Dear Avalanche: “My ex-girlfriend kept babbling on about how I was abusive”

A reader questions the definition of ‘domestic abuse’, and queries whether service providers and abuse resources are fuelling false allegations.

I received this comment on my post, Is the fight against domestic violence in crisis. It warrants a fuller response than I could give in the comments box, but can you add to the discussion?

Kyta: The problem is the ever widening definition of “abuse”

“The problem is the ever widening definition of “abuse”. Physical intimate partner violence is a tragedy. However the definition of abuse now includes virtually everything.

“However pick up any book on abusive relationships and the definition of “abuse” is absurd. Withholding sex, demanding too much sex. Withholding affection, providing too much affection. Withholding money, giving too much money expecting something in return. Yelling, giving the silent treatment.

“My ex-girlfriend kept babbling on about how I was abusive. I never once threatened her or was physically violent with her in any way. I provided a home, helped with child care, in fact I did the lions share of the domestic duties including child rearing and cleaning because she was a slob.

Photo by stibbons

Photo by stibbons

“I bought her thousands and thousands of dollars worth of things and she was terrible with money so when she overspent I would end up stuck covering the difference. When I did raise my voice it was because I’d come home to a filthy mess, I’m no OCD neat freak I’m talking I have to run the dishwasher back to back 3 times just to get the dishes done. 20 loads of laundry unfolded piling up by the washer. I’m not exaggerating.

“I would send her to counselling or the local church to try to help her put things into perspective. Guess what they all told her? She was in an abusive relationship and she needed to escape. When she came back with all manner of these books and pamphlets handed to her. I would ask her and wonder what on earth are you telling these people?

“I was hoping she would come back with perspective that a stay at home mom might actually fill the role and at least pick up after herself – and that her depression and mood might improve if she took on part time work or volunteered and got herself out of the house for a few hours a day instead of loafing around sleeping on the couch.

“I may be coming across quite strong; I know not all cases are like my ex girlfriend. When I look at the table and see 12 empty cigarette packs and 6 empty 2 litre bottles and overflowing ash trays, three dishwasher loads of dishes and fruit flies all over the place eventually I’m gonna blow my top – I’m out working and I don’t want to come home and put in 6 hours of housework just to relax.

“But the “abuse industry” validated her every concern and never bothered to ask the most important question, ie. “What do you think that your boyfriend is angry about?” and then dug deeper into the situation.

“Because of this, my ex became so terrified of me that she brought the police to come and get her stuff which was lunacy. Even the officer agreed that this civil standby call was a waste of his time.

“If you want funding for domestic abuse to be raised your community needs to narrow the definition to something more realistic. A man who yells at his wife in a domestic disagreement is not an abuser. A man who threatens to punch his wife or actually does in an domestic agreement is. The former is a serious disagreement while the latter is a crime. Women yell at men inside relationships all the time, nobody encourages men to run away to a shelter and call the cops when the wife screams at him for not putting the toilet seat down for the 50th time.

“I may sound jaded but, well, I am. I am a kind person who provided thousands of dollars worth of support for a girl and a daughter that was not even mine, raised the daughter like my own when my girlfriend was pre and post surgery like a single father almost, and now my reputation in my community is half trashed because I was labeled as an abusive person to anyone she spoke to who would listen.

“I never threatened to hurt her, never tried to isolate her, never tried to force her to do anything. Quite the opposite actually, I encouraged her to get counselling, bought her into classes to get her out of the house and interacting socially, tried to encourage her to get part time work or volunteer because she was isolating herself. Yet now I am labeled as an abusive person in a community I have lived in for 13 years.

“Sorry to come at this comment section from the other side of things, but hopefully you will understand that I do think that men who are violent against women (or visa versa) are criminals who should be punished but the widening labelling of what constitutes abuse is the reason your cause is losing ground. Everyone I am sure knows of a man persecuted, shunned, or shamed for being abusive due to false allegations, whether in a custody dispute or not because this is commonplace.

Photo by edans

Photo by edans

“Just take my example. I was worried about my ex girlfriend because she is a cellphone junkie and had not responded to me for 6 days which was very unlike her and her new boyfriend had several times threatened to take away her phone. I asked her to call me so I could verify if she was OK and if she didn’t I would come over to her new house to check on her. Instead of simply calling me for a 2 minute phone call they called the police. I was there and gone in 2 minutes and only knocked on the door and half the detachment was on alert for trouble.

