Abusive Relationships: Why are they attractive in literature?

Abusive Relationships: Why are they attractive in literature?


     I think I missed the memo on when possessive partners became sexy. It seems ownership, belonging to and being called property is something people want. I’m seeing a huge trend in this within fiction. It’s something I’ve been debating on taking about for a while. I personally don’t agree with it. I don’t know if the authors even realize that they’re doing this. However, possessive tendencies often result in the reality of the facts I share with you at the end. While the stats almost entirely focus on women this can and does affect males as well.

     Recently I saw a t-shirt that stated “Property of (insert name)” It actually made me feel a little bit sick. Especially in third world countries children of each gender are sold and bought. The definition of property is: a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively. So, when I read a book (or even a blurb) that has one interest treating the other like such I can’t continue to read it. I don’t care if it’s a best seller being turned into a movie. It’s promoting something dangerous that doesn’t sit right with me. The underlining and often invisible facts are that they are labeled property. Not really so wonderful.

     Side note: I’m not saying people reading this are bad or gross. Personally, I think there is a huge difference between taking the lead and being strong over possessive. Aggressiveness in the bedroom as long as mutually consented and the parties involved are enjoying themselves, then go forth! I won’t say I don’t enjoy reading a little rough smut. What I’m trying to showcase is that outside of the heat of the moment telling someone “You’re my property, I don’t want you looking at other men.” Is stepping towards a dangerous line.

     Signs that are heavily associated with this are as follows: excessive jealously& possessiveness. Note the bold word, excessive. (to a greater degree or in greater amounts than is necessary, normal, or desirable; inordinately.) I get uneasy when I read teasers or blurbs that feature constant statements that relate to this. I take part in a lot of book tours and over time I began to see the same things. I didn’t want to stop supporting authors and yet I felt I was promoting something I stood against. Until the last few weeks I hadn’t noticed what this post discusses. Sometimes we don’t realize things right away and well we’re allowed to change our minds, we’re lucky that way. (well maybe aha)

      This is why I reference the difference between a playful aggression and excessive aggression. There completely two different things because one is an acceptance between involved parties while the other is not.  There’s nothing wrong with sexual exploration and this post is not at all referencing BDSM

       As Mariah said, “People respect people. People do not respect things.” Also adding to her awesomeness. “I think it’s because some women have it in their head that a possessive man loves you more than a non possessive man, but that’s stupid. Possessive men love themselves. They love what you do for them, they do not love you how they should love you. Love should come with respect, not a label of ownership.Ps. Credit for the title goes to this fabulous poet.

Here’s an example:

      Do you respect your iPod, kitchen stove, shoes? Probably not.  These are ‘things’ they belong to you. Do you like them, love them, feel awesome in them? Sure! (also see the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ another great example) Do you respect people you care about, admire even? That’s because they are people, human beings with feelings. Treating anyone like earlier mentioned is wrong. It’s not sexy, it is degrading. On the women front I add this: 5 wonderful women did not fight to give us freedom for us to throw it away. The past is the past so we can learn from it not become it.

“Separately, these five women were champions of the rights and welfare of women and children. They worked hard and courageously in the face of the prejudices and resistance of the day. Together, they formed an unstoppable force that changed the world for women in Canada and in all Commonwealth countries.”

     Update: Throughout some discussion I would like to state that what I wrote above isn’t about books WITH abusive relationships in them. Books that feature this are bringing to life a real part of our world, and the reality many face. It can add to the story or characters. That is fine and I am able to understand that.

      I’m more focused on when a character is consistent in this without any explanation. Overtime I’ve read more modern day books and these romances are featured. If it were historical as Anastasia V. Pergakis mentioned below, part of the characters culture, history, and or past it would clear things up. This would be representing something on a grander scheme. I’d be able to comprehend and continue reading. I feel many books lately have this aggressive character with a possessive relationship. Furthermore the pages continue without any (or even an attempt) to give reasons for. This is the problem I’m having. Its not acknowledged and tends to feel like its being promoted as something to desire.

