Domestic and Family Violence FAQs

But I love them

Of course you do.  This is completely natural and very understandable.  There is something in this person that attracted you to them in the first place.  Whether it was their smile, their protective nature, their way with kids or their natural ability on a trampoline, there are always reasons to fall and stay in love.  The question is how that person is demonstrating their love toward you.  If it is through the use of power and control, that person needs to take major steps to change their behaviours as they are not demonstrating love, or at least a healthy version of it.

But the kids don’t see the abuse

Children are affected by domestic violence, even if they are not present during an incident.  They may hear the violence from their rooms, or see the aftermath such as bruises, broken possessions and moved furniture.  Children also pick up on emotional abuse.  They become confused and unsettled and the parents cycle through the abuse cycle, sending incompatible and inconsistent messages of love to the child.  The child becomes increasingly distressed as their parents oscillate between loving and kind, to stressed and highly anxious, to demanding and unstable and so on.

These children often feel unsafe, isolated, anxious, depressed, angry and distrustful of authority figures.  As a result, they may display behaviour or emotional problems such as low self-esteem, hyper-vigilance, antisocial behaviours, eating disorders, sleep disorders, unhealthy boundaries, suicidal ideation and/or rigid views on gender roles to name a few. 

These problems may follow them well into adulthood and manifest themselves through alcohol/drug addictions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), adult depression and/or perpetrating or being a victim of violence in relationships themselves.

Everyone fights sometimes. How can I tell a fight from abuse?

Disagreements occur in most relationships.  Sometimes these disagreements can become arguments and both people get loud and say things that hurt the other person’s feelings.  However, in most relationships, both people say they are sorry and make up.  No one gets hurt physically and no one uses power and control to make the other person feel worse. 

When that happens, the relationship is domestically violent.  In these relationships one person uses power and control over another to get what they want from the relationship.  The person who uses this power and control may do so in a number of different ways.  They may use emotional and psychological abuse, and/or threats of physical violence or abandonment.  They may attempt to isolate the individual from family and friends, limit their use of the phone, track phone use, open private mail and belittle the other person, chipping away at their sense of independence and self-confidence.  This is not a healthy relationship, it is domestic violence; regardless of how disagreements occur, how often they occur or who instigates them.

I really should try harder to do the right thing

An abuser uses power and control over another person to get what they want out of a relationship.  The manner in which they treat the other person is not reliant on what that person does.  It is a calculated and considered approach that maintains their power and control, regardless of what the other person does.  Many abusers and even some people in the general public blame the victim for the abuse.  That is, they believe, or try to make the victim believe that, somehow, the abuser’s behaviours are a consequence of something the victim has done. 

Common thoughts are “If only I had that meal ready on time.”  “I really shouldn’t nag him when he goes out and spends our entire weekly budget on beer, he deserves to let off steam.” And “It really makes him mad when I stand up for myself so I should just give in and not do it – it is easier that way.”  These are victim blaming thoughts and they excuse the abuser from taking responsibility for their behaviour.  It is a fact that abusers will choose to use power and control in a relationship regardless of the other person’s actions however, they will do everything they can to convince their victim this is not the case and the abuse is their fault.

Being subjected to the use of power and control to make you feel like a lesser person is never your fault.

It only happens when they are drunk or high.

Many people use drugs and alcohol and do not physically or emotionally abuse the people around them.  Many people who don’t use drugs and/or alcohol choose to physically or emotionally abuse the people around them.  In fact, alcohol and drugs are often used by abusers as an excuse for their behaviour or even a reason to engage in that behaviour.  While the use of alcohol and drugs can often make the violence more serious, it does not cause it.

The use of power and control in a relationship, whether it be physical or emotional is a choice.  It is a choice made by one person to use power and control over another.  Should the use of drugs or alcohol increase the likelihood of that person being physically or emotionally abusive, or increase the severity of that abuse, that person is responsible for making the choice not to drink alcohol or use drugs.

