Is being abused in a relationship a clinical condition, and how do you cure it?


Further Reading

Dear Stanton,

I am in the process of separating from my husband of 17 years. We were monogamous for the first 8 years, after which, at my husband’s suggestion, we experimented with intimate relationships with others, outside of our marriage.

As I am in the process of separating, many of my friends are commenting that they feel I have suffered emotional abuse in this relationship. I definitely saw my husband as sexually selfish, but until today had been having difficulty seeing him as abusive. However, as I am looking more objectively at this situation, I have to acknowledge that there have been several abusive moments present in our interactions.

My question to you today has to do the the entire theory of abusers and abuse victims. I recognize that I feel a great deal of guilt about leaving this man (he is more than willing to let me go). I am questioning whether this guilt is tied into this concept of “being tied to the victimizer” associated with abusive situations. I have heard about this in the past, cases where the abused victim, upon being freed, chooses not to leave the abuser. Do you have any thoughts on this matter? In your opinion is this an addictive response — maybe an individual becomes addicted to the safety of the situation?

I would greatly appreciate your input, and any recommendations you might have for reading about this subject.

Dr. H.D.

Dear H.D.:

I would approach thinking about your situation somewhat differently. It is true that I speak in Love and Addiction and elsewhere about how women become addicted to the safety of the situation of being “in love with” an alcoholic, for instance. The safety is in the predictability of the alcoholic’s need for the woman, in the woman’s security in knowing that others will not put up with the alcoholic, so that she has a firm grip on the relationship despite (actually because of) her spouse’s — and her own — disabilities.

Having said this, I question whether your best approach now is to decide why you are stuck to this man, when you seem to have decided he is not good for you. As we said in Love and Addiction, any one-sided relationship is not healthy for living things. Isn’t the question for you how to create new relationships of which you are proud, which your friends approve of, and in which you are not subject to abuse? The real questions are, what does such a relationship look like and what will it take for you to create one?

You seem to be a self-respecting person, with strong social connections, a career, and education and bearing. What kind of relationships does a person like that form? In such relationships:


  1. both people are independent and active individually;
  2. each respects and appreciates the other;
  3. neither would tolerate put downs;
  4. the relationship involves each partner’s friends, so that friends’ judgments of the other person are a critical part of the continuing relationship.

I think this is what you want to concentrate on, not deciding whether you have a clinical condition. Whether you do or not, the solution is the same.

Best wishes,

Stanton Peele

Stanton Peele , recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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