      It doesn’t mean the books are bad, the books can be quite great. Sometimes a reader like myself take away a different message. What have I taken away? Well, I’m confused because I realize certain tendencies are not healthy. Others might not and began to believe these are good relationships to have. So, I decided to publish this post so we could talk more about it. Break down the barriers and be able to learn. Please do not take anything I say the wrong way, I’m a very open minded person and enjoy learning. I hope we can continue to discuss this and figure it out together 🙂


 Share your thoughts and let’s dicuss this topic 🙂


  1. Why do you think this scary trend is going unnoticed?
  2. Why are these possessive relationships becoming appealing?
  3. What couples in the fictional world do you think promote more of a healthier relationship?


Child marriage

Facts about violence among women

The Famous Five

Warning signs of an abusive relationship

Rape culture


11 thoughts on “Abusive Relationships: Why are they attractive in literature?

  1. Kate Sparkes says:

    Interesting post! I’ve been avoiding all of the NA romance about possessive billionaires that’s been flooding the market since the major success of a certain trilogy. I have no problem with BDSM from authors who really understand it and write strong, well-rounded characters (ie not doormats and “sexy” caricatures), and there’s one series in that sub-genre that I’m enjoying. But I don’t explore beyond that, because too much of what’s out there in romance right now glorifies abuse and obsession/possessiveness. And it’s not just erotica. I find the relationship in Twilight disturbing, and that’s practically a 4-book abstinence-promotion pamphlet. A lot of non-erotic romance seems to portray jealousy/possessiveness as sexy, and it scares me. Yes, it’s just a book, and it’s fiction. But what we read does affect how we see the world. Sympathy for abusers or a view of them as “sexy” is not what I want to put into my brain.

    I write Fantasy, and was going to reply to the post above, but I don’t want to write too long a comment here. Maybe some day I’ll post about it. 🙂

    I agree with you that it’s important to have realistic abusive relationships in books to shine some light on that, as much as we can. It’s when abuse is glorified that I refuse to read any more, when “heroes” judge women who aren’t virgins as unworthy of them and the author treats that as just fine and okey-dokey, when it’s implied that all a woman REALLY wants is to be owned and used because deep down he really DOES care, and when rape is considered sexy because she REALLY WANTED IT, GUYS. No. Nope, nope, nope.

  2. Anastasia V. Pergakis says:

    Thank you for posting this! I absolutely agree with you, which is why I often don’t read some of the new contemporary romance novels coming out these days. It makes it even harder when I see this trend in YA books, too. I make a conscious point in my own writing to make sure all the relationships are healthy (or making a point that they *are* unhealthy and the character needs to get out by being told through a friend, etc).

    I do find it hilarious that I see tons of readers get up in arms about the same things in historical romances or fantasy books and I’m like – hello? Historical, back in the day women WERE considered property. It’s a harsh truth that we have to face. Any historical novel that DOESN’T have that, I would be seriously upset with, because they didn’t stay true to the times. In fantasy, there are fantastical creatures and made up cultures, where maybe females (or males) are also considered property. The hard part (I’m a fantasy writer too) is showing these cultures in fantasy settings without “condoning” it to be okay in real life. It’s a challenge that I like to face each time I write!

    Thanks again for sharing this post. Could I reblog it on my blog space? I’ll include any and all links/bio you’d like me too!

    • Ky Grabowski says:

      That’s great! I love that you explain it the best you can. That to me, makes a lot of difference. I’ve read quite a few books that tend to just have this possessive trait associated to a character and that’s it. I’m not saying every author has to do this. It just sometimes makes me uneasy when a character openly treats or says things in an excessive possessive nature and everyone’s just okay with it. There’s no need for discussion. :S

      Yes! Historically that was what it was. Staying as true as can be to the times is good. I suppose it sounds confusing when I say I would read that before I would read something modern. If someone was to openly say “She’s my property today.” There would be cause for concern because we’ve (at least most of us) have grown past that and learned its not right. So when I read that in modern day books I’m like “Why is no one discussing this?” If someone said that about my friend, well hello I think there’s some explaining to do here.

      I write fantasy sometimes too! I totally understand and fiction vs real life can be tricky to balance. I don’t expect authors to explain why in their writing. After so many times of seeing this I had to write something out because I was so confused.

