The Basis for Abusive Relationships: Control Written by Jamie Edwards, LCSW

When discussing relationships, I find that people are very cautious about using the word abuse. However, when I replace the word with controlling, all of a sudden discussion flows freely. When we uncover the base of an abusive relationship, we find that one partner has almost all the control and the other partner has very little. Below is the power and control wheel, which is often used to look more closely at abusive relationships.


In looking at the power and control wheel, it’s important to note that typically abusers will start with the tactics inside the wheel – as these are more subtle – and then move to the outside of the wheel (physical and sexual abuse) if needed. This means that abusive relationships increase with frequency and severity over time. In fact, in the beginning of the relationship, there is often no abuse present.

That is because if there was, the other person would not stay in the relationship. Intimacy and trust need to develop, and then the abuser can use what he/she knows of their partner’s weaknesses to start the abuse. Victims/survivors often talk to me about their partner being wonderful when the relationship started, and it is very confusing how this person could have changed so quickly. Therefore they may not want the relationship to end, but just want their partner to go back to how s/he was at the beginning of the relationship, without realizing this is part of the pattern.

When I show victims and survivors the power and control wheel, they are often surprised how much the it describes their partner, or maybe a relationship in their family of origin. That is because this behavior does not come out of the blue, it is learned somewhere along the way. As much as they may not appear this way, abusers are very insecure and they have learned that this is the only way they can have and keep a relationship. So if abuse is a learned behavior, the next logical question may be can it be unlearned? The answer is a cautious yes. The abuser has to recognize the behavior and want to change, which can be difficult if this behavior has existed for some time. There are batterer intervention programs that are specifically designed to help and support abusers on their path to change; in addition, individual therapy can be helpful for both the abuser and victim/survivor.

In healing there is hope. If you or someone you know may be in abusive relationship, please feel free to call me, Jamie Edwards, at (847) 336-5621 ext.128.