10 Signs You're in a 'Trauma Bond' With an Abusive Spouse

Heartbreaking 9

Bonds between people can be an amazing, wonderful thing. You think of the love bond between happily married people. The maternal bond between mother and child. The friend bond between BFFs. But did you know that bonds can be formed that are every bit as strong but are harmful and toxic?

It's counterintuitive, but people can develop incredibly deep loyalties to those who are using them, abusing them, and exploiting them. Think of the prostitute who "loves" her pimp. The abused wife who won't leave her husband. Victims who help or even marry their kidnappers.

The bonds that form between a victim and an abuser are called "trauma bonds" or "betrayal bonds." Could you be in a trauma bond with your spouse? Here are 10 signs you might be. (Trauma bonds happen to both men and women, but for simplicity's sake, these are written for women.)

1. You think being treated badly is normal. If you tell your friends and family how your husband speaks and behaves toward you, they are concerned for you. Yet you think nothing is wrong.

2. Fighting. You have repetitive fights about the same thing, over and over, and no one ever wins, there's never any insight. If you do feel that you "got somewhere" with the fight, that's all wiped out when you have the same fight about the same thing again -- probably the next day.

3. You defend your abuser/user. You find yourself complaining to friends, family, or therapists about how your husband is treating you, but then instantly begin to defend him or blame yourself, i.e., "Well, if I didn't nag him so much, he wouldn't have hit me," or "If I wasn't so fat, he wouldn't need to cheat."

4. Loss of free will. Everything in your mind tells you to leave your spouse, but you find yourself unable to make any kind of change.

5. You're in love with the fantasy, not the reality. You find yourself incredibly attached to the "storyline" of "how things should go" or "how they should be" despite the fact that the reality of the relationship bears little resemblance to it.

6. "Auuuughhh!!!" You often feel like Charlie Brown, who repeatedly kicks the football that Lucy holds, only to have her pull it out at the last minute. The idea that THIS TIME he won't pull the football continues to have power despite his always pulling the football and you always landing on your back.

7. Conversion. You keep trying to "convert" your spouse into someone who treats you right, "convince" him to behave differently, or "prove" yourself to him. You think if only you can "prove" yourself, everything will be different. You try to get him to "understand" that what he does/says is hurtful to you. If only he would "understand"!

8. You don't like him. You "love" your spouse, but you don't like, respect, or even want to be around him.

9. The next generation. Although you can't leave your spouse and even say you don't want to, you'd be horrified if your daughter brought home a new boyfriend and declared he was "just like daddy."

10. Obsession. If you do manage to break away from your spouse, you obsess and long to the point of nostalgia about the horrible relationship you got away from and that almost destroyed you.

Have you ever been in a trauma bond?


Image via Adam Wollfitt/Corbis

love, marriage


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nonmember avatar NoWay

Yup ... been in and escaped a couple of these relationships. Vowed never to be in another one like it, and finally found a man who loves and respects me and my children. Ladies (and men), there is life after abusive relationships ... as hard as it is, you just HAVE TO GET AWAY!

lorim... lorimason

Sadly, my daughter is in one of these nightmare relationships. It breaks my heart everyday!!

Donna Wilson Pirnat

If you were abused as a child, you likely don't know what healthy looks like. You should spend some serious time with a great counselor before you date anyone, so that you will be strong and aware enough to protect yourself from predators. There are lots of people who prey on those who don't know how to establish healthy boundaries. Don't let them use your weaknesses against you. You can learn and grow and be just as strong as anyone else. You just have to want to. Luck and love to you.

nonmember avatar vanessa

Oh wow im married to this. I never knew it was a meaning. I cant leave cause the kids and dont want to be alone-but all these exsamples are what I go through. I Sometime close my eyes and cant wait till the day ill find one of those men that are perfect for me. But I wont leave this and he wont leave me. Im stuck till death do us part i guess..sad

ktobin2 ktobin2

I was in that kind of relationship for two years. I thought my world would end if we weren't together but I'm SO happy now that I left him.

nonmember avatar Leisa Sudderth

I am new to all this lingo. In the midst of divorcing what I thought was a man that was simply a JackAss-come to find out he is textbook for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I confess to 8 out of the the 10 items on this list. Frightening! Only way this has come to light was by close friends sending me helpful NPD links. I'm shocked that my experience has a name and definition. Right now I honestly don't know if it makes me feel better or worse. Just being honest here.

Marlo... Marloh818

Vanessa, never say you can't leave because of the kids. You have to leave for the kids. It is not easy. I know. I am 10 months into being separated from my spouse and still trying to get a legal separation but I will never go back. I lost my job the month after we split (thanks to him and his drinking buddies) and financially this has been nearly impossible. But I am making the impossible happen because it is exactly what my children need. They are my everything and they do not deserve to be caught in the middle. Don't settle for being stuck in a bad relationship. You can do something to change it!

nonmember avatar Jaime

I am currently trying to recover from this exact

type of relationship. We were together for over twelve years, and have only been apart for a year. I constantly find myself missing what could've been, and was particularly struck by the fact that our relationship suffered every item on your list. The only difference is that I was the husband.

Robert Mitchell

It's a very hard thing to accept that someone you love does not treat you right, and is unable to actually feel the depth of your devotion, patience, and hope. For me it was 4 years of trying to please a woman who can never be pleased. It's very hard to walk away but ultimately it's better to walk away alone that to stay and be walked all over. If you're being treated badly and there is NO mutual communication [narcissists will not allow you to speak your mind] - get away.
It will take 'time' to heal. That's a challenge which is more achievable than the challenge of 'fixing' a Trauma Bonded relationship. The saddest part is that she doesn't even realize her illness.

nonmember avatar PS

I know of this all too well. I grew up in an abusive home and then ended up in a string of relationships with abusive, controlling men, including my ex-husband. Until now, however, I did not know anyone had an actual term for it. It explains... well, holy cow, everything.

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