It seems to get better and then something just seems to set them off

This is a normal part of the abuse cycle.  The abuse cycle has six parts and, at any given time, a relationship may be in any one of these parts however, it generally begins with the “Standover phase – control and fear”.  That is, the abuser starts or continues to make demands, exerting their power and control over the other person.  That can take many forms depending on that person’s behaviour of choice.  It can however, include demanding to see the grocery receipt with accusations of overspending, checking phone records, etc.

This is followed by the “Explosion phase”.  The abuser, physically hurts the other party, threatens to hurt, breaks items, yells, sexually abuses or dramatically increases emotional abuse and so on.

After the explosion, the abuser enters the “Remorse phase” and drags the other party along with them.  This is the time they justify their behaviours by blaming stress, anger, trouble at work, bad childhood, anything that will remove the blame for that behaviour from the abuser. 

Then comes the “Pursuit and promises phase”.  The abuser may promise to get help and may even make an appointment to see someone.  During this phase, the abuser will do almost anything to get things “back to normal”.  They may buy presents, continue to say sorry and pursue the other party to the point it may feel like they are falling in love again.

This then flows into the honeymoon phase in which the couple are getting on well because the abuser is choosing to control their abusive behaviours for a period of time.  Previous appointments made in the “Pursuit and promises phase” are often cancelled due to everything going so well and the abuser claiming intervention is no longer needed.

This often leads into the “Build-up phase” in which the other party may question the decision to cancel the appointment (or any justifiably questionable power and control based behaviour).  The abuser becomes tired of not being in a position of power and makes the choice to begin to re-engage in abusive behaviours such as controlling, questioning and blaming the other party for their behaviours.

As the build-up continues to grow, the abuser moves back into the “Standover phase”, thus, beginning the cycle again.

This cycle may occur in a matter of days, it may occur in a matter of weeks or even months.  The underlying issue with the cycle is that, unless the abuser takes responsibility for their behaviours and makes a real effort to change them, the cycle will continue unabated, often for years and even generations.

Sometimes I make him really angry

Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, it is not the cause of abuse.  Many people get angry and never engage power and control, many people who use power and control in a relationship are not angry when they do so.  When abusers state they act in an abusive manner because they are angry, they are refusing to take responsibility for their actions and their choices.  Rather, they choose to blame an emotion and deflect responsibility for their choices.

You are not responsible for your partner’s choices, only they can be responsible and take control.  To state anger is the cause of abuse places the responsibility on the victim, blaming them for causing the anger and therefore, somehow, being responsible for the abuser’s actions.  This is never the case.

The church / my parents / my friends say I should stick with it. Marriage is sacred.

Regardless of the espoused sacred nature of a marriage / relationship, where there is abuse there is no relationship.  The dynamics are so dramatically skewed it is not an equal partnership.  Nor is it a healthy one. 

Although others often mean well when sharing their thoughts on lives other than their own, only those living in a situation can truly understand that situation. 

It is perfectly okay to leave a domestically violent relationship.  It is perfectly okay to prioritise your safety and/or that of the children and it is perfectly okay to seek help in achieving this.

The kids are too young to be affected

Babies and very young children do not need to understand to respond emotionally and physically to domestic violence.  For example, the heart rate of very young children increases in response to the sound of an adult screaming or crying.  Regardless of whether children witness domestic violence, they are affected.  They pick up on the mood of their parents, and they ‘tune in’ to the atmosphere. 

Furthermore, a parents’ capacity to develop a healthy attachment to the baby through shared positive experiences is dramatically reduced when that parent is constantly on edge, upset or frightened.  This lack of attachment in the early years can lead to compounded trauma and anxiety based issues later in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

They are feeling stressed and just acting out

Although stress is a commonly used rationale for abuse, this is quite simply not the case.  Stress does not cause abuse.  We all experience stress however, the majority of us do not hurt others during these times.  Abusers who state they are feeling stressed don’t hit their boss, the Police or the neighbour.   They do however, choose to victimise family members who have less power.  This use of power and control is a choice that can be controlled quite effectively in the public arena.  As a result, it is not unreasonable to expect that person to make the same choice to not use power and control in the home.

