Written by Monica Borschel, Ph.D. and Special Private Prosecutor for victims and family law attorney Brian Faucett.
A yearly estimate of ten million Americans is affected by domestic violence. One in four women and one in nine men are victims of intimate partner violence. The abuse can be verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual. A majority of the cases will not be reported. On average more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partner in the USA daily. If it’s so dangerous, why do people stay?
I have been fortunate enough not to experience this personally. Still, I work with attorneys and judges who have had cases resulting in their clients being killed by their abusers. Rarely is it a case where no one saw it coming.
Sometimes in romantic relationships, abuse can be like a slow burn. The abuser can charm you and put you on a pedestal. This is often referred to as love bombing. The point of love bombing is to entice the romantic partner into falling deeply in love with them. This high point in the relationship is intermittent, like gambling. Sometimes the connection is incredibly high, and other times it is incredibly low. The low end is the abuse, and when the victim pulls away, the abuser will come back and love bomb all over again. This creates an addiction, like a drug. The victim will do anything they can at specific points to save the relationship. They hope that the more they invest, the more likely they can get their partner to be kind again. As in any relationship, the more one invests, the more likely they are to continue investing.
I often receive requests for consultations from abuse victims. After that, I may not hear from them again for months or years, depending on how long their personal cycle of abuse takes. Unfortunately, this only contributes to the “wasted investment” ideology, which often leads victims to stay with abusers for longer simply so that the sacrifices they have made up to that point are not wasted. An objective dividing line can be whether the abuser will seek the appropriate professional help for their behavior until completion. If the abuser is getting the proper treatment and the victim can remain safe, that could help. If the abuser is unwilling to do this, that can tell the victim that the cycle of abuse will likely continue.
Over time the abuser begins to devalue their partner. This devaluing is a way for the other person to feel less desirable, worthwhile, and loveable. Over time the abused person starts to believe that they cannot live without the abuser; they are worthless without them. This form of verbal and emotional abuse can lead to isolation from family and friends and later escalate into physical violence. The abuser might believe their partner is their sexual possession to do as they please. Sexual assault is often overlooked in relationships and marriages. The abusive person might think that if they devalue you, you won’t have the confidence to leave them. If they isolate you, you won’t have a support community. They might gaslight you to make you feel like you are the abusive one. The shame that builds in this situation can prevent someone from telling anyone. People might blame themselves for the abuse or be embarrassed that they were abused.
This is a standard method of control for an abuser to control their victim, and control is very important to any abuser. Be wary of any level of control your partner insists on having over you, as it may be a red flag of concerning behavior, even if it does not amount to the standard of abuse. Family courts are often familiar with this type of behavior.
Other times, the abuser is a kind person until they are drunk. When they are drunk, they turn into a meaner version of themselves. Any abuser can feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sometimes loving and kind, and other times abusive and violent. This can be incredibly confusing. People abused as children or in previous relationships might not recognize what abuse looks like. It can feel comfortable and normal to them.
In cases involving substance abuse, domestic abuse often appears and involves an extra area of concern: substance dependency. However, both may be resolved with appropriate treatment. The question is, whether the abuser is abusive sober, and then if so, then whether the abuser can remain sober. Suppose an abuser is abusive ONLY when they are drunk. In that case, they are still abusive, and it is behavior that, if not dealt with, can manifest itself in worse ways moving forward. Furthermore, if someone cannot be sober, that is behavior that, if not dealt with, can also manifest itself in worse ways moving forward.
In some cases, the person being abused is too scared to leave. They fear the abuser will kill, stalk, or harm them if they leave. This is a dangerous situation for everyone involved. Unfortunately, leaving this kind of relationship leaves the victim the most vulnerable to homicide.
In all instances of abuse, this concern is almost always there. Transitioning out of an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous and difficult part. However, it is much less scary with a sound support system (friends, family, therapists, coaches, churches, support groups, and shelters). Even if you have no friends and family and now live where you do not know many people, get on the internet and find resources like this near you. Fortunately, now domestic abuse is being recognized mainly for what it is and always has been, and there are growing resources in all areas to help victims of it.
Victims might also fear that if they leave, they will lose their children. However, they might be unaware of the damage to the children in these situations. Even if the children are not being abused, they are exposed to the abuse. This often leaves children feeling scared and helpless.
The family court system has now progressed to the point where it is widely accepted that exposing children to abuse is considered harmful for the children and against their best interests, regardless of whether the child is the target of said abuse. Furthermore, laws have been developed to ensure an abusive parent supports their family without subjecting them to abuse. If a parent is abusive, the child will know one way or another, and it will likely cause them pain and suffering.
One of the control tactics of the abuser is to limit their partner’s ability to work or have access to the finances. It is difficult to leave and start over when someone does not have the resources. Without resources or a community, it is almost impossible to escape.
Similarly, the family court system has also progressed to the point where they have procedures that allow the judge to order an abuser to do all kinds of things with their finances. In fact, that is often the best way for a judge to ensure control over an abuser. Again, a good support structure will also help in this area; having someone there to talk to is crucial.
If you are being abused, understand that there is help out there. Try to speak kindly to yourself about your situation. Blaming and abusing yourself will only cause more shame and harm. It takes courage to leave. If you are in danger, come up with a safe exit strategy.
There will be grief and loss. There will be good days and bad days. It is ok to love someone from a safe distance. Finding a community to support you can help you to stay strong if the abuser wants you back. Rebuilding will be a challenge that you can safely overcome. In time, you will heal.
If you know someone being abused, be a support person without judgment. Understand that there are emotional, physical, and financial complexities involved. Try to guide them to a domestic violence shelter and to a family law professional who can help them with their legal rights.
Brian Faucett is a St. Louis County Special Private Prosecutor for victims who have had their orders of protection violated. He is also a family attorney who helps people experiencing everything from domestic abuse to dividing a multi-million dollar business in highly contested divorces. He can be reached at (314) 399-8753 or email@example.com
To book an appointment with Divorce and Trauma Coach Monica, call or text +1-909-730-3009 or email firstname.lastname@example.org