I sat still, watching, waiting, hoping for a sudden change of heart, like a meek creature watching its potential captor as it comes in close for the attack. As the rage he was experiencing boiled in his body, erupting in seething tones, pushed furniture and a broken picture frame, the anger burning within him was palpable and concerning. As I tried to talk him down, things only got worse, much like they had so many timesbefore.
He came in close, putting his forehead to mine, teeth clenched delivering words of vitriol through the spaces between them, “Don’t you know I could rip your head off f-ing bloody right now, and it would feel good?” Fear riddled through my body at the exact same moment that I felt the softness of his skin against mine and the love I held for him inside. Fear that he would act on these words, love that maybe he would stop — and get the help that was so obviously needed.
While intense, my story is not unique, not necessarily. Domestic violence affects at least 1 of 4 women, and in someplaces up to 3 out of 4 women world- wide. For those who are mothers, an estimated ten million children are affect-ed as well. Wewonder why violence is so prevalent in our world. We may benefit from looking at what’s happening in our homes, behind closed doors.
Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate. For the purposes of this article, as this is a magazine written for mothers, I’ll keep the reading fluid with female descriptors. However, domestic violence affects those of various social and economic statuses, ethnicities, abilities, genders, etc. It’s not always physical either, but it does lead to the victim fearing for her safety — and likely that of her children.
This fear is warranted, for women in domestic violence relationships are 70 times more likely to be killed whenthey attempt to leave their abusive partners than at any other time in their relationship. When we wonder why a woman stays, aside from the often pertinent emotional and financial factors, it would behoove us to deeply consider these statistics and offer support instead of criticism. Women who’ve been in a domestic violence relationship don’tneed the statistics. We know the fear is real — and that we must consider our options carefully. If you know a woman in this situation, offer a listening ear and the support to help her think through all that she’s experiencing and the options she has to choose from. Instead of further reinforcing the shame and turmoil she feels on a daily basis, such support will help her take the necessary steps to ensure safety for her family.
Along with the societal notion that leaving is the most obvious option, many are faced with the reality that their main source of support and connection is the abusive partner. Not only financial, but during the honeymoon stage of the domestic violence cycle the partner may seem like a complete- ly different person than when he is abusive. He may be apologetic, loving, attentive, supportive and interactive — even willing to get help (or says he will). These times may be longer or shorter than the times of abuse, depending on various factors, but they often lead to deep connection and hope — and are looked back upon with shock and confusion when violence erupts again.
Mothers may stay, not only for the false sense of security (albeit uncertainty about what will happen upon leaving), but also because of the children. Creating a family with someone isn’t a life experience most of us take lightly. Walking away from such a commitment isn’t easy, and when violence is involved it may feel like a case of which is the safest and most practical option.When we’re in the midst of a traumatic situation, it can be challenging to make decisions about whether to stay or go.
Stay and risk the continuing violence,or leave and risk increased violence, retaliation, custody issues, harm to the children when they’re visiting, or a host of other concerns. Ultimately it may come to: stay and hope the kids benefit from the in between good times or leave because the bad times are sharply outweighing the good. Either way is likely to feel like some sort of loss, because in essence, it is. Even if the loss of the violence means the gaining of safety, the loss also includes the mourning of the relationship and what it could have been had the partner made the choice to change.
When the fear becomes too much, when it becomes apparent that the relationship is only enabling the cycle of violence and trauma to continue, a seed of hope can be born amidst the chaos. This hope is either that the abuser will change, or that somehow safety can be established in another way. Women who’ve chosen to break the cycle by separating from a partner know what this feels like, and those who haven’t, likely still have an inkling. This is the voice inside that says: something must change.
For me, it was the fear that brought me to startle whenever someone walked in the room for days after an explosion. It was the confusion created when I felt both debilitating fear and love in the same instant that the love of my life told me he could rip my head off and it would feel good.
It was the fear that kept me and my oldest children up until sunrise one evening after he blew up yet again, breaking doors, screaming and terrorizing, all in his wake. I decided I couldn’t live like this anymore. I packed up the five children and made a call I had made before and was ready to make again, only this time I decided for certain that the cycle ends with me.
As I called the domestic violence shelter, my whole body trembled. I didn’t want to go or stay, ultimately I didn’t want to be in this situation at all, but I knew I needed to go. They didn’t exactly have room, but they said they’d make some and we planned to go later that afternoon.
