In this Insight, I focus on domestic violence between a couple. With self-isolation and lockdown for covid-a9, is it inevitable though regrettable, that domestic violence increases.
I will not be discussing domestic violence against children specifically, or against elders, nor in the workplace, though I acknowledge that these are ongoing problems. However, much of what I say about domestic violence for a couple will apply to other situations.
This post is a long one because this is a fundamentally important issue. But my coverage will only touch the sides, even then. I write from my experience as a therapist, and believe it or not, I have personally heard the statements below.
Let’s define domestic or intimate partner abuse. Intimate partner violence is not only physical, but it is also an attitude that permeates our thinking, which then comes out in a host of different ways. Put aside the stereotypical image of a man being physically violent to a woman. Sure, that happens often enough, regrettably, as we know only too well from the much-publicized homicides. However, there are many more subtle and often unrecognised forms, which we deny and explain away. Nevertheless, that abuse results in incalculable suffering. Intimate partner abuse wears down the fabric of your relationship. It also erodes trust.
Domestic violence thrives behind closed doors and in isolation.
Intimate partner violence can be physical, or non-physical, or a combination of both. When I talk about intimate partner violence and abuse, I’m not speaking of the occasional fight or ups and downs of any normal relationship. I’m talking about patterns over time.
Controlling behaviours, coercive control, shaming, refusing to listen, talking over you, blaming, yelling, lying, neglecting, stalking, inappropriate sexual pressure, intimidation and psychological manipulation are all examples of abuse.
What makes someone prone to being either a perpetrator or victim of intimate partner violence?
First off, are there particular character traits that make you prone to being either the abuser of the abused?
It turns out that certain life experiences, especially when very young, make us more prone to being in an abuse cycle later in life. If you “parented” a parent or had healthy boundaries ignored are most at risk for abusive relationships, as either the perpetrator or the victim. (I am not saying that the abuse is the victim’s fault, ever.)
If you yell at a child one moment and shower them with affection and apologies the next, the child is confused. As adults, these children often miss the signs of abuse. Children who were blamed, made wrong, ignored, put down, or abused physically and sexually are at high risk for abuse in adult intimate relationships.
Confusing abuse with love
When your childhood is filled with emotional ups and downs it’s easy to equate this type of behaviour with love, even as an adult. As a child, you couldn’t leave your parent, who you loved, so you either tried to “fix” them, or you made excuses for them and took the blame yourself. All too easily, this then carries over into adult relationships where love and violence become intertwined.
Children who live with volatile parents learn to put the parent first and care-take. In order to teach children good boundaries, they need to think of their own needs and to have these needs met. If you grew up in an emotionally disruptive household you may not be able to really identify what you’re feeling or what you need and want. It becomes easier for you to tune into others needs, rather than your own.
When children from violent childhoods can’t escape the angry parent, they learn to justify bad behaviours, blame themselves and then hope unrealistically that the parent can and will change. This cycle becomes learned and unconscious.
Many intimate partner violence victims want to believe that their partners have changed. They want to believe that there can be a fresh start and hope that their love can overcome all obstacles. This mostly an illusion.
Which behaviour patterns indicate intimate partner violence?
Firstly the victims
Here are the signs of being a victim in your intimate relationships:
Are you extra attentive to your partner’s needs vs. your own healthy boundaries? Have you learned to walk on egg-shells so you don’t upset your partner? Did you do this with a parent? Do you find yourself doing this with friends and co-workers as well?
Do you keep quiet, rather than speak your mind, not wanting to rock the boat or get into trouble?
Are you in a pattern of justifying your partner’s bad behaviour, thinking “Oh, I must be overreacting”?
Do you know when something is bad behaviour or not?
Do you get together with friends as often as you once did? Or are you always trying to repair an argument or get over a recent dramatic event?
Missing social events or spending the weekend fighting instead of having fun together. You may start to feel isolated as your partner demands most of your time.
Do you justify your partner’s behaviour and make excuses for them? Both to others and to yourself? Have you lost your self-esteem? Do you question and blame themselves for all of the problems within the relationship?
