couple relationships and abusive behaviour

Blog Post

8th December 2018

Dr Jim’s Blog: Couple relationships and the problem of abuse…


In this blog post, I want to present the core of a case study from my recent book on How to Build a Successful Relationship,  It involves a emotional abuse in a couple relationship.

Case study: Debby and Tom in conflict:

Unhappy coupleDebby D came to see me, in my office, on a cold, wet November morning. She looked undernourished, pale and sad.  She told me that her partner, Tom, had refused to come with her.

Indeed, he objected so much to the idea of couple’s therapy, and verbally abused her to such a degree, that she had promised not to proceed.

But she had come to see me anyway, because she was desperate.  She and Tom had been together for ten years, and there had been trouble from the start.  He treated her horribly; criticizing her approach to housekeeping, and her makeup.  He frightened her so much that she had started biting her nails.  Then she developed an obsessive-compulsive urge to scrub her hands until they bled.

I explored her history of relationships, working backwards from Tom, via two other serious relationships; and back to her relationship with her mother and father; and her parents’ relationship with each other.  Every single one of them had been abusive!

Debby wanted me to show her how to make Tom be more reasonable.  It took a few sessions for me to get to the point of using the ‘Best Friend Question’ with her:

Best Friend callout“Debby”, I said.  “Suppose your best friend had exactly the same problem.  She came from a disturbed family background; she had three difficult relationships, in which her partner was verbally abusive with her; what would you advise your best friend to do?”

“Kick him out!” said Debby, without a moment’s pause.

I then asked her: “If that seems to be the right solution for your best friend, is it also perhaps the solution for you and Tom?”

At this suggestion she shuddered: “But then I might lose him completely!” she protested.

“But what would be wrong with losing a partner who is abusive with you?” I asked.

“I don’t want to lose him”, protested Debby.  “I love him.  I just want him to change!”

I then tried to teach her the concept of ‘logical consequences’.

“Suppose I decided to steal food items from shops”, I began.  “What do you think would be the logical consequence?”

“You’d most likely get caught, eventually”, said Debby.

“And what is the logical consequence of getting caught?” I asked her.

“You would get a criminal record”, she suggested.

“And what if I got a criminal record, but I persisted in stealing food from shops.  What then would be the most likely logical consequence?” I asked her.

“You would most likely end up in prison”, she told me.

“Okay”, I said.  “I agree with your understanding of logical consequences in this case.  Now let us take another case”.

“Okay”, she agreed.

“Suppose a man got married to a woman, and then he began to be very critical of her housekeeping and her makeup.  What do you think the logical consequence would be?” I asked her.

“He would destroy the relationship!” she responded.

“And suppose he destroys the relationship, and his wife sticks around, and he keeps on being verbally abusive with her. What then would be the most likely logical consequence?”

“She would have to leave him”, suggested Debby.

“Okay”, I said. “If that is the logical consequence in a generic case of ‘a man and his wife’, surely that must also be the logical consequence in the case of Debby and Tom?” I asked her.

She looked defeated. She looked down at her hands.  “But I want to keep him!” she insisted.

Small 3D image of covers“Well, let me sum up the situation then”, I said.  “You and Tom are in an abusive relationship, at least on his side.  The logical consequence (or karmic debt) that Tom should earn is for you to leave him.  But you protect him from this karmic debt, by sticking around and internalizing his abuse; and transforming his karmic penalty into your own obsessive-compulsive suffering. And not just obsessive-compulsive suffering, but also sadness and depression, and a sense of despair, and self-hatred”.

Debby and I revisited this conversation several times, over a period of weeks…

…End of extract.

For more of this case study, please take a look at the information page about this book: Top Secrets for Building a Successful Relationship.***


That’s all for now.

Best wishes,


Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, ABC Coaching and Counselling Services, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX7 8HJ


Telephone: (44) 01422 843 629


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