had a “broken picker.”  I felt attracted to those who were not available.  I had to learn to be attracted to those who were also attracted to me.

That was my unhealthy pattern.  Many women (and men) have their own unhealthy patterns. You might have one, as well.  The pattern might be similar to the one I had, or it might be different.  You know you have a pattern if you get the same results no matter what you’re doing differently.  You are either picking the same kind of partner that doesn’t work for you, or you’re behaving in the same manner during each relationship, such that you get the same unsatisfactory outcome.

Why am I going on about patterns?  Because you cannot change something if you are unaware of what you’re doing to create it or contribute to it.  Look, I get it, that some of the responsibility for your failed relationships belongs to your partner(s).  I’m not saying it’s all on you.  But it doesn’t do any good to talk about what someone else did or didn’t do because we can’t change anyone else (as much as we’d like to).  The only person you can change is you.  The only outcomes you can influence are the ones that you’re aware of and choose to change your contribution to them.  Are you still with me?  Changing your part will be enough, I promise.

There is another pattern I feel I must mention, although you may not immediately recognize it as a pattern.  But it is.  A healthy, successful relationship does not take away all the pain in your life so that you don’t have to deal with heartbreak, ennui, emptiness, anger, disappointment, bosses, kids, homework, laundry, boredom, bills, self-doubt or loss.  Many of us act as if we expect a relationship to do that.

If you really want all that, then that’s what drugs and alcohol (or food, gambling, compulsive sex, or spending) are for.  No, I do not recommend taking up an addiction.  Rather, what I mean is that wanting all the challenges in life to end because you are in love or in a relationship is simply fantasy thinking.  Thanks to TV, movies, romance novels and fairy tales, many of us have that desire for “happily ever after,” but that is not reality. Sorry.

You might be telling yourself right now that you got over the “happy ever after” fantasy as a teenager, but I’m challenging you on that.  You might not have the full-blown Cinderella concept going on, but you’d be a rare woman to have escaped its influence entirely.  Most of us do hold onto the idea that the one we love will make us feel better about ourselves, or will give us some meaning in our lives that we didn’t have before.  Many women still believe that having someone who loves them means they are worthy, or at least more worthy than they were.  Sometimes the belief is hidden.  Sometimes it’s complicated by other things, like a history of abuse.  Sometimes it is subtle.  We often don’t realize that it is behind our motivation for certain things in our relationships.

However, to be on the road to getting the relationship you really want, everything must be on the table.  You must be willing to take out your most intimate beliefs about yourself and look at them, assess them, and recognize them for what they do for you, and for what role they play in keeping you from your goal of lasting love and great intimacy with the partner that is right for you.  The sooner you recognize any unrealistic, fantasy-driven beliefs, the closer you will be to being able to bring a healthy, satisfying relationship into your life.

I’m going to start with the basics.  If this material is not news to you, I encourage you to look it over anyway.  You never know when you might run into a gem of wisdom you don’t yet have.

Key Feature #1
First—and this may seem obvious, but when you’re in it, it doesn’t seem obvious at all—are both of you in agreement that what you have together is actually a relationship?  The answer should be a clear and resounding ‘yes.’  If one or both of you say it is anything other than ‘yes’, you do not have a relationship.  You have a problem.  If one person thinks it is a relationship but the other one doesn’t–even if the other one is behaving as if it is–then it is not a relationship.  Sorry, it just isn’t.  One of the foundational features of a relationship is that it is 100% mutual.

If your partner is the one who is having trouble with the relationship, and you’re telling yourself she just needs more time, she has a problem with commitment so you’re giving her space, that you don’t mind if she defines the relationship differently than you do…then you are settling for crumbs.

Have You Settled for Crumbs When What You Really Want Is the Whole Loaf?


And if you settle for crumbs, you will never, ever get the whole loaf.  Not even if you wait for years.  Not even if you are the perfect, loving partner.  A relationship must be 100% mutual, or it is not a relationship.  

If you have found yourself in this kind of thing more than once, may I gently suggest you have a pattern that is likely holding you back from having a relationship that would make you truly happy. You can work on this yourself, through self-help books and workshops, and identifying patterns and self-limiting beliefs and replacing them with healthier ones, but you might want to get some help with this process.  A relationship coach, a therapist, a women’s group, or even Al-Anon meetings can speed up the process quite a bit, because then you don’t have to invent the wheel yourself at each stage.

If you are the one who doesn’t want to call it a relationship, or a commitment –for whatever reason–then what you are really doing is using your partner.  Even if you do nice stuff for her.  You are likely still well aware that you don’t feel the same way she does.  Even if you sorta, kinda love her a little, and think she’s really great, but you’re not in love with her, yadda, yadda… just be a sport and let her go.  You know you will eventually, anyway.  Better to do it now than to wait a year and really break her heart.  In other words, don’t be a cad.  Just saying.

I’ve been asked “Is this a (healthy) relationship?” question by a lot of perfectly awesome, well-meaning, lovable women who, through their own personal experience and feelings, have come to believe that crumbs were all they were going to get–ever.  If that’s true for you, it is time to take a look at some of your beliefs about love and relationships, and about worthiness and self-regard.  Real love is mutual, always.  Real love is the whole loaf, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Key Feature #2 coming soon…