Verbally Abusive Relationship

Verbally-Abusive-RelationshipThe Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It, and How to Respond
by Patricia Evans

Review and comments by Ed Thomas.

This book has so changed my life that I have given away over ten copies to friends. About six months ago this book was suggested to me by a wonderful counselor, mentor and friend. In the first fifty pages or so I had an epiphany…in an instant I heard, saw and understood things my partner of 47 years had been saying to me for years. I am a verbal abuser; I do it in private, not public. Our long time friends have often said that I was controlling of my wife. She agreed with that and sadly has been the recipient of verbal abuse for a number of years. I just could not see it or hear it.

Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse from an emotional aspect. I am very fortunate my wife is also my soul mate and that connection is what held us together and kept her from leaving. She too has paid a big price for my abuse, but we are both in recovery now and our life and relationship has taken an unbelievable change for the better. We have never been closer, more in love and in sync in our lives.

The issue in verbal abuse is control. The abuser comes from a point of pain and a sense of powerlessness. The unconscious thought is that if you can control you can avoid pain and also have a sense of power. I feel very fortunate to have seen this so clearly. A therapist friend of mine said in all of her years of counseling she has never had a man who was willing to admit that he was a verbal abuser. I did, I have changed (still working on it) and am still on my journey to wholeness.

Ed Thomas, a changed and grateful man.

Review and comments by Terri Harmon, March 2006

I found the strength of this book to be it’s insights into 2 very different strategies for relating, and the challenges these 2 strategies have in relating to each other.

Strategy 1’s focus in intimate relationships is control. This person seeks to gain a sense of personal power through control and domination. Relationship interactions are experienced and perceived through this control filter.

Strategy 2’s focus in intimate relationships tends toward connection and understanding. If the person has healthy self-esteem, power will be felt internally. If this person lacks healthy self-esteem, and lacks an understanding that s/he is in relationship with a Strategy 1 person who has different values and strategies, s/he will perceive problems in the relationship as due to a lack of understanding.
A major challenge in relationships between people with these 2 strategies occurs when each makes assumptions that the other is operating from a strategy or world-view similar to their own. Thus when the strategy 2 person experiences conflict, s/he may think “If I could only find a way to explain so the other person could understand me, they won’t be so angry.” or “If only they understood how much their behavior hurts me, they wouldn’t do it.” The strategy 1 person is likely to experience these explanations as control maneuvers, and escalate his/her own control and domination strategies.

This book enumerates strategies used by both parties, which I found helpful to understanding some of my own tendencies for dealing with tension and conflict in relationship interactions. This book also suggests some techniques the Strategy 2 person, otherwise known as the partner of a verbally abusive person, can take to begin setting limits with behaviors s/he finds unacceptable in the relationship.

There are two primary areas where I find this book falls short. First, the author defines the problem as the abusive behavior, and identifies the person acting out the abusive behavior as responsible for his/her behavior. What I don’t see is a mention that the partner who has allowed this dynamic to develop and continue also has some responsibility for and contribution to the relationship dynamics. One of the concepts I really like from another book (“Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most” by Stone, et all of The Harvard Negotiation Project) is that if we can identify, without blame, some way in which we contributed to the situation, we can empower ourselves to change it.

The second area where I find this book falls short is in the techniques the author suggests for communicating and setting limits. I recommend this book as an aid to understanding the different strategies operating in a verbally abusive relationship, but there are other books I would recommend for learning healthier communication skills.

Three books I use in my classes and highly recommend for learning non-defensive and nonviolent communication skills are:

Ellison, Sharon. Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication

Rosenberg, Marshall. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

Stone, et al (Harvard Negotiation Project). Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most