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Eight strategies used by domestic abusers against their victims.

By: Cathy Meyer, founder of Divorced Moms

Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be the victim of domestic abuse. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. If you are being abused by your partner it’s important you become empowered enough to leave the relationship.

If you’ve done any research about domestic abuse, especially those who abuse, you’ve learned that most abusers are driven by fear and a need to control those they abuse. An abuser is morbidly insecure about their own value. As a result, to feel superior to or, at the least, as good as others they use domination and exert control over their victims.

Most abusers fear two things, they fear not being lovable and they fear appearing weak. The sad reality is, their anger, swagger, hitting and punching doesn’t make them appear strong, it does the opposite of what they desire and causes them to appear weak.

One thing it does do is create fear in their victim. To alleviate that fear and begin to stand up for themselves it’s important domestic abuse victims be able to recognise strategies abusers use to exert control over them.

Once a victim understands who they are dealing with, a fearful, insecure bully, they will begin to feel more empowered when it comes to exiting the relationship.

Marrying your flatmate
Most abusers are driven by fear and a need to control those who they abuse. (Image: Getty Images)

Below are eight strategies used by domestic abusers against their victims:

1. The silent treatment.

This is akin to the angry child who takes his toys and goes home, refusing to play because he didn’t get his way. In marital relationships, one spouse can keep another off-guard by giving them the silent treatment.


What better way to show displeasure with someone than to shun them, refuse to speak with them and stonewall their attempts at communication? The silent treatment by a spouse is a childish way of skirting responsibility for problems in the marriage and keeping the other spouse in a one-down position.

Stonewalling and refusing to communicate sends a message to the other spouse. “You aren’t that important to me.” If you receive that message often enough, intimacy, trust, and happiness erode and eventually both spouses become someone who shows up but does not participate in keeping the relationship happy and satisfying.

2. Playing tit-for-tat.

If you call the abuser out on his/her behaviour, expect fingers to be pointed back at you. Any honest attempt by you to discuss their bad behaviour will be met by retaliation. My ex was a genius at covert retaliation.

For example; we had ordered dining room furniture that I had wanted for years. A few days before the furniture was to be delivered he was late, extremely late, to an important appointment. One that had been planned for months. When I shared my disappointment with him, once again, leaving me to deal with something on my own, he got me back, but good.

Anyone can be abusive, just as anyone can be the victim of domestic abuse. (Image: iStock)

The day the furniture was scheduled to be delivered I was home waiting. When the delivery didn’t show I called the furniture store and was told that my husband had cancelled the purchase and delivery. BAM! Retribution! He got me for having the audacity to voice my disappointment with him by taking away something that was important to me.


Not all abusers play the “tit-for-tat” game in such a covert manner. A spouse can be overt and scream and yell while throwing past behaviours in your face in the hopes of making you feel small and diminished. The “tit-for-tat” abuser will sling mud in the face of your attempts to solve a marital problem. Look for these behaviours in the passive aggressive man.

3. Playing the victim.

Those who play the victim or usually morally righteous. Just ask, they will tell you. Playing the victim is all about maintaining an image. They aren’t the victimiser, oh no, they are the one being victimised.

If it isn’t you, it’s their boss, if not you or the boss it is the children. In the absence of people, it can be the stop light that takes too long to turn green or, the guy in front of him in line with too many items in his shopping cart. The world is out to get the victim and, you will pay.

The victim believes the world should get out of their way, that rules don’t apply to them and that, due to their superior moral righteousness, they’ve earned special treatment.

Playing the victim is all about maintaining an image. (Image: Getty)

Here is an example from a client I worked with. Her husband, a church going, “God fearing” man engaged in an affair with a work acquaintance. When it all came to light his wife was, of course, to blame for his bad behaviour. She had failed to treat him in the manner which he felt he deserved so, he had no choice but to fall into the arms of the first woman who recognised his need for constant validation and gave it to him.

The victim will curse you, demean you, cheat on you and then blame you.


