An abusive relationship can be defined as a pattern of abuse or coercive behaviors against another person with whom there is supposed to be an intimate relationship. Generally this abuse takes place in order for the abuser to maintain control over the other partner, and it can include emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. Intimidation, threats, and isolation are also techniques used by the abuser to maintain control and power within the relationship. Abuse can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and both males and females can be abused, but the most common abuse stories feature a woman being abused at the hand of her boyfriend, husband, or other male acquaintance.
At least one in three women in the United States has been a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lives. It is the leading cause of injury among women between the ages of 15 and 45, and more than three women in the United States alone lose their lives due to violence at the hand of their boyfriend or husband every day. A woman is beaten every nine seconds within the U.S., and women are also nine times more likely to be the victim of a violent attack within her own home than in public by a stranger.
Signs of Abuse
There are many warning signs to abusive relationships that can tell a woman if she is in a dangerous relationship. Jealousy or possessiveness is a primary sign, as this goes along with the abuser’s need to control the other person. The abuser may try to isolate the other person and blame them when he mistreats the other person. A violent temper and rages may precede physical violence and abusive behaviors. Drug and alcohol abuse is also extremely common within situations of domestic violence, and many abusers were also abused themselves as children.
There are also warning signs for emotional and psychological abuse. The abuser may make jokes that humiliate and demean the other person, or they may do things to belittle, criticize, and embarrass them. Controlling all finances and forcing the other person to account for what they spend, keeping track of the other person’s time, and discouraging relationships with family and friends are also common occurrences within relationships of domestic violence.
Friends and family members may be the first to notice signs of abuse within a woman’s relationship, as they may observe controlling or abusive behaviors. If the woman has new bruises or is constantly coming up with excuses to explain marks on her body, these are signs that abuse may be occurring. If the woman is constantly defending her boyfriend or husband’s behavior or saying that it is her fault for the way he acts, a domestic violence situation is more than likely occurring.
Cycle of Violence
Most abusive relationships follow the same cycle of violence, which consists of six steps.
- Abuse. This is when the abusive partner actually lashes out physically, emotionally, or sexually against the other partner. This is a display of power, domination, and control over the victim.
- Guilt. After the abuse, which may have consisted of hitting, sexually assaulting, or belittling, the partner who caused the abuse will feel guilty. It is not always guilt for what he has done, and sometimes the guilt can be solely out of fear for facing the consequences of his actions.
- Excuses. This is where the abuser attempts to justify his actions. Often in abusive relationships the abusive person will blame the other partner for their actions, as if somehow they caused the abuser to lose their temper. They may also promise that the actions will never happen again, and tell the other partner that if they change their behavior they will not be driven to such an extreme course of action in the future.
- Normal Behavior. During this time, the abuser is attempting to keep the other person in the relationship by behaving as normally as possible. He may act as though the incident never occurred, or he may act extra loving, affectionate, and attentive. This will give the abused partner comfort in the thought that maybe her husband or boyfriend really has changed.
- Planning. During this stage, the abusers controlling behaviors begin again, and they begin to notice what their partner is doing wrong. From there he will think up a way to regain control of the relationship, which is generally an abusive behavior.
- Set-up. The abuser puts his plan into action and creates a situation where abuse is justifiable in his mind.
Abuse also escalates with time. In the beginning of a relationship, a woman may only experience name calling and demanding behavior, but with time these things will progress to more severe emotional abuse and often physical abuse. Signs of abuse may not be as obvious in the beginning, but the cycle of violence will continue to progress and escalate throughout the duration of the relationship.
Breaking the Cycle
Ending an abusive relationship is often a difficult decision, and in many cases it can seem even more frightening than the actual abuse. Often the woman feels scared, guilty, or lonely before the break up, and it may seem easier to just stay in the abusive situation. These feelings are normal, but it is important for the abused individual to remind themselves of what they have gone through and all the abusive and controlling behaviors they have endured. Ending a dangerous relationship is the best possible solution, and she needs to continue to tell herself that.
Place Blame Where it is Deserved
The first step in breaking the cycle of violence is for the victim to realize that the situation is not their fault. The partner alone is responsible for the abusive action, and as much as she may love him or try to make the relationship work, nothing will change by remaining within an abusive environment. The abuser made a conscious decision to abuse his wife or girlfriend, and nothing she could have said or done could cause it. Trying to change behaviors or behave “better” will not result in the end of the abuse. Domestic violence is not caused by stress, anger, or provocation; rather, it is always a choice to be abusive.
Build a Support System
Sometimes this step is difficult, as women in abusive relationships have generally been isolated from their friends and family by their controlling partners. While it may be embarrassing to have to tell people about the circumstances leading to the break up, it is important for the woman to have as much support as possible during that time. These ties will help a person to get through some of the hard parts involved with ending a relationship. Since being lonely causes many women to return to their abusive husbands or boyfriends, having a good group of people around will help to reduce this affect.
Safety is a major issue to be concerned about when breaking up with someone that has previously been abusive. Although in a non-abusive relationship it may be seen as cold, in these types of situations it is perfectly acceptable to end the relationship via phone or email. If the woman feels she needs to end the relationship in person, a public place should always be used. She should take a cell phone, alert a friend or family member to where is she and what she will be doing, and ask someone to wait for her somewhere close.
The woman should do her best to be strong during the conversation and should not allow herself to be convinced that she is making a mistake or that her partner can change. There is also no obligation to give multiple reasons for the breakup, so she should tell her partner that she is done dealing with his abusive behaviors and is ending the relationship, and she should not worry about providing additional excuses.
