Domestic Abuse Relationships

By Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford

Domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, dating violence, spousal abuse, and partner abuse) is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, emotional abuse, financial and psychological manipulations, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically from couple to couple. No two couples will experience and process the abuse in the same way.  However, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other. Violence usually stems from one partner’s demand to stay in control and feeling threatened by the other partners resistance to that control. 

Domestic violence continues to be a major public health concern, affecting more than 2 million women and 800,000 men and usually results in homelessness, injury or death of victims, billions of dollars in health care costs, and lost work productivity. The statistics about those who are affected by domestic violence are staggering; domestic violence affects 3%-5% of current adult relationships in the United States. Despite this issue disproportionately affecting women, the myth that violence against men does not occur is incorrect. As the number reflected previously suggests, domestic violence against men is just as concerning. Notably, the estimates provided may not be entirely accurate as many people tend to hide or minimize the abuse due to feelings associated with shame, embarrassment, fear, and guilt. 

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 20% of all marriages and partnerships encompass physical and emotional abuse – with emotional abuse being more common. The pandemic has negatively impacted many marriages, creating various stressors, including financial vulnerability, health insecurity, unemployment, and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Relationships that consist of domestic violence are more likely to experience an escalation in violence in response to the additional stressors caused by the pandemic.

For couples in dysfunctional relationships, being in close quarters with an abusive partner for an extended period of time is an added stressor that can negatively impact mental health. Spending too much time with their significant partner at home, couples starved of social time in isolation are checking in for counseling amidst the pandemic.

Unfortunately, domestic violence has been and, in some ways, continues to be endorsed in all societies through legal sanctioning of the subjugation of women and lack of legal protections and insufficient representations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) victims. Violence between couples is not isolated to any specific couple type. Domestic abuse strikes couples of all races, religions, culture, social economic status, and sexual orientations. There are many risk factors for men or women becoming victims or abusers including: poverty, lack of education, witnessing family violence as a child, having a low sense of self-worth, and attitudes of male domination and substance abuse – especially alcohol abuse.

Relationships that consist of domestic violence are more likely to see a surge in violence. Although couples may experience this surge, options for victims are decreasing as housing, employment, and social services agencies have been impacted by the pandemic.

Prevention of domestic violence involves providing economic opportunity, mentors, role models, organized community programs for individuals and families, support groups, education that promotes prevention of abusiveness in any relationship, and adult family members who can provide consistent, structural support. Counseling services are also important as survivors can benefit from self-esteem building, treatment for anxiety, depression, and general stress. Victims should be empowered to make both healthy and difficult decisions. 

Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW is CEO and Founder of Family Matters Counseling Group, PLLC.

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