Domestic Violence: It's More Than Just A Punch In The Face

Long after the bruising of Ray Rice's punch has healed, the emotional wounds remain.


As the events of the Ray Rice situation continue to unfold, there are so many issues that arise. After punching his fiancée in the face and then dragging her limp body, almost but not fully, out of an elevator, people are concerned.

Aggression, gender roles, power, control, women's rights, self-esteem, addiction, relationship dynamics and blame — the list could go on. What I want to focus on are the less dramatic and less physical acts of domestic violence. The acts of domestic violence that are verbal, emotional, threatening, coercive and demeaning. The ones that may go unnoticed by others because the scars they leave are internal. 


I am talking about the couple who looks happy and in love on the outside. They may be successful, have many friends and are social. But when they argue, the husband (or male partner) gets verbally threatening. He says things like, "You will have nothing without me, I will tell everyone (fill in the blank) about you, you will never see the kids again, you are a whore, no one would ever want you anyway, you are damaged goods, etc."

You get the point. These statements go beyond the sometimes wrong things couples say when they argue. These statements are made to make a woman feel worthless, intimidated, desperate and like they are actually the one with everything to lose.


Often times, paired with these verbally degrading statements are the nonverbal threats of harm such as blocking doors, standing over a woman, shaking, grabbing, throwing things or punching walls. Just enough to show how enraged he is and how scary and out of control he can be but without physically harming his wife. 

I can't tell you how many times my clients have described nights like these and they fumble around how to make sense of it. The woman will say, "Well, yes, I was very scared but he didn't hit me or the kids, holes can be patched or he doesn't know how else to express how he loves me."

The man will then say, typically with shame and regret, "Yeah, it got out of control. But I would never hurt my wife or kids. I don't know what I would do without her. I would probably kill myself." Right there, there it is, the red flag. "If you leave me, I will kill myself."

That is one of the most powerful statements that those who commit domestic violence make. It traps the other person — puts them in the role of holding all of the responsibility. This scares them to the point where they quickly shift from feeling victimized, to feeling like they have to be the savior.  


Those on the outside don't understand. They judge women all the time on why they don't leave the men who do these things to them. What is difficult to understand is that a man who acts this way when he is angry, drunk or insecure is often charming, loving and apologetic much of the time.

They also typically have traits of those who are narcissists. Simply put, a narcissist is one who has an extreme preoccupation with oneself. They can view their spouse as an object or a means to get them what they want. In many cases, their wife can be a symbol of status, pride, a good caretaker, one who provides them with sexual pleasure and a good mother to their children. For the wife of a man who may have narcissistic traits and domestic violence, it generally takes years to understand what is really going on and throughout the process there are a lot of ups and downs with love, passion and fear.

So what good could possibly come out of the Ray Rice situation? Well, it makes the conversation about domestic violence relevant right now. It gets men engaged in the story, because it is a football star who is in the spotlight. It has ESPN, CNN and other major media outlets debating the issue instead of this just being a woman's issue.

That is all a good thing. This is not just a woman's issue. It is a societal issue. It affects families, friendships, employment and mental health. It has surely impacted your sister, mother, daughter, best friend or yourself. One in four women are believed to be the victims of domestic violence. Let's keep the conversation going even after the headlines about this story go away.


Dr. Sheryl Ziegler is a mother, psychologist, speaker, and author of an upcoming book, Mommy Burnout. You can follow her marriage advice in her newsletter by signing up today.

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