When I decided to become a counselor, I didn't have a particular interest in helping people who were in abusive marriages or dating relationships. I had no idea that, in my role as a therapist at a general counseling practice in a nice town, I would hear stories about partner abuse on a regular basis. I knew I would encounter my share of unhealthy relationship dynamics and unhappy couples who weren't exactly nice to each other. I knew I would be dealing with people who were taking childhood damage into their adult relationships. I knew abuse was bound to come up. I never imagined I would hear about it so often.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It is extremely important to raise public consciousness about this very serious problem. Domestic violence takes place in all sorts of relationships. It happens with teens, adults of all ages and races, those who are well-educated and those who aren't, homes with lots of money and homes where finances are tight. It happens with straight couples and gay couples, those who are married and those who aren't. . It happens where you might expect it and where you would never expect it.
The thing is, most people don't go from having a happy healthy relationship to all of a sudden being involved in domestic violence. There are usually other types of abuse that take place first. Other types include emotional, verbal, financial, and spiritual abuse.
In healthy relationships, partners don't try and change each other through manipulation, bullying, threats, guilt trips, or emotional blackmail. They don't demand that their spouse or date conform to their expectations or wishes. They don't pressure or badger the other person to "give in" when they're not getting their way. They don't throw tantrums, pout, turn on the waterworks, or resort to verbal "low blows." They don't insist on always getting what they want or on always being right. Words like "permission" and "allowed" do not have a place in healthy relationships. Neither does lecturing, telling one's partner what they will and won't do, or issueing threats.
These ways of relating take place in unequal relationships where one person has assumed the role of authority figure and the other has taken the "one down" position. The person being bullied has taken on the role of a child who accepts being bossed around or controlled. They don't want to be "in trouble" or to be left to fend for themselves, so they do what they need to do in order to keep their partner happy. This means they'll begin letting go of self-respect, values, and outside interests and family relationships. No adult should live in fear of being "punished" or "grounded" by another adult. This is not how grown-ups interact. At the very least, such dynamics are emotionally unhealthy. At worst, they are abusive.
Abuse doesn't have to be hitting and pushing. It can also be put downs, name calling, blowing up their partner's phone until they answer, or starting a fight so they're partner will decide not to go out with friends or visit family members as planned.
Abuse can be threatening to spread lies, relentless accusations about unfaithfulness, controlling finances, or taking the person's keys or cell phone so they can't leave or call for help.