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What Is Relationship Bullying?

by Stacey Denny

Relationship bullying refers to one partner in a relationship who bullies the other. Bullies feel so weak that they develop an overwhelming need to command and dominate, to compensate for how vulnerable they feel, according to Dr. Testa, author of "The Bully in Your Relationship.” This leads them to choose victims -- especially spouses and lovers -- over whom they believe they can exert complete control.

Types of Bullies and Typical Behaviors

Many types of bullies and their associated behaviors exist, but the common ones are the easiest to spot, according to Dr. Testa. “The Rage Bully” is capable of physical damage to his partner or his partner’s objects. They yell and hit to subdue their spouses, and they control through fear and physical intimidation. “The Name Calling Bully” creates insecurity to control his victim. He looks for weakness and seeks to destroy self-confidence by constantly making fun of his partner. “The Passive Aggressive Bully” keeps a laundry list of his partner's transgressions, and lists them whenever his partner confronts him. The most common bullying behaviors include fear and intimidation tactics, controlling people and situations, and withholding love, attention, money and sex. Any of these behaviors can ruin a relationship, douse happiness and create an unmanageable home life.

Bullying Affects the Children

Bullying in a family also affects the children. Witnessing a parent who is being victimized is often more psychologically damaging to children than injuries from direct child abuse, according to Steven Stosny, Ph.D., in his article, "Emotional Abuse in Committed Relationships: Effects on Children" in Psychology Today. Boys who are bullies are nearly four times as likely as non-bullies to grow up to physically or sexually abuse their female partners, as was found in a study from Harvard School of Public Health researchers. Discuss schoolyard bullying with your children. This is especially true for children who have been subjected to bullying at home.

Protect Yourself

The bully may not acknowledge the behavior or respond favorably, but it is important to set boundaries, and to keep them. If the bully knows you are aware of the behavior, then, you have set boundaries and the bully knows that consequences exist. He may stop or agree to get help. Abusive-dominance individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship, according to HelpGuide. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey, without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his possession. This is a sign of relationship bullying and this can lead to spousal abuse and domestic violence. You should take all instances of bullying seriously. Make sure you have a safe place to go to should the situation worsen or become dangerous. A relationship bully may stop when you confront him, but an abusive partner who hasn't struck you yet is another matter. Look into the cycle of violence and evaluate your situation. If the bullying is escalating and becoming abusive, seek professional help immediately.

Educate Yourself

At the end of the day, you can only control one person. So educating yourself on your role in the victim and bully cycle is imperative to healing at least your half of the equation. People often become stuck in patterns that are detrimental to their well-being. You must recognize what is happening to you, accept that you are being bullied and it is the bully who has the problem, which they are projecting onto you, and that it can be dealt with, according to Life After Bullying. Learn more about the causes of being a victim, and seek professional help. If you allow a bully into one area of your life, chances are you will in other areas too. Contributing to a destructive relationship pattern will only perpetuate the cycle. If you stop being a victim, the bully will be forced to stop bullying you.

About the Author

Based in Spokane, Wash., Stacey Denny has been writing articles since 2005 in the "Los Angeles Times" and for various websites. She has been working with men and women transitioning from prison to help them rebuild their lives. She is a certified family development specialist and owns her own transitional living house.

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