With my several years of experience in working with either the wounded or the offenders of an abusive relationship, and the authorities involved with them, one of the most hardest decisions to make with them is “Is there a chance for this relationship to change?”
There is usually serious doubt about the relationship ever succeeding, and to be honest it is a view I have tended to share, but many of these couples express a wish to stay together, wishing and hoping that they can make their relationship work. Many have children and caring family networks.
Research into domestic abuse has evolved over the years, recognizing that Domestic Abuse is not one specific set of behaviors. A significant body of evidence indicates that there are two fundamentally distinctive categories of domestic abuse; one is known as Situational Couple Violence and the other is Coercive Control, otherwise known as Intimate Terrorism.
Knowing which category of abuse we are dealing with can shed some light on whether the relationship can be salvaged or needs to end. This obviously makes a difference in terms of decision-making and the kind of support needed.
SITUATIONAL COUPLE VIOLENCE
This kind of domestic abuse is much more common than coercive control, and involves violent or abusive behavior that may be one off, or occasional. It generally happens when a conflict results in an emotional escalation and tends to be mutual. The result is that one or both of you may become verbally abusive or even violent towards the other, maybe pushing and shoving, or breaking objects. Although it is harmful, and both of you feel remorseful about it afterwards, the behavior usually arises out of a particular situation and any physical abuse does not take place against a daily background of domination and control. It tends to result more in hurt feelings than serious injury. In situational violence, it is likely that it won’t be excused, minimized or denied.
If you find that this happens in your relationship, it is not good, but it may be that neither you nor your partner have learned how to regulate conflict without resorting to aggression and getting into a fight. These types of blow ups are usually due to a lack of relational know how.
The good news is, that if you are part of such a couple, and you are both willing to put the time in, and make the effort to change your relationship to a more caring and respectful one, it can be mended by a blend of Therapeutic Coaching and Psycho-education.
The bad news is that if you fall into this category, know that you are role-modeling this for your children. Is this something you really want to pass on to them? Growing up with any kind of abusive behavior can be traumatizing for children and can have lifetime effects. You owe it to your family to take action sooner rather than later.
Now, this is the type of domestic abuse that is less common, although there is still way too much of it around. It is much more pervasive and much more dangerous. In heterosexual relationships it is always the woman who is the victim. Paradoxically, it may never result in serious physical violence, but where physical abuse is a feature, it is more likely to result in more serious injury and death
This is the sort of relationship that was portrayed in the biographical story of Tina Turner’s relationship with Ike in “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” The kind of can’t live with you and can’t live without you type of relationship. I have written elsewhere about the psychological entrapment in these relationships that makes them very difficult to end.
If you find yourself constantly preoccupied and anxious about your relationship and constantly second-guessing what your partner will say or think, then it is likely that you are in a coercively controlling relationship. There is a good reason why this is known as Intimate Terrorism, because it has all the features of hostage taking.
If it seems like every aspect of your life is dictated for you, such as what you wear, who you see, where you go, what access you have to resources such as transport and money, and it generally feels like your life is not your own, this is bad news.
Physical violence, if present may increase in severity and frequency until control and domination is established and maintained. Any time control appears to be slipping, physical violence is likely to be used as a reminder of who is in charge.
If you are in this kind of relationship, where you are routinely controlled and intimidated, the absence of physical injury does NOT mean that it won’t happen. You absolutely need to get out of this relationship. Research shows that the only way these relationships change is to become progressively worse.
If you or someone you care about is in an abusive relationship, consider, is the abuse around isolated incidents related to a particular situation, or is it part of day to day domination and control affecting most areas of your life?
If it is the first, situational violence or abuse, it is time that you and your partner took action in accessing some professional help to change these destructive patterns of relating.
If you are in a coercive control type of relationship, DO NOT ask your partner or the perpetrator to seek professional help. This could alert him to the possibility that he is losing control. Instead, you need to become informed. Leaving can be fraught with danger and is the time when you could be most at risk.