Abuse is the use of any form of power to control another person without their consent.
In other words,abuse is the exploitation of another person's vulnerability.
Whether the behavior is conscious or unconscious is of secondary importance. It makes little difference to the phenomenon, but makes a big difference in treatment. The person who is intentional and delibrately abusive is less likely to invite and embrace change than the person who doesn't even realize he or she is doing it. Though there may be some natural resistence initially, the unwittingly abusive person is usually remorseful and ultimately willing if not eager to see and change his or her behavior.
Consider how and in what way you are powerful in your relationship and how you might use that power to get what you want.
Here are some examples:
You might be physically intimidating (larger, stronger, and/or more aggressive/less concerned about consequences).
You might be more prone to yelling, coming from a louder family perhaps.
You might be a champion debator, psychologically or spiritually versed, and able to talk circles around your partner, throwing him or her off balance.
Your power might reside in your desireability, the mere threat of abandonment yields terror and compliance.
Often one person has more financial power than the other, whether it's earning power, access to the actual money and accounts, or authority over financial decisions. Overspending is abusive.
Having a closer relationship with the children can be exploited.
Having greater resources in terms of friends, family, coworkers, and community means the other might be or feel more isolated and unable to obtain outside perspective and support. The limitations might be practical/physical or cultural/emotional/psychological in origin.
For everything of which you have more, your partner has less. How you wield your advantage/privilege (and how you manage your weaknesses and vulnerability) sets the tone of your relationship.
The abuse of power is common if not natural! However, the consequences are resentment, conflict, and loss so it is worth combatting.
With a willingness to take responsibility for your part in an abusive relationship and with the right help, change is possible!