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Finding the strength to change | Valerie May
Nobody ever thinks on their wedding day they will someday be filing charges against the person they are supposed to love forever.
I stared at the business card being handed to me. In a fog I heard the officer say, “…and here is your file number. We have charges filed against your husband for simple domestic assault.”
Suddenly my world snaps sharply into focus and I can’t stop rambling.
“What? How? Wait. This isn’t happening. What? This isn’t happening to me. This doesn’t happen to people like me. I am college educated. I am too smart for this. I want for nothing. We have two brand new cars and a cute little house on the lake and a beautiful 3-year-old son who’s brilliant. This just doesn’t happen to people like me.”
With the wisdom of an ancient Magi, the officer gently tells me, “Mrs. May, this isn’t just happening to you. Go home. Do some research on domestic violence. You’ll find this has been happening for a long time. It just got to a whole new level.”
Sitting in my office at home, I take the officer’s advice and begin my research. I sit for hours crying and finally understand why my marriage is falling apart.
I’ve described this before as feeling like I had been walking around in a dark room where I was constantly bashing into sharp corners and unknown objects and someone finally turned the light on.
The number of domestic violence cases in the U.S. is inaccurate mostly because victims are often too afraid or embarrassed to report it. In a 2000 report by the CDC, 8,000 women and 8,000 men were interviewed. Twenty-five percent of the women and 7.5 percent of the men reported a form of abuse in an intimate relationship.
Usually when we hear “domestic abuse” we automatically think of physical abuse. Most people do not realize there are other forms just as dangerous. There are several types of domestic abuse but most fall into four categories:
1. Physical: The use of force against a person being abused, injuring them or putting them in harm’s way.
2. Economical: the abuser has complete control over the victim’s money and other economic resources, making them feel trapped.
3. Sexual: The use of force against a person to obtain participation in a sexual act.
4. Emotional/psychological/mental: When the abuser uses verbal or nonverbal tactics to exert power or control over the victim. This is the hardest to detect but is just as serious as physical abuse.
When involved in an abusive relationship, we don’t think of it as abuse; we think of it as just another aspect of the relationship. What most people in abusive relationships don’t realize is that there is a predicable repeating cycle.
Counselors call it The Abuse Cycle and it has four stages:
1. Tension Building Phase: Tensions increase and there is a breakdown of communication. The victim becomes fearful and feels the need to do whatever it takes to make the abuser happy.
2. Incident Phase: Anger, blaming, arguing, threats and intimidation. Verbal, emotional and physical abuses occur at this phase.
3. Reconciliation Phase: The abuser apologizes and either gives excuses, blames the victim or denies abuse occurred. If the abuser takes responsibility for their actions, they will usually say it wasn’t as bad as the victim claims.
4. Calm or “Honeymoon” Phase: The incident is “forgotten,” both parties are apologetic and very affectionate. Feelings are similar to the beginning of the relationship, but there is always an underlying tension.
This cycle of abuse repeats itself eternally. However, each time the cycle spins, it will increase in speed and intensity. It will only stop when the victim makes the decision to make it stop or dies at the hands of the abuser.
The good news is there are ways to prevent this cycle from even starting. In order to do this, you must first recognize the early warning signs of an abusive relationship: intrusion, isolation, possession and jealousy, a need for control, an unknown past, no respect for the opposite sex, threats of physical violence toward objects and accusations of infidelity.
These are just a few examples of the warning signs of an abusive relationship. Ending the relationship may cause early heartache now but will save you from greater pain later.
I never thought I would be a statistic for domestic abuse. I thought I was too smart to be one of “those people.” Even though everything on the outside looked perfect, the inside was rotting to the core.
If you see any of these signs in your current relationship—in your partner or yourself—have the strength to change it.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 800-799-SAFE(7233). For more information, visit www.thehotline.org.
Valerie May is a creative artist with Sound Publishing.