If you read literature about domestic or relationship abuse, it is inevitably assumed that the victim of abuse is a woman. Violence against women is prevalent around the entire world, but one of the gravest injustices coming out of the attempts to “fix” the problem is the eradication and silencing of men’s experiences of abuse at the hands of women. Since abuse is about controlling your partner’s life, one of the most horrible exploitation of the domestic abuse system is at the hands of female abusers who use the female-focused system to intimidate and punish their male partners – who are trying to get out of their often life-threatening relationships.
This problem for battered husbands is beginning to see the light of day. There is new literature emerging all the time and several web sites are giving men a platform to bring the violence and injustice they have suffered to light, at least give it a voice, albeit one that is constantly threatened with being drowned out by the oceans of political voices and momentum that the movement to stop violence against women has accumulated.
Many victims of battery can live under the blanket of denial for obscene amounts of time before they even understand that they are being abused by the person they love. It is painful to think that the person that you love so much could want to hurt you. It is also painful to realize that you keep letting them.
Abuse in a relationship is often escalating. Rarely does a relationship start off as abusive. There are certain signs that you may notice that lead up to incidents of violence, but remember that not all abuse is necessarily physically violent. It includes behaviors that erode your self-esteem, your confidence, your independence, and your self-worth. Abusive behavior has at its core a need to control another person and drive them to a place in which they cannot fight back due to intimidation, depression or fear.
At the beginning of a relationship, you may notice several qualities that seem to escalate the longer you spend in the relationship:
- The relationship moves very quickly, with her pressuring you to commit by moving in or getting married very quickly. This is due to her insecurities and the need to have you “locked in” to the relationship so it is more difficult to extracate yourself.
- Your girlfriend is jealous without cause, possessive, and attempts to control your behavior by isolating you from friends, family and independent activities.
- She is in control of the finances so that you have no independent means.
- She ridicules or intimidates you.
- She degrades you during sex or withholds it to punish you.
- Your moods start to become dependent on her often violent mood swings until you are walking on eggshells around her, reacting to her moods instead of having independent feelings of your own.
- She threatens to hurt or kill you or someone you love, this includes pets.
- She destroys possessions that are important to you.
- She blames her behavior on abuse in her past, drugs or alcohol, or on you. (“If you would just listen to me, this wouldn’t happen.”)
- She throws things at you, hits, punches, kicks, shoves you, or intimidates you physically in any other way.
- She threatens to call the cops and lie about your behavior.
- She threatens to hurt you or herself if you try to leave.
Abuse is often cyclical and has been characterized as having three stages. The tension-building phase in which there are no violent incidents, but little things start building and her abusive behavior escalates; the explosion phase in which violence (be it physical, emotional, sexual or psychological) occurs; and finally the honeymoon phase in which she is remorseful, ashamed, and often begging for forgiveness. This cycle can run over several months or run its course in the space of a week.
Why don’t men come forward and get out?
Some of the reasons that men do not come forward to expose the abuse in their home are the same reasons that women do not. There is always silence and a string of lies around ongoing abuse. The reasons for the abuse vary, but can include embarrassment or shame that you have endured what you have, the sense that you are unable to leave and therefore do not want to make your abuser look bad, and of course, fear of the abuser and the ramifications of telling.
Added on to this is the unique strains of a man who is abused by his partner. He may worry about social stigma of being a man who is intimidated and even beaten by his partner – who is a woman. There is the fallacy that because you are a man that she can’t really hurt you. The presumed assumption is that you should be able to take care of yourself, at least physically if not emotionally.
There is also the lack of easily available support systems in society specifically for men who are abused. While there are women’s shelters for women, it is difficult to find the same emergency facilities for men. And when you are trying to get children out of the abusive household as well, you need somewhere to go. There is also the institutional bias against men in the justice system. Men are assumed to be the abusers, not the abused. Unfortunately, in trying to protect abused women, the justice system has become skewed against men, even the victims. Abusers know this well and will use it to punish you by having you thrown in jail or keeping your kids from you.
How to Get Out
Over and over, the stories of abused men trying to extricate themselves from abusive relationships are awash with tragic miscarriages of justice in which the courts are turned against them. Your best defense against this is documentation. If you do not feel you can call the police, or do not feel safe doing so, tell a trusted friend about the abuse. Have them witness and when possible, photograph evidence of physical abuse. Talk to a counselor or a spiritual leader. These people can all act as witnesses on your behalf.
The best way to protect yourself and to build up the strength to leave is by reaching out to someone you trust. For men who are used to thinking they can take care of themselves, it may be difficult to reach out to someone for help. If you don’t feel you can go to a friend, family or spiritual leader, call a crisis line, where a trained counselor will talk to you anonymously, reassure you that it is not your fault that this is happening, and give you the resources to get out.
If you are in an abusive relationship, have a safety plan, including somewhere you can go where you have a change of clothes, some money and some sense of safety. If you cannot find a place, go to a hotel. If you cannot afford it and just need to get out, in a crunch, hospitals and airports are open 24 hours a day. If you feel that your life is at risk, get out, at the very least temporarily, and talk to someone who can help you sort out your feelings, and if you are ready, plan to get out of the cycle before it’s too late for you or for your family. You deserve to be loved, and real love doesn’t hurt.