4. Deny your right to expectations.

Would you like for him to be home when dinner is on the table? Do you want your stay-at-home wife to cook nightly for the family? How dare you! The abuser doesn’t like anyone to have expectations of them.

Whatever your expectations, they are unreasonable. A friend planned a dinner party for her husband’s birthday. The husband took part in the planning. The evening came around, the table was set, the guest took their places and the birthday boy was missing.

He was upstairs on the computer. In response to his wife telling him it was time to eat he replied, “I have work to do, just wait, I’ll be down when I get down.” He helped plan the party, knew what time dinner would be served and knew there were guests in the home. In his mind, his wife was the unreasonable one for expecting him to join us at the dinner table.

the signs of an unhealthy relationship
The victimiser will curse you, demean you, cheat on you and then blame you. (Image: Getty)

Most of us put effort into being conscious of what our spouse needs from us. We don’t find it offensive that they have certain expectations. The abuser is conscious of no one’s needs but their own. That is why it is better to keep your expectations low. It makes for a miserable marriage but, it keeps you from suffering constant disappointment.

5. Twisting your words.

This was another talent my ex had. I remember telling him one Christmas morning that I wanted to take family photos around the tree. My exact words to him while he was making his morning coffee, “I’ve laid out clothes for the boys for photos when you get dressed put extra effort into looking good.”

An hour later he comes downstairs in an old T-shirt and jeans and highly angry. According to him, I had told him that his appearance was ALWAYS unacceptable, that he didn’t know how to dress and because of my criticism of him he would not be taking part in family photos around the tree. Ugh!


The abuser doesn’t hear what you say, he/she hears what they believe will make you look bad or reflect negatively upon you. They don’t know how to be anything but pissed, upset and angry. And twisting, turning and redefining your words keeps them in that mindset and you walking on eggshells.

6. The good guy.

There is no man worse than the self-professed “good guy.” If a man is constantly telling others what a good guy he is, chances are he isn’t such a good guy. These guys are good, they are good to everyone but the woman they are married to.

They are quick to volunteer to help a friend move, not so quick to help their wife mow the lawn. They are known as the go-to guy at work, the man who extends himself to those who need help. At home, they sit in the recliner, never bathe a child or do a load of laundry. They are good guys to everyone except the people who need them to be good.

The abuser is conscious of no one’s needs but their own. (Image: Getty)

The problem with this type man? Aside from the fact that you have to live with him? From all outward appearances, he actually looks like a “good guy.” Friends, family, coworkers adore him, wish they were married to him and just can’t understand why you don’t appreciate such a wonderful man. If you’ve got a complaint about him you look like the b*tch ragging on Mr. Wonderful.

7. Rolling of the eyes.

Have someone roll their eyes at you is like a slap in the face. It is a deliberate, covert way for the abuser to express disrespect. It’s childish and rude to respond to a spouse with a sarcastic facial expression that sends the message, “I do not value you, your opinion or your feelings.”


8. Can’t you take a joke?

You’re overreacting, you’re too sensitive, you’re blowing things out of proportion, and you can’t take a joke. These are all phrases commonly used by an abuser.

Patricia Evans, author of The Verbally Abusive Relationship wrote, “It takes a quick mind to come up with ways of disparaging the partner either crassly or with wit and style. This kind of abuse is not done in jest. It cuts to the quick, touches the most sensitive areas, and leaves the abuser with a look of triumph. This abuse never seems funny because it isn’t funny".

If it doesn’t feel like a “joke,” it isn’t a joke!

signs of domestic abuse
Have someone roll their eyes at you is like a slap in the face. (Image: Getty)

What do the above behaviours say about the abuser? They are out of touch with their own feelings or, severely inept when it comes to expressing and communicating deeper emotions they feel toward their spouse and the relationship.

What can you do in response? Don’t internalise their behaviour. Don’t buy into the idea that you play a role in their inability to deal in a healthy manner with their own feelings and relationship with you. If need be, walk away.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, please seek help from 1800 RESPECT. If you're in immediate danger, please call 000.

This article was originally published by Divorced Moms and was republished here with full permission.