“I sometimes feel even now that I may not have done my best, he was so convincing,” Revathi’s (name changed) voice trembled as she spoke of her divorce. “But I still feel relieved that I made this decision. I was scared to leave him but I dreaded, even more, the thought of spending the rest of my life with him. I was scared because everyone including my neighbours kept saying what an intelligent and charming man he is. These very same neighbours didn’t know that when I was attending their daughters birthday party I happened to talk to the father of the little girl for a few minutes and exchanged a joke, after coming back home I had to listen to how “loose a woman” I am, how he cannot trust me and this angry ranting went on to close to four hours.
Whenever I would go out with my friends, I would come back home to a husband who was sulky, and who said, I “did not care about him and that I was a bad wife.” My friends however always thought what a charming and sweet spoken person my husband was. I stopped going out with my friends. I even limited my interactions with them.
One day we went out to have lunch at a restaurant and he said something about the redoing the kitchen. We already had spent quite a lot of money on purchasing a car, and redoing a part of the of the house, in fact it was with my savings money. I told him we need to wait for sometime before starting with the kitchen. He got really angry and said all this is “for us” and that he is the only one who cares for this relationship and suddenly he said “you really need to learn a lesson”, and he got up and walked away and sat down in a different seat in the restaurant away from me! I was horrified and ashamed and the people around were looking at me because they heard him speaking angrily to me. After sometime he came back and sat near me again and said I needed to be taught that lesson. He then showed me some pictures of his ex-girlfriends and said, “those are the girls I rejected for you.” I told him he shouldn’t have left me and sat so far away and that what would other people around watching us think. He clicked his tongue and said I hadn’t learnt and abruptly got up and walked out of the restaurant. I kept sitting for a few minutes in shock.
Even after that incident, I kept thinking I haven’t tried hard in the relationship and that I was not giving my best. I felt scared the relationship might break and my parents and other family members would blame me because they kept saying relationships are hard work and that we should compromise.
I knew I couldn’t take it anymore when one day, we were having lunch and he said he wanted to spend the Diwali day in a five-star restaurant. I told him about the monetary concerns since we already spent a lot and he suddenly got up and slapped me. I was too shocked to react. When I came to my senses I got up, rushed away and locked myself in a room and cried. He kept banging the door and finally he started crying and said he was sorry that he would never do it again, but even I need to understand how much he is doing for the relationship. I knew then I needed to get out of this relationship as soon as possible. So after a few days, with my sister’s help, I managed to pack my things and leave the house without arousing his suspicion. I was scared of what other people would think of me after I made the decision to separate from him because they only saw the charming side of him. But rather than living in constant fear everyday and constantly feeling I’m not good enough, I choose to live freely.
This, my dear readers was a clear case of domestic abuse right from the beginning, and these are just a few highlights of this particular story.
Domestic violence or intimate partner violence is abuse directed towards one’s spouse to gain control over him/her.
According to a survey, at least 31% of the married women in India have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence with their spouses being the perpetrators. Among the different forms of spousal-related violence, physical violence is the most common (27%) followed by emotional violence (13%).
Among the married women who were sexually abused, the survey found out that over 83% reported their present husband, and 9% reported their ex-husbands to be the perpetrators.
Domestic violence in India is prevalent not only among the lower income groups, but also among the middle and higher income groups.
Very often, the red flags in a relationship are present right from the outset, but in most of the cases the women do not notice them or disregard them. This happens due to the fact that people generally associate abuse or violence with physical violence. No doubt physical violence is perceived as the most dangerous as it could turn lethal, however, the long-term systematic destruction of a person’s individuality that accompanies other forms of abuses, is quite significant and cannot be undermined in any way. Revathi’s story narrated above was a clear case of emotional abuse. But she was unable to understand that in the beginning. Instead, she kept doubting her own self and even thought she should “compromise” even though she was demeaned and insulted almost everyday. She realized she was in danger only when she was hit, i.e. physically abused.