“I called the cops myself after I got home because the boyfriend said she was sleeping which was absurd, I was just concerned. A week later I’m sitting having a beer in my backyard and a police officer arrives on civil standby to ensure there is no trouble while she gathers her things. Well I had been waiting for her to take her things for 4 months and I already have another girlfriend myself. The cop and I had a great conversation and it was fine. Again if she had simply phoned ahead and asked if there would be any trouble this tremendous waste of police resources for the second time would be averted. Four minutes of phonecall would have saved 8 hours of police resources.

“But of course I’m some abusive nutjob wingnut who is unstable. I have no criminal record I have never been in a fight or involved in domestic violence. The worst thing I’ve ever done is slam a door. Thanks abuse industry for giving her the validation.”

Avalanche: Emotional violence is domestic abuse and must be taken seriously

Those of us who care about people affected by domestic abuse want  a constructive debate around the subject, and that includes hearing a variety of perspectives. So, thank you Kyta for your comment. I can see where you are coming from.

I have to tell you that I see numerous red flags in what you describe. However, you have not asked for commentary on your personal situation so I will focus on what I understand to be your main point: that the definition of abuse is too broad.

Emotional violence is abuse

Abuse is about one partner seeking to establish power and control over the other. Abusers have a variety of techniques to achieve this, and they all begin with emotional abuse – otherwise known as coercive control.

I have been through two abusive relationships. Both used physical violence against me, but the majority of the time they didn’t need to. They could control me with threats, by zealously monitoring my movements, by stalking, by demanding sex continually, slamming doors, by screaming at me – even a look could be enough.

Let’s look at the examples you cite:

Withholding sex, demanding too much sex. Withholding affection, providing too much affection. Withholding money, giving too much money expecting something in return. Yelling, giving the silent treatment.

In a non-abusive relationship these behaviours are unpleasant, but not abusive. That is because they are not motivated by the desire to establish control, nor do they cause fear. They are rarely sustained. When a pattern of behaviour is driven by the need for control, and makes another afraid – that is abuse.

Domestic abuse is not about anger

It worries me that you suggest women should ask themselves why their partner is angry with them. This is a major red herring because domestic abuse is not about anger – it is about power and control, as I said – and perpetrator programmes tell us that abusers are not angry. They do not abuse because they are angry. They abuse because that is the way they seek to achieve power and control. By simulating rage (manufactured anger) they deflect attention from this, and give their partner the message that they provoked the abuse.

Survivors of domestic violence report that they have been attacked for no apparent reason. Often, abusers change their ‘rules’ without notice, to provide an excuse to abuse their partner.

I welcome that you are clear that physical violence is never acceptable. Unfortunately, every woman that has been physically assaulted will also have experienced emotional violence. The overwhelming majority of survivors believe that mental cruelty could be worse than physical violence.

Therefore, I hope you will agree that emotional violence is also unacceptable – and that it is abuse.

Responding to domestic abuse

I have yet to encounter an individual that was convinced by others that their partner is abusive. In fact, the reverse is most often true: women typically go to great lengths to conceal the fact they are being abused and to convince others that this is not the case.

Sometimes, though they realise something is badly wrong in their relationship, they believe that they need a black eye or two before they will be taken seriously.

That is why service providers and campaigners work hard to raise awareness about abuse, and to tackle factors – including fear and shame – that keep people trapped in destructive relationships.

However, anyone that ‘cries wolf’ about abuse is reprehensible – because it undermines the very serious conversation required to ensure that vulnerable people actually do get the support they need and deserve.

The definition of domestic abuse is not too broad. It is actually, extremely specific:

Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour, motivated by the desire for control, and which instils fear. This can present in physical, emotional, sexual, or financial aspects – among others.

In all of its forms, domestic abuse destroys lives. It must be taken seriously.

Photo by xJasonRogersx

Photo by xJasonRogersx

What do you consider constitutes domestic abuse? Should emotional violence be regarded as domestic abuse? Do you know someone falsely accused of abuse?

