Most people feel as though it will never happen to them. That someone whom they love so much and are in such close proximity to would ever lay a finger on them. The truth is that it happens all too frequently. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience physical violence by their intimate partners in their lifetimes.* About 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetimes.*
I was like so many people who never thought that it would happen to me. I was a teenaged parent and married my daughter’s father a year after graduating high school. Our daughter was 4 years old when we married. I will never forget that she cried throughout the entire ceremony because she really did not want us to get married. Sometimes children have a sixth sense to know when something is awry.
It was probably a month into our marriage when the first incident occurred. It shocked and scared me so much that I did not tell anyone what had happened. We were discussing past relationships and he wanted all of these intimate details about my dealings with people whom I had dated while we were apart. All of a sudden he snapped, grabbed my neck and choked me until I lost consciousness. When I came to I just stared quietly not saying a word. I could not believe what had just happened.
Take Anna and Charlie. Charlie was Anna’s knight in shining armor. He kept the house clean, paid all of the bills and made enough to where Anna did not have to work. By trade Charlie was in the military. He would deploy for a few months here and there and come home to his civilian job where he would drive trucks for a branch of government.
Charlie was a 45 year old widower and had an 11 year old daughter who was with Anna and him full-time. Together Charlie and Anna had three small children all under 6 years old, all girls. Anna who was 37 years old knew that Charlie had a temper and probably suffered from undiagnosed PTSD. What she did not know is that she would soon be the target of that temper.
It started with a push and Charlie demanding that Anna stay home. He did not want her to do anything outside of the house unless it had something to do with the children. Anna wanted a life of her own as well and wanted to be able to visit her friends and family without the children and Charlie sometimes. One night in particular Anna wanted to go to the movies with some friends. Charlie pitched a fit swearing that she was going out to cheat on him like his ex-wife did when they were together. Anna persisted that she needed this time and needed a break. In a rage, Charlie pushed Anna into the glass coffee table in the living room. She fell smashing the table and cut her arm and back. All of the children heard the noise and upon seeing their mother on the floor bleeding, began to cry. Anna ran to the bathroom to tend to her wounds and texted her friends with an excuse as to why she could not attend the movie.
Charlie and Anna, myself and my first husband and many others are not alone in experiencing domestic violence. So what are some things that you can do if DV hits your home?
Realize that you are not alone. Most communities have resources that you can take advantage of if you are feeling unsafe at home. Look for DV hotlines to talk to a counselor. Take advantage of DV shelters if you are in need of a place to hide out for a while. Call on friends and family if need be, but try not to place them in compromised situations or endanger them.
Try counseling to see if it helps at all. Many times a person has pinned up anger that has nothing to do with their current situation. Charlie had not been diagnosed with PTSD, but Anna realized that he was showing some of the same traits as her father who had PTSD. Anna took the three younger children and temporarily moved out of their family home until Charlie would agree to counseling. The counselor was able to pinpoint Charlie’s issues stemming from his time in the military and to get him signed up for help.
Let someone know what is going on. You have to be very careful with this one, especially if you are going to stay in the relationship or marriage. Once people who love you begin to see your partner or spouse in a negative light it is extremely difficult to change their minds. The point here is that someone needs to know what you are going through. I remember feeling trapped like I could not talk to anyone about what was going on. It was obvious to everyone I knew because like Charlie, my first husband wanted to isolate me from my friends and family to maintain a certain level of control. I was able to talk to my pastor at the time and his wife about the things that were going on. I was too embarrassed to reach out to anyone else.
Give yourself permission to take a break from the situation. Sometimes it gets so bad that you just have to get away. I remember the first time that I left my first husband. I stayed with my parents for a while, then ended up going back to him to try and make things work. As a parent, I was inclined to want my children to have both of their biological parents. By this time we had a second daughter. For me going back was the worst thing that I could have done.
Only you can determine when enough is enough. So many times I meet individuals who are stuck between a brick and a hard place. Anna was lucky enough to have the funds saved up from the time when she had previously worked to get a temporary place to stay until she could decide how she wanted to handle the situation with Charlie. However, many partners and spouses are so financially dependent on their spouses or partners that they do not have funds of their own. Funds or no funds, if the time comes and you are truly ready to make a decision, make the decision that works best for you.
There is life after DV. Sometimes the mental and emotional toll that DV takes on a person makes them feel as though they are somehow unworthy of a healthy love that does not involve violence. This is the furthest thing from the truth. It was just a few months after breaking things off with my first husband that I met a nice guy who was not violent at all. I say that to say it is okay to let go of what you thought would be the picture perfect scenario and allow life to take you to the next chapter.
Charlie and Anna ended up finding light at the end of the tunnel. Charlie employed the help of military counselors and remained in marital therapy along with Anna to work through their issues. Anna moved back home with the condition that Charlie continued counseling, allowed her to have a life of her own, and employed different methods of expressing his anger. They continue to have some issues, but are on the mend.
Most stories do not end like Charlie and Anna’s. Many couples end up divorcing over DV. Sometimes it gets so out of hand that one or both partners end up dead. Even worse, there are some people who endure year after torturous year of violence for their entire lives. Life is just too precious and short to be lived in that level of misery. Of course there will be disagreements but there has to be a mature adult way to handle the disagreement without bringing unnecessary harm to a spouse or partner.
My first husband and I ultimately divorced. His mental and emotional issues ran too deep for me to understand. Besides, I was not certain that there was any level of counseling that could help an anger that was so strong and unpredictable.
Again, only you can decide what is right for your situation. Get the help you need to move forward with confidence that you are giving yourself and your family the best chance for success. Stay safe and choose wisely.
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