Abuse is a heavy word. It can be an accusation that probably feels like an exaggeration if it's ever been thrown at you personally. And yet it's very real if you've ever been on the receiving end of it. That is what is so difficult about this topic. It is common that the two people involved see it very differently. Not always but most of the time. We all can watch a situation and know when the line has been crossed, when it goes from just being angry or frustrated to damaging and scary. When we are involved, especially if we are the angry one losing our temper, it's much harder to see when we are crossing that line. For the sake of a definition, cursing, pushing, hitting, getting in someone's face, throwing things are all in the category of abuse. This is especially true when one person is stronger, older or has more power than the other. When we have engaged in this kind of behavior the most important thing to do is to be accountable, apologize and not let it happen again. If this person is your partner or spouse whether you are the woman or the man this kind of behavior will affect how they feel about you. If it continues, even if it's only once in awhile, it will change the way the person on the receiving end of it feels about the other person. That is the more obvious bad behavior we all know should not be present in our relationships. And that is the definition of abuse we all agree on.
How about the more subtle forms of abuse? It is easier to label it as disrespect because I think it's easier for us all to identify this and not get caught up in whether it's "abusive" or not. It's a tone of voice, a mean spirited dig at you and a general retaliation or punishment for something you've done. This is also poison to your relationship, it's just harder to label and easier downplay. One way to look at this differently is that if your partner feels personally attacked, put down or controlled by you, it doesn't matter whether you think they shouldn't feel this way. They do and you are in a relationship with them. That should be enough to make you stop engaging in the behavior. If instead you spend your energy defending why you're right and telling them that they should just get over it you are compounding the problem. You are telling your spouse you don't really care how they feel and you are missing an opportunity to know and respect their point of view. I am sure if they did or said something you thought was disrespectful you would want them to take it seriously and try to at least understand you. This is where you have to start if you want to repair things. The quicker you stop defending yourself and accept that whatever you did feels bad to your spouse the quicker your relationship will get back to being okay.
How about if you are on the receiving end and you are confused about whether you are overreacting or this was the case of a line being crossed? If you feel intimidated, controlled, put down or in any way scared that is a huge clue that whatever happened felt abusive to you. If you have that scared feeling when it's happening or when you think of what happened, whatever happened was probably abusive. Whenever fear enters an intimate relationship it changes the dynamics. You cannot give yourself to someone you in any way fear. Whether we realize it or not we begin to emotionally exit the relationship when this happens. Which is why it's always best to take it at face value whenever these feelings do come up. You feel them period. If the relationship is to continue to grow that needs to be enough.