As I write this article I have Jess, our Siamese cat, sitting on my lap demanding my complete attention. She has no idea that it is Easter time, and that I may be busy. In fact her only concern is that at some point her food tin will be filled, adequate water will be supplied, there is a warm place to sleep, and someone will pat and stroke her long sleek body, and her ego, from time to time. For the most part Jess appears to be content with her lot.
The same might be said for many of us. The basics that we expect in this life will consist of food, water, shelter and affection. There are of course many variables. There are many different styles of shelter, varying qualities of food, significant difference in what we might expect to be adequate sleeping arrangements, and different forms of affection. However, in the end we are content if we feel safe and secure, have food to eat and water to drink, and someone to share our life with.
Sadly this expectation can be fulfilled for some and not for others. The one thing that will shatter our peace and sense of security is domestic violence. Many of us will find it difficult to believe that some of the people we know live daily with fear and uncertainty. It is even more difficult to comprehend how the man we respect and know so well is a brutal beast, with no respect or affection for his wife and children. Or the gentle and witty woman we know could be so emotionally cruel and abusive to her children and husband.
In fact no intimate relationship is immune to domestic violence. Same-gender couples and intimate unmarried couples may also experience violence within their relationship.
Some people, usually the perpetrators, attempt to justify their violent and abusive actions. In some sick way they see it as a marital right to take control by abusive means. They are wrong. There can be no doubt that the marriage contract has no sub-clause granting permission to either husband or wife to be cruel, violent, abusive or emotionally manipulative.
It is a matter of record that men are more likely to resort to violence than women. There can be no justification for this behaviour. There is one teaching popular in some parts of the Christian Church which teaches that the man is the head of the household, and that the wife must submit to the husband. This is in my mind erroneous teaching for it opens the path for the husband to dominate the wife with unreasonable demands. It certainly places the wife under the direct control of the husband.
I was horrified when I learned of a young wife who had the word “submit” engraved on her wedding ring. In that one action she had discarded her independence and self esteem. She had put aside her right to make decisions that affect the family. Even the much-maligned St Paul argues that the man is to love his wife as he loves his own flesh. This indicates to me that even he would condemn any unbalanced or violent relationship.
Perpetrators of domestic violence always blame the victim. The wife is blamed for some insignificant act. If she does not immediately submit she is beaten and then she is blamed for her own injuries. The rationale is in this form, “If you had not done/said such and such I would not have had to hit you. You bring it on yourself!” Invariably the victim is blamed for the violent action. The fact is that the perpetrator of the violence is responsible for the decision and the violent outcome. It is planned, orchestrated and fulfilled for one reason only and that is to gain total control over their partner.
Domestic violence is all about dominance, and it is dominance by intimidation and fear. The perpetrator will accept nothing less than total subservience. He will abuse, belittle, put down, push, slap and belt until he gets the result he wants. Sadly, even when total subservience is achieved the violence does not stop.
It is sometimes suggested that the man loses control. This is nonsense. He does not beat up his workmates. He does not attack his employer. He can stop if interrupted. And most telling of all, he will hit predominantly in an area where the bruises will not show. An abuser is totally in control, and he knows exactly what he is doing.
There is a cycle of behaviour that has been identified. First, there will be an occasion of abuse in some form. It does not need to be physical. Then the perpetrator will offer an apology, sometimes even extravagant gifts will be given. The apology and gifts are not real, they are offered in the hope that the victim will not tell anyone. It is to buy silence! Often gifts will be offered to the victim in an attempt to “Buy them back” and to convince them to give the abuser another chance. The promise to never do it again is yet another lie. It often creates a period of nervous peace, but violence is never far away.
Following this period of reasonable quiet and peace the abuser will begin to fantasize about another violent outburst. He will orchestrate a situation where he can feel justified in abusing again. With the slightest provocation he will once again abuse his wife and the cycle begins again. The end result is that the victim has no idea when the cycle will move from stage to stage. Intimidation, fear, uncertainty and submission will invariably be the end result. Full control is achieved.
Abusers have no sense of guilt. They feel justified in their actions, and the victims are the ones supposedly at fault. Their spouse will progressively lose self-identity, become timid, unable to make simple decisions, and will fully support their husbands, even in the most peculiar circumstances. To do anything else would be an invitation to violence. A happy evening out could well conclude with a beating in the car on the way home. The trigger could be a word, a look, a smile, anything at all.
Those of us blessed with a relationship that has no domination or violent outcome are truly blessed. We do however have a greater responsibility to our neighbour. Just because it does not happen to us is no guarantee that it is not happening to our children, members of our families or to our friends. They may well need our help to escape from life threatening violence.
There is no justification for domestic violence. All people are entitled to feel safe and secure in their intimate relationships. No one is deserving of emotional or physically aggressive treatment.
If we are capable of properly caring for a pet, in my case a cat, then we are more than capable of caring for and protecting our intimate partner. Marriage is not about control, intimidation and dominance. It is about love, compassion, respect, encouragement, independence and above all, a desire to serve each other in an equal, respectful and loving relationship.
If you are in a violent relationship and you are uncertain of what you can do, seek help. Do not be afraid to seek protection with the police. Violence is against the law and is unacceptable in marriage or any intimate relationship. If you are confused then Google “Domestic Violence” and read some of the Government information that is published, and services that are offered. Helpguide.org will outline the things to look for and the behaviour to be aware of.
Do not be afraid to speak out. The violence is not your fault. Violence in a relationship is the last resort of the weak, pathetic, and insecure.
Fr Adrian Stephens