Abuse can take several forms, and being able to recognize abuse when it happens is the first step in addressing it. So today we are going to look at some types of abuse, and a couple examples of how they might occur in polyamorous relationships.
Not everything here is always abusive. Yelling, for instance, is a form of verbal abuse, but most of us yell sometimes when we are upset or angry. Yelling, on its own, is not abusive. But if yelling is being used to coerce or intimidate someone, whether that happens only once or all the time, that is abuse.
This is the one that most people think of first. Physical abuse can include everything from physical threats to beatings. Physically restraining or restricting someone—for instance planting yourself in a doorway so someone can’t get out—is also physical abuse. Destroying someone’s belongings is another common form of physical abuse. Any physical action or threat taken to control, coerce, or manipulate is abuse.
Some forms of physical abuse are both abuse and assault. Hitting, pushing, throwing things at someone and other assaults are the most immediately dangerous form of abuse. If you ever find yourself in a relationship where these things happen, please get somewhere safe as quickly as you can.
Paul and Cindy are fighting. Paul is getting angry and wants to leave to cool down before he says something he regrets. Bret plants himself in the doorway and says no one is leaving until this is worked out.
Jenna and Carol are both dating Sam. Jenna finds a time when she and Carol are alone, grabs Carol’s arm hard enough to leave bruises. Jenna tells Carol that if she ever tries to come between Jenna and Sam, Jenna will kill her.
Ryan wants to open up his relationship with Dan. Dan is reluctant. Ryan uses his body to pin Dan against the wall and says that they are opening their relationship and Dan better not cause any problems.
Sexual abuse is any form of coercion, manipulation or force used to control someone’s sexual choices. The most talked about types of sexual abuse also involve physical abuse—physically forcing someone to have sex, threatening someone physically to make them have sex, etc. But there are a lot of types of sexual abuse. Everything from groping someone without their permission, to blackmailing them for sex, to making them watch while you have sex with someone else.
Sexual abuse can be a particularly pervasive problem in polyamorous relationships. Having multiple people opens up areas of abuse that aren’t possible with just two people. Worse, these types of abuse are not well known or recognized, so abusers often get away with it for a long period of time.
Mark isn’t comfortable with threesomes. His girlfriend, Susan, is also dating Jack and doesn’t want to hear “no.” Susan tells Jack that Mark too shy to say anything, but wants Jack to join in the next time she and Mark are having sex.
Paula and George open up their relationship after Paula meets Ray. George has problems with jealousy. He tells Paula that she has to have sex with him every time she has sex with Ray or he’ll know she doesn’t really love him. He counts the condoms in the bathroom when Ray comes over to visit, to be sure they aren’t sneaking behind his back.
Ann and Donna live together. They’ve been dating Wanda together and separately for over a year when they invite her to move in with them. Once Wanda gives up her apartment and moves in with them, Ann and Donna tell her that she isn’t allowed to have sex with anyone else. If she does, she will be kicked out of their home.
Psychological abuse includes emotional, mental and verbal abuse. Psychological abuse is the most common form of abuse, and can be the hardest to recognize. Other forms of abuse almost always happen alongside psychologcial abuse.
Psychological abuse can include gaslighting, threatening to out someone, belittling them, name calling, twisting things around so the other person is always at fault and the abuser is blameless, deliberately embarrassing someone in public, constant criticisms, and much more.
Diane constantly compares Ken to her other boyfriends. Nothing he ever does is good enough. If she ever thinks he’s considering leaving, she reminds him that he is lucky to have her. After all, he hasn’t had any luck finding any other girlfriends (unlike her, with all the men lining up to date her). He’d better not leave or he’ll just end up alone and miserable. Who besides her would ever put up with all his failings?
Nick is dating Jane and Pamela. He plays them off each other—breaking a date with Jane and blaming Pamela or telling Pamela that he’d love to go to X event with her, but Jane won’t let him. He tells both of them how important it is for them to be friends and get along. Then he manufactures fights between them and plays the loving, forgiving boyfriend who can’t understand why they have to make everything so difficult. As a result, Jane and Pamela both cling to him, terrified that their “rival” will convince him to leave them at any time.
Ed starts dating Maura and Dwayne. At first everything goes really well. Maura and Dwayne are just opening their relationship, and Ed is happy to be patient and give them time to get comfortable with his presence in their lives. However, Maura and Dwayne keep putting more rules and restrictions on Ed. If Ed ever asks for anything, they belittle him or attack him for being unreasonable. After all, they’ve already opened their relationship and let him into their lives. Isn’t it presumptuous for him to ask for anything else? He should be grateful for what they share rather than constantly demanding more. He can always leave if he doesn’t like it.
Economic abuse uses money and access to money or other resources to control someone. Economic abuse is almost never seen alone, but usually accompanies other forms of abuse. Economic abuse usually occurs in live-in relationships, but can take place even when the abuser doesn’t live with their victim.
When Jessica moved in with Harry and Irene, she agreed to take care of the house while they worked to support the family. She quickly found that this left her with no money for her own needs. She had no say in how money was spent, no access to any bank account, and needed to beg for $5 to go out and get coffee with friends. Harry insisted that paying for her car was a waste—he or Irene could drive her anywhere, so why pay for another vehicle? Jessica started looking for a job of her own, but applications she brought home to fill out kept disappearing or “accidentally” getting drinks spilled on them. Before she found a job, her car was repossessed. Now Irene is starting to ask why she needs a cell phone, after all they have a house line, and she never goes anywhere…
Gary, Elena, and John live together. Early on they agreed that George would manage the finances for the family. Elena didn’t want to be bothered and John didn’t feel like fighting about it. Gary filled out the direct deposit forms for Elena and John’s jobs. He didn’t tell them he was having the money deposited into an account only he had access to. All the utilities and other bills also went in his name (and only his name). John and Elena quickly found themselves with no access to their paychecks. They could have cancelled the direct deposit—but then Gary wouldn’t pay the utilities. And without account numbers or access to any information about the bills (all paperless, linked to Gary’s email account), they have little choice unless they are going to move out with (at most) the money from one paycheck to get them moved and settled into a new place.
Over the next couple of months, we’re going to take a close look at how abuse can occur in poly relationships, ways to recognize abuse, and a great deal more.
This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series. It is related to Polyamory and Mental Illness.