How to Deal With Physical Abuse in Marriage

Have you checked out the statistics on domestic abuse in India? They are quite appalling, right? But then again, what happens behind the walls of a couple’s walls is none of our business, right? If you’re married, your body rightfully belongs to your partner and they may do as they please with it, right? After all, we have come so far in terms of progress because we don’t see any more practices like Sati, at least on a large scale, so why complain, right? Wrong!

Don’t get me wrong. We have come far and I am very grateful to our revolutionaries for that (shout out to Raja Ram Mohan Roy in heaven, that man was rad!). However, people who know me know that I am two things: grateful, and also a very unsatisfied soul. I believe we must celebrate our progress but not at the cost of turning a blind eye to our great need for change.

To deal with physical abuse, I think we need start by calling a spade a spade. Physical abuse is commonly also known as “normal behaviour”, “love”, “habit”, and trust me when I say this, very mistakenly so. If the GoI received a rupee for every time an Indian has been told their partner beats them up only because they love them and feel the right to do so, our nation would be indebted no more. While it should be common sense that someone who loves you would not intentionally hurt you, physically or emotionally, common sense unfortunately at present professes that a push down the stairs or a blow to the face every once in a while is okay! To clarify again, in case the title of the blog wasn’t clear enough, IT IS NOT OKAY. No exceptions. ANY ABUSE IS NEVER OKAY. Nothing can justify abuse or it wouldn’t be called abuse!

domestic-violence-abuseRabindranath Tagore once said, “Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom.” Love should set you free. If you have an envious and overly possessive partner who believes it is justified to physically harm you for coming home late, or a partner with unrealistic expectations who believes it is justified to physically harm you for not laying out a seven course meal at least twice a day, or even if you have a partner who physically harms you for having an extramarital affair, it is physical abuse and it isn’t, in fact, justified.

Let’s start by identifying abuse in order to equip ourselves for dealing with it and freely labelling a relationship as an abusive one if it is. For once, let’s go beyond log kya kahenge (what people will say) and give human rights the priority they deserve. Though realizing that one is being abused is half the battle one, there is a long way to go still. Rabindranath Tagore also said, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” Unfortunately, women are statistically more prone to being physically abused after marriage in India and also tend not to report the same. This may be because a lack of awareness with regard to what abuse is and partly because centuries of internalization of social norms has taught the Indian woman to bear in silence, the norm is of course made complete with the justification that only she is strong enough to endure and therefore she can (insert GIF of me rolling my eyes very hard). In 2004, however, the National Family Health Survey found 60 Lakh Indian men to have been physically abused by their spouses as well, and that is a statistic that cannot be taken lightly either. Therefore, this blog is for, both, women and men.

There is so much that the more aware members of the community have done to prevent or deal with domestic abuse. From education to that very effective Bell Bajao campaign (remember those TV advertisements a few years ago where neighbours would ring the doorbell of the house where all the noise from arguments was coming from and flee?). There is also the latest television ad campaign depicting a bruised woman who is justifying her husband brutally beating her up with how grandly he celebrates their kid’s birthday and how he tells her he loves her.

Here’s what you can do to deal with physical abuse by your partner:

1.Call a helpline

It’s important if you’re a woman in India that you know these four numbers, in the same order of course, on the tips of your fingers. 1091 is the toll-free police helpline that is run 24×7 exclusively for women in distress all over India. If you are not one to have faith in the provisions the Government has made for us, specifically for our safety, feel free to read up on the success stories of those who have made distress calls to the number. Feel free also to read up on the criticism for the same before you form what I pray shall always remain a second-hand opinion. There are several other specific helplines available, but if you can just remember these 4 digits, and yes, in the same order,

Let’s not forget the many unreported cases of men being abused by their spouses as well. It is slightly simpler for you, at least in terms of the digits you would need to remember. 100. That’s it. Call the Police Control room and pray that you are taken seriously, the chance of which is definitely lower than your call being answered, which of course is a 100% probability.

