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Monday, September 12, 2011

Domestic Violence is not just a black eye

A lot of people who’ve never been in an abusive relationship assume that domestic violence is when a man hits a woman or ‘beats her up’.  The reality is that it starts way before that.    I’d venture to guess that no woman would go out on a second date with a man who hit her on the first date.  She’d probably file assault charges.  

So the abuser is able to control himself - he’s charming and moves quickly in the relationship to be exclusive. He flatters you and makes you feel special.  Even if something doesn’t seem quite right, you dismiss it because he seems to adore you.  The trap is set.  The relationship continues and perhaps there are no red flags, but perhaps there are and you don’t recognize them.  I know that was true in my case.
Once you are living together or married, things likely escalate.  The abuser typically has a true sense of ownership at this point, if not before and it makes everything worse.  It starts with jealous outbursts that seem unreasonable, but perhaps it’s just because he loves you so much that he gets so jealous, at least that’s what you tell yourself.  In the midst of these outbursts, the name calling starts.  It doesn’t seem right, but you rationalize it because he was so angry, he didn’t really mean it.  Especially later when he tells you how much he loves you and that he can’t live without you.

Next you start modifying your behavior to hopefully appease his jealousy – making sure you are available by phone, not going to lunch with co-workers, hurrying  back from errands, not talking to your friends, possibly quitting your job.   You try to make him feel special and loved, but it does not work and it gets worse.  Now, nothing you do seems right.  You can’t unload the dishwasher correctly, you don’t buy the right stuff at the store, you don’t respond to his questions quickly enough or the way he wants.   

Now the verbal abuse is horrible – he rants and raves and screams at you for hours about what’s wrong with you and how you have to change to please him.  He tells you that you are ugly, bad at sex, and that no one else will ever love you, only he can. You start isolating yourself from friends and family because it’s too hard to maintain a good front and talk about your life to them.  You’re afraid they will judge you if you tell them how he’s been treating you.   You start to think maybe it is you, maybe you are the problem. You think maybe you are crazy.
During these sessions , he won’t let you leave the room, he follows you around to argue with you, he won’t let you go to sleep, he insists you apologize and admit you are wrong.  He threatens to damage your property. He demands sex that you don’t want at the end of the argument to ‘make up’.   This has been the beginning of the physical and sexual abuse. 

Now it spirals out of control.  During an argument he grabs your arms, he shoves you, or threatens to hit you.  He is scary angry.  He throws something at you.  He puts his hand over your mouth to make you be quiet.   Next time it’s a pillow.  Later he puts his hands around your throat to ‘shut you up’.  He slaps you. He threatens to kill you.   He threatens to harm the kids if you don’t ‘behave’ and it’s all your fault.   

Now he’s full scale abusive – this is all domestic violence and it’s not okay.  This is not what healthy relationships look like.  It’s impossible to really describe what it’s like to live with a man like this.  It is isolating and horrifying.  At this point you’re probably still not really accepting that it’s domestic violence – that’s would be if he hit you with a fist, or beat you with a belt, or kicked you, wouldn't it?  When you think domestic violence, you think about the pictures of Nicole Brown and of O.J.
Is what you are going through enough to warrant calling the police?  It seems not.  Is it enough to warrant leaving him?  It seems not.   Is it enough to break up the family and have to deal with him as the father of the kids?  It seems not.

And yet it is.    All of this is abusive behavior, all of this is domestic violence and is completely unacceptable.  This is what I wish for people to know.   People that are in a relationship like this, and people that are not, but might know someone who is.  These types of behavior  are the markers of domestic violence.  It starts with verbal abuse and almost always gets worse, possibly until you are killed.  On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends every day.1.”

I am telling my story with the hope that someone will recognize themselves or someone they know in my words and safely do something about it. 

1. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003.

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