If domestic violence raises its ugly head, can an intimate partnership be salvaged? Probably not, experts say.
Even more than infidelity, violence by one partner upon another, or violence by both is a deal-breaker as the basic trust and safety have been violated.
Violence undermines the very rationale for a close intimate partnership – to be loved, protected and cherished. Sadly, many couples think they can work through the issues that gave rise to violence; they rarely can.
Often, they stay together out of a misplaced sense of loyalty and love. Or because financial circumstances seem to demand they cohabit under one roof.
Once a violent incident occurs, more are likely to follow. It’s like an addiction; the problem only gets worse with time.
Read on to understand the multiple challenges of domestic violence. Several plausible solutions to domestic violence are also discussed here.
Myths about domestic violence
There are many misconceptions and outright myths about domestic violence. The most pervasive perhaps is that men are always the perpetrators, and women always the victims.
The notion seems to fit our neo-Victorian stereotypes about the two genders: men as aggressive, women as passive. But, these domestic violence facts are simply not true.
In fact, nearly 200 research studies conducted over several decades have consistently shown that men and women abuse each other in partnerships in roughly equal numbers.
How can that be?
Something deep within us rebels against the idea that women, who on average, are shorter and weigh less than men, could attack and successfully dominate a man.
Men are supposed to protect women from harm. A man striking a woman under any circumstances is thought to be an unforgivable act of cowardice.
For this reason, men seem to have trouble defending themselves from domestic violence. Women, by the same token, often claim that their own violence is purely defensive.
But studies, as far back as 1975, have shown otherwise. Women, it turns out, have the same dark and hidden impulses as men.
The pressure cooker of their marriages, especially under conditions of financial stress, can lead them, like men, to strike out at their partner in frustration and anger.
Still, there are some documented differences in the typical forms of physical violence inflicted by the two genders.
For example, studies show that men more likely to use their fists or blunt instruments while women may use household items, including knives or even boiling water. In a number of highly-publicized incidents, women rammed their spouse’s cars with their own.
When abuse turns lethal, men are more likely to resort to firearms, women to poison, but even this traditional gender gap is narrowing, statistics show.
Emotional and psychological violence
In fact, physical violence is not the only problem. Psychological and emotional abuse can be just as devastating to intimate partnerships but, maybe these are far less visible.
While there is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes such mental abuse, threats of physical violence, name-calling, constant yelling, bullying, financial manipulation, and chronic lying are all considered key elements.
Such abuse may be a precursor to physical violence but, not always. In fact, studies have shown that victims of emotional abuse may not even recognize it as abuse, even while developing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma.
There is also a documented link between domestic violence and substance abuse, work absenteeism and in extreme cases, suicide.
Because there may be no obvious physical signs of emotional abuse, victims may simply minimize their influence. And if both spouses or partners engage in the same behavior, it may be dismissed as part of the “rough-and-tumble” of a complex but loving relationship.
As long as no children are present, openly combative spouses may feel they can wail on each other at will, “giving as good as they get,” with no concern for potential third party victims.
Are real solutions available?
What can be done? The challenges domestic violence survivors face are undoubtedly complex, but real solutions are possible.
Any couple experiencing relationship difficulties should consider counseling, of course, to achieve more effective communication before any pattern of overt or covert abuse develops.
However, because of patterns of denial, or simple lack of awareness, even recognizing and accepting patterns of abuse can be difficult.
Talking to one’s family or friends might seem wise, but many may be disbelieving, in fact, especially if they only know the perpetrator from his or her public persona.
There’s a simple rule: If someone you love tells you that he or she is being abused or fears being abused, you should listen. It’s not their imagination.
The same problem may be found with therapists and doctors. They may not feel qualified to address the issue, or consider it private, even when they might be suspicious and concerned.
Couples counseling, especially, can be a set-up for the perpetrator and domestic violence victim to cover up patterns of abuse.
Counselors in these settings need to exercise keen judgment in exploring patterns of unhealthy behavior that might constitute abuse. Handled poorly, the couple may never return to therapy.
Ultimately, the best source of information and guidance is likely to be an intimate partnership victim support specialist. There’s a national hotline to report incidents of domestic violence, 24-7.
Most states also fund a network of domestic violence traditionally known as “battered women” shelters, where abuse victims can seek temporary refuge. There is a growing awareness that these victims may well be men as well as women.
However, needed services to support male victims rarely in place; moreover, men, who are often reluctant to admit being victimized, especially by a woman, might not seek them out.
What friends should do
Those seeking to help fiends they suspect are abuse victims can do a lot of good.
Obvious signs of abuse include split lips and bruises and unexplained bone fractures. Behavioral cues include uncharacteristic meekness or evasiveness in discussing a spouse or partner
Experts say don’t be afraid to start a conversation with someone you think is being abused. Inquire from the standpoint of genuine concern for the person’s welfare.
Listen intently. Believe and validate the victim. Never judge him or her. Avoid blaming or criticizing the abuser. Keep the focus on the victim’s needs.
It is important for those planning to escape an abusive situation to have a formal “escape plan.” It should include a safe and confidential location, reliable transportation and sufficient resources for the victim to live on for an indefinite period of time.
Departure can be fraught with risk for the victim and for his or her supporters. In fact, those that flee are more at risk of being killed than those that stay, studies show.
Fear of extreme reprisals from an abusive partner is one of the many reasons that abuse victims choose to stay. Be brave, but take no unnecessary risks.
Is there ever hope for a reunion?
This is a delicate topic fraught with peril. The willingness of some abuse victims to recommit to an abusive partner may reflect the same kind of denial that led them to suffer and tolerate the abuse in the first place.
Many say, once an abuser, always an abuser. Why go back?
Experts say it could depend on the actual circumstances and extent of the abuse, and the nature of the abuse.
Some abuse arises in the context of alcoholism or drug addiction and if the abuser gets clean and sober, there may be real behavior change that makes an eventual reunion possible.
In addition, abusers can undergo individual therapy, including anger management and deeper cognitive behavior therapy that may allow them to understand and shed their abusive nature and recommit to a loving partnership.
Successful examples of reunions do exist, especially where both parties were implicated in the abuse, and mutual forgiveness is required. One shouldn’t under-estimate the power of love and the capacity for the redemption of any human being.
But once severe abuse has occurred, there is no quick fix or pathway to healing. Some 10%-20% of abuse victims suffer lasting trauma that could make reunion under any circumstances unwise.
In the end, one may choose to re-engage one’s abuser with mutual acceptance but leave behind the dream of a lasting intimate partnership.
Cherish the good times. Declare “Never again.” And with heightened self-awareness and self-respect, find the new love you deserve.