Who’s On Top?

According to the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four American women has been abused by their partner. Nearly three-quarters of Americans know someone who has been the victim of domestic violence. The experience of violence at the hands of a partner in heterosexual relationships starts at a shockingly young age. The DVRC states that one in five high school girls will be physically hurt by a partner with whom they are in a serious relationship.

Domestic violence is no longer considered a private matter and the pressure to stay with a violent partner exerted by society and lack of legal support experienced by our grandmothers is drastically reduced. Yet still men abuse and women stay with them.

Hitting the Woman You Love

Men in modern society still have a presumption that they are the strong one in the relationship, the protector of their loved ones, and an expectation of being the provider and that they will take on role of the disciplinarian in their family. Men expect to be the ones who set the rules in their home.

Physical violence is often accompanied by emotional abuse. Fear of their wife or girlfriend leaving means the man will belittle her so the self-confidence is destroyed. Men who hit need to control the women they are with and this need to control permeates through their life. They fear losing their partner and lack self-esteem to believe they are worthy, so exert their power and control through emotional and physical abuse. The majority have experienced violence in their childhood. Men who hit women do not see the violence as losing control, but rather as maintaining control.

The communication and control within their relationship is asserted through emotional and physical violence. The men lack the ability to communicate and negotiate and believe they need to be on top in the relationship. It is not a partnership of equality.

Staying With an Abuser

Women subjected to violence at the hands of their partner lack self esteem. The abuser will present a façade that is charming. In the early stages of a relationship, the intense need and desire the man has for the woman is enticing and nourishing. This control will develop. As the relationship grows so will the control, and the woman is often cut off from her support network of friends and family. Economically the woman is likely to be dependent on their partner as main or sole breadwinner so her means to leave are restricted or non-existent.

Often the woman will have witnessed or experienced abuse so she is conditioned to accept it. Memories of how loving the relationship was, the hope of changing the man or reverting to that initial love are powerful reasons to stay. Women are defined by society according to their relationship, as their grandmothers were. Fear of failing in a relationship, and therefore as a woman, makes leaving difficult.

The abuse leaves the woman seeing no way out, and blaming herself for the abuse. The man will cite reasons for the abuse, all of which blame the woman; the breaking down of her confidence means she is psychologically primed to believe those reasons.

Violence is Never Acceptable

In a violent relationship, nobody is on top. Violence is not an act of love; it is exertion of control and power. There is help out there, for both abuser and abused. Without seeking that help the pattern of abuse will be repeated and the horrifying result may be the death of the woman at the hands of the man. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of February 2003, 30% of murders of women every year are at the hands of their husband or boyfriend. It is vital that the cycle of abuse ends.

Understanding the dynamics of relationship violence is different to living it. Knowing that help is available and understanding you might need help is a difficult psychological leap to make.

The first step is to accept help is needed. If there are children from the relationship, they may end up in the same situation when they are adults, as that is the only example they have seen. Shelters are available for both a place for safety and to gain the strength to start a new life. Abusers can break the pattern they perpetuate by seeking therapeutic help. There is hope and they can end the cycle they feel trapped in. The control the abuser is compelled to seek will be found, but it is control over their actions. The partnerships of love and respect, free from violence, will be possible for both the man and the woman.