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Getting Out of An Abusive Relationship

Abuse RecoveryFamilies, where many would hope to find security and safety, are in truth often very dangerous. Some research has found that one in four marriages experience at least one violent episode, most often against the wife. Children are frequently the victims of violent behavior, with millions of cases estimated each year (Burr, Day, & Bahr, 1993). Such violence has multiple ramifications. The lives of the victims are threatened in these dangerous situations. In additional to physical harm, abusive relationships create tremendous emotional distress.

There are two aspects of domestic violence that magnify its danger. First, children who grow up in an abusive situation often become abusive themselves. These children become progressively aggressive and are at great risk of becoming perpetrators of murder, rape, assault, spouse abuse, and child abuse. The second aspect is that women in abusive relationships tend to remain with the abuser. Myth suggests these women enjoy being abused. The truth is that several factors contribute to their immobility. These include the following:

1. Fear of greater danger.
Women often worry their abusive partner will hurt them worse or even kill them if they try to leave.

2. Lack of financial support.
Many women don't have the income or the skills to leave with their children and support themselves.

3. Pressure from religion.
The sanctity of marriage upheld by many religions discourages some women from leaving the abusive situation.

4. Love for one's spouse.
While it may seem impossible for a woman to love her abuser, the love usually exists before the abuse begins, making it difficult to leave the situation.

5. A sense of duty and responsibility.
Women often feel they are the ones who must save a relationship and provide support to their spouse, and it is difficult to forsake this role.

With these factors taken into consideration, what can a family do when abuse is present? Considering the destruction, both physical and emotional, that occurs in abusive situations, it is extremely important you learn what resources are available to help in your efforts to escape domestic violence. The following ideas will help you as you work toward saving yourself and your children.

What Not To Do

1. Don't accept the excuse that violence and aggression are "natural" or unavoidable.
Some theories have encouraged the idea that humans need to be violent and that holding our aggression back will only cause it to build up and explode. In truth, acting violently becomes habitual. If people can learn strategies for rationally thinking about their anger and stress, they will be able to resolve their problems without lashing out.

2. Don't blame yourself for your spouse's violent treatment.
By now you may have such a low self esteem that you feel entirely responsible for your spouse's behavior and abuse of you. Remember: it is NOT your fault. You did not cause your husband's (or wife's) anger. He has a problem with controlling his own actions and he uses you as an excuse to release feelings of aggression. Abuse often comes from those who have few coping skills, who feel out of control, and who lack self-esteem. You did not cause these characteristics.

3. Don't ignore various factors contributing to stress.
Inability to cope properly with stressful situations increases the chances abuse will occur. Sources of stress include unemployment, inadequate health care, and overwhelming parental responsibilities. Working toward alleviating these situations might reduce the potential for abuse. However, don't expect your spouse will change just because your situation is different. Abuse happens in every type of household and under various conditions.

What To Do

One suggestion for those who experience abuse is this: The first time your spouse abuses, give him (or her) an ultimatum. Demand he get help for his problem or you will leave. A person's unwillingness to acknowledge a problem exists is only grounds for it to continue. However, if your spouse agrees to get counseling to learn anger management, you can trust your situation will most likely improve. If abuse happens a second time, don't stick around. Remaining in such a relationship will encourage a cycle of violence and will endanger your life and the lives of your children.

2. Learn what resources are available to help you.
If you feel like you are stuck in your abusive relationship because of fear or economic reasons, for example, knowing that help is available to make your escape easier should provide comfort. Police departments are usually trained and educated to deal with domestic violence cases. Some have special officers employed specifically to help in domestic violence situations. Shelters are available in most communities which provide temporary housing, emotional support, and information regarding your legal rights and additional services available. To access a shelter, look in the front of your phone book under community assistance or community service numbers. A list of phone numbers for abuse, assault, and rape can be found there. The hospital or your doctor can also help you get in contact with social services. Let these services help you. You deserve safety and protection.

3. Ask for help.
Silence on your part will never solve your problem of living in an abusive relationship. Find someone who you can turn to, share your feelings, and describe your situation. Although you may be afraid to tell anyone, establishing a network of people who are willing to help you out will ease the strain of coping and leaving. Also, don't ask others to promise not to tell any authorities. Your friends and family can be additional resources in getting you out of your dangerous situation and into a shelter or other safe place.

Burr, W. R., Day, R. D., and Bahr, K. S. (1993). Family science. Pacific Grove, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

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