Often people who suffer intimate partner violence start to cower in other areas of their life, backing down from any sort of conflict.
You are just too tired to speak up after so much conflict at home. Asserting your needs and desires begins to feel like a battle and it becomes easier to just accommodate instead of worrying it will erupt into a tense situation.
Do you put yourself in dangerous situations such as aggressive driving by your partner, yet stay quiet so you don’t set them off into a violent rage?
You are exhausted most of the time. You are having a hard time making decisions for yourself and your thinking is cloudy. Do you question yourself and your needs more than you trust your own knowledge?
Are you having sex when you don’t want it on a regular basis to just keep the peace?
Do you find yourself breaking up with your partner and then getting back together, often forgiving bad behaviours, giving your partner another chance and believing empty promises that never come true?
You share this with no-one. Nobody, not even your family, know anything about this unless they witness with their own eyes. But you keep silent.
Here are the signs of being a perpetrator in your intimate relationships:
Do you fear that unless you “assert your authority”, your partner will walk all over you?
Have you caught yourself saying: “I wouldn’t behave like this if you weren’t such a …….”? Or, “You made me do it! It’s all your fault”?
“I only drink because I’m married to you!”
Do you feel that, because you are married, you have conjugal rights and your partner is obliged to have sex with you every time you want it? However often that is? Do you believe that when your partner says no it is just another word for yes?
Do you insist on getting your own way? If your partner doesn’t agree do you go right ahead and do it anyway? Perhaps you shrug your shoulders and say, “He’ll get over it”?
When your partner says, “Please don’t touch me!”, do you insist on touching, kissing, or cuddling?
Do you pretend to listen to your partner’s requests, complaints and needs, and then “forget”? When your partner brings it up later do you say, “I thought you didn’t mean it”, or, “You never said that!”, or “I don’t remember”?
Are you entitled to your partner’s money, especially if they earn more than you? Do you justify this because you are in a committed relationship? Basically, “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine also”?
Do you “borrow” money from your partner, without ever intending to pay it back, and without making a binding financial agreement?
When the conversation turns to money, do you say “Married people should just trust each other – we don’t need budgets. Besides, it’s unromantic to talk about money.”
When you have seriously hurt your partner’s feelings, by not being there when they need you, for instance at their parent’s funeral, or at your child’s hospital bed, do you justify this omission by saying “You are never satisfied with what I do!” Or, “Why do you carp on that, it’s passed, forget it”. Read the post, “Confront the issue or forgive and forget“.
Do you scrutinize the credit card statement and point out – and yell about – every expenditure of your partner’s while being blind to your own purchase of a $15,000 bike?
“Who were you with for the 10 mins it took you to walk from the railway station? What are these texts about? Who are you talking to on the phone? Why can’t you talk to them in front of me? Why do you bother with your low-life friends anyway? You spend far too much time on FaceTime with your family – you should be spending that time with me.”
“You are neglecting me! I am your top priority because we are married.”
“Victim” or “perpetrator”?
Regardless of whether you identify as a victim or a perpetrator, you are both parts of an abuse cycle. So…
TALK to trusted family and friends.
Find a therapist skilled in intimate partner abuse. Get help. Even intelligent, professional people are caught in intimate partner abuse
Indicators that you are weaning yourself of intimate partner abuse
Start sharing your experiences with parents, siblings and trusted friends. You find allies and support. You’ve found a therapist or joined a group. You start to TALK.
You know that give and take is part of a healthy relationship. At times you may do things you don’t really want to do for your partner’s sake-but only at times. But this is occurring regularly. So you set limits and say no.
On the other hand, if you’ve always had your own way, you now find ways to defer to your partner and be influenced by them.
You find ways to work things out without verbal abuse or rage.
Putting forward your opinions and needs become easier, without fear of retribution.
Once you get it, really get it, you see with such clarity that you never miss the signs again. You recognize the signs you ignored and see the patterns you participated in.
Ah-ha moments of realizing what you’ve endured, where you came from, how these habits formed, come frequently and with crystal clarity. You are clear about how you will be treated in the future. You are clear about how you want to treat your partner in the future. One-piece at a time you wake up, say no, and walk away.