The definition for domestic violence is – a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.
I’m a certified domestic violence crisis advocate through Laura’s House, which means that I fully understand how abusive relationships work and how difficult it is for women to leave them. I was trained to properly handle calls from women seeking to leave their abusive relationship (usually their kids, too) and possibly enroll in a women’s shelter for domestic violence victims.
Even though I’m not formally volunteering with Laura’s House anymore (I still donate clothes, magazines and other supplies to the shelter), I feel fortunate to know as much as I do about abusive relationships and how to spot the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Staying calm, cool and collected is much easier when you’re engaging in practice calls or domestic violence advocate training. It’s a whole other story when it’s your friend calling to tell you she’s getting back together with her emotionally abusive and manipulative husband.
As a domestic violence crisis hotline volunteer, we’re taught to get as much information about the person’s situation as possible. If they just need to talk things through, we let them talk. We provide a supportive, safe environment where we make sure these women know their concerns and fears are valid. We reinforce that we believe in them and that they are still wonderful, competent women. (Most of these women’s self-esteems are barely existent.) Most important, we are taught to never belittle or scold a woman for staying in the abusive relationship and never tell her what to do.
Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship
Now, when my friend called, I already knew her situation. In early 2008, she moved to a new state where she didn’t know anyone to take a job at a law firm. Within three months, she met the man that would become her husband. He hadn’t finished his divorce when she met him. She helped him finalize the divorce and arrange custody agreements for his children.
In the midst of the divorce saga, my friend and her boyfriend got married.
My friend also helped pay for her husband’s outstanding bills on his jet ski, which he bought during his previous marriage. When he said he wanted a house, she worked with her mother to help buy a house.
After the first six months or so of marriage, my friend confided that she was pretty sure he had cheated on her. “Why stay?” I asked at that time. “Because I love him, and I love the kids.”
Then, early in the summer, after the divorce, jet ski and house had been paid for by my friend, the husband decided he was finished. He would leave in October after the kids had left and file for divorce in the new state he would be moving to where it was easier and faster to complete.
So all summer, they played happy family while the two young kids visited from Idaho, even though he had made it clear he was finished with the relationship. In the meantime, he wasn’t leaving their home and neither was she.
At various points, he threatened her with never seeing the kids again. He told her how miserable he could and would make her life if she tried to get messy with the divorce. He insulted her, screamed at her and, at one point, scared her enough that she almost called the cops.
Then, a month or so ago, when the possibility emerged that she might start dating someone else, her husband was immediately back on the scene, begging for forgiveness.
He bought her flowers, gifts, and cards. He told her how deeply sorry he was and professed his love for her. He even started going to therapy and promised things would change.
And so, to the deep regret of all her family and her friends, she took him back.
What NOT to Say to Someone in an Abusive Relationship
After she told me her decision, I told her no, she needed to leave him. I mean, she knew she was being manipulated right? I told her that he was a horrible, manipulative sociopath. Wasn’t the disapproval of her entire family and all her friends enough to make her reconsider her decision to re-enter a clearly unhealthy relationship?
I basically discredited her feelings and told her what to do.
So much for all my training.
She maintains that he is genuinely sorry and something like this won’t happen again. Now granted, obviously, there has been no physical violence in this relationship. However, there’s been plenty of emotional abuse and manipulation, which still makes for an extremely unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship.
Manipulation, emotional or verbal abuse is still abuse and no one deserves that.
In fact, here’s the cycle of domestic violence, according to the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
The Cycle of Domestic Violence
Tension – This feels like walking on eggshells. Nothing is right. There is no way to predict what the abuser wants. While there may not be physical violence (or at least physical violence is minimal), there is emotional abuse, intimidation and threats. Fear of violence is often as coercive as violence itself.
Violence – This is the actual violent episode. It includes physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. A crime is committed.
The “Honeymoon” – Abusers act differently after violent episodes. Some ignore or deny the violence. Some blame their “anger” on something you said or did. Some fear losing you and act genuinely sorry. This is often called the “honeymoon.” The abuser will try to make up for his violence. He may act sorry, send cards, buy flowers, buy presents, help around the house, spend time with the kids, go to church, get counseling, or make promises. The abuser may seek pity. It’s important to realize that this phase is an attempt to draw you back into the relationship. This phase is never a real “honeymoon.”
The more times the cycle is completed, the less time it takes to complete. As the cycle is repeated, the violence usually increases in frequency and severity.
No matter what, I will continue to support my friend. If you know someone who is in an emotionally abusive or physically abusive relationship, please don’t give up on them.
For more information, call the national domestic violence national hotline at 866-498-1511.
To be continued…
If you have any advice for me or my friend, I’d love to hear it. Thanks.