2.Reach out

If you have access to a phone, then I suggest you give that trusty friend a call. It always helps to form a support system wherever you live. In times of distress, no one comes in handy as a caring neighbor. It helps to have cordial and open relations with whoever lives next door, ensure however that their creep quotient is to a minimal 20 or 30 at the most.

Give your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents or friends a call. Reach out to them. Have faith that people will understand before they judge, or help anyway and that is what is the goal here. The fear of criticism from “society” is not reason enough to remain silent. No matter what anyone says, it was not okay the first time your partner intentionally hurt you, and it was not okay every time after that. You need help and asking for it will only mean that you were strong enough to call your partner’s nonsense out. Do not hesitate to call an in-law either. Build that trust with them when you have made a decision to be part of their clan so they may see you as much as their family as they do your partner. Moreover, there is a plus to having an in-law by your side when your partner is physically abusive. Unfortunately so, people will believe you easier if your partner’s family of origin believes you first.

3.Talk to your partner

If you believe it is unlike your partner to intentionally cause you harm, talk to them. Tell them how you feel about any such unlikely incidents and the consequences on your physical and mental health of the same. Ask them how they are doing and what is going on with them in the spheres of their life that you are not directly involved in.

Try to gauge what would have led them to act upon their aggression in the manner that they did. See if there is anything you can do to support them in their testing times. Talk to them about what led them to behave the way they did, or if there is something you can do to avoid them from feeling how they do. Check with them if there is something you could do from your end to prevent history from repeating itself. Even so, remember, making yourself invisible will not exactly be the answer. It may help temporarily, but if you think about it, how long must one remain in hiding from their partner for it to still be considered healthy?

4.Equip yourself

If the abuse is recurrent, equip yourselves with ways to protect yourself. Learning a little self-defense never hurt anyone. So those of you out there not in an abusive relationship, please join that jiu jitsu class you’ve been meaning to register for.

Watch out for patterns in your partner’s behaviour. Are they always physically abusive when they get home drunk? Does their aggression coincide with long and tiring days at work? Does your children’s poor performance in their exams piss your partner off? If there are times when you can predict the abuse, and you are lucky enough to, act on that prediction and prepare for the same. Maybe try stepping out of the house for a while or inviting someone over to help diffuse the situation at least momentarily.

Most importantly, however, equip yourself with some first aid. If you find yourself trapped temporarily, cater to your own medical need first. Wash up those wounds. Any medical concern in such cases must be your priority. If you are suffering from a medical condition, or if you are pregnant, take extra caution in terms of equipping yourself.

5.Break free

If you have had it with the abuse, and if even the first time someone hits you is the limit for you, leave. No good is going to come out of feeling helpless in a situation when you can take yourself out of it. Sure, there will be stares thrown your way and it will not be easy. But, if it needs to be done, do it.

If you cannot find it in your heart to forgive your partner right away, chances are that you never will. Even if you find the strength to forgive them, abuse is not easily forgotten. It would help to go for therapy as a couple because it would only show that both partners want to make the relationship work. You would not want to be in a relationship with your currently, or previously, abusive partner knowing that they don’t care about the abuse.

So, if the abuse was a one off, wait and observe how remorseful your partner is and if they aren’t, break free. Make that call, get in that cab and don’t look back. If you feel like your relationship does stand a chance, therapy can be your saving grace.

relationship-boundriesLet’s all remember, abuse is not easy to talk about no matter what kind. If someone who you love has hurt you, it becomes that much more difficult to open up about. Therapists are trained professionals who will provide you with that safe and confidential environment where you can allow your relationship to get back on track, and also a space where you can open up about your abuse history without the fear of being judged. If you find yourself not ready for therapy, identify your support system. Grab onto your agony aunt and agonise away! Physical abuse is as emotionally traumatic as is physically. Once you’ve catered to your medical needs, don’t forget to take care of the emotional ones!

If you are struggling to deal with any form of abuse in your relationship, think no more and reach out! You can also speak with our expert relationship counsellors anonymously at who can help you deal with this difficult time.

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