ALSO SEE: The implications of potential legislation against emotional abuse in, How should be approach emotional abuse as a criminal offence

© Avalanche of the Soul, 2013-14


17 responses to “Dear Avalanche: “My ex-girlfriend kept babbling on about how I was abusive”

  1. “The definition of domestic abuse is not too broad. It is actually, extremely specific: Domestic abuse is a pattern of behaviour, motivated by the desire for control, and which instils fear. This can present in physical, emotional, sexual, or financial aspects – among others. ”
    It can’t get much more clear.
    I believe that false allegations are made and it does create an even greater barrier to get over when advocating for domestic violence.
    The entire fact is that if the victim PERCEIVES a threat from their significant other then this is abuse.
    I was controlled by actual physical abuse which paralyzed my right arm for an entire year however many more times I was controlled by:
    A single look
    Pressing his face into mine w/o a word spoken
    Blackmail of things I’d shared
    Withholding cash
    Strutting about like god
    Clenching his fists
    shoving me into a wall just to maintain control
    and the list goes on.
    Calling me names in front of my children
    Threatening to spread lies to family and co-workers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing Teela. I’m so sorry to hear more examples of the abuse that you suffered. You are right, physical violence is always accompanied by emotional violence – examples of which you have provided. In my view, domestic abuse is about deliberately instilling fear in another, and that can take all sorts of forms.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I will share that xNN told me early in our relationship that his ex wife had falsely accused him of being abusive. I believed him. Once the environment started to boil, years later, I learned that he had held a gun to her head and pulled the trigger-the gun was not loaded, but she did not know that…she never filed a complaint with the police-just left. I too, see far more women in abusive relationships who never report versus women who file falsely. Also, word is spreading that mothers who try to protect their children from the abuser are punished in court-the children are put into emotionally damaging situations, and possibly physically and sexually damaging as well. That is just my experience…for what it is worth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, armyofangels, you make great points here. Survivor programmes (like The Freedom programme) teach that if a man makes these sort of claims against his ex wife, early in the relationship, to proceed with extreme caution. Your ex is a powerful example.

      Also, you are right to say that many more women fail to report domestic abuse than those who make false allegations. I never reported my ex for any of the times they physically assaulted me, the only official report I ever made was about his stalking after I left the relationship. Now, though, I wish I had reported him for everything.

      I have also come across women (like you) who are penalised by a court system that is hopelessly out of touch with the realities of domestic abuse. It terrifies me that judges so easily hand out custody / visitation to abusive parents – often, citing the rights of the child to have a relationship with that parent. What about the child’s right to be safe and happy?! 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was EXTREMELY BLESSED to have an attorney who knew all too well the nonsensical world of family court and was able to lead me through wonderland! I had to bite my tongue (a lot), pray (more than a lot), and show that I was making efforts beyond normal to “make it work” for their dad. It sickened me, but for my kids…we worked through the emotional torture in therapy rather than child protective services. I will spend the next 12 years helping my children through the emotional torture they endure on every visit, and praying that their little survivor instincts to walk on eggshells and withdraw will keep them safe until they are back in my care.
        I have learned that if custody of children is involved, it is safer for them to have safety plans and tons of support than risk being removed from the protective parent who is then labeled as “vindictive x”. Of course, extreme violence negates this, but in most cases the abuse of the children is like our own abuse…subtle and controlling leaving no visible marks. It’s pretty messed up….Thanks for the conversation!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m pleased you had legal representation that actually ‘got it’. I really feel for you and your children, and I can see you’re doing all you can to keep them safe.

        And you’re right – emotional abuse can (and does) affect kids too. The problem is articulating what is going on and how it makes them feel. Let’s face it – even as adults we can struggle to do that 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t think of any more to add other than, have I said before what a terrific job you’re doing educating people on this subject? And, thank you?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I realize that you didn’t comment on Kyta’s personal situation but on the definition of abuse. Yes, I agree with the definition wholeheartedly. Domestic violence consists of many facets of abuse, not just physical abuse.

    However, this has not really addressed Kyla’s situation, in my opinion. But then, this is not what this post is about.


    • Hi Carol and thank you for commenting. Yes, I haven’t gotten into the specifics of Kyta’s situation as he didn’t ask for my opinion on that. However, I strongly feel that false allegations of abuse are dangerous and malicious – but someone cannot be ‘convinced’ to become terrified of their partner (unless, perhaps, we are talking of cult-like brainwashing which is a whole different ball game). Minimising emotional violence, where it is occuring, is the wrong approach.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That is a very different approach to the subject and also very interesting – StrongSoulSurvivor your responses for me, were both constructive and insightful as you yourself stand in a position to do so, thank you for that feedback.


    • I’m glad you found it interesting, Die Trying. It was interesting to write, because in doing so I realised that perhaps domestic abuse is not as well defined as it could be. That’s a problem, because if it is difficult to articulate then it is yet another obstacle preventing women (and men) from reaching out.