This article aims to provide an understanding of:
- The different forms of domestic violence/abuse
- The cycle of domestic violence/abuse
- Can counseling help in cases of domestic violence/abuse
- How to break away from domestic violence/abuse
The different forms of domestic violence/abuse
There are a variety of abusive behaviours a person can employ to manipulate and control his spouse. These different forms of abuse are:
- Physical abuse, which includes:
- Hitting, kicking, slapping, choking, punching, stabbing, shooting, drowning, hitting with any object or weapon
- Withholding any physical needs such as food, medical care if sick or injured, money for basic necessities or transportation
- Threatening to hurt children or pets, or abusing children or pets and damaging or destroying any property that belongs to the spouse
- Forcibly keeping the spouse locked against her will, as a hostage or keeping her trapped or even keeping her locked out
- Throwing objects in anger, kicking or hitting walls or doors
- Sexual abuse, which includes:
- Coercing the victim to have sex even if she does not want to and making her have unwanted sexual experiences
- Forcing her to have sex with others
- Making fun of her body
- Having affairs with people outside the marriage and using that to taunt the victim
- Withholding sex from the victim as a means of control mechanism
- Emotional abuse which includes:
- Constantly criticizing and insulting the victim
- Undermining her self-confidence
- Threatening to cause physical harm to the victim
- Telling the she is not good enough and mentally unstable
- Using actions, gestures to demean the victim
- Not allowing the victim to practice her religious beliefs
- Isolating the victim from her family, friends, and religious community
- Financial abuse that includes:
- Controlling the family income and not allowing the victim access to money
- Causing the victim to lose her job by not giving her the transportation money, causing her to be late for work, calling and harassing her at her work place
- Spending money meant for daily necessities on alcohol, drugs, etc
- Verbal abuse which includes:
- Name calling such as “bitch”, “whore”
- Threatening to hurt or kill the victim, children or pets
- Yelling, screaming, terrorizing the victim and not willing to listen
- Demeaning the victim by telling she is not good enough, or she’s ugly etc
The cycle of domestic violence/abuse
This is the typical system of abusive patriarchal behavior used by men with the aim of keeping their wives “under control”. Knowing this pattern of abuse can help you identify your situation and get the help you need to break the cycle and get out of the relationship.
The stages in the cycle of abuse are:
- Tension building: At this stage tension increases at home due to various pressures such as regular challenges of daily life including job and children, illness, financial problems, unemployment, etc. During this period the victim is aware that the tension is arising. She may try to please the abuser by being compliant while the abuser may mete out silent treatment. The common symptoms of this period include:
- Silent treatment from the abuser
- Compliant behavior of the victim
- Broken promises
- Jealousy, questioning and criticizing
- Blame games and manipulations
The victim on the other hand:
- feels angry, humiliated, depressed, embarrassed, hopeless
- Becomes compliant and accepts the abuser’s abusive behavior
- May provoke the abuser to get the abuse over wit
- Abuse/Violence: This is the stage when the abuse or violence takes place. At this stage the abuser may:
- Throw things at the partner
- Indulge in sexual abuse
- Behave in a very controlling way
The victim on the other hand feels
- Frightened, trapped, numb
- Defensive, seek help, hit back, submit to the abuse
- Reconciliation/Honeymoon: During this phase, the abuser apologizes for what happened. They shower the victims with kindness, sweet words and gifts and exhibit over-the-top reconciliatory behavior. They may appear remorseful and sad or some abusers may also blame the victim for the abuse, and use threats of suicide or self-harm to gain sympathy from the victim. He may also promise that he will never behave in that way again. The victim at this stage often gets confused and stays on in the relationship. Both believe that the abuse will not happen again and continue till another bout of tension building and violence occurs.
At this stage the abuser:
- says things like “I am so sorry, it will never happen again”, “why do you keep making me do this to you?”, “ don’t leave me”, “ we will work this out, let’s go for counseling”
- lavishes gifts on the victim
- makes suicide threats to gain sympathy
- quits drugs or alcohol
The victim at this stage feels:
- Relieved, hopeful or guilty
- Talks it out with the abuser to prevent future abuses
However, after every assault, the honeymoon phase becomes shorter and shorter and finally disappears completely while the episodes of abuse get longer. This can be highly dangerous for the victim who may lose all her self-confidence in the process and as well as the will to leave the relationship.
- Calm: This is the period when peace prevails for a short period with the abuser trying to make up in every possible way to make the victim stay with him.
This period is an extension of the honeymoon phase. Overtime, however, the abuser completely stops apologizing and the violence increases. The Honeymoon and calm phase completely disappears. It is then that the abuser may grievously harm the victim or a complete break-up in the relationship occurs.
Can counseling help in cases of domestic violence/abuse?
For a relationship to run smoothly and with understanding, mutual respect is needed. In an abusive relationship, there is already a lack of respect, so there is no guarantee that couples counseling will help. In fact, couples counseling may worsen the situation and the abusive partner may end up abusing the partner even more if the partner speaks up during counseling.
The best method would be for the abuser to undergo counselling to help him find out the causes of his abusive behavior and change himself, and for the abused partner to undergo counseling separately to find out why she tolerates the abusive behavior and receive therapy for bolstering her self-confidence, self-esteem, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and fear.
How to break away from domestic violence/abuse
If you have been abused for a long period it may be difficult for you to even envision breaking away from the cycle of abuse. But it is possible. You may be in more danger than you know if you stay on in an abusive relationship.
You can get help in the form of counseling to be able to break free or get help from close friends and understanding family members to create a plan and get out of the relationship. Once you are out you can plan the way ahead for your recovery and healing. Here are a few steps that can act as pointers for you to get out of the abusive relationship:
- Learn to recognize the pattern of abuse: Once you know the cycle of abuse you know where you stand. Do not excuse or disregard any form of abusive behavior, be it physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or financial. Do not let your partner lead you to repeatedly think that the abuse will stop. Know that this cycle will continue till your partner gets the help he needs and decides to mend his ways. Till then you can make the decision to stay separately from him.
