When I was arrested for domestic violence, part of me was convinced they had it all wrong. I was not what the typical “batterer” looked like – some controlling woman-hater who beats up his wife to show her who’s boss. As awareness of abuse in LGBTQ relationships grows, we’re realizing that there are many people causing harm who don’t fit that unhelpful stereotype.
If you’re in an LGBTQ relationship and you’re struggling to admit that you’ve behaved in a hurtful way, this post is for you. Perhaps you’ve gotten over the denial hurdle and just don’t know what to do next – it’s for you too. I’m no expert on LGBTQ relationship abuse, but having undergone the journey to recognize and change my harmful behavior, I’d like to share some insights.
What can abuse in LGBTQ relationships look like?
Despite our assumptions about domestic violence, rates of abuse in LGBTQ relationships are as high, if not higher, than in heterosexual relationships. In fact, it affects bisexual women and transgender people more than any other groups. Denying bad behavior on the basis of your identity is misguided – and it prevents you from having the healthy, rewarding relationships you deserve.
Denying bad behavior on the basis of your identity is misguided – and it prevents you from having the healthy, rewarding relationships you deserve.
You’re not alone if you’re struggling to identify the ways in which you may have hurt your partner. It can help to read some definitions of abusive behavior, which includes physical abuse, like slapping or pushing, as well as emotional abuse, like gaslighting. Whether you’re LGBTQ or a heterosexual, cisgender man like me, please know that doing one or more of these actions is harming your loved one and you.
You may also recognize some forms of abuse in your behavior that are specific to LGBTQ relationships. These include “outing” someone to their family, employer, or friends, or threatening to do so. Another example is ridiculing someone’s identity – like telling a transgender woman she’s not a “real” woman, or demanding that a nonbinary person “make up their mind.”
Maybe you’re reading all this and thinking “yes, but my partner is doing these things too!” in which case, I am sorry to hear it. It seems mutual abuse in LGBTQ relationships, as well as in heterosexual relationships, is a lot more common than what we hear or talk about. But let me say this: changing our relationships for the better starts with us and our actions – in fact, that’s all we can control.
How abuse hurts our partner and us
To state the obvious, any hurtful behavior toward our partner can create severe emotional and even physical injuries. For LGBTQ victims, the lack of specialist services and misconceptions around LGBTQ relationship abuse can make getting help even more difficult. And like for straight people, leaving a relationship can cut them off from mutual friends, leading to isolation and loneliness.
But abusive relationships are bad for everyone involved – you included. If you get into legal trouble or people hear about your actions, you may also lose the support of your social network. In some places, you could lose custody of your children or find yourself battling divorce laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
If you’re hurting your loved one, you’re not getting the most out of life. This is true whether or not you identify as LGBTQ.
Even if you avoid these negative consequences, one fact remains: if you’re hurting your loved one, you’re not getting the most out of life. This is true whether or not you identify as LGBTQ. I want better for you, and I want you to enjoy all the good things that life and healthy relationships have to offer.
Where does abuse in LGBTQ relationships come from?
Ok, this is a misleading question – to be clear, abuse happens in all kinds of relationships, for all kinds of reasons. It comes down to one simple fact: hurt people hurt people. This is true for all of us as human beings – LGBTQ or straight, you or me.
Hurt people hurt people. This is true for all of us as human beings – LGBTQ or straight, you or me.
Maybe it’s a deep fear of rejection and loneliness that’s driving jealous, controlling behavior. Or feelings of insecurity and worthlessness that lead someone to fly into a rage or bully their partner when they feel criticized. Abuse in LGBTQ and heterosexual relationships alike happens because the person causing harm is carrying deep, unhealed emotional wounds, or core hurts.
These core hurts have their roots in traumas that we experienced in our past, often in childhood. For my part, growing up with an alcoholic father who yelled at me a lot and rarely gave praise left me with low self-esteem. I doubted, deep down, whether I was a lovable and worthy person – leading me to react too strongly when I felt rejected or criticized.
