signs of domestic violence in marriage

When people think of domestic violence within a marriage or interpersonal relationship, they tend to have a fairly specific image in mind. That image is often of a younger man, poorly educated and perhaps low-income, physically assaulting a woman. That is certainly one image of domestic abuse, but by assuming that abuse looks only a certain way, we risk missing the signs of domestic violence that don't fit our preconceptions—and risk missing the opportunity to help someone who needs it.

Consider the following facts:

The perpetrators of domestic violence are not always men. Men are also victims, and women can be perpetrators of violence. This can happen in either same-sex or opposite-sex relationships. Moreover, and while domestic abuse can occur in lower income households, financial pressure is very powerful and can contribute to a potentially volatile situation. Unfortunately, domestic violence happens in the wealthiest homes, too, and at every income level. Even a high level of education cannot insulate a family from violence within its walls. The fact of the matter is that domestic violence occurs in families of every age, race, religion, and culture.

Why Domestic Abuse Can Be Hard to Identify

It is usually difficult to know who a victim of domestic abuse is simply by looking at them or examining their personal circumstances. Sometimes, abuse victims themselves don’t even recognize what they are experiencing as domestic violence. And if we are honest with ourselves, most of us don’t want to believe that we, or someone we love, could be victims of such violence.

Because of that, and because we hesitate to involve ourselves in others’ relationships, abuse victims often feel invisible and unsupported. At the same time, because their abuser is someone they love, they may want to protect that person and may deny abuse even if someone directly asks if they are okay.

That’s why it is critical to understand the signs of domestic violence in a marriage and other family relationships. You may be able to serve as an important resource for someone experiencing an abusive situation—or you may be the one to recognize the signs of danger so that you can get the help needed.

What Counts as “Domestic Violence?”

Domestic violence includes a physical assault by a family member, but the definition of domestic abuse is much broader than that. In Maryland, domestic violence includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Strangling;
  • Injuring someone, or attempting to injure them, with a firearm;
  • Physically injuring someone, such as by punching, pushing, kicking, or hitting;
  • Causing serious bodily harm or putting someone in fear of serious bodily harm;
  • Rape or attempted rape;
  • Sexual offense other than rape, or attempted sexual offense;
  • Stalking;
  • Holding or restraining someone against their will;
  • Revenge porn.

While domestic violence may be committed by a spouse, it may also be committed by a romantic partner or former romantic partner, someone with whom the victim lives, or a relative such as a parent, child, or in-law.

Spotting the Warning Signs of Domestic Violence

Many people don’t understand why victims of domestic abuse don’t “just leave” the abusive relationship. In part, it is because domestic violence does not typically begin with a violent physical assault. Frequently, physical violence does not start until after the abuser has established control over the victim and isolated them from their outside support systems. That may include controlling the victim’s access to money and gradually cutting them off from regular contact with friends and family. You may be a victim of domestic abuse if someone:

  • Makes you financially dependent upon them, so that they control your access to money for basic things like food, transportation, and clothing;
  • Keeps you from working so that you won’t have money of your own;
  • Keeps you from having access to a credit or debit card;
  • Needs to know where you are, and with whom, at all times;
  • Puts you down frequently, so that you will believe no one else would want you;
  • Makes you ask for permission to see even friends and family;
  • Doesn’t like any of your friends;
  • Embarrasses you publicly so that you would rather avoid going out, or that friends stop asking you to go out.

Once your partner has isolated you from outside support systems and limited your financial resources, he or she might then escalate to physical or sexual threats or violence. These might include:

  • Abandoning you in an unfamiliar or dangerous locations;
  • Locking you in or out of your home;
  • Denying you access to medical care or food;
  • Coercing you to act or dress in a provocative manner with which you are uncomfortable;
  • Forcing you to have sex when you don’t wish to do so;
  • Refusing to use birth control;
  • Physically dominating you;
  • Physically harming you with their hands or a weapon.

By the time someone is suffering life-threatening violence, they may be completely dependent upon their abuser and see no way to get out of the situation. In addition, abusers are rarely abusive all the time. Abusers are often especially loving and contrite after an abusive episode; victims may try to maintain this period of “reconciliation,” but the cycle of abuse almost always begins again.

Despite what victims of domestic violence are often told by their abusers, the abuse is not their fault. No one deserves to be mistreated or to feel unsafe in their own home. Unfortunately, this type of situation almost never stops on its own unless something happens to interrupt the cycle of domestic violence. One of the most dangerous times for a victim of violence is when they try to leave the relationship, because an abuser may escalate the behavior to try to maintain control and dominance. Accordingly, it is essential for the victim to find a way to escape the abuse.

Remember, domestic violence is everywhere. If you suspect someone that you care about is being abused, the most important thing you can do is let them know you are available if they want to talk or need help, no matter what. As noted above, some victims may deny abuse or may even react angrily to the suggestion they are being abused, but knowing they have support outside their relationship is essential to breaking free from the abuse.

If you are being abused and need help, an experienced family law attorney can help you understand your options and take steps to keep you safe as you are leaving your relationship. Please contact Strickler, Platnick & Hatfield to learn more.

Categories: Divorce