      Of course go a head! Thank you so much for talking with me. I really love getting to learn more about this and discuss it with others. 🙂

      • Anastasia V. Pergakis says:

        Exactly! Modern and historical are two different things but people get upset about the historical ones, and not modern stories that have the same themes of property and women being “less than” or whatever.

        I actually had a talk about this same topic the other day with my husband – about men being possessive in real life. We agreed that men in general (not always of course) can be very territorial – animal instinct, reptile brain, etc. But, (and he was the one to say this), that it becomes NOT cute and sexy when in today’s society, other people are pushed down because of the man’s instinct to protect his territory. By all means guys, protect what is yours (by way of “your family”, “your house”), but don’t turn your wife into your property either. My husband said that sometimes it’s hard NOT to think possessively because of our language – I mean, he says in casual conversation “MY wife” and he would protect me should the need arise because of that. But, he doesn’t see me as “property” – I am not in the same thought process as his truck, for example. But I’m still HIS wife. It’s interesting to me how fine the line is in that regard. I “belong” to my husband in a way, being that I’m his wife and no one else’s, and I’m faithful only to him. But yet he doesn’t “own” me – and I think that is where some authors get the two confused when it comes to writing. It’s easy to cross that line from being – “involved with” I guess is better than “belonging to” – someone exclusively in a healthy relationship, and being “owned” by them.

        And I am so glad you brought this topic up. It is something that needs to be talked about, not just for young girls, but young boys too. With technology the way it is now, the old adage of “Fathers treat your wives with respect because it teaches your son’s and daughter’s about healthy relationships” (and the same applies to Mothers) – to me that adage has expanded. Fiction, the internet and plenty of other people kids interact with have a huge impact on them, especially when they are young. (This includes the whole debate of video games vs violence in kids thing). My son is 5 and i make it a point to remind him all the time that just because Superman or Thor, et al, get into fist fights and what not, doesn’t mean he should. Same goes with the idea of people being property in fiction. We NEED to discuss this stuff, so that kids can realize it’s NOT okay – boys and girls alike.

  3. Shannon A Thompson says:

    Okay. Long comment. (I’m sorry lol)
    Green Embers made a good point. I think there are many abusive relationships in books because many people are abused in real life, so it becomes relatable. But I also think it’s really important to remember that abusive for one person might not be abusive to another. (I am not talking about hitting or anything extremely violent and/or forceful. I’m more along the lines of discussing how two consenting adults agree to run their relationship as equals.) I think equality is a huge defining factor. But this topic is a very slippery slope, even in literature. Just commenting on this subject makes me nervous that someone might take what I say the wrong way.
    Perhaps we could mention that fiction is fantasy, so some writers think it’s harmless to have an abusive-type scene (or don’t even realize that it is abusive, which is sad.) But readers are also guilty of this. For instance, when I read Twilight, I was 14, and I didn’t even think about how abusive their relationship could be seen as until someone mentioned it during a college class I was in. It didn’t even occur to me. But this is why things can become a problem, because readers, especially young readers, don’t realize it’s a bad relationship. On the contrast, what if the abusive relationship fits the context of the story? What if it’s a zombie apocalypse and the character forces another character not to leave the house because they will be killed? Is that abuse still? Even though they are saving that person’s life, they are forcing them to do something against their will, and by today’s standards, that’s abusive, but by that world’s reality, it might not be considered abusive by some readers simply due to the fantasy factor. (Like I said, slippery slope.)
    Sorry for such a long comment! I think this is a great topic that should be discussed more, because I agree with you. Writers should strive to have healthier relationships, but – at the same time – I don’t see anything wrong with reading about an abusive relationship when it’s a part of the story’s makeup and it teaches everyone a lesson (or is just reflecting on real life scenarios.) For instance, “Dreamland” by Sarah Dessen – definitely an abusive relationship by all regards, but a great read because it truly shows the physical and emotional pain as well as how destructive it can be. There’s nothing “sexy” about that book in my opinion. But it does show why the abused girl found the abusive boyfriend sexy, so I guess you could argue that, but that part was also a realistic part of that character’s life, and it added to the overall understanding of how an abusive relationship can be.
    All right. I’ll stop rambling now.
    Great topic!