They haven’t actually hit me.

Emotional and verbal abuse are the most common forms of abuse and are present in the majority of abusive relationships, regardless of whether there is physical violence used.  Abuse can be very subtle and sometimes, it is difficult to recognise, as the abuser is often very manipulative and convincing.  For example, the abuser often convinces the individual that phones are tracked to make sure that person is safe, isolation from friends and family is because they love you more than your friends and family and you are not allowed to work because they love you and want to provide for you. 

These forms of abuse can cause significant harm, negatively impacting on self-confidence and self-esteem.  In fact, the damage caused by emotional and verbal abuse often lasts long after the relationship has ended.

They just lose control sometimes

Although this is an excuse often used by abusers, it is simply not true.  The use of power and control over another person is not as a result of losing control, it is a deliberate behaviour or series of behaviours, put in place to gain control over another person.  Domestic violence occurs when someone decides to use physical, sexual, emotional, social and/or spiritual abuse to get their way.  Actions are as a result of choices and choices are often made after careful consideration of the other person’s weaknesses and trigger points and the manner in which the abuser can most effectively manipulate these. 

They say they are very sorry

Most abusers state they are sorry following an abusive episode, in particular when they have committed physical or emotional abuse.  This remorse is part of a pattern of violence.  During this phase they may promise it will never happen again, promise to get help, give gifts and do or promise almost anything to ‘get back to normal’.  Once the apology is accepted or the relationship returns to ‘normal’, the pattern of abuse and violence begins again. 

People who are truly sorry and serious about changing their behaviour will take full responsibility for that behaviour, seek help and actively work on changing that behaviour.  Promising to do so and putting off appointments and actions for real change is not taking responsibility.

What are the types of domestic violence?

Domestic violence takes many and varied forms.  Although every domestically violent relationship is based on the use of power and control by one partner, the manner in which this is exerted varies greatly.  Some examples of domestic violence may include: 

  • Controlling behaviours (not allowing the other party any privacy, dictating who they can talk to and when, checking phone records, checking grocery receipts, questioning constantly, etc.)
  • Creating fear (cruelty to a pet, having weapons in the house, or even having “a look”, etc.);
  • Intimidation (suddenly appearing when the partner is out with friends, constantly calling and/or texting when apart, breaking possessions, etc.);
  • Physical abuse (pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, attempted strangulation, hair-pulling, punching, etc.);
  • Verbal abuse (using words as a weapon, ridiculing, name-calling, yelling, etc.);
  • Emotional abuse (humiliating, degrading or demeaning the other person through put downs, and accusations, emotional withdrawal and refusing to speak for extended periods of time, etc.);
  • Social abuse (isolating the other party socially, constantly putting down friends and family or making them feel inferior whilst in social situations, etc.);
  • Sexual abuse (any unwanted sexual behaviours including coercion or sulking, etc.)
  • Spiritual abuse (making fun of spiritual beliefs, preventing them from attending services, etc.)

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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, takes many forms including physical, emotional, spiritual, social and economic violence.  Through the use of power and control one partner gets what they want from the relationship to the detriment of the other partner.  Domestic violence is not limited to hitting.  Nor does it just take the form of yelling.  It can be incredibly subtle, becoming more malignant over time.  Coercion may be mild to begin with, later growing more demanding or it may remain low key for the long term.  The underlying dynamic is the use of power and control that results in an uneven or unfair partnership between two people.

But they are a good parent, just not a good partner

It is quite a contradiction to believe a person can be a bad partner but a good parent.  Occasionally being loving and kind to a child and ensuring their material needs are met is the easy part of parenting.  However, role modelling, providing an emotionally and physically safe environment and teaching them about respect for others is equally important.  A child who sees an unhealthy relationship between their parents will not learn the value of a healthy relationship.  Nor will they know how to have one.  Consider if this is what you want for your child’s future and balance this against the role modelling s/he is currently experiencing.  Will the events happening now lead to what you dream of for their future?