The Domestic Abuse Has To Stop (And It Can!)
by Dave Decker M.A.
At times, it seems like violence is everywhere. We are constantly bombarded by the media with reports of muggings, rapes, "road rage" on our highways, murders in our communities, and wars in "hot spots" all over the globe. Given all the violence around us, one would hope that our homes would be a refuge and a safe place to return to at the end of the day. Unfortunately, this often isn't the case. The reality is that domestic abuse, disrespectful and even violent behavior in a family setting, is all too common. Even our homes are not safe for many in this country.
Sadly, in the United States, a woman is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped, or killed by a male partner than by any other type of assailant. Domestic violence has been identified as one of our country's most significant public health concerns, not just in terms of its impact on women who are abused but also due to its damaging and longlasting impact on the children who grow up in a family where domestic abuse is occurring and on the men who are perpetrating abuse.
Controlling, abusive, and violent behavior devastate the fabric of our families and our society. Explosive anger and abusive behavior are unacceptable and ineffective ways to resolve conflicts and solve the problems that arise in our lives. They destroy trust, intimacy, and safety in a family setting and replace these with hurt, fear, resentment, and emotional distance. This is not the way to live. This is not the way to stay connected to the most important people in our lives, other members of our family.
The primary goals of abusive behavior are to hurt, punish, intimidate, and control other people. This desire to control is an especially important part of why domestic abuse occurs. Both men and women in a heterosexual relationship can be controlling and abusive. Control and abuse, by either partner, is not all right. However, we as men, because of our size, musculature, and socialization, are much more likely to be able to impose our will and dominate a relationship through abusive or violent actions. In addition, we have a much greater potential, especially if there have been instances of property destruction, threats, or actual physical violence, to create an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, insecurity, and humiliation, than do our female partners. Women are also more likely to be seriously injured if violence is occurring in the home.
Once again, this is not to say that women cannot be hurtful or violent. They can. But abuse in a family setting becomes particularly destructive when there is a consistent and ongoing pattern of controlling and abusive behavior by a physically more powerful person where the less powerful person feels fearful that physical abuse may be used to control what is happening.
One of the most important ways to begin to intervene in domestic abuse is to understand what abusive behavior is. Many of my clients have said they're not even aware that what they've been doing is considered abuse. This is the focus of the remainder of this article. Domestic abuse can be divided into several different categories which are discussed below.
The first category is MALE ENTITLEMENT, which is having an attitude that conveys male dominance and the idea that we as men are more competent and capable than women. This attitude leads to the belief that "I as a man, have the right and the responsibility to control how my partner thinks, feels, and acts and to make her into the person I want her to be." As was mentioned previously, this desire to control underlies all abusive behavior. Some examples of this category might be making generalizations and believing stereotypes about women, having the expectation that we as men will make all the important decisions in the relationship, determining "who does what" in terms of household chores and parenting, controlling how household money is handled and spent, and acting very jealous and possessive.
A second category is EMOTIONAL ABUSE, which is using non-verbal or behavioral methods to hurt, punish, intimidate, or control our partner. Examples might include sulking or pouting, sneering and acting disgusted, glaring or staring, yelling and screaming, or following a partner around the house to continue an argument when she doesn't want to do this.
A third category is VERBAL ABUSE, which is using words to hurt, punish, intimidate, and control a partner. This can include criticizing and discounting a partner's feelings and opinions, interrupting her, interrogating her, swearing and cussing at or around her, being demanding, and insulting or ridiculing her or other people she cares about.
A fourth category is THREATS, which is communicating an intention to do something designed to create emotional pain, fear, indecision, and insecurity in her. This category includes both non-physical threats like telling her that you are going to withhold money, sue her friends and family for "interfering" in your relationship, or end the relationship. It can also include violent threats like standing in her way, making statements like "You're really asking for it" or "I really feel like letting you have it," or driving recklessly when you are angry with her, or making physically intimidating gestures like holding up a fist in front of her face.
A fifth category is VIOLENCE TOWARD PROPERTY OR PETS, which is damaging possessions or hurting pets to intimidate or coerce her into doing what you want her to do. These actions are also generally perceived as violent threats to those who see the behavior or the damage left behind. Examples of this type of abuse include hitting walls, slamming doors, smashing your fist on countertops, throwing or breaking household items, and hitting or kicking a family pet.
A sixth category is SEXUAL ABUSE, which is making sexually inappropriate verbal statements and forcing physical affection, touch, or sex on a partner. Examples include viewing and treating her and other women like "sex objects," insulting her body or love-making abilities, grabbing or pinching her in sexual areas, pressuring her into doing sexual activities she doesn't feel comfortable with, and forcing sex when she says "no" or when she is sleeping.
A final category is PHYSICAL ABUSE, which is using any physical actions or force to control a partner or a situation. This includes grabbing, pinching, bumping into her as you go by, pushing, restraining, slapping, or punching.
If these sorts of behaviors are occurring in your relationship and family, get some help, not just for yourself and your partner but also for your children. Control and abuse are learned, at least in part from the families where we were raised. If these attitudes and behaviors continue, your children will carry on the legacy of control and abuse in their own lives and relationships and you will end up miserable and alone.
Dave Decker's practice offers a comprehensive domestic abuse program including groups for men, women, and children that address the issue of domestic abuse directly. There are other programs in all areas of the country. Make a committment. It is time to stop the cycle of violence and abuse in your life and in the lives of your children. We as men can change the attitudes and behaviors that create this frightening atmosphere at home. The future truly can be different. There is another way.
© 1998 David J. Decker, MA, LP