Many years of my life, I thought domestic violence was black and white. It was easy to spot. I knew I’d never be a victim, because I would never allow myself to be hit. I wouldn’t be like all those crazy women who got hit and stayed. Simple. Hard line.
If only things were really that simple.
I think many women can relate. We think our “hard line” in the sand need only be physical violence. Yet, ALL of the other things we tolerate PRECEDING physical violence matters so much more.
By the time physical violence happens, a web has already been spun, making something you thought was simple, incredibly complicated.
I didn’t know the glaring red flags preceding physical violence… and was therefore at their mercy.
The red flags I didn’t know kept me walking into volatile and risky relationships blindly. The red flags I didn’t know confounded and puzzled me, when I stared them in the face. The red flags I didn’t know seem so simple, it’s tragic they aren’t common knowledge.
Today, I know. And, I take responsibility for acting on that knowledge.
Today, I know many relationships ending in domestic violence and sometimes death have some common characteristics:
Accelerated relationship pace and early, pressured commitment.
Conflict is often resolved with intimidation, bullying, manipulation, and threats.
Threats and intimidation are used as a means of control. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.
Property is damaged in expressions of anger. Symbolic violence is used, such as torn photos, broken photos, or marked out faces in photos.
Violence was present in prior relationships.
Substances are abused.
Abuse of a substance is used as an excuse for hostile or cruel behavior. (“It was the booze talking…”)
There are prior incidents of stalking, threats, or violence and related legal consequences.
Money is used as a way to control the behavior or freedom of a partner.
There is jealousy when someone or something threatens to take time away from the partnership. All time is expected to be accounted for.
Rejections and “no”s are not accepted.
There is an assumption of “forever”. (“Together for life”, “always”, “no matter what”, “we’ll survive anything”.)
Hostility, cruelty, and violence is minimized and dismissed.
A disproportionate amount of time is spent talking about the partner and identifying as the spouse or lover.
Attempts are made to create alliances with friends and family in order to convince partner to stay.
Surveillance has been used to follow the partner.
There is suspicion others are out to get him and cannot be trusted.
There is a lack of compromise or flexibility.
Other violence is justified or sympathized with.
There are mood swings, anger issues, or depression present.
Taking responsibility is avoided and blaming others for problems is common.
Weapons are referred to as instruments of power, control, or revenge.
Weapons are an important part of identity - owns a gun or a collection of weapons.
Patriarchal hierarchy/rights are used as a justification for attitude and behavior.
Violence was present during childhood.
There is more concern for “winning” than collaboration.
Some of these things seemed innocent enough. Some of them were not too difficult to justify. In fact, I was REALLY good at justifying. There were always reasons why he struggled with these things… his childhood was difficult. His battle with substances made him like that. He grew up in a rough area and didn’t know any better. Etc, etc, etc. And likely, there are many excuses for every person that engages in these behaviors. AND that does not change the fact this still makes them INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS.
When I look back over my relationships with this information, it is chilling. I put myself in harms way many times. Almost all of this list is familiar to me. In childhood. In friendships. In romantic relationships. I’ve been gifted more time to learn than many women have been. I’m grateful I’m not owned by this list of red flags any longer.
As much as it makes us squirm, the truth is a woman dies from intimate partner violence in the US every two hours. A woman is physically hurt every couple of seconds. We do them justice by learning, empowering ourselves, and breaking the cycle.
You cannot unknow what you know now. What will you do now? Who needs this information?