On Your Mind: “He didn’t mean it…”

on your mindI am in a very committed relationship of six years. While we aren’t married, we live as we are and present our relationship to the world as if we were.

Today, after an argument I would not deem at all “heated” my boyfriend told me he’d put me through a wall. I sat down next to him and said to not say stupid things he does not mean. He has said this very thing to me before. Today, he put his hands on me. He lifted me up off the couch and shoved me forcefully to the ground. It hurt, but not as much as the shock, pain and slight loss of integrity did.

In the past, like I said, he has said he’d “put me through a wall” but it was always heat of the moment arguments and he didn’t mean it. He has thrown things at me, but it has been years since he has done so and our relationship has matured in many aspects in comparison from then to now.

We haven’t talked since this happened. He’s currently on the couch asleep and I don’t know what I should be planning to do. I know it’s likely he’d do it again, but I don’t know if this is the kind of thing where you leave him now before anything else can happen or tell him if he does it again, I’m gone.

Response by Jared Sparks, LCSW, PhD, Clinical Director

Thank you so much for reaching out. I’m sorry you’re going through this, but you’re not alone. And the fact you’re recognizing that this is not okay and you’re actively thinking about options is really positive.

What’s clear from the brief information you’ve shared is that you’ve invested a lot in this relationship. It also seems like making changes in this commitment of 6 years would be noticed by others. Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but even on the surface, concerns about the time and energy placed in a long-term relationship and how others may respond to a change in that relationship can be barriers to leaving.

First things first though, you were asking about leaving now or waiting to see if he threatens and hurts you again….and, yes, framing it that way may sound really off-putting and dismissive, but that’s not the intent. The fact that abusers have the ability to, at times, appear kind and supportive makes it really disorienting when you’re trying to look at the big picture, including violence.

The difficulty in reconciling the abuse with all the good qualities of the person you’ve cared about for so long can lead to some minimizing of what happened. You’re certainly not the first person to say, “He did not mean it.” What’s important to remember though is this: What you are describing is a pattern of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse that is more easily triggered over time. That means that the violence originally started after heated interactions and now it can be triggered after only an argument.

When you say “it’s likely he’d do it again,” you’re speaking directly to that reality. As compelling as all of that may be, it’s important to acknowledge the decision to stay or leave an abusive relationship is complex.

This decision does not have to rely solely on trying to figure out how likely it is that he’ll do it again or trying to determine if there is a certain threshold of abuse that, once crossed, should be a clear indicator to leave. There are other ways to assess whether you’re in an abusive relationship. A few of the common characteristics of an abusive partner include:

  • Denying or minimizing the violence or impact on the victim, friends, or family.
  • Blaming something external for the abuse. This can range from blaming the victim to drugs, alcohol, stress, etc.
  • Being charming between periods of violence.
  • Having low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness but outward appearances of success.
  • Being controlling, possessive, jealous. Examples are: constant calling, checking on the victim (including tracking), or even restricting access to friends or family. (Many phones have the ability to locate others through GPS. Checking your privacy settings can be one way to control whether you want your movements followed.  Sometimes it’s necessary to scan the victim’s car for a tracking system that may have been placed there by the offender.)

More offender characteristics can be found at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, http://www.ncadv.org/ This site has helpful pointers on both recognizing abusive partners and how to plan ahead for leaving.

We’re fortunate in Northwest Arkansas to have wonderful resources for dealing with domestic violence:

  • Peace at Home Shelter provides crisis services, shelter, advocacy, and support groups http://peaceathomeshelter.org/. It can be a great place both to start and receive some ongoing support.
  • There are also counseling services through Ozark Guidance or other community providers.

We mentioned that the decision to leave is not only about evaluating the potential for violence. It’s about evaluating your relationships with others and where you are in your readiness to change. Counseling can help with that process. It can also help with the trauma. Experiencing violence directly or even witnessing it can create mental health problems that need attention.

As we said earlier, the decision to leave can be complicated. We’ve only touched on some of the issues related directly to the offender and the violence. For many, other issues (such as worrying about children and finances) weigh heavily in the decision to leave or stay. Whatever the reason(s), it’s easy to see why it can take multiple attempts to leave before the decision is made to permanently end the abusive relationship.

As you are working your way through this, there a few important things to always keep in mind.

  • Physical assault/battery is a crime. Call 911 if you feel you are in danger.
  • An incident of domestic violence is rarely an isolated occurrence. Physical violence tends to escalate in frequency and intensity.
  • The most dangerous time in the relationship is when the decision has been made to leave the abuser.
  • Abusers need treatment themselves before they can engage in a healthy relationship. This type of treatment is often more effective when it’s tied to a court mandate.

We’re hoping for the best for you and that you keep reaching out to others for support.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.