You may or may not have experienced similar traumas, and developed similar emotional wounds. But I want to acknowledge that if you’re LGBTQ, you might have faced specific things that I haven’t gone through, and cannot pretend to understand.
Perhaps you were rejected by your family or church, or experienced a hate crime. Maybe you just grew up constantly hearing – at school, on TV, from friends – that you’re not “normal.” Whether these messages came from a place of hatred or just misunderstanding, they are very real traumas that can create core hurts. If this is the case for you, let me say how truly sorry I am.
Maybe you grew up hearing that you’re not “normal.” Whether these messages came from a place of hatred or just misunderstanding, they are very real traumas.
I don’t know what you’ve been through – we all have different life experiences and face unique traumas. But I do know this: any of us can develop core hurts, which can come out in all kinds of ways. It could be a mental health condition, numbing behaviors, or causing harm in our relationships.
That last one may be something you and I have in common. If that’s the case, I have some good news for you.
Getting the good things in life
By healing my wounds, I was able to stop my abusive actions, turn my life around, and become the loving partner I wanted to be. I want you to know that change is possible for you, too.
The first step is the hardest – and that is committing to change. After reading about what abuse in LGBTQ relationships can look like, and the harm it causes, do you see yourself in some of those descriptions? Accepting that we have behaved badly without falling into the trap of believing we’re bad people is key to making the changes we want to see.
I believe that the process I used to stop my hurtful behavior applies to anyone causing harm, whether you’re straight or LGBTQ. Begin by learning how to keep a lid on your rage reactions, if you have them. Then, heal from within by identifying your core hurts and challenging your distorted thoughts.
During my healing process, I went to counseling, wrote in a journal, and read a lot of books. I encourage you to use every tool available to better understand and change your harmful behavior. Remember, nobody but you can heal your emotional wounds, so avoid a victim mindset and put the work in – it’s worth it.
This is perhaps easier said than done, but finding a counselor who is LGBTQ, or who specializes in LGBTQ relationships, could be helpful. An LGBTQ center like this one may be a good place to start looking. Non-LGBTQ folks like me have plenty to offer, but if talking to a person who shares your specific experiences makes a difference to you, then do so.
If talking to a person who shares your specific experiences makes a difference to you, then do so.
That said, and to risk sounding like a broken record, I do know what it’s like be someone who hurts their partner. I also know what it’s like to become someone who, 15 years later, is in a healthy, happy, and nonviolent marriage. The Ananias Foundation is my effort to help others, like you, do the same.
Please check out our free Guidebook which describes the change process in detail. You can also sign up for our “Weekly Dose of Encouragement” or group sessions, where people of all backgrounds and identities are welcome.
I know that you can heal from your hurts and change your behavior for the better. I want that for you. We at the Ananias Foundation are here to help.
It hasn’t escaped me that religion can be a source of core hurts for many LGBTQ folks. If that’s the case for you, I am sorry. Sadly, some religious people believe it is their duty to judge others – even their own children – on the basis of their identity. They’re wrong.
Please know that there are many churches out there that will support and love you for who you are. They will welcome you with open arms, if and when you want to join them. For me, the church community was the one place where I could find support and encouragement when others turned away.
I’ve heard my LGBTQ friends talk about their “chosen family” – the friends who love them through thick and thin when their families have let them down. Whatever you think about religion and spirituality, know that you are part of God’s family too. He may not always like what we do, but He loves you unconditionally and will always be there for you, no matter what other people think.
Best of all, the fact that God loves us unconditionally is all we need to know that we are good, worthy, and lovable people. We all make mistakes, and God knows that, but he still loves us and wants better things for us. If you’re struggling with shame or feelings of worthlessness, God is ready to help you heal.
I’d like to express my deep gratitude to Rosie Jewell and Joe Simpson for their very helpful input, information, and collaboration on this post. –Michael