Domestic Violence is such a huge, complicated and insidious topic. One blog post cannot possibly encompass all of its facets; however, it can give some important insights. To begin, abuse is based on entitled behaviors. The abuser lives in a world where they believe they are above the rules. Interestingly, they may obey the rules in public – at work or in front of friends and relatives – but behind closed doors, it is a different story. Here is one snapshot version of abuse:
She never thought it could happen to her. She lived an affluent life – and worked very hard to get there. She was the catalyst behind her husband’s climb in the medical field – although he would never admit it or give her credit for the way she supported and empowered him to succeed.
The abuse started when her first child was born – very common in abuse patterns. As a couple, they had decided that she would stay home with their children and forgo an outside career path. She was elated and totally satisfied being a stay-at-home parent. They were the best years of her life and the best work she felt she had ever done. She felt it was her calling to raise these fabulous beings – what an incredible experience.
But her greatest loves also became her greatest weakness. The love she had for her children was quickly turned against her and used to control and abuse her. She loved her children more than anything and would do whatever it took to protect them and keep them safe. Her husband knew this – thus it became her prison. He knew her children meant the world to her – they were her beautiful angels. He thought that fact – and their affluent lifestyle would keep her imprisoned in their facade of a marriage – that she would never leave. He knew she wanted the best for their children – to have the things she never had growing up – the advantages of privilege and unconditional parental love.
He thought he could behave and do whatever he wanted to her because she would never disrupt this “perfect” world by divorcing him. And yes, she thought long and hard about it – it was not a decision she took lightly. Yet, day by day – with each child that was born, his abuse became more terrorizing. She lived in constant fear. Her deliberating over the decision to divorce was not about what would happen to her – she knew she could withstand whatever she needed to. She was more concerned about what it would do to her children – she wanted to make sure they would be safe.
She consulted an attorney months before she made the decision and was assured that she would be taken care of financially – she and her children would be able to carry on with a similar lifestyle. However, nothing was further from the truth. Instead, she was badgered and bullied in the court system. Her rights and the rights of her children violated at every point.
The abuse they had all suffered during the marriage left no marks – it was verbal and psychological – no traces of evidence – the perfect plan. He knew that. He threatened to hit her once – was going to punch her in the face. She saw him stop and reconsider – probably because it would leave a mark – evidence. He was too concerned with his public image to leave a mark others could see.
Once they separated, he was able to shut down her access to their bank accounts – she was at the mercy of his and his attorney’s dirty tricks. She quickly started going into debt to cover living expenses. There were so many lies and dirty tricks pulled on her – things she never expected. She was told she would need to start working again and was given some fictitious salary she supposedly was going to be able to earn because of her education level and skills, even though she had been out of the work force for years – in order to support herself and her children. This amount was used in the financial negotiations.
He fought her for custody even though she had been the stay-at-home parent – another common pattern. It is well-know that it is best for children of divorce to have a similar living arrangement after divorce if it is financially possible. However, the court did not make sure her children were taken care of in this way. The court allowed his reign of terror to continue and actually aided him in carrying it out.
He wanted to take her children away from her because he knew what they meant to her. He knew that when they suffered – she suffered. That was the only thing he had to use against her and punish her. He knew she wasn’t upset about leaving him – she had fallen out of love with him years ago from all of the abuse. But she would be torn apart to not be with her children or to see them harmed. They were her greatest loves – she would do anything for them – anything.
She spent years in the court system with his constant attacks. She was given minimal spousal maintenance. He was so intent on financially ruining her that he sold his practice and tried to reduce child support – while at the same time fighting her for custody. It took years and all of the retirement money she received from the settlement to fight him – finally gaining full custody of her children so they could be safe. She fought against judges, attorneys, parenting consultants, parenting coaches, and therapists.
In the end, she did win. However, it was at a huge cost to her and to her children. She lost everything including her home. Her children endured years of hardship, while one of their parents was living a life of ease and wealth. They were punished for holding him accountable for his bad behavior, while the family court system sat by and did almost nothing.
Abuse strikes all economic levels. It is a myth that it only affects men and women in lower educational or income levels. In fact, the more intelligent the abuser, the more severe and calculated the abuse. My work as a therapist is to help educate women and men who are caught in the prison of abuse to understand the dynamics so they can find a path of peace and freedom.