    • Ky Grabowski says:

      Aha its okay. Sorry for my long response back 🙂

      Showcasing abusive relationships is great (well you know what I mean aha) It helps us to remember and even learn. Writing about abusive relationships is fine and I read books like that often. That doesn’t bug me. It is real and happens all the time. When those stories are given to characters it adds to them and the story, that I understand.

      However I don’t find someone calling me their property attractive. That is the problem I’m having when I read some of the newer books. It seems to be treated so normally and it makes no sense to me. (As said above by http://avpergakis.com/, now if it were historical or part of a culture it would make more sense. Today’s culture doesn’t really accept that so why is this character bringing forward this trait) I do know that as you said something abusive to one might not be to the other. I totally get that!

      I agree with you on this slippery slope. This topic made me super nervous to write. I’m thankful people have been so kind and even wrote back to discuss more. It helps and I wouldn’t want anyone to take what I’m saying the wrong way either.

      I read Twilight too and I enjoyed it. As I got older the same thing that you spoke of happen to me. I realized things I hadn’t read before. It didn’t mean the book was bad it simply meant I knew that certain concepts of it were not good. I think if more readers could understand that it would be really good.

      I hope more people continue to talk about it. Its good and can knock down the barriers. I for one am as I stated a few times confused. Other might be nervous or unsure of how to approach this topic or how to write about it. (I was)

      I really like what you said though, books can be a great read but the relationships in them don’t always mean good too. If there was more understanding to this in these books I think I could enjoy them more and be able to understand them. As you said things like this can add to the overall story and character. I feel sometimes its just left out and walked over as if there’s no reason to dive into it a bit more.

      • Shannon A Thompson says:

        Yes! I really think this topic is important. I – as an author – tried really hard to have a healthy relationship between Eric and Jessica in The Timely Death Trilogy for this very reason. But my next novel isn’t like that. Take Me Tomorrow has a very controversial relationship, but I hope readers realize that I’m trying to show real-life situations intend of trying to glorify it or make it “sexy.” (The protagonist is in a relationship with a drug addict.) But I wrote about it very carefully because the topic is really important to me. My mother was a drug addict, and it ultimately killed her. That being said, she was a great mom still, and I wanted to show that drug addicts are human, too – that they can also be in relationships – but that there are many dark aspects that happen because of such things. My worst fear is that a reader will think that I’m glorifying drug abuse instead of trying to show what happens to many people. Very slippery slopes, but I think they are worth exploring, and they definitely need to be discussed more.

  4. Green Embers says:

    Curious, are you saying you’re seeing more books that seem to make abusive relationships attractive, or more books have abusive relationships in them? Going by your statistics, it would make sense to see more relationships of abuse in novels because it would be a reflection of the real world.

    I would hope that authors are not making them seem appealing or attractive but are depicting them more as a statement of our society and showing how brutal they can be as a warning. Kind of like the violence in a World War II movie, for some directors it is shown in all of it’s gruesome detail not to glorify violence but to condemn it.

    If it’s the making it attractive thing… well that is kind of messed up. Maybe it’s more of authors don’t realize that what they are writing is unhealthy relationships? That’s kind of a scary thought…

    • Ky Grabowski says:

      I’m saying that I’m seeing a lot of books showcase abusive tendencies as attractive. (Telling the person they belong to them, they are their property, etc)

      I shared the statistics to show that the reality of this is not sexy. People don’t seem to realize that being possessive can be dangerous. I agree its messed up but, like you said the authors might not realize what they’re doing. However its quite scary to see.

  5. Amy Carlson says:


    #1 Reason I have no desire to read the Fifty Shades trilogy. I am anti-abuse. I’ve experienced abusive relationships in my past, as has my husband (it is NOT only men abusing women!). I’ve been able to move on, but my spouse still struggles with finding his independence after having it stripped from him.

    I hope that in time, time our writers will aspire to give us relationship role models that are healthy, so perhaps the general public will accept ‘those’ as the norm.

    • Ky Grabowski says:

      Yes! Men are too subjected to this. I referenced that a few times in the post. I’m sorry you two experienced this and I hope in the future he can find peace. He’s fortunate to have someone as lovely as you by his side 🙂

      I would love to see writers do this more often as well. We need to bring to light better role models.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story, you’re amazing ❤

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