Domestic violence is poison in marriage and frequently involved in divorces. A while ago I got a suggestion from Susan for the Good Stuff About Divorce page. She said “If your husband is a batterer, divorce is good. It’s better than ending up in the ER.” Susan’s right.
Some of the most painful messages I get are from men who have been terrorized by their wives. Click here for one example. It’s not funny, and it’s not some once-in-a-million anomaly. It’s real: violent women sometimes keep their husbands in a state of permanent weakness and frightened vulnerability. In addition, gay relationships involve violence far more than most gay rights advocates wish to admit. And when these terrorized victims muster the courage to ask for help, the police, lawyers, and judges they ask for help often don’t take their plight seriously.
That having been said, however, most perpetrators of dangerous domestic violence are men, and most victims of dangerous domestic violence are women. This page focuses on this common pattern, but the same principles apply to other kinds of relationships as well.
The research available on domestic violence is plentiful, contradictory, and confusing. Let’s start with some statistics:
- 50% of all marriages experience one or more episodes of domestic violence.
- In 20% of all marriages, this domestic violence is ongoing.
- In the U.S., a woman is battered every 10 seconds.
- More than a third of the women treated for violent injuries in U.S. emergency rooms have been hurt by their husband or an intimate partner.
- Male victims of violence are more likely to be injured by a stranger than by someone they know. Female victims of violence, in contrast, are much more likely to be injured by an intimate partner than by a stranger.
- Each day in the United States, about four women are killed by an intimate male partner.
- A woman is five times more likely to be assaulted in her own home than on the street.
Here’s where it gets contradictory. A great deal of violence in the home is neither constant nor random. It occurs in a defined cycle. If this is the pattern in your home, understanding the cycle can help clarify what makes you a victim, and when and how you can get help to break the cycle.
Think of three stages of the cycle:
During this stage, the abuser makes unreasonable demands, and the victim attempts to calm the abuser using whatever techniques have worked in the past. She may attempt to anticipate his desires before he even expresses them, and/or she may simply try to stay out of his way.
Both the abuser and the victim usually know what is happening, but the victim often refuses to recognize it so she can get through the day. The victim will often become increasingly angry during Escalation, but she may not recognize it or express it. This “anger turned inward” may be one reason why victims of domestic violence so often experience depression.
As the tension builds during Escalation, the abuser becomes more possessive and more demanding, and the victim more withdrawn. Minor battering episodes may become more aggressive.
What makes the Battering Episode different from the steadily increasing tension of the Escalation is the loss of any control. The abuser knows that his rage is at full throttle, and he gives it full vent.
The Battering Episode is usually shorter than the Honeymoon or the Escalation – typically from 2 to 24 hours – although it tends to increase in length as the cycle repeats itself. In rare cases, when the victim knows it’s only a matter of time until another explosion, she will intentionally provoke it – timing it to occur when the children are away.
The Battering Episode ends only when the abuser decides it’s time for it to end. It’s not clear what makes an abuser end the Battering Episode; perhaps it’s because he’s physically and/or emotionally exhausted. The victim’s only way to protect herself during the Battering Episode is to get away from the abuser, to find a place to hide.
Both the victim and the abuser welcome the arrival of the Honeymoon. It’s marked by loving apologies from the abuser, coupled with promises that he will never, never do that again.. He sends flowers and gifts; he begs for forgiveness; he becomes again the charming man with whom she fell in love.
Also, the abuser often convinces himself during the Honeymoon that he has taught the victim a lesson and that she will never again engage in the behavior that made him so angry.
The Honeymoon is a period of calm. The tension is gone. During the Honeymoon, both the abuser and the victim tend to believe that the violence will never happen again. It is the Honeymoon that keeps victims coming back – that makes them victims.
At first, the victim stays because she blames herself. She hopes the abuser will change, she believes he needs her, and she loves him. He is often charming and lovable when he’s not violent.
What she often fails to realize is the impact of the cycle of violence on her other support relationships. Over time, as she focuses more and more on coping with the violence of the abuser, she withdraws from friends and family. Later, after she concludes that the violence is unlikely to improve, she may be cut off from outside support.
- Because she has no place to go.
- Because she doubts her ability to support herself.
- Because she fears the abuser will kill her if she leaves.
- Because she believes she doesn’t deserve happiness.
The Cycle of Violence almost never ends by itself. It will usually escalate until it culminates in either separation or the death of the victim.
It’s generally not a good idea to seek out a close friend or family member in the middle of a battering episode. That’s probably where the batterer will look first. Call a shelter instead.
If you’re in the United States, one of the U.S. territories, or Canada, you can get a list of resources in your area by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, at (800) 799-SAFE or (800) 799-7233. You can also check the web site of the Family Violence Prevention Fund or the R.O.S.E. Fund (standing for “Regaining One’s Self Esteem”. When you visit the R.O.S.E. Fund site, make sure you read the stories of the Rose Achievement Award winners. They will warm your heart and strengthen your spirit. You could also call your local police or the YWCA.
Recent research has indicated that the classic male batterer syndrome described above accounts for less than a third of the violence that occurs in marriages. According to this research, it is equally common for both the husband and the wife to be violent toward each other.
Maybe so. All I can say with confidence is from my anecdotal experience. My experience indicates that serious violence, the kind that gets people hurt and gets people killed, almost always starts with a man brutalizing a woman.
Some cases of domestic violence involve levels of brutality that would shock anyone who hasn’t already worked with these situations. Others seem almost tame by comparison, but the pain and powerlessness are every bit as real. Click here to read Peggy’s Story.