When I meet new clients, I always ask about whether or not they have been subjected to domestic violence.
Sometimes they say no, but later reveal that in their families, past relationships, or current relationships there is yelling, pushing, or controlling behaviors. I am surprised at how many people still don’t understand that THIS IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.
Since October is Domestic Violence Month, I’d like to take the time to explain what is meant by “domestic violence” so that people who are experiencing it, know of others who are experiencing it, or are perpetrating it can see it for what it is and perhaps take steps to stop it.
Let’s start with a definition.
Domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behaviors by one partner against another in an intimate relationship. This includes any emotional, financial, sexual, and physical abuse or neglect designed to exert control over the another. (Abuse can be mutual). Examples of abusive behaviors are things like:
- name calling
- preventing you from going where you want to go
- isolating you from others
- controlling your access to money and/or transportation
- denying or discouraging you from having a work, school or social life
- making threats against you or your children
- using looks, threats, or yelling to intimidate or control you
- punching, kicking, pushing, biting, or choking
- displaying weapons
- hurting pets
- smashing or destroying things
- using religion, culture or male dominance to justify having power over you
- blaming you for causing the abuse
- denying you access to food, medicine, or sleep
- forcing you to have sex when or in ways you don’t want to
One reason why some people don’t see themselves as victims of domestic violence is because there is no hitting.
Violence doesn’t have to be physical to be damaging.
If even one of the things listed above is happening in your relationship, it’s time to get help. Healthy relationships are equal partnerships where both people share power and responsibility.
Still not sure if your relationship is healthy? Here are more clues.
The cycle of abuse starts with a honeymoon phase.
Relationships tend to move very fast and start off like a fairy tale. Abusers tend to be very charming and skilled at making the victim feel very special and loved. Next the tension builds. It starts with little irritations and communication breaks downs. The victim feels like she’s walking on eggshells and feels responsible for smoothing things over. The tension becomes too much and an explosion happens. This could be verbal, sexual or physical. When it’s all over the abuser is very apologetic and promises never to do it again. There are usually excuses that blame the victim. The abuser gives gifts, says things or does things that are usually quite grand and makes things alright again. A period of calm follows where the abuser seems to be honoring the promise to change. Then the cycle begins all over again.
If this sounds like your relationship, help is available. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. They can point you to local resources that can help you find a support group, create a safety plan, learn about protective orders, learn about pressing charges, get financial help for medical bills related to assault, find emergency shelter, or just learn more about domestic violence. Talking to someone doesn’t mean you have to leave the relationship. That’s up to you, but it can be the first step to having a healthy future.