By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT, Bellevue Christian Counseling
References: Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening by Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D & Brenda L. Wolfe, Ph.DNo one thinks they will one day end up in an abusive relationship. But, slowly and surely, one in four women will become the victim of their intimate partner’s anger. This becomes even more likely when their partner abuses substances. The authors’ message to anyone who fears the possibility of violence in their relationship, or has experienced violence is twofold– it is not your fault, and remove yourself from the situation as best you can.
What is Violence?
An abuse victim is a lot like the proverbial boiling frog. Both are in life-threatening situations, but their surroundings deteriorate so slowly the participants do not realize how bad it is getting. Violent partners usually do not start smacking their victim around on the first date. They start out small with angry outbursts, move on to threats of violence, maybe some shoving, finally escalating to nose-crushing punches, and sometimes murder. All the while the abuser replaces the victim’s self-esteem with terror until they are too frightened to leave.
Anything your partner does to intimidate or harm you is violence. This might be a shove past after an argument, a threat to “shut you up,” or a physical blow. “Violence tells you that person is frustrated and angry, has lost control of his feelings and actions, and is focused 100 percent on him or herself. Yes, you might have been part of the scene that triggered the violence, but you are not the cause of it.” (50)
How to deal with Violence?
It is not your fault if your partner responds to a situation with violence. Regardless of what your abuser tells you, you do not need to change or become “better” in order to merit nonviolent treatment. You deserve it outright. The end of Ephesians tells us to look after our spouse as we would our own bodies. Is your relationship with your spouse a source of refreshment and strength? Or does it make you feel anxious and diminished? If your relationship with your spouse takes more out of you than it adds, the authors have some suggestions for mellowing the atmosphere.
1. Make a History of Violence
Chart found in “Get Your Loved One Sober” (54)
Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side write “violent episodes;” on the other write “number of times.” List everything you can remember. For example, a “profanity outburst” may happen once a week.
After you are done making your list, circle everything that happened within the last six months. “These are the behaviors for which you most need to recognize the early warning signs. Whether your list is long or contains just one incident, you are at risk.” (54)
2. Read the Smoke Signals
People may not give you a step-by-step explanation of what they’re going to do when they are angry, but you can usually get an idea. They raise “red flags,” as the authors like to call them, which let you know their temperature is rising.
Lamar and his dad Gary are working in the garage. Gary has been drinking since the football game they watched a few hours ago, and is now drunk.
Lamar: Dad, I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Gary: Don’t you tell me what to do. I know what I’m doing.
Lamar: But it doesn’t go that way. If you use that part, it’s going to mess up the engine.
Gary: I said, “Don’t tell me what to do.” You do it one more time, I’m going to smack that smart mouth of yours.
Lamar: Fine, but don’t blame me when the car is messed up.
Gary: –knocks Lamar to the ground–
Let me preface what I say next by making it clear none of this is was Lamar’s fault. However, we can look back at this conversation and identify the “red flags” Gary raised that indicated we was losing his temper and could become violent.
- Defensively tells Lamar not to talk back to him
- Threatens to hit Lamar
- Hits Lamar
If your precarious home situation involves a substance abuser, you need to keep one fact at the forefront of your mind–you cannot reason with someone under the influence. They are on drugs, and it is impossible for them to think clearly. All you can do is try to protect yourself. As the authors reiterate, proving your point is not worth a broken bone. Your safety is paramount.
Unfortunately, it can be tempting to return fire with fire. Do not succumb to the temptation to get into a fight with someone who has a history of violence. Having your say or proving your point will not be worth the physical cost.
When Lamar interacts with his father, he needs to be alert for the subtle indications his father is getting angry; first, when he becomes defensive, and second, when he threatens him. As much as it might pain Lamar, he needs to back down. For instance, he could let his father realize on his own that what he is doing won’t work. Or he could excuse himself from the situation by saying he needs to finish some homework.
Leaving a confrontation when you are worked up is difficult. You need a vent for the jumble of anger and frustration. Consider calling a friend or counselor to talk about the incident. Maybe reward yourself by going out for a meal. When dealing with a disagreement that could potentially become violent the first goal is to avoid escalation, the second is to leave if necessary. (61)
How to escape the Violence?Avoiding violent escalation can leave you feeling as if you’re walking on eggshells. This kind of constant anxiety and fear is bad for your health. If you spend a significant amount of your time assessing how you can avoid incurring punishment from your partner, it might be time to consider leaving. “Get Your Love One Sober” goes outlines how to prepare a safe space for you and any loved ones (such as children) who would need to be protected from the violent person in your life.
1. Find a safe House
This is a designated place you and anyone else in need of protection can go where the abuser will be denied entry. For example– a women’s shelter, a loved one’s home, or a motel. The police department or another social services organization may be able to suggest a safe place. The authors recommend arranging multiple safe houses in case one cannot accommodate you in an emergency. (52)
2. Pack a Bag
This contains anything you would need should you leave home for a few days– clothes, medicine, toiletries, cash, important documents, and spare keys. Make sure you have bags packed for anyone else who would need to come with you such as elderly parents or children. The authors recommend keeping these emergency bags in your car or safe house. If they are in your home, your abuser might ask why you have it. Make sure you keep it somewhere that will be easy to access should you have to leave home. (52)
3. If there is no Escape
Sometimes it is too late to safely escape. This is when you must find a way to isolate yourself from your abuser, such as a room with a single, strong door or taking advantage of a public place. If you are in danger, call 911. The police can help protect you from your abuser and find you a safe place to stay. Make sure to get their help if you must return home for any belongings. It makes no sense to get away from your abuser, only to put yourself back in danger. Depending on which state you live in, you might be eligible for a temporary restraining order. (53)
(Center for Disease Control’s “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010”)
Christian Counseling for dealing with Partner Violence
You do not deserve to be intimidated or attacked by your partner. Loving relationships can be challenging at times, but they are not supposed to leave bruises. Fear and violence was not on God’s blueprint for marriage. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jer. 29:11 NIV) Let this verse give you hope, and help you move forward. God said this to Israel while they were exiled in Babylon. They would have to endure that valley before they could enjoy the blessings awaiting them.
You can climb out of the valley of intimate partner violence. They might be able to help you coax your partner into joining you during counseling. Do not bear this burden alone. You cannot stay trapped; hoping the situation will change– you must change it.
How-to-deal-with-domestic-violence Freedigitalphotos.net user scottchan
Christian-counseling-domestic-violence Flickr user Ed Yourdon