  6. I’ve said before that it took me quite a while to admit that the relationship that I left was abusive. It was gradual, and he didn’t flip the switch until he thought he had me trapped with no place to go. I’d had more than one friend tell me that it was toxic, and that he was controlling. That was them only seeing the “good side” of him, not seeing what we dealt with when no one was around. I minimized the bad, made excuses for him, and stayed for months after that.

    Anything he did for us, had strings attached, and nothing I did was adequate enough to repay his “kindness” to us. Also, since he’d “helped me out” that was supposed to erase the messed up things that he did.

    He used the same tactics that I’m sure he uses on some of the inmates at his job, yet often told me stories that let me know he treated some of those inmates much better then he treated us. – His big thing with me was sleep deprivation.

    I was accused of doing everything that he was *actually* doing. His projection alone was destroying me. Beating me down day after day. I was at the point that I didn’t leave the house (unless for work), much less our bedroom, because I was accused of cheating, talking to various men, etc. (And this is still his theme in his smear campaign of me. Telling everyone that all the things that he in fact did to me, I did to him.)

    I had no right to privacy. I couldn’t shower alone, if I did he took offense to that, and I paid for it later. He went through my email, and my phone. I’d never done that to him, even though I had more then enough reason to do so.

    I too didn’t report him for the times that he hit me, I also wish that I had. I wish I had recorded our “discussions” and arguments. When I went for the stalking/harassment order I only included what he did after I moved out of his house, which was a big mistake.

    He often put me and my kids personal safety at risk. Texing while driving on the freeway, telling my oldest (who was in the car) that he was talking to me. (He wasn’t) Driving like a maniac to scare us when he was feeling particularly vindictive. Literally throwing us all over the car, riding people’s bumpers, speeding, and weaving in and out of traffic.

    It was a gradual build up. Before he showed me just how cruel he really was, and that he derived pleasure from causing us pain, no one convinced me that he is abusive, like he convinced me. I had myself convinced that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I didn’t know how bad it was until I got out.


    • Hi Constance

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience in this comment. The points you make are extremely important – especially for anyone who may imagine that emotional violence isn’t really damaging. It is.

      The soul sapping tactics that you describe – the extreme jealousy, the disregard for your privacy, sleep deprivation, false accusations, guilt-making – all ring a bell for me. Like you, I tried to adapt my behaviour to stop these things from happening, without success. Truth was he wasn’t going to stop, whatever I did or didn’t do.

      Also, I’m, glad you talk about an abuser’s actions as ‘tactics’. I do too – because they do these things not inadvertently but intentionally and for the specific purpose of achieving power.

      Like you, I do wish that I’d reported his abuse and violence. I believe many women do the same – because it is often only after we leave that we can and do reach out for help to keep safe. And, to a certain extent, only then do we have the space to reflect and understand the extent of what happened to us.

      I am so sorry that you went through all of this, but I am happy that you are out of that relationship. Hopefully, things are looking brighter for you in spite of your ex’s best efforts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I meant to illustrate for that poster, that he used all those emotional and mental tactics well before he ever laid a finger on me. And there was no convincing me that I needed to get out of the relationship, people had already tried. I had to come to the realization myself and finally say ENOUGH.

        I’m in a better place then I was a year ago, and so much better then even three months ago. There’s been nothing from the narcopath since the end of February, but it took a temporary restraining order to get to this point. I’m so hoping it stays this way. I’m starting to feel somewhat “normal” again. I’m able to eat, sleep, and I’m not constantly trying to guess and head off his next move. (Although for the most part he was very predictable.) Because it’s not enough that he came close to destroying me while I was with him, he had to punish me for leaving. Such a generous soul, the peace loving hippy he portrays himself to be. (Barf) For me, the aftermath of leaving was much scarier then living with him, since I escaped soon after the physical violence started. The insomnia, nightmares (on the off chance I did fall asleep), loss of appetite, weight loss, hypervigilance, PTSD, and the subsequent stalking and harassment were not things I expected.

        We still have a long way to go in our healing. It wasn’t just me, my youngest was his scapegoat. That saying “I might not be where I should be, but at least I’m not where I used to be” is very fitting. I thank God every day that we’re no longer there, and I would never take him back. Three days out it was like someone turned on the lights for me. I didn’t know just how bad it was until I got out. I found myself saying that often. Once away from his constant influence I was able to start thinking clearly.

        Abuse is abuse is abuse. I believe that the number of people who don’t report their abuse is so much higher then false reports.

        Thank you for writing. This community has been so very helpful to me, and I’m sure to many others. You all have helped to save my sanity. ❤


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