"Domestic abuse, also known as spousal abuse, occurs when one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. An abuser doesn’t “play fair.” He or she uses fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and gain complete power over you. He or she may threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you. Domestic abuse that includes physical violence is called domestic violence."
Spousal abuse and battery are used for one purpose: to gain and maintain total control over the victim. In addition to physical violence, abusers use the following tactics to exert power over their wives or partners:
- Dominance — Abusive individuals need to feel in charge of the relationship. They will make decisions for you and the family, tell you what to do, and expect you to obey without question. Your abuser may treat you like a servant, child, or even as his possession.
- Humiliation — An abuser will do everything he can to make you feel bad about yourself, or defective in some way. After all, if you believe you're worthless and that no one else will want you, you're less likely to leave. Insults, name-calling, shaming, and public put-downs are all weapons of abuse designed to erode your self-esteem and make you feel powerless.
- Isolation — In order to increase your dependence on him, an abusive partner will cut you off from the outside world. He may keep you from seeing family or friends, or even prevent you from going to work or school. You may have to ask permission to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone. Source: Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, MN
- Threats — Abusers commonly use threats to keep their victims from leaving or to scare them into dropping charges. Your abuser may threaten to hurt or kill you, your children, other family members, or even pets. He may also threaten to commit suicide, file false charges against you, or report you to child services.
- Intimidation — Your abuser may use a variety of intimation tactics designed to scare you into submission. Such tactics include making threatening looks or gestures, smashing things in front of you, destroying property, hurting your pets, or putting weapons on display. The clear message is that if you don't obey, there will be violent consequences.
- Denial and blame — Abusers are very good at making excuses for the inexcusable. They will blame their abusive and violent behavior on a bad childhood, a bad day, and even on the victims of their abuse. Your abuser may minimize the abuse or deny that it occurred. He will commonly shift the responsibility onto you: Somehow, his violence and abuse is your fault.
If you feel you are in physical danger immediately call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3224.
Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:
- Abuse — The abuser lashes out with aggressive or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show the victim "who is boss."
- Guilt — After the abusive episode, the abuser feels guilt, but not over what he's done to the victim. The guilt is over the possibility of being caught and facing consequences.
- Rationalization or excuses — The abuser rationalizes what he's done. He may come up with a string of excuses or blame the victim for his own abusive behavior—anything to shift responsibility from himself.
- "Normal" behavior — The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
- Fantasy and planning — The abuser begins to fantasize about abusing his victim again, spending a lot of time thinking about what she's done wrong and how he'll make her pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
- Set-up — The abuser sets up the victim and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing her.