RECOGNISING THE POTENTIAL FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN A NEW RELATIONSHIP
RECOGNISING THE POTENTIAL FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN A NEW RELATIONSHIP
Shockingly, in Australia, an average of one woman a week is killed by her partner. Men can be victims of domestic violence too, although murder by a female partner is much rarer. One in three women a week report injuries inflicted by their partner. And there would be many more, who through shame or fear, don’t report. It is hard to determine how many men suffer from domestic abuse given their reluctance to report it as demeaning to their masculinity. Children are victims, too. They may be physically assaulted, even killed and certainly emotionally and psychologically damaged by witnessing violence. If only we had reliable ways of evaluating signs indicating the likelihood of a prospective partner turning violent, so many deaths, so much serious injury, so much pain, so much trauma could be avoided.
The problem is that when we meet someone attractive and fall in love we are initially both presenting our best selves. Thanks to the neurochemistry of love and sexual attraction we are on a ‘high’, which can blind us to some of the signs that a long term relationship may end in misery and tragedy for at least one of the lovers. Sometimes lovers are willingly blind despite what family and friends may tell them because so much about the other person ticks all the boxes of our desires: financial security, sexual attractiveness, mutual interests, charm, seemingly shared values. A problem not present at the start of a relationship, such as a brain injury, financial failure, mental illness, addictions, PTSD from service in a war zone or other traumatic experiences may emerge later in a relationship and therefore be impossible to have predicted. There is no certain, all-encompassing way of reading the signs that indicate domestic violence will be a feature of the partnership but there can be warning signs that are well to consider before entering a dependent, long-term relationship
Some of the indications which should alert and warn you to the potential for domestic violence to emerge
1. A need to control. Your new love has a need to control what you wear, who you see, what activities you are involved in, your money, which friends or family you can see, your work pattern, your weight. Initially, the need to control may seem harmless, such as humorous but unkind comments about you or your connections, but this usually escalates into more aggressive expressions of dislike about you having areas of your life separate to him as your dependence on the relationship increases. This is a very strong indicator of future pain, especially if you try to keep your partner happy by complying. Couples counselling may help, but a refusal to attend or repeated assertions that you have the problem is a good indicator that it is time to end the relationship before controlling behavior gets worse.
2. Jealousy. Trust is essential in any healthy partnership. If either partner becomes upset and angry over imagined flirting behaviours or platonic friendships with the opposite sex, it is unlikely that you are going to enjoy a mutually respectful and trusting partnership. Sexual jealousy is too often a potent motivator for domestic violence. Again, couples counselling before making any commitment to marry or co-habit with a highly jealous person is advisable. Again, if one partner refuses to go, insisting it is your problem, it is likely a safer option to end the relationship rather than risking, at the very least, a great deal of unhappiness, and at most, the strong likelihood of suffering either or all of emotional, psychological, financial sexual and physical abuse.
3. Contemptuous mockery. Little mocking put-downs about you, your friends or family …especially if done in public, indicates there is little respect for you and little kindness. Over time, as you become more involved and less able to leave due to children, finances, loss of family and social support, your self-confidence and belief in your abilities and worth can be seriously undermined. This is psychological abuse which over time is debilitating, inculcating a belief that you are incompetent and worthless . It is then extremely difficult to take strong action when physical or other forms of serious abuse begin to emerge…when it escalates, a sense of helplessness and fear make it very hard to hard to escape.
4. Violent, aggressive behaviour to others. You may have yet to experience aggression and rage from the one you are in love with. But you know or have witnessed his violence to others. There might be road rage, punch-ups at family gatherings or on nights out. If he comes from a family where abuse is the norm and your partner agrees with it, engages in it, or thinks it ‘doesn’t mean anything’ then you must beware. Anger management and self-control is vital to having a safe and fulfilling relationship. Individuals who succumb to outbursts of uncontrolled anger, aggressive verbal abuse and threats, damaging property, animals, and people, especially when they blame their behavior on the situation or the actions of others, are not safe to become involved with in an intimate relationship. Physical and verbal aggression is never an acceptable way to deal with anger and frustration in a loving relationship
5. Addictions. Alcohol abuse is a frequent factor involved in domestic violence. As a society, we tend to accept heavy drinking as the norm, so alcohol addiction is often not called for what it is. Entering a relationship with a heavy drinker is high risk, as well as getting involved with anyone who takes rage-inducing drugs like ’ ice’ which are highly likely to fuel dangerous rages. Being involved with anyone involved with illegal drugs is high risk anyway as it can bring into your life some dangerous people as well as having some serious legal consequences. Get out of these relationships fast or put on hold until you are certain they have ‘kicked the habit’ of either alcohol or drugs. (And be very cautious about your certainty).
6. Warnings from those who care. If your caring friends and the family members whose judgement you have always trusted are really concerned about the relationship, because they see you may be in danger and can see what your love-blinded eyes cannot, PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM. Let the relationship go before you get seriously involved, no matter how hard the break, to avoid the probability of an emotionally and possibly physical painful future for yourself or any children you may have.
If you are fearful of being hurt when you end a relationship call:
The Domestic Violence Help Line 1800811811 (help both for males and females concerned they, a friend or family member is at risk.)
The webpage dvconnect.org has more information about help available.
For urgent assistance when you are in immediate danger, call 000
Susanne Gilmour, Psychologist