It began like many other relationships. They met through mutual friends and Monica was immediately taken with Andrew’s charm. He was intelligent, witty, and charismatic. When they went out, he attentively listened to her in a way that she had never experienced before. He wanted to understand her passions, her values, and her dreams. When she introduced him to her parents, her father ended the evening by taking Monica aside and saying, “Honey, he may actually be the one!” Though Monica had always been the type to take her time, she felt it too—that maybe Andrew was the one. When Andrew asked her to move in with him, she didn’t hesitate.
Shortly after Monica moved in with Andrew, things began to shift. It started with subtle things, like Andrew pouting when Monica went out for happy hour with her girlfriends one Friday after work—a tradition they had since graduate school and which had never bothered Andrew before. Next, it was the dress she bought from her favorite store. When she came downstairs before work, Andrew told her that she looked like she was trying too hard, and he wondered aloud who Monica was trying to impress at the office and if he needed to be worried. Over time, Andrew’s jealousy became more pronounced.
Monica stayed late at the office to meet a deadline. When she came home, Andrew was waiting for her. He accused her of lying and cheating on him. When she turned to leave, he grabbed her arm and twisted it so severely that she thought it might break. Crying, Monica told Andrew she wanted to break up. He fell to his knees. He told her he couldn’t live without her and he had never been so in love. If she left him, he said he’d kill himself. Andrew promised to never hurt her again. Monica was touched by his outpouring of emotion and felt so much tenderness to this man who clearly adored her. She decided she was overreacting and that he would never do it again. She had given up so much to be with him that she wanted to make it work.
As the months went on, the controlling behaviors worsened and she became fearful. Her friends and family members were so charmed by Andrew that she didn’t know if she was overblowing her fears or if anyone would understand why she was afraid. Every time she talked to Andrew about separating, he would threaten to commit suicide. She felt trapped.
Domestic violence (DV) is when one intimate partner tries to gain power and control over the other by creating an environment of fear and intimidation. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, financial, verbal, spiritual, and psychological. Behaviors can include anything that is used to humiliate, terrorize, manipulate, coerce, frighten, and harm the other person. DV can affect anyone regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, racial identity, religion, and level of education.
While no two experiences are exactly the same, a commonality is for the abuse to manifest as a cycle. Abusive relationships often begin with a honeymoon phase, just like any other romantic relationship. The abuse doesn’t typically begin until emotional investment has been established. Survivors often report tension slowly building and a feeling of walking on eggshells when around their partner. The tension often culminates in an abusive episode that can include any of the forms of violence mentioned above. Afterwards, the abuser may apologize and promise to never behave that way again. They may also minimize the abuse that took place or shower the survivor with gifts, beginning the honeymoon phase again. Often, the longer the relationship continues the more frequent and severe the abuse becomes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men will experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. This does not include other forms of abuse, which means even more people experience abuse in some form. DV is also vastly underreported. The impact can be felt long after the relationship has ended, and, in the worst-case scenarios, DV can result in homicide. DV is an epidemic that is plaguing communities, and we must all work together to end it.
One of the most common myths about DV is that victims can just leave. There are many reasons a person may stay, such as serious safety concerns, fear of losing children, lack of access to money or other supports, immigration status, and many more. In fact, victims are more likely to be killed by their abusers when attempting to end the relationship than at any other time. That is why it’s important for victims who may be considering leaving to create a safety plan.
We all know someone touched by DV, and it’s important to know how to best support those experiencing violence in their relationships. Here are some tips to support someone in your life.
Believe Them/Listen Without Judgment
The most important thing you can do for someone is to believe them. They have likely been told repeatedly that no one will ever believe them, so reinforcing that you believe them can be incredibly supportive. Validate their experience and the fact they chose to share it. Tell them that the abuse is never their fault. Remind them of their strengths.
Follow Their Lead and Offer Options
Survivors have often been disempowered. Part of the healing process is to regain one’s power. We may unintentionally obstruct that process by telling someone what they should do. The survivor knows their situation better than anyone; they have been navigating their partner as long as they have been experiencing the abuse. Continue offering your support of them while also presenting options.
Reach Out to a Local DV Agency
Consider calling a DV hotline for yourself so you can learn about the various resources available as well as how to best support your loved one. The DAIS Help Line is answered 24/7/365. The number is (608) 251-4445.
Faye Zemel is the Director of Prevention and Community Programs at DAIS and has over 14 years of experience working in prevention, advocacy, and social justice education.