Researching my options and developing the inner strength to stand for safety took time. Years actually. I’d had the number of a domestic violence shelter on my person since the first rage I witnessed coming from my husband. Many times I’d thought about fleeing to safety, only to pack up the kids, tell them I didn’t know where we were going and just drive for a few hours, hoping he’d cool down. He usually would, even though sometimes it took days. Days where we’d all tiptoe through the house, hoping not to upset him.
Over the years the fear mounted such that I really didn’t want to consider leaving. I didn’t know what he’d do — or what we’d do without him. The in between times felt really good. And I held onto hope.
The day we left though, hope turned into determination to stop the cycle of abuse in our family. Hope got bigger when we left, opening the space for accountability and honesty. I needed to be fully honest with myself about how the rage and abuse was impacting our whole family, even my husband. Stay- ing enabled it to continue, while seeking shelter communicated a hard truth: the kids and I didn’t feel safe around him. We needed change.
The courage to make such a choice may not be easy to hold, and women facing domestic violence are likely to need help. Turning to family and friends may or may not yield support, and counseling isn’t generally recommended for couples experiencing domestic violence, but connecting with a local domestic violence shelter offers many options.
Even if a person is not ready to separate from an abusive relationship, do-mestic violence shelters have advocates available to safety plan, discuss legal options and share resources available such as counseling for domestic violence victims (and abusive partners who truly desire change), court advocates, local resource agencies, housing information, etc.
Safety planning is essential, and eye opening, especially for moms. When faced with the potential reality of a child needing to seek emergency care for injury (or death) sustained during an episode of violence, we see how impacting this is for the children. How they could be the ones either injured or making a 911 call for us, how they could be the ones who stay awake in fear at night, not knowing when the next explosion will occur, how much they are already hurting inside from constantly walking on eggshells so as not to upset the ticking time bomb living in their own home? Safety planning allows domestic violence victims to be honest about the conditions they’re living in, to plan for the worst and hopefully to prevent the worst from happening.
Along the way it’s common to have doubts and to wish things were differ- ent. The kids may feel this too, and their behavior can become its own display of the plethora of emotions that arise in such circumstances. Support is needed as trauma has a tendency to either be repeated, replayed or repressed. Thankfully, though, it can also be acknowledged, explored, processed and healed such that people can grow through the challenges.
Finding and maintaining support is one key to truly changing the patterns of domestic violence in a family. Often when a woman chooses to go back with an abusive partner, or move on with a new one, she reduces her support network for fear of judgment — and avoidance of the truth. Participation in counseling with the children can help the whole family both heal and embrace accountability for maintaining safety. Continuing with counseling and friendships that are supportive of healthy relationships can help keep things in perspective, provide feedback and support to think through choices, and offer safety consciousness as choices are made.
Change isn’t easy, and the trauma that results from living in fear of abuse takes a toll. Some women may feel like they will never attract the love of a man who is respectful and non-violent, others may jump into relationships too soon only to find similar circumstances — or worse. Some may become afraid or aggressive, withdrawn or more bold, while others land somewhere in be- tween. Downplaying or ignoring the effects of the domestic violence on both mom and children only allows the trauma to continue.
Alternatively, through embracing the healing process within the family, and with appropriate resources, true transformation can happen. Stopping the violence is the first step. Continuing to address the lingering effects, beliefs and behaviors ensures that the cycle is halted for good.
As I considered my options for our family, I knew it was time for me to secure on going mental and emotional support through domestic violence counseling and personal life coaching. My history of relationship violence goes back to my teen years, with roots in sexual abuse during childhood. My only hope in breaking the cycle is in finally and fully facing the relationship demons that I’ve been living with for most of my life.
When violence is wrapped in love, confusing associations are created. We can’t escape them by buying into their falsehoods, nor by avoiding or fantasizing them. While domestic violence is never the fault of the victim, we can learn how to take back our power and create our lives anew. We can learn to be courageously honest with ourselves, for both our sake and that of our children. We can choose to meet the tendencies within ourselves that allow such cycles to continue in our lives and take steps to stop them to create safety — once and for all.
Hope and help are available. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the NationalDomestic Violence Hotline at 1-800- 799-7233, visit https://www.domes-ticshelters.orgor search “domestic violence shelter near me” from a safe internet connection to get the help you need to ensure safety for yourself and family.