October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Department of Justice in 2016 defined intimate partner violence (IPV), more commonly known as domestic violence, as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. It can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”
You’re pretty sure you’d recognize that if it was happening to you, aren’t you? You feel secure in your belief that you would know if it was happening to someone you care about too, don’t you? Unfortunately, that does not often prove true.
IPV rarely starts with a punch in the gut, a slap to the face, a commandeering of your financial resources, or a partner screaming obscenities at you in private. Like most relationships, abusive ones begin with a courtship. A new partner woos you, showers you with attention, affection, gifts, fabulous dates, maybe all the above. You have deep, connecting conversations. It feels like you’ve known each other forever. You fall in love. You begin to plan a future with this person. Maybe you move in together or get married. Things are good. You’re happy.
Along the way small things don’t sit well with you but no one is perfect, right? You can’t expect her to like all your friends or get along with everyone in your family. All couples fight, don’t they? It’s sweet he wants you to spend all your time with him. They’re only thinking of your safety when they constantly ask where you’re going, where you’ve been, and want you to share your location. His jealousy is kind of endearing, isn’t it? It shows how much he cares. You’re fine sharing all your passwords with her. You don’t have anything to hide. Their critiques and criticisms are just their way of trying to help you become the best version of yourself.
You don’t see family and friends as much these days. Those nasty things he said were “just jokes” or maybe you really were being “too sensitive.” She has trouble managing her temper, but lots of people do. She always apologizes. When did you start spending so much of your day walking on eggshells trying to manage his emotions, prevent a fight, or avoid the barrage of criticisms? Why can’t they just be at home the way they are when you’re out with friends? It’s like living with two different people.
But it’s not all bad. You have good times too. And you really love the fun, kind, loving, generous side of him. Vacation this year was amazing. She was so supportive when your dad passed. You had a fun date night last week. He was wonderful when you lost your job. She’s a great mom. He does so much for the community. You have an incredible life on the outside. Maybe you shouldn’t complain, it could be worse. Maybe you just need to go to couples therapy to work through some of these issues because you truly love each other.
As more time passes you start to wonder if you’re losing your mind. Things you know happened, things you said or heard are denied with such conviction you doubt your own memory. Is this gaslighting? No, it can’t be. Gaslighting is abuse, isn’t it? You’re not being abused. You’d know if you were being abused. He doesn’t hit you. You’re a man. Would people even believe you if you said your wife was abusing you? You still go to work, see friends, spend time with family. You’re not isolated. It can’t be abuse. You’re gay. IPV doesn’t happen in non-hetero relationships, does it? You’re a strong, educated, successful person. People like you don’t end up in abusive relationship, do they?
An abusive relationship can escalate quickly, or the abuse can intensify over years. The tactics can be overt, or subversive and coercive in nature. When you’re in it, you rarely see the patterns of the violence or the power and control being wielded. Think of the frog in placed in cold water who never realizes he’s being boiled to death as the temperature is slowly turned up. As much as we want to believe we would recognize an abusive relationship if we were in it and we’d leave the minute we realized it, the research and statistics indicate these are not true.
Domestic violence does not care about your gender, age, race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, or level of education. It does not discriminate. It impacts all of us. October is the perfect time to educate yourself on not only the signs of an abusive relationship, but also the hallmarks of a healthy one. Society, the media, and abusers perpetuate many myths about domestic violence. Take this opportunity to determine how many of these you have taken as truth. Learn how you can help those you know and love who are being abused. This is also a good time to sit with the idea that if you know someone who is being abused, and since according to statistics 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men experience IPV you clearly do, you also know someone who abuses. We all have a responsibility to hold abusers accountable as well as believe and support victims and survivors.
If any of the scenarios presented above resonate or feel familiar, help is available.
Other Chicagoland resource can be found here.
If you are recovering from an abusive relationship, therapy can help. Contact our office today.