I never believed she’d treat me like this.
The new relationship seemed wonderful, caring, very intense and exciting. We even had a ceremony. (Jessie)
Even if it had to be us against the world, we were equal partners – that’s what I used to think. (Nita)
It can be difficult to recognise the signs of abuse in a relationship, as people who are abusive are not always that way. Things can get worse gradually, and abuse can take many different forms.
Is it abuse?
Looking at your relationship, you could ask yourself if:
- You feel afraid of upsetting your partner and you change your behaviour to avoid it.
- Your partner puts you down or humiliates you.
- Your partner threatens to ‘out’ you to employers or family.
- She constantly monitors your movements.
- She acts in an aggressive way towards you or damages your possessions.
- She pressures or forces you to do sexual things against your will.
- She blames you for her behaviour.
- She controls your money.
- She threatens to hurt you, other people, or herself if you leave her.
I stopped talking to everyone I cared about, because she was so jealous. (Jade)
These can be signs of abuse in a relationship. And it’s not only physical violence that is serious, all abuse has damaging consequences.
It can wear down your confidence and your sense of having rights and choices. You can be cut off from friends, family and other supports.
I was too ashamed to tell anyone. (Rosie)
If you have been in an abusive relationship, you may feel:
- afraid to tell anyone
- depressed or humiliated
- afraid you have failed as a lover
- scared of coping alone
- furious that she could do or say what she did
- confused because sometimes she is loving and kind
- guilty about leaving her or worried about her needs
- frustrated and sad because you tried everything
- afraid of continued violence if you leave
- panicked that you may lose your lesbian identity outside the relationship
- worried about your financial security
- made to believe that you deserved it.
She criticised me and blamed me for everything that went wrong in our relationship.
If I was more fun, if I was less of a nag, if I was more accepting, if I was thinner… we could be happy. (Elena)
We all at times experience stress, trauma, anger, and fear. Someone who is abusive may use these things as excuses for her behaviour. But really, she behaves like this to try to control what you do and to get her own way, and it is likely she does it in private so that no-one else will know.
You may have tried to avoid upsetting her. You may also have tried to talk to her about her behaviour. Give yourself credit for all the things you have tried.
You may believe that something you did brought on your partner’s abuse, but you are not to blame, not even if you defended yourself or fought back.
Believe and trust your own feelings
If you feel you have to watch your behaviour in her presence, something is wrong. You are the best judge of this.
It can also help to acknowledge the pain and grief of abuse.
I tried to change who I was, to please her in all the areas she complained about. I kept hoping. But things only got worse. (Michelle)
What should I do?
If you’re worried about what’s going on in your relationship, you could:
Tell friends you trust.
Make safety arrangements such as organising a safe place to go, changing your phone number and locks.
Call the police if you are in immediate danger, or have been physically or sexually assaulted, stalked or harassed. Violence, threats of violence, and sexual assault are crimes and can be reported to the police.
Go to a Magistrate’s court if you believe your safety is threatened. You can apply for an Intervention Order to prevent future violence (or ask police to do it on your behalf.) Read more about Legal Protection and Safety.
Talk to a support service. You can discuss your safety, your options and your legal rights.
I’m worried about my friend
If you know someone who is in an abusive lesbian relationship, your support can help.
- Listen to, believe and offer practical support to a woman who confides in you about violence. Ask “How can I help you?” or “What can you do to make yourself safer?
- Don’t excuse or deny the abuse.
- Help her understand it is not her fault.
- Support her confidence to make her own decisions, and don’t tell her what to do.
- Stay in regular contact with her, whether she leaves her partner or not.
- Read our guide on how to help – Is Someone You Know Being Abused?: a guide for family and friends
Services that can help
In Victoria, and in other states, there are 24 hour crisis hotlines, as well as local Domestic Violence Services which can provide information and practical support in finding safe accommodation, housing, or obtaining legal or financial assistance. Gay and lesbian support services can also help. See Support Services
- Order a printed copy of this pamphlet on Publications.