October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time when the spotlight is on the ever-present issue of intimate partner and family violence—though awareness of, and efforts to end, IPV are unceasing.
Do you remember the first time you became aware of domestic violence? Was it a guest speaker at school, perhaps? Hearing the term on television? Witnessing it at home?
I remember being a teenager at a friend’s house when she pulled me into a room and told me that her boyfriend had just punched her in the stomach. Then she spent the rest of the evening with him. I was startled and confused. Should I say something? Should I call my mom? Should I leave? I was 15, scared, and unsure. Those feelings must have been a fraction of what she was experiencing.
Fast forward 20 years and I found myself in a similar situation. A friend told me that her husband was being abusive. She described the internal struggle she was grappling with. She didn’t want to be in a violent relationship. She did not want her children to be without a father. She did not want to be alone. And she loved her husband. She didn’t want to leave him.
It is the violence, not the person, that people want to leave. When people consider ending relationships, they don’t just consider leaving the violence and abuse; they also consider leaving what they enjoy about the person and the relationship. While ending the relationship may mean leaving the abuse, it also means leaving the person you love. And it’s hard to leave someone you love.
As outsiders it can be easy to forget that people who are violent in intimate partnerships are generally not always violent. There can be times when they are kind, fun, and loving. There can be times when the partners truly enjoy themselves and each other. People who abuse, just like people who are abused, are whole, complex human beings.
What Can You Do When the Person You Love Is Hurting You?
Statistics show that there is a greater risk of violence and even death when leaving a violent relationship. The decision and plan to leave a relationship, home, or family situation is very difficult. For some people, it can feel easier to stay, especially when you love the person.
The character Samantha Jones in Sex and the City ends a relationship by saying, “I love you … but I love me more.” It’s such an inspiring and powerful sentiment—and one that many people don’t feel. If your love for another person is greater than your love for yourself, the idea of ending a relationship for your own sake is nonsensical.
But there are other choices. Making a change in a relationship is often a process that occurs over time, not overnight. Sometimes both people in the relationship are willing and able to make changes to improve the relationship. Other times, only one person is willing to change. Whenever contemplating a change, it’s useful to outline the various risks and benefits of the situation.
- What will I gain by making this change?
- What do I risk losing?
- Who will be hurt if I stay?
- Who will be hurt if I leave?
- Is it possible to stay without being hurt?
- Who can I discuss this with?
The last point, finding someone to talk to, is critical. Decisions about relationships and safety and your well-being do not need to occur in isolation. It is useful to talk through your thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen. Other times, you will want input and perspective. A nonjudgmental and listening ear—the ear of a compassionate therapist, perhaps—can support you during the process.
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