In this case, as in so many others, no single request was offensive on its own — at least, not early on. Each person in a relationship makes room for the other’s quirks, to some extent, male or female: that’s what couples do.
It’s the incremental ceding of control on one side that can prime someone for abuse, therapists said.
Concessions lead to self-doubt
No one wants to be controlled, or managed, in this way. And certainly no one wants to admit to it.
“This is where embarrassment comes in,” said Elaine Ducharme, a psychologist in Glastonbury, Conn. “The shame of admitting it to friends — everyone is susceptible to that.”
Even as smaller confinements begin to lead to larger infringements, enough self-doubt has accumulated to feed the temptation to downplay the offense. It becomes increasingly difficult to see abuse for what it is.
“You remind yourself, ‘Well, he told me he loved me very much, he promises it will never happen again, he really does adore me,’” Dr. Ducharme said.
Another element often comes into play: the notion that the abuser can be reformed.
“Women think, ‘I can help fix him through my own behavior, by reinforcing good behavior — I can fix this,’” said Nadine Wathen, a researcher at the University of Western Ontario’s Center for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children. “Even in dating relationships, these things take time.”
The decision to stay, for the time being, can seem more like a choice than it really is, Dr. Wathen said.