Healthy Tahoe: 2 types of violence in relationships – domestic, situational

Lindsay Simon

Due to the pandemic many are stuck at home and feeling isolated, not working, financially struggling, experiencing increased relationship stress, lacking social support, lacking childcare, having to homeschool and be with their families much more than normal, less connected to community resources, abusing substances, and experiencing fear of an unknown virus and financial future.

Not to mention the recent civil unrest and protests as the Black Lives Matter movement gains traction and institutionalized racism moves to the forefront of awareness. This alone is a collective trauma that has been exposed and is being felt by our nation. Oh, and did I mention the already highly active fire season, political divisiveness and killer bees too? I think we can all agree this is a stressful time for most.

This article is based on definitions and research on violence in relationships from a scientific and therapeutic perspective, not a legal one. The law has not changed or caught up with what the research and science behind relationship violence are showing. There are two types of violence we see in relationships: domestic violence (aka characterological violence or intimate partner violence) and situational violence.

In accordance with CDC guidelines, intimate partner violence is abuse or aggression that occurs in a relationship with a current or former spouse or dating partner. Domestic violence is violence that occurs in a household so can be between anyone in the home. Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse over time where the batterer’s goal is to gain power and control over another and demonstrates controlling and dominating behavior.

There is a clear perpetrator and victim in these cases. In domestic violence 85% of the victims are women. Most cases that get legal involvement are domestic violence because the severity and frequency of the violence is much greater and therefore, more likely to get the attention of authorities. Often the severity of the violence escalates over time and the victim feels afraid and trapped, as their self-esteem is slowly whittled away.

The “frequent fliers” in the legal system are typically DV/IPV perpetrators. The batterers will display blame and denial, lack of accountability or true remorse for their actions, and believe their victims deserved it or gave them no choice. Often the batterer has a long history of treating others with disrespect, contempt and aggression in attempts to gain power and control.

Situational violence is when a couple does not have enough conflict resolution skills and the arguments escalate and lead to violence, often less severe than you would see in DV/IPV relationships. One of the main differences between situational violence and DV/IPV is that there often is no clear victim, both members of the couple have escalated and might commit acts of violence. Also, there is accountability, remorse, regret, guilt, and awareness of the hurt that their actions caused (empathy), and a lack of trying to gain power and control between the conflicts. Often between conflicts there are attempts to repair the relationship and there is mutual respect and high regard for each other.

However, over time the toxic conflict management style will eat away at the relationship and without intervention (aka couples’ therapy or self help books or classes to learn healthy conflict management skills) the relationship is not likely to survive. For situational violence, therapy and education on healthy conflict management can help this relationship heal and thrive. Most importantly, learning self-soothing and emotional regulation, non-violent communication skills, and repair skills are essential in eliminating this lower level of violence that occurs when arguments escalate due to a lack of conflict resolution skills.

Now let’s do a brief overview of types of abuse. Abuse can be emotional, financial, verbal, sexual, or physical. According to a new study released by the American Psychological Association, the mental health effects of psychological abuse tend to match or even exceed those of physical and sexual abuse. Here is a brief description of the most common kinds of abuse in relationships and examples:

Emotional abuse: Anything that causes psychological harm to your partner.

Includes: isolating your partner from their support system, humiliating them in public, using sarcasm, rolling your eyes in a contemptuous way, no relief or help with work or childcare, constant demands on time, forcing partner to live with drugs or alcohol, restricting who they can communicate with, threats to harm yourself or others, making them feel guilty or bad about themselves, making them feel like they are crazy or something is wrong with them, stonewalling (silent treatment), negatively comparing them to others, put downs, punching a hole in the wall (intimidation), throwing objects, angry looks or other signs of belligerence

Verbal abuse: yelling, name calling, put downs, putting down their appearance, threats to take children away, cussing, saying no one else would want you, blaming, constant phone calls (harassment), threats to harm partner or someone or something they love or yourself (suicidal threats), blaming, interrupting and speaking sharply,

Now let’s learn what the cycle of violence in IPV/DV looks like:

Stage 1: Honeymoon stage (all relationships start here). Your partner can do no wrong, everything is great about them. Love bombing might happen in this stage, which is when a partner showers you with excessive affection and attention in order to gain control.

Stage 2: Tension arises (all relationships have tension because they are two different people and differing opinions and beliefs will eventually come up)

Stage 3: Explosion (stage where some form of the above mentioned violence occurs)

The: Empty apology stage (sometimes maybe usually genuine remorse, but maybe only regretting that they got caught or their partner is upset or hurt, not regretting the actual act of violence they committed, you might hear “I’m sorry your feelings got hurt” or “You gave me no choice”). A genuine apology shows true regret and remorse and accountability for the actual act of violence that occurred: “I am sorry I called you a slut, that was unacceptable to call you that and must have made you feel horrible and appalled by my actions, I am so sorry and I’ll go to therapy to work on my unhealthy communication habits”

Then back to Stage 1: Honeymoon after the victim forgives/ brushes under the rug, but no real work is being done so the cycle repeats and escalates over time

If you are reading this article and want help in clarifying if your relationship is one of DV, or you realize you are trapped in a DV/IPV relationship and want help in getting out, I recommend reaching out for help. Reaching out for help is a brave act and a strength. There are highly trained professionals out there who can help guide you step by step to finding your freedom and self-worth. You can call or go to Live Violence Free in South Lake Tahoe, which is especially helpful if you need immediate assistance in exiting a dangerous situation. You can also call and find out if you qualify for services through A Balanced Life which accepts several EAPs, government programs and private pay clients.

Other services in town for therapists include the Family Resource Center, Tahoe Youth and Family Services and County Mental Health.

Lindsay Simon is a licensed marriage/family therapist and owner of A Balanced Life.

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