If you're in an Abusive Relationship

Domestic Violence

Adam and Brianna have been together for five years. Adam has been violent for the past year. He didn’t hit her until she got pregnant, which is sometimes when perpetrators start abusing their partners.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic Violence (DV) is a systematic attempt by one partner, the perpetrator, to gain power over his or her partner. The perpetrator uses any means available, including violence, financial control, emotional abuse, and threats of harm. A perpetrator can control a partner by threatening to reveal relationship details or secrets about the victim to co-workers, friends, and family members. Emotional abuse, along with the rest, erodes the victim’s self-respect, fuels internalized hatred, and incites fear.

Why Perpetrators act Violently

Though the perpetrator looks strong, the opposite is true. Having a poor self-image, thinking that he’s the victim, and fearing abandonment, Adam is scared that Brianna will leave. So he believes he must wear Brianna down to control her. Perpetrators often look for strong individuals before they begin the systematic process of DV.

Domestic violence is not due to anger. If it was, Adam would lose his cool at work, with friends, and in public. Some studies have shown that perpetrators’ physical signs of anger actually decrease during violent episodes. DV is about control.

Why Victims Stay

Do you think you’d never find yourself in Brianna’s position? Think again. Most victims do not come from violent homes (though the majority of perpetrators do), and things never start off bad – in fact, perpetrators not only look for strong individuals, but these kind of relationships often start out wonderfully.

Why doesn’t Brianna just leave? It’s partly because of the almost imperceptible changes that have occurred over the course of their time together. Typical of perpetrators, Adam was initially the perfect partner – extremely thoughtful and caring. Adam wanted to know everything about Brianna. What looked like interest was a tactic to learn Brianna’s weak spots. He began calling, texting, and e-mailing her several times a day. His “attention” eventually led to monitoring Brianna’s whereabouts.

Before the violence began, Adam mentioned out of the blue that Brianna’s best friend came onto him. Having no reason to doubt Adam, Brianna broke off the friendship. His attempts to isolate Brianna from her friends and family were already working. Adam also convinced Brianna that she didn’t need her job – he’d take care of her. Agreeing, Adam’s attempts to control Brianna financially were equally successful. Keep in mind that all this time Brianna’s loving her life and is deeply in love with this seemingly thoughtful and benevolent person.

After two years of wedded bliss, Adam became more critical and belittling. One time, he told Brianna to shut up. Adam immediately apologized and Brianna gave him the benefit of the doubt. A few months later, they were driving and Brianna was talking a lot. Adam side-armed her. The next day, Adam sent her a dozen roses, offered apologies, and pledged never to do it again. Soon after, it was back to bliss.

This time of paradise – the Honeymoon phase – lasts until things get tense again. During the Tension Building phase, perpetrators become increasingly hostile and blame the victims, while their victims feel like they’re walking on eggshells. For example, Adam continually told Brianna that he couldn’t do anything right and if she would just get her act together, things between them would be better. The tension continued to build until Adam struck her again. This time, Adam apologized profusely and promised to get counseling (he didn’t). These three phases – honeymoon, tension-building, and the strike – are known as the Cycle of Violence.

Victims remain with their perpetrators partly because they become confused. Essentially, due to the repeated shocks and stress, their ability to think clearly diminishes. Decision-making and the ability to concentrate can become extremely impaired. Brianna believes that Adam loves her (and in his own limited way, he might), so she vacillates between blaming herself and not understanding why Adam does this to her. Wanting desperately to believe Adam, she also believes the violence will stop – every time. Like other victims of abuse, Brianna developed strategies of dissociation and reationaliization to cope with being in love with “two different people.”

Finally, Brianna stays because she’s scared and alone, with nowhere to go. At different times, Adam has threatened to kill Brianna or himself if she tries to leave. Statistically, attempting to leave is indeed the most dangerous time. The following advice is for perpetrators, their victims, and others who know them.

For perpetrators

In order for violence and other forms of control to stop, you'll need to take 100% responsibility for it. Talk openly about the abuse, and don’t justify the violence by saying that your partner provokes you or fights back. Your partner can affect your feelings, but you are responsible for your actions.

If you batter, you already know that there’s a broken part of you, and each time you’re out of control, a new piece splinters off. You have found yourself in your own vicious cycle of violence: Hoping you’ll change, going down the slippery slope of unhappiness, and taking out your pain and your rage on your partner.

You'll need support to change. Enroll in a batterer intervention program (not anger management) that lasts for at least one year. Also consider therapy from a provider who will not judge you for your actions.

For victims

First, be concerned for your safety. Develop a safety plan for when the abuse happens. Have important papers and duplicate keys available. Keep phone numbers handy and line up places you can stay. If your partner is monitoring your activities, use the Internet away from home or use a friend’s phone to make calls when looking for support for your situation.

Seek counseling from a provider who has experience and training in treating DV. An experienced therapist will not offer couples counseling while violence is occurring and will refer your partner to another therapist. To reduce shame and to better understand your situation, seek group support. There are many physical and virtual groups for victims of DV.

Also, consider Adam and Brianna’s situation. Adam, a perpetrator, got more abusive over time. One day Brianna announced she was leaving, and Adam made good on his threat to hurt the dog. He then called her best friend to tell her that for some reason, Brianna was hurting their dog and that she needed help. And maybe, he added, it’s best to stay away from Brianna for a while. Her parents have told her that she should leave but didn’t offer their home as a refuge, and her sister said that as long as they were together, Adam and Brianna couldn't see her kids.

As Brianna eventually realized, living with a batterer only gets worse. She secretly saved money each week and as eventually able to survive for a few months on her own. She started going to a support group and began to feel better about herself.

For friends and family

Resist joining other friends and family by telling the victim to leave. Ironically, you’re doing what the perpetrator is doing – taking away his or her right to choose.

Respect his or her choices, even if you vehemently disagree. And then be there if and when it's finally over. In the meantime, offer your home as a temporary safe haven. Keep in mind that victims typically go back to their perpetrators between three and five times before leaving for good, so be patient and don’t lose hope.

Try not to judge what the victim is going through. Learn more about domestic violence and as stated in the book of by same name, It Could Happen to Anyone.


General Information

Nationwide referrals: Resources

Safety Planning: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Cycle of Violence: The Cycle of Violence

To rebuild your credit if you were forced to open credit cards: Restore Credit


It Could Happen to Anyone: Why Battered Women Stay

Intimate Betrayal: Domestic Violence in Lesbian Relationships by Ellyn Kaschak

To locate shelters and for further information

Domestic Abuse Hotline or call (800) 799-SAFE

Womenshelter of Long Beach offers hotel vouchers for men (562) 437-4663

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