How many of you have thought this at some point? Thought that maybe the person complaining about or talking about the abuse they’re experiencing is exaggerating, deserving of the abuse, or maybe secretly ‘likes it?’ because they don’t do anything to change it? Odds are, we’ve all known someone who admits that their partner does things that we might view as abusive. And we’re all equally as confused as to WHY this person would continue to date someone who hurts them, emotionally, physically, or otherwise. Unfortunately, we probably only know half the story. Let’s take some of these observations and put a “reality lens” on living with an abuser:
“If her boyfriend hits her and she keeps going back to him, she deserves it. She’s obviously stupid for putting up with that.”
So let’s clear this up first and foremost: There are plenty of people out there, of all different levels of intelligence, that would not tolerate being punched, kicked, slapped, shoved etc by anyone, let alone someone that’s supposed to love them and care about them. So why is this person? Typically, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes in a physically abusive relationship that the public doesn’t catch wind of. For example, he may be controlling her finances, making her unable to leave because she doesn’t have the funds or access to bank accounts. He may be using manipulation techniques, telling her if she tries to leave him that he’ll blackmail her at work, with her friends and family, or on social media. He may also be threatening people or things that are special to her, like her children, siblings, or pets. She may feel like taking the physical abuse is her way of protecting others from the same experiences she’s having.
Often times in a physically abusive relationship, the hitting, shoving, and slapping doesn’t happen right away. It’s likely that they entered into the relationship for the same reason most of us do; they fell in love and developed deep feelings for each other. When you love someone, you think that emotional and verbal abuse are just ‘arguments;’ you want to believe someone when they hit you for the first time and then apologize profusely afterwards, saying they’ll never do it again. No one who has experienced intimate partner violence would tell you they thought that this would ever happen to them. And by the time the physical abuse starts, ‘love’ has become such a confusing, twisted, double sided aspect of the relationship because the abuser has used their power to make it that way.
The next time you hear about a person in an abusive relationship and think that they deserve the abuse because they won’t leave, take a second and think about what else might be going on beyond the bruises and the black eyes. There’s so much more to it, and odds are this person is living a life of secrecy, fear, and isolation. Instead of assuming information and being negative, offer your support. If you don’t know what to say but think the person could use help, you can always refer them to our office, our live messaging service, or our 24 hour hotline.
“He complains that his boyfriend is too clingy and barely lets him breathe, but he answers the phone every time he calls, immediately responds to every text…it seems like he’s just as bad, or encourages his boyfriend to act this way.”
Raise your hand if you know this person, or someone like this. You do? I do too. They seemed to be glued to their phone, always in contact with their significant other. To some extent this is somewhat the norm these days, but I think there are different levels of attachment here that deserve to be explored, especially when thinking about power and control in a relationship. I don’t know about you, but for the person I’m thinking of, this constant contact does not come from a place of puppy love, the “honeymoon phase”, or a genuine interest in keeping their partner updated on all aspects of their day. What I’m seeing is more of an anxious, stressful response in an attempt to not set their boyfriend off if they wait too long to respond to him, or to avoid a fight later if they don’t keep him updated on their whereabouts and who they’re with (sometimes needing to provide pictures, [PICTURES!] as evidence).
Recently I had lunch with a friend of mine. When we sat down, he immediately asked if we could take a picture together, to which I automatically obliged and said “send that to me so I have it too!” He said he would, but then said, “I just have to send it to [his boyfriend, for the purposes of this article I’ve dubbed him*James*] first, so he doesn’t get all crazy thinking I’m secretly out with another guy.” I asked, “Does that really happen…?” Which led to a very long conversation about all of the ways that my friend’s boyfriend lets his ‘trust issues’ run their relationship. And the worst part is, my friend has never given James any reason to distrust him. He’s never been unfaithful, and they’ve been together just over a year. However, because of the infidelities his boyfriend has supposedly dealt with in the past, my friend is now experiencing the brunt of this behavior.
