For the last twenty years, I’ve been figuring out what abusive relationships look like. As a teacher dealing with families, as someone connected to a refuge and getting to know the women therein, and as a friend, and often an ear for women who have left these relationships or are still in the midst thereof.
Being an avid user of social media, meeting all sorts of people, and having these conversations around domestic violence day in and day out for the last three years, it occurs to me that very few people understand what an abusive relationship looks like. They all look very different but there are commonalities.
It may be important to think about these commonalities because often the person being abused is seen as at fault – she/he/they provoked him/her/them – or that this is a two way street. It is not. There are certainly relationships where both parties are volatile, and abusive. But there’s one very large difference when you’re thinking about this. Control.
In a relationship where domestic violence is at play, it’s all about control. The means used to gain control may be: physical, psychological, emotional, verbal.
There is certainly use of the children to exert control, where there are kids. Phone calls to CYFS, kidnapping, being late or not turning up to pick up the kids. That sort of thing. There’s the use of money: the withholding/limiting/withdrawal of financial assistance/spending money/grocery money/bill money. There’s demanding and frightening/threatening emails/texts/phone calls.
All of this is about control.
I get the impression that people still think of domestic violence as being a situation where a person (usually a woman) is cowering in a corner, blows being rained upon her. This may not be the case.
“Domestic violence (also domestic abuse, spousal abuse, intimate partner violence, battering, or family violence) is a pattern of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation.Intimate partner violence (IPV) is violence by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner. Domestic violence can take place in heterosexual and same-sex family relationships.” (From Wikipedia)
“Domestic violence and emotional abuse are behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other. Partners may be married or not married; heterosexual, gay, or lesbian; living together, separated or dating.
Examples of abuse include:
- name-calling or putdowns
- keeping a partner from contacting their family or friends
- withholding money
- stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
- actual or threatened physical harm
- sexual assault
Violence can be criminal and includes physical assault (hitting, pushing, shoving, etc.), sexual abuse (unwanted or forced sexual activity), and stalking. Although emotional, psychological and financial abuse are not criminal behaviors, they are forms of abuse and can lead to criminal violence. ” http://www.domesticviolence.org/definition/
In the latter definition, we can see that violence is seen as a physical thing, the only bit which is illegal, and this indeed is the case. But the physical bit is not, often, the most important bit.
What this means is that domestic violence/abuse is very very hard to spot. The relationships in which these behaviours occur are not solely volatile, they are controlling. One person trying to control another. From what I have seen and heard, physical violence is the least of the abuses used to exert control. It may be used infrequently.
So I want you to remove graphic images from your mind when you think of domestic violence. It is much more wearing, more tedious, more tortuous than that. It takes place over an extended time period, often. It is patterned. It is, quite simply, control. A constant and eroding stream of quiet and denigrating acts and language, a pattern of behaviour that leaves one person without power. No agency, that feeling of no hope, no way out.
I met a woman recently who told me she had run all the scenarios through her head, for two years. So it can take a while to figure out how to get out from that control.
If you’re in a situation like this, know that there are people who care. You may not see it now, you may not see it for a while, but it’s true. And you’re not alone. Every 5 minutes, the NZ police attend an incident of domestic violence. And that’s just the people who report. So it’s a big problem, one we are responsible for, and you can get help, if you’re ready.
If you feel you’re in danger, ring 111.
If it’s time for you to go, or you’re getting ready, ring Shine – http://www.2shine.org.nz/
0508 744 633
OR Women Refuge NZ – https://womensrefuge.org.nz/
0800 733 843
And never think this is your fault. Never think this is okay. Someone is trying to control you, they’re trying to make you feel less than. You are worthy of more, you know this, somewhere deep inside you. One day, you will have agency, and one day you will know that nobody has the right to control you, but you. I wish you well, and if you ever want an ear, I’m here. Always.