- Be aware that the abuse is not your fault: If your partner says things like, “ why do you make me hurt you?” remember the abuse is not your fault. Abuse in any form cannot and should not be condoned. Any relationship needs mutual respect to run smoothly. Abuse in any form signifies lack of respect. And no one can tell you that you “deserve to be abused”. You are not responsible for your partner’s actions. You deserve to be respected and loved in any relationship. And you deserve to live freely and happily. Therefore, consider getting help for low self-esteem issues if you feel you deserve the abuse. As for your partner’s abusive behavior, it stems from deep emotional and psychological issues that he faces. And he needs to get help.
So, when you break away from the relationship you actually would be doing him a great favour. You will be giving him the space to take a hard look at himself and his life. You will be providing him the space to initiate his own healing.
- Keep contact information of people you trust handy: Keep a list of the contact numbers of people who you think can provide you quick help in times of emergency. You can disguise the contact numbers or note down the numbers in a safe place if you think your partner may guess who you are most likely to contact in times of emergency.
Make sure you have the numbers of your local police station, your lawyer, hospitals, and members of your support group handy.
If need be, create a code with your close family members, friends and neighbours which you can use as a safety alert to signal you are in distress and need help. If need be they can then notify the police to come to your aid.
- Record the abuse: Keep a track of the abuse you are facing. You can record when your partner yells at you, or threatens to harm you, the children or the pets. If you have been hurt during the abuse, keep photos of the wounds, keep all the medical records safely. Hand these to your lawyer in time, so that there is solid evidence and you can win the court battles when the time comes.
- Keep in mind an emergency exit: If the abuse gets intolerable, keep in mind any emergency exit from which you can make a quick escape, such as a window or a back door. You may need to practice the steps of escaping coupleof times along with your children so that the plan is effective. Keep an emergency bag packed and handy for that kind of a situation. Hide this bag in a safe place or better still keep the bag along with some money in a friend’s or relatives place whom you trust, or at your workplace.
- Keep some money aside: Financially start preparing to end the relationship with your abuser. Even if your abuser controls your finances make sure you hide some money and save so that you can quickly leave when the time comes, and you have enough in hand to make a new beginning. You will also need the money to fight out the court case when the time comes. So you can choose to quietly open a separate bank account in your name or stash away the money in the emergency bag.
- Leave the relationship ASAP: Do not wait for the violence to get worse or for the abuser to hurt you grievously. If the relationship is still in the beginning stages you are in luck and you can choose to walk away from it immediately. If more time passes the abuser will become bolder and try to hold you back and make things more complicated.
If you have been in the relationship for a long time, plan your escape when the abuser least expects it.
If you have children make them mentally prepared for it. In case there is immediate danger notify your friends or neighbours who can alert the police to come and fetch you. Else leave quietly without any notice.
- Cut him out completely: Once you get out consider changing your phone number. Incase there is a chance he may be able to track down your phone, consider leaving your phone behind.
Block him out from your social media accounts. Change all the passwords to your email accounts, online bank accounts, and social media accounts. A deserted abuser can turn malicious and cause serious harm.
If he still contacts you and tries to convince you to get back with him, do not listen. He may try to threaten you to get you back by his side or lavish you with gifts and repeatedly apologize. This behavior is even more dangerous as this is a mask he dons.
If you do get back with him, the abuse will get worse as he will now punish you for deserting him.
Consider getting even a restraining order against him so that he stops pestering you.
- File a court case: With the help of a lawyer file a court case against him to legalize the separation. You can also file assault charges against him along with the evidence you have collected.
- Take time to heal: Join a support network and connect with a counselor who can help you. You will need support and guidance to help you move past the trauma and rebuild your self-confidence and self-esteem. Do not rush yourself into a new relationship. Take time to heal and recover. This will help you understand yourself better and stop you from entering into another abusive relationship a second time round. There are platforms such as askmile.com which are exclusively dedicated to marital counselling. You can choose a counsellor of your choice here who can guide you to healing and help you make better relationship choices in the future.
To know how to heal emotionally after a divorce please see: How to Recover From A Divorce- Emotionally
To know how to completely break off from your ex emotionally please see: Simple Technique To Get Rid of Emotional Baggages After a Breakup
- Now it’s time plan ahead: As you are recovering and healing you can decide what you would like to do in the next phase of your new life. You can choose to pursue new hobbies and activities. You can choose to travel or learn a new skill. You can join different groups or programs which allow to indulge in activities you love, such as travel groups, trekking groups, dance programs etc. In these groups you can meet like-minded people.
To know how to rebuild your self-confidence and move ahead after a divorce please see: How to Recover From A Divorce – 5 Very Effective Exercises to Regain Your Self-Confidence
An abusive relationship can leave deep psychological scars.
Remember that you are a unique and priceless being and that this experience has, in fact, taught you how to value yourself, respect yourself and demand the same from others. Therefore, you have actually grown as a human being.
As you continue to grow, and outshine your old self, those around you will see you in newlight. And before you know it you would have stepped into a completely new and different life with new found confidence and hope.