Maplegate House


The Difference between an Abusive Relationship and a Healthy Relationship

Sometimes abusive relationships are easy to identify; other times the abuse may take subtle forms. The examples shown here can help you identify traits of abusive and healthy relationships. In general, abusive relationships have a serious power imbalance, with the abuser controlling or attempting to control most aspects of life. Healthy relationships share responsibility and decision-making tasks and reflect respect for all the people in the relationship, including children.


Abusive Relationships

Using Intimidation

  • Making your partner afraid by using looks, actions, gestures.
  • Smashing or destroying things.
  • Destroying or confiscating your partner’s property.
  • Abusing pets as a display of power and control.
  • Silent or overt raging.
  • Displaying weapons or threatening their use.
  • Making physical threats.

Using Emotional Abuse

  • Putting your partner down.
  • Making your partner feel bad about himself or herself.
  • Calling your partner names.
  • Playing mind games.
  • Interrogating your partner.
  • Harassing or intimidating your partner.
  • “Checking up on” your partner’s activities or whereabouts.
  • Humiliating your partner, weather through direct attacks or “jokes”.
  • Making your partner feel guilty.
  • Shaming your partner.

Using Isolation

  • Controlling what your partner does, who he or she sees and talks to, what he or she reads, where he or she goes.
  • Limiting your partner’s outside involvement.
  • Demanding your partner remain home when you are not with them.
  • Cutting your partner off from prior friends, activities, and social interaction.
  • Using jealousy to justify your actions.

Minimizing, Denying and Blame Shifting

  • Making light of the abuse and not taking your partner’s concerns about it seriously.
  • Saying the abuse did not happen, or wasn’t that bad.
  • Shifting responsibility for your abusive behavior to your partner. (i.e.: I did it because you ______.)
  • Saying your partner caused it.

Using Children

  • Making your partner feel guilty about the children.
  • Using the children to relay messages.
  • Using visitation to harass your partner.
  • Threatening to take the children away.

Using Male Privilege

  • Treating your partner like a servant.
  • Making all the big decisions.
  • Acting like the “master of the castle.”
  • Being the one to define men’s and women’s or the relationship’s roles.

Using Economic Abuse

  • Preventing your partner from getting or keeping a job.
  • Making your partner ask for money.
  • Giving your partner an allowance.
  • Taking your partner’s money.
  • Not letting your partner know about or have access to family income.

Healthy Relationships

Non-Threatening Behavior

  • Talking and acting so that your partner feels safe and comfortable doing and saying things.


  • Listening to your partner non-judgmentally.
  • Being emotionally affirming and understanding.
  • Valuing opinions.

Trust and Support

  • Supporting your partner’s goals in life.
  • Respecting your partner’s right to his or her own feelings, friends, activities and opinions.

Honesty and Accountability

  • Accepting responsibility for self.
  • Acknowledging past use of violence and / or emotionally abusive behavior, changing the behavior.
  • Acknowledging infidelity, changing the behavior.
  • Admitting being wrong when it is appropriate.
  • Communicating openly and truthfully, acknowledging past abuse, seeking help for abusive relationship patterns.

Responsible Parenting

  • Sharing parental responsibilities.
  • Being a positive, non-violent role model for children.

Shared Responsibility

  • Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work.
  • Making family decisions together.

The Cycle of Abuse

Abuse does have a pattern, even though most women who live with an abusive partner find it hard to see any pattern to the abuse. This pattern is called the Cycle of Abuse.1

The three phases of the Cycle of Abuse are called honeymoon, tension-building and explosion.

The cycle begins with the honeymoon. This is when the relationship is first established, and during this time the partner’s behaviour seems positive.

The next cycle is the tension-building and will vary in length. some men may be sullen, silent, unpredictable or moody for a period of minutes, hours, weeks or months. Some of the behaviour men exhibit may be angry or hostile, sometimes being very critical of the woman. Others will withdraw from the relationship and appear distant and disinterested. Their may be justifications for his behaviour, such as work or financial concerns. Another way of them explaining their behaviour is by blaming their partners or children for creating the problems. Often they deny that there is a problem, insisting that there is nothing wrong with their behaviour. There is a feeling of walking on eggshells for the women in this period.

The final phase is the explosion. In the beginning the explosion doesn’t seem that significant, but has caused distress. It may be that at first he only raised his voice or swore at you, or slammed a door or some other object. Over time the explosions become marked by increasingly violent or brutal attacks, no matter which form they take, physical, verbal, psychological or sexual, with the frequency increasing.

Characteristics of A Healthy Family

In a healthy family each individual is:

  • Treated as though you have a unique kind of genius that is loved and respected.
  • Told that you can do and be anything you wanted and that you’d be loved and admired no matter what
  • Given help and encouragement in finding what you want to do – and how to do it.
  • Encouraged to explore all your own talents and interests, even if they changed from day to day.
  • Allowed to complain when the going gets rough, and given sympathy instead of being told to quit.
  • Bailed out when you get in over your head – without reproach.
  • Surrounded by winners who are pleased when you win.
  • Encouraged and taught to honor yourself with healthy boundaries both with your family and with others.

Characteristics of a Healthy Person

Healthy Person:

  • They accept themselves fully, even while wanting to change parts of themselves, there is a basic self-love and self-regard, which is carefully nurtured and purposely expanded.
  • They accept others as they are without trying to change others to meet their needs.
  • They are in touch with their feelings and attitudes about every aspect of their life, including their sexuality.
  • They cherish every aspect of themselves: Their personality, their appearance, their beliefs and values, their body, their interests and accomplishments. They validate self, rather than search for a relationship to give a sense of self worth.
  • Their self-esteem is great enough that they can enjoy being with others, especially with some one in a romantic relationship, and that the other is fine just as they are. They do not need to be needed in order to feel worthy.
  • They allow themselves to be open and trusting with appropriate people. They are not afraid to be known at a deeply personal level, but they also do not expose themselves to the exploitation of those who are not interested in their well-being.
  • They question, “Is this relationship good for me? Does it enable me to grow into all I am capable of being? How do I feel about me when I’m with them?”
  • When a relationship is destructive, they are able to let go of it without experiencing disabling depression. They have a circle of supportive friends and healthy interests to see them through crises.
  • They value their own serenity above all else. All the struggles, drama, and chaos of the past has lost its appeal. They are protective of self, their health, and well-being.
  • They know that a relationship, in order to work, must be between partners who share similar values, interests, and goals and who each have capacity for intimacy. They also know that they are worthy of the best that life has to offer.

1Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman (New York:Harper and Row, Publishers, 1979), pp.55ff