Domestic violence is very common in American families. In almost 20 percent of all marriages and intimate partnerships, couples slap, shove, hit, or otherwise assault each other. Emotional abuse—verbal threats, humiliating or degrading remarks, and controlling behavior—is even more common. If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship, help is available.
Intimate partner violence is especially common among young couples, and, without intervention, may escalate in intensity or frequency. Relationships are challenging, and some couples deal with conflict by becoming aggressive, controlling and mean. Abuse can begin with subtle actions. For example, otherwise happy couples might lose their tempers, or one might become possessive or critical. This may get ignored or downplayed, but small acts of aggression often lead to more damaging behavior. Sometimes abuse gradually develops into severe violence after couples are marriage or in long-term relationships that are difficult to change. Couples frequently excuse or ignore early aggressive incidents and believe that once current stressors end, the violence will end. However, even minor acts of violence can escalate over time, increasing the risk of injury or even homicide.
There are many types of abusive behavior. One common pattern is distinguished by coercion and control. This can include jealousy, monitoring of behavior, retaliation, and emotional and physical abuse. Controlling abuse is usually called intimate terrorism, and over 90% of the perpetrators are male. In a typical case a husband might prevent a wife from seeing friends or family and make her feel guilty or afraid if she defies him. He may threaten harm against children if she tries to leave, or badger her incessantly to get what he wants.
Another type of violence is characterized by aggression, but little or no controlling behavior. This type, usually referred to as situational couple violence, occurs as disagreements escalate into physical actions such as pushing or slapping. This pattern is more likely to be mutual, and is equally perpetrated by men and women. Although this type of violence is generally less severe than intimate terrorism, it still can devastate a marriage, lead to criminal charges and injuries, and have long-term negative effects on children.
How can I get help?
Since domestic violence is a crime, one way to get help is to call the police. If you have been abused by your partner or are afraid for your safety, your first response needs to be to protect yourself and your children. You can also call the local Battered Women’s Shelter Organization, community crisis line, or community mental health agency . Most communities have offender treatment, victim support services, and access to a shelter for you and your children.
If the violence has not escalated to the point that you are fearful, but you want to prevent destructive arguing from destroying your marriage or escalating to violence, there are a variety of options available to you. Most communities have anger management or men’s treatment programs that can be found through mental health services. These programs provide skills to resolve conflict and handle anger without letting it escalate. Support groups for victims can also help you maintain a commitment to living in a nonviolent household.
In addition to anger management and victim’s support groups, you may want to seek marital therapy if you are both committed to ending the violence and neither feels controlled or unsafe. Marital therapists work with couples to develop strategies for resolving conflict without violence. Make sure that your therapist knows about the violence in your relationship and has experience and training working with violence. Through domestic violence–focused marital treatment, couples can learn skills to eliminate violence, remain calm, resolve conflict, and improve relationships.
If you decide to leave a violent relationship, a marriage and family therapist can help you and your children deal with the changes in your lives and with the trauma you have each experienced. A therapist can also help you access strengths and coping skills to move forward.
What to do if a Friend or Family Member is in a Violent Relationship
If someone you care about is in a violent relationship, let them know you care for them regardless of their decision to stay or leave their partner. Women stay in violent relationships for many reasons, including the mistaken belief that they cannot make it on their own. Many battered women feel isolated and have no one to talk to with about the violence they are experiencing. Ask gently about any injuries or emotional upset you observe and listen without passing judgment. Find out about resources for battered women in your community. If your friend decides to go for help, you may need to accompany her. Although it may take many tries, most women eventually leave violent situations through the ongoing support of caring friends, family members and professionals.
HopeLine: Connects survivors of domestic violence to vital resources, funds organizations and protects the environment. Verizon collects no-longer-used wireless phones and accessories and turns them into support for domestic violence organizations nationwide. Through HopeLine, hundreds of thousands of phones have been donated and awarded millions of dollars in cash grants to partner agencies.
Find a woman's shelter in your area: A women's shelter is a place of temporary refuge and support for women escaping violent situations, such as rape, and domestic violence.