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A Cry for Help

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Domestic violence can be a complicated and delicate problem. On one hand, no one should ever need to tolerate domestic violence. Victims need to be protected and may need to be separated from the perpetrator. At the same time, some of these couples have a sincere interest in learning how to handle their interpersonal relationships more constructively and need every opportunity to work their issues out to maintain the relationship and familial structure.

Protecting the Victim

Victims who feel unsafe due to threats or actual acts of violence have resources available and must seek help immediately. First, any victim in imminent danger should call 9-1-1 because domestic violence, which includes shoving, grabbing, hitting, slapping, punching or throwing things, is a criminal offense. Involving authorities can usually remove the immediate threat. Sometimes a restraining order is necessary to protect the victim from future assaults. Unfortunately, restraining orders are reactionary and generally cannot be used as preventative measures before the threatened violence happens. There are shelters available for mothers and children, as well as emotional support groups and other types of legal aid. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has more information on state and federal resources on their web site:

One of the patterns that evolves in abusive relationships (including emotional, sexual, financial, and verbal abuse) is the perpetrator's effort to transfer blame to the victim, usually using shame and humiliation to do so. This often results in feelings of overwhelming guilt and inadequacy on the victim's part. This shift of blame has two roles: for the perpetrator to maintain power, and so the perpetrator does not have to face his/her own guilt in the matter. Victims often grasp onto small grains of truth in the abusers' messages and begin to believe that they are deserving of the abuse. It is absolutely imperative that victims of abuse become aware of this pattern of blame transfer so they can objectively see the relationship for what it is and begin to improve it.

Helping the Couple

In some instances, protecting the victim is the best way to deal with this situation. The victim may go to a shelter or a friend or relative's home; the perpetrator may go to anger management groups. They live separately and they get treatment separately. However, there have been studies that show that for some couples, couples treatment can be very helpful. If both partners want to improve their communication and develop their coping skills, couples therapy can be a viable treatment option. This is far less traumatic than separating the couple/family. Of course, protecting the victim is still the highest priority and couples therapy should only be considered if the victim feels safe to do so and the perpetrator is willing to learn how to give up controlling and manipulative behaviors.

Did You Know

Approximately 20% of married couples have experienced some form of domestic violence.

These couples can realize that they both were reacting from wounds received in their own lives. The victim typically was trying to get love and acceptance and was willing to put up with the cruel behavior of the spouse to continue to try to get that love. The perpetrator often was trying to maintain a sense of control or make up for deep feelings of powerlessness and did this by hurting his/her partner. These couples can learn how to take better care of the individual (self) and set healthier boundaries. The partner can learn how to recognize the deeper personal vulnerabilities, be more honest with him/herself, and treat the partner with deserved respect and kindness.

The best treatment will differ for each couple. For many, a combination of treatments is best. Perpetrators need anger management and sometimes being in a group with other perpetrators can be eye-opening and illuminating. It also may prepare him/her so that at some point he/she can be a constructive partner in couples treatment. Victims need a lot of support and being with other victims in a support group can be equally eye-opening and illuminating. It can also give them the strength to do more self-nurturing and self-affirming behaviors. This too can help the victim be ready for couples treatment. The ability to set boundaries and decrease the tolerance for cruel and hurtful behavior will have a positive effect on the abuser's continued growth and maturity. The downward spiral is now replaced with an upward spiral of healthy communication and problem solving.

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