Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Noticing and acknowledging the signs of an abusive relationship are the first steps to ending it. If you recognize that you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, reach out. There is help available. (For local resources, check out what’s available in your state.)
That being said, there is a secondary, sad truth: Until the person being abused is ready to acknowledge that there is abuse, nothing will change. Many times, our office has seen one spouse make excuses for the other or deny that abuse is happening – regardless of a current domestic abuse court case or police report. Until that person sees there is a problem, there is little you can help your friend with, except continue to try and help them recognize the problem and leave the relationship.
Understanding domestic violence and abuse
Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence.
Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only: to gain and maintain total control over a person. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” Abusers use fear, guilt, shame and intimidation to wear the victim down and keep him/her under his or her thumb.
Domestic violence and abuse don’t discriminate. It happens among heterosexual couples and in
same-sex partnerships. It occurs within all age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels. And while women are more commonly victimized, men are also abused – especially verbally and emotionally, although sometimes physically as well.
To help your friend, or find out more, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Recognizing abuse is the first step to getting help
Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. And while physical injury may be the most obvious danger, the emotional and psychological consequences of domestic abuse are also severe. Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy a person’s self-worth, lead to anxiety and depression and make that person feel helpless and alone.
Read more about how to recognize the signs of abuse.
What if there are children?
Many people will come to our office wanting help but worry about how divorce will affect the children. We often suggest that a person write out the positive and negative impact a divorce would have on young children who may have a difficult time understanding what is happening. This is going to be harsh advice but remember, the longer your friend stays in an abusive relationship, their children will grow up thinking that this type of relationship is okay. That child may even go so far as to become an abuser or a victim themselves because he or she has been taught that type of behavior is acceptable.
What should I do about assets and debts in the family?
Many people come into our office saying they want to leave their spouse but they aren’t financially able to. Remember that it’s never okay for a person to stay in a relationship that is abusive because they don’t have the money to go out on their own. This once again is a form of control by the other spouse. There are many groups that can help women (and men) if they are faced with this situation, many at the local courthouse. These groups are free to a person faced with an abusive relationship so have your friend go talk to someone there. Also if your friend files for divorce, they can usually go to court and get temporary orders from the other spouse that gives them support and a temporary parenting plan. Remind them that they need to have copies of any police reports and pictures of any abuse when going to court as this will help.
Domestic abuse is never acceptable. If abuse has been going on for a while, it will usually not stop on its own. While it may be difficult, your friend has to take that first step. Be supportive of your friend and listen. There are services out there that can help and that is the first step to take.