This behavior is not limited to, but including, having to constantly check in with his boyfriend when they’re not together, frequently receiving calls from his boyfriend while he’s at work on the work phone number, being required to send pictures to prove where he is when they aren’t together, going through my friends phone and computer to find information about past boyfriends, relationships, and flings, that ALL existed before James was even in the picture! Yet somehow, my friend has been made to feel guilty over and over again for things that happened before they even met. I’ve talked to my friend after fights with James. They get ugly sometimes, his boyfriend can be really nasty and insulting to him. My observation is that he indulges these coercive, controlling requests from James to keep peace in the relationship. And though I really want to tell my friend to leave him; he really cares about him and thinks that this is the result of damage that other people have done to him. I’ve been working with people in unhealthy relationships for long enough to know telling my friend to drop this guy ASAP isn’t going to get me anywhere. I’m just trying my best to be supportive while he slowly figures out that this behavior is getting worse, and that it’s not because James loves him that he’s acting this way…it’s because James is being emotionally abusive, manipulative, and controlling while using ‘love’ as the excuse.
At the end of the day, someone who loves you trusts you enough to let you have lunch with your friends without requiring a play-by-play every fifteen minutes. They won’t bait you by sending you a snapchat you’re expected to respond to, a couple of text messages, and a phone call all in a two-hour span. They value space, privacy, and independence in you AND in themselves. Healthy relationships allow partners to explore their own hobbies, interests, and have their own sets of friends. If reading this has made you realize you might be dating someone like James, or know someone who is, feel free to come in and talk about it with one of our counselors. Or, you can call our hotline or use our live messaging service. It’s confusing and difficult, but you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself.
“My sister called the police on her boyfriend this weekend because they got into ANOTHER fight, and she got a restraining order. She just told me today that she dropped the order and let him back in the house. It must not be as bad as she says if she’s letting him come home two days later, right?”
So very, very wrong. But a very common misconception. Even police officers are confused when they are respond to a domestic violence call where one person has clearly been assaulted, but doesn’t want a restraining order. But it happens all the time. Women who come to the courthouse to get a 7 or 10 day restraining order never return to extend it, and the order is terminated. Or they may get the order they want (say, 6 months or a year) and are suddenly, uncharacteristically, coming into amend the order to include communication or requests that they previously wanted to make sure were NOT on the order. Most people think it’s because she exaggerated the night of the incident, or it couldn’t have been that bad, or someone was lying in order for an abuser and a survivor to end up back together after an assault.
Maybe this person we’re hypothetically talking about is your older sister, Mom, Aunt, or even Grandmother. People on the outside of the situation don’t always know the truth, but most likely, no one was lying about what happened. She was in fear for her life. She did think a restraining order was the best way to keep her partner away. She was acting quickly and in the interests of her safety, her home, her children…in whatever way she needed to maintain protection of her life and the lives she cares about. But what isn’t always visible to those outside of the relationship is what goes on when he gets out of jail…
He might be threatening her in a way that doesn’t make her feel like the police can protect her (or sometimes, he might even be a member of law enforcement, which can make it especially difficult for victims to seek their help, knowing everyone on the force knows her boyfriend/husband). He might have told her he was going to stop paying for the car she uses that’s in his name, or the utility bills in their home that he’s responsible for. We’ve seen many times where an incident occurs in the home and the abuser is removed, but his name is on the lease/mortgage so he stops paying or contributing for the home, as a way of coercing the survivor to let him back in and have a place to live. Or sometimes he uses the children to send messages to their Mom that they’re going to lose the house/car/etc unless she lets Dad back home to help pay the bills and ‘keep them safe.’
For anyone who’s grown up in a home with domestic violence, you know that it’s not safe and that even if you’re not a direct target of the abuse, the yelling, swearing, slamming things, and living in constant fear are traumatic and do affect you and your future relationships. Sometimes the choices we have to make in these situations are hard, and are short term solutions to a problem that needs more planning, time, and preparation to solve. Leaving a situation of intimate partner violence (especially if there are children involved) is far more difficult than packing a bag and moving in with a friend. It’s anxiety provoking, dangerous, and often very uncomfortable. Next time you wonder why someone who’s in an abusive relationship drops a restraining order, lets her partner move back in, or continues to communicate with them even when they’re not supposed to, think about it from all sides. And be supportive, not judgmental when talking with this person, as she may be going through SO much more than you realize.
-IH Teen Counselor