Learn about the common excuses abusers use for abusive behavior–and why there is no excuse for abuse.
No Excuse for Abuse
Everyone uses excuses from time to time.
- “I tested positive for covid, so I have to be out for a while.”
- “The kids are sick so I have to cancel our plans.”
- “I tried to log in, but our internet was down.”
Yet some excuses are never justified. There is no excuse for abuse, but that simple fact can be so hard to recognize from inside the relationship!
Here’s why: reasonable-sounding excuses from an abuser can be music to the ears of both abusers and survivors.
Abusers generally don’t want to take responsibility for their abusive behaviors, because it would mean they are no longer in control of the relationship.
Meanwhile, survivors want to find a reason that someone they love–someone who claims to love them, too–is abusing them. They often want to believe the excuse because a rational explanation would help make sense of a confusing, violent situation. Some survivors are even eager to take blame, at least at first, because it relieves the cognitive dissonance they experience when their loved one repeatedly hurts them. (“I know they love me, so I must be doing something really terrible to make them behave this way.”) The survivor may also believe that if they were somehow responsible (or partly responsible for the abuse), then all they would have to do to make it stop would be to… fill in the blank:
- Don’t wear that dress
- Don’t disagree
- Don’t look at them that way
- Don’t make more money than they do
- Don’t talk back.
- Don’t leave.
But survivors are NOT responsible for the abuse they experience. Making victims think that they can make the abuse stop by behaving in ways the abuser wants them to is called “coercive control.”
Spending all your effort and energy trying to avoid getting hurt by an abusive partner is an effect of their coercion; it is not the way to be a kind person.
So here’s the thing to remember: the abuse is not the survivor’s fault or under the survivor’s control. There are no rules survivors can figure out through dint of hypervigilance and perseverance to make the abuse stop, because the abuser would have to recognize and take responsibility for their actions first. Using excuses to blame-shift to the survivor–or to pretend the behavior isn’t abusive or isn’t “that bad”–simply does not allow that recognition to happen.
That’s why it can be so difficult to see an abuser’s excuses and recognize them for what they are. But it’s not impossible, because the excuses follow common themes of blame-shifting and minimizing.
If you’re experiencing or using abuse, being able to recognize the excuses for what they are–even if they’re your excuses–can be a step toward realizing that the abuse is never the fault of the person receiving it.
How to recognize common excuses used by abusive partners
… and why these, like all “reasons,” aren’t justification for violent and hurtful behavior.
Caring about someone is not an excuse to abuse them. Plenty of people care about their loved ones and don’t choose to abuse them.
This excuse is an attempt to make the abuse seem as if it’s coming from a good place, a place of connectedness in the relationship.
Let’s clear this up: this is not coming from a good place. It’s coming from a need, conscious or subconscious, to control a partner. When you care about someone you don’t choose to abuse them.
“That other time” is not an excuse for abuse.
Whataboutism is a logical fallacy an abuser may use to pivot from the abuse to the survivor’s behavior. It might be something small, such as losing a key, or chipping a dish–or something more major, like being involved in an auto-accident. It can be anything.
Whether the survivor did something blameworthy or not, this excuse pivots the conversation away from the abuser’s actions to the survivor’s actions–leaving the survivor feeling guilty, even though it’s the abuser who can choose healthier behaviors.
Substance use isn’t an excuse for abuse. There are plenty of people who become intoxicated don’t choose to behave with violence or cruelty to their partners.
Just because two things happen together (like drinking and violence), it does not mean that one causes the other.
Every single person who confuses correlation with causation will die. Right? That doesn’t mean the confusion causes death. It means we all die–and correlation is not causation.
Being intoxicated is not an excuse for abusive behavior.
Mental challenges, personality disorders, and/or illnesses are no excuse for abuse.
Blaming abusive behavior on mental health does an extreme disservice to people facing mental illnesses and other mental health challenges. Plenty of people have mental health issues and don’t abuse their loved ones.
Further, if an abuser is facing a mental health challenge, are they doing the things they need to do to address it? Are they getting mental health care, a diagnosis? Are they taking prescribed medications? Are they able to control their behavior with everyone but you or you and the children?
Growing up with violence or abuse is no excuse for using it on others.
Plenty of people grow up experiencing domestic violence or other adverse experiences, and they make the active choice NOT to abuse their partners. Instead, they use those experiences as motivation to grow happier, healthier adult relationships, where everyone involved has agency and respect.
Even when your partner is a survivor of abuse from a past relationship and is experiencing long-term impacts from that such as PTSD, that’s not an excuse for your partner to be abusive toward YOU.
Every person in a relationship deserves to feel safe and respected. If at any point your relationship is making you feel overwhelmed, trapped, or unsafe, it’s okay to remove yourself. It is not your responsibility to “fix” your partner by yourself.
They may need other help that is safe for everyone. Anyone using domestic violence in their relationship can contact BIPP services at this link to take a solid first step.
“Sorry” is not an excuse for abuse.
Insincere apologies–or apologies that may be sincere in the moment but don’t lead to taking responsibility for the abuse or to changed behavior–are hallmarks of abusive relationships.
If you are using abuse or experiencing it, please take steps to make sure the violence ends.