By Mila Koljensic
Even though many may think it unusual that men can experience abuse in relationships – it’s far more common than reported. Unfortunately, I have met many men who have suffered various forms of abuse at the hands of their partners – from psychological to emotional, to physical.
When it comes to acknowledging abuse in a relationship, many of us will typically imagine the survivor as female.
What doesn’t come to mind as quickly is the idea of a man experiencing abuse. However, the truth is that men can and do experience abuse in their relationships. This abuse often goes unnoticed, is severe, and create long-lasting problems.
If you’re a male experiencing abuse, you’re likely all too aware of this. And you probably feel alone, isolated, and possibly ashamed of your circumstances.
Here are the statistics.
But you are not alone. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), one in four men (25%) will experience some form of physical abuse in a relationship during their lifetime. This figure is also too low, especially when all forms of abuse are considered.
Unfortunately, many male abuse survivors will be overlooked because gender stereotypes still exist. This means we’re trained to think it unlikely that a man – who’s physically dominant and likely more aggressive – could be abused by a partner. But male abuse survivors are more common than you might realize, and the ways in which they’re abused can vary greatly.
I think men don’t talk about being victims of abuse because our patriarchal society has taught them that they are somehow less masculine if they have been victimized.
In Canada (where statistics are readily available), criminologists report that spousal abuse is 50-50. Canadian men report being victims of spousal violence with the same frequency as women, but women are far more likely to be subject to severe forms of family violence, according to a Statistics Canada study..
But how can something as serious as abuse in a relationship be overlooked? If a man is being abused, wouldn’t we know it? Wouldn’t we see it? Probably not….
Abuse of men in relationships is a bit like a dirty little secret. People, especially the men who are living with it, don’t talk about it – even if they realize it’s happening.
As a society, we’re accustomed to hearing about women being abused by men. Unfortunately, history has given us ample reason to see this as an unpleasant but real possibility.
But a woman controlling or abusing a man? This must mean the man is weak and easily manipulated, right? No, not at all. This impression often keeps men from opening up about their abuse and seeking help when they need it.
Of course, this assumes a man recognizes that he’s being abused. It’s common for those experiencing abuse to have trouble seeing it and be resistant to admit it.
Being the victim.
For a man, admitting that he’s being abused by his significant other can be emasculating – he can be made to feel that he’s not a real man. He may develop psychological constructs – patterns of behavior or thought – to help him minimize and explain what he’s experiencing.
Men may also have a narrower definition of what constitutes abuse in a relationship.
Abuse isn’t always just physical. But f you ask a man if he’s experiencing abuse, he may immediately assume you’re asking if he’s being hit by his partner. It’s far more likely that the man experiencing abuse is dealing with emotional, psychological, verbal, or even sexual abuse.
Many men who are experiencing abuse will overlook any form of abuse that isn’t overtly physical and fail to recognize what’s happening to them. This blind spot means we fail to notice how much more common abuse among men is than we want to believe.
Many men have been rightly taught never to use their physical advantage over women in an abusive manner.
An abusive woman might exploit this restraint by giving in to her own anger issues or manipulative instincts and becoming verbally or emotionally abusive toward her partner, fully aware that he will not physically retaliate. Men are also prone to sexual coercion by women, who may use sex as a weapon to try to control a man by:
- withholding sex,
- promising sex or sexual acts in order to get what she wants, or
- using sexual flirtation to control or outright hurt him.
Because some men are responsive to acts of a sexual nature, they may not recognize this manipulation as a form of abuse. But using anything as a means of trying to control your partner, including sex, is certainly a form of abuse.
Women can also employ psychological abuse tactics. These can include:
- demeaning the man in their life,
- undermining the man’s confidence, and
- causing the man to feel isolated and dependent.
These can manifest in a few ways for the man, including:
- being socially cut off from friends and normal activities,
- interfering in family relationships,
- making unfounded accusations of infidelity,
- constantly monitoring calls, texts, and social media, and
- exerting financial control and manipulating or undermining behavior
Additionally, a man’s children may be used against him. Some women may well exert their influence over the children to manipulate and alienate them against the father. They may threaten a father’s access to his children, or expose character flaws or behaviors to his children that will turn them against him.
This definitely constitutes abusive behavior to both the father, as well as the children who are caught in the middle and being used.
So, if men don’t want to talk about it and may not even recognize it – and there are no physical signs like bruises or broken bones – how can you tell if a man is being abused in his relationship?
There are definite signs of abuse in men. Consider the following for clues.
Red flags that point to abuse.
- Changes in personality. Distinct changes in personality in anyone should raise a red flag. It doesn’t always mean abuse, but it generally means something is going on. In a man, a change in personality – such as an outgoing person becoming withdrawn or a responsible, steady man acting in angry, wild, or irresponsible ways – could be indicative of abuse.
- Being anxious or fearful about his partner’s response. Being regularly and overly concerned or anxious about how your partner will respond to you isn’t healthy. It may be a sign of fear that failure to please will result in punitive or abusive measures. This is true for both men and women and can result in a breakdown in communication.
- Becoming overly apologetic. A person experiencing abuse may become accustomed to unnecessarily apologizing or overexplaining their behavior.
- He needs to check in with his partner repeatedly. Along with becoming fearful of his partner’s response may come the need to check in with his partner constantly. If you find that a man’s partner is checking up on him or has trained him to check in more often than seems reasonable, it may be a sign of abuse.
- He seems depressed. In men, depression can manifest as anger – more so than in a despondent mood.
- Low self-esteem. One effect of abuse that’s consistent amongst men and women is the lowering of self-esteem. Especially if a man seems to become unsure of himself in an area where he once was confident, he may be an overlooked survivor of male abuse.
- Alcohol or substance use. Men are prone to using alcohol as a method of self-medicating. They use it or other substances as a means of managing emotions and escaping. So, if a man begins drinking more than usual or starts smoking cigarettes or cannabis, consider it a warning sign that something may be off.
These are not all the signs of abuse in men, but they’re some of the most prevalent. If you notice these in yourself or a man you love, it may be time to act.
Stopping the abuse.
Putting a stop to abuse in any relationship is difficult and complicated. It would be nice if it were as easy as just saying “stop” or leaving, but it’s not.
Ending abuse is also something that’s not easily accomplished alone. Many people experiencing abuse – male, female, or gender-neutral – find that the support of family, friends, and likely a mental health professional can help them make the needed changes.
It can be done!
We all know that the first step in healing is the hardest. Admitting the abuse exists can definitely be difficult for a man. Once this step is cleared, change can begin. TAR Men and TAR Network™ are here to help men (and everybody else) improve their lives, break free from toxic abusive relationships, reclaim their lost identity, improve their well-being, and reconnect with their alienated children one step at a time. It provides men with resources on how to start living their lives to the fullest, free of toxicity.
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