Her parents, roommates, and friends should also be made aware of the breakup, especially if he tries to come by her home or workplace. She should make sure that she has a safe place to stay and should refrain from walking in public alone, especially in isolated areas. If any type of threatening contact is made from the former boyfriend or husband, the abusive emails, letters, or texts should all be saved and given to the proper authorities. If necessary, the woman should have a safe place to go or stay in order to avoid the other partner.
Cut Off Contact
As difficult as it may seem, the only way to begin to get over any type of relationship, especially one plagued by domestic violence, is to cut off all contact with the other person. Unlike a normal relationship, people involved in a domestic violence situation cannot expect to be friends with their ex after the break up. After spending months or years with another person, this is often a painful process, but it is entirely necessary. No contact means exactly that; no contact of any variety ever. This includes emails, texts, and phone calls. The abused party will need to go cold turkey and have nothing to do with the other partner.
The no contact rule is designed to give the abused partner space emotionally and physically. The abusive partner had been a source of pain for his partner for an extended period of time, so having zero contact should give her freedom from the abuse she was forced to suffer through. To begin to heal and move on with her life, she needs to avoid that source of pain at all cost
The no contact rule is not a way to win the ex back or to punish him by making him miss his wife or girlfriend. If a woman is viewing the space like this, she is still holding on to the relationship and clinging to hope that it can be saved. Before she can begin to heal she needs to accept the fact that the relationship needs to be over in for her to preserve her physical and psychological well being.
If the relationship has produced children, cutting of contact completely may not be an option, but the court system should become involved in order to work out any arrangements. This way there is a third party mediating all of the exchanges that is also acting in the best interest of the child. In domestic violence situations the custody arrangements are worked out so that as little contact as possible is made between the two parents.
Domestic violence is against the law. Threats should be taken seriously, and law enforcement should be contacted. If an abused person chooses to press charges against her abuser, many legal consequences can take place, some of which include:
- Prison or jail time
- Court-mandated domestic counseling
- Anger management classes
- Loss of custody of children
- Loss of gun possession rights
Legal consequences will be dependent on a variety of factors. Prior or similar convictions and whether or not the individual is already on parole will generally result in a tougher conviction. If there is a large amount of media and community attention, the court system may also act more harshly to make an example out of the individual showing that domestic violence is not tolerated.
There are processes in place that allow for a victim of an abusive relationship to get protection. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act exists in order to assure that victims of abuse receive the maximum protection that the law can provide. A Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRA) is one such option. This restraining order passed through the court system as a way of telling the abuser to stay away from, to stop harassing, and to stop harming the other partner. Violations of the protection order can result in jail time for the partner. Many states, like California, also offer free legal help for individuals who are attempting to obtain a restraining order.
The work of the abused person is not completed after the break up. There are several things that she could and should do in order to help her overcome emotionally from such a traumatic event.
Counseling and Therapy
Seeking help from a licensed counselor can help to provide some relief from some of the feelings of guilt, sadness, and shame that come with being a victim of domestic violence. Therapy can help to strengthen a victim’s belief in themselves and realize that the choice of ending the relationship was the best possible option. With the counselor, she will work to accept that the relationship has ended and acknowledge that she deserves real happiness without abuse. This is also important in preventing the woman from getting into another abusive relationship in the future.
As discussed in the statistics of domestic violence earlier, one in three women will become its victim at some point in their lives. Because of this, many areas have support groups in place for victims, and these types of groups can help women to heal through each other’s experiences in a community environment. This will give the woman comfort in knowing she is not alone, and she can get some valuable advice on what types of activities helped women in the exact same situation cope with their experiences.
There are many books and written resources available to help a person get over an abusive relationship and to educate people about domestic violence. Local libraries and domestic violence programs may have these items to check out or borrow, so it should be relatively easy to find written information for help. Some good books to consider include:
- Getting Free by Ginny NiCarthy
- Next Time She’ll be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It by Ann Jones
- Coping with Dating Violence by Nancy Rue
- Ending an Abusive Relationship by Patty Fleener
- It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence by Meg Kennedy Dugan
- Dragonslippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like by Rosalind B. Penfold.
- The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Alice Koller
Avoiding the Same Mistakes
Women who have been abused in a pervious relationship are likely to be involved in a domestic violence situation in the future. In order to avoid this cycle, it is important for the abused woman to learn from her mistakes. She needs to take a good look at herself and figure out what made her susceptible to being abused in the original relationship, and she should look for warning signs that may indicate potential partners are abusive. These warning signs are red flags, and they should not be ignored. Getting out of a relationship at the beginning when these signs first present themselves are easier than trying to get out later after the abuse has progressed.
How to Help a Friend
If a person has a friend that they suspect is being abused, it is important to let her know about their concern. The following phrases are important to use when discussing the abuse:
- I’m worried about you
- You deserve better
- It is not your fault
- I’m here for you no matter what
- I’m glad you told me
Friends should be accepting, listen what the woman describes her circumstance, and reach out for help. Friends should also be willing to help the woman come up with a safety plan and ideas for the woman to effectively and safely get out of the relationship. Crisis lines are available 24 hours a day and provide anonymity, and these lines can provide great resources for how to best help her.
For more information on ending an abusive relationship, warning signs, and advice on how to move on after the relationship has ended, there are various resources that a person can access. Abuse victims or friends can search for domestic violence groups within their area or contact their local library for additional reading materials. Local law enforcement and hospital staff will also be able to point the individuals in the right direction to get the help that they need.
Some additional online resources include: