Our intimate relationships are often the most important. Solid, fulfilling and loving relationships not only provide us with joy and happiness, they also support our careers, inspire us to achieve our goals and provide us with deeper self-awareness. Healthy relationships contain characteristics of friendship, honesty, trust, loyalty and mutual respect, the converse of which is the “abusive” relationship. Unfortunately, recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship is not always easy. However, taking the time familiarize yourself with the qualities of a healthy relationship can give you a much better chance of identifying an unhealthy and abusive one before it’s too late.
In addition to actual physical abuse, every woman should recognize the signs of emotionally, sexually and financially abusive behavior. Some traits and characteristics to look out for and avoid are:
¨ Unreasonable jealousy or possessiveness
¨ Mood swings
¨ Criticism about your good qualities
¨ Attempts to control your whereabouts
¨ Attempts to isolate you from your family and friends
¨ Abuses of drugs/alcohol
¨ Disrespects or humiliates you publically and privately
¨ Threatened by other relationships in your life – past, present or imagined
¨ Blames you when there is a fight or disagreement
¨ Pressures you sexually
¨ Highly reactive to minor stress or uncomfortable situations
¨ Controls your finances and forces you to account for what you spend
The key to dealing with, and getting out of, an abusive relationship is to stop rationalizing abusive behaviors and to start taking action. There is no question that leaving an abusive relationship can be dangerous. Not only do you have to deal with the stress of ending the relationship, but you also have to anticipate how the abuser will react. Having support from your friends and family will help you get through the difficult transition and place you on the road to emotional healing. Knowing your legal rights and being familiar with the legal resources available to you will protect you from future abuse.
You can protect yourself by seeking help at a battered women’s shelter or through a crisis intervention program. An attorney can guide you through the process of filing the necessary legal documents to help you leave the abusive relationship and protect you from future abuse. If you are not in a position to hire an attorney, you can get help from the police, social service authorities or other voluntary organizations.
Regardless of whom you chose to turn to for assistance and guidance, the first thing you need to do is get a restraining order or criminal protection order, both of which are intended to prevent future domestic abuse. Your application for a restraining order or criminal protection order should include the name of the abuser, the type of abuse you have been subject to, whether you think the abuse will continue in the future and whether there are any witnesses who can support your allegations. Record all the abusive events as soon as they happen and gather as much information as possible to support your application for a restraining order.
In situations where you think you have to meet with the abuser for whatever reason, do not go alone. Yes, you can bring a friend or family member along for protection; however, you should request a police escort be present at all times. It is important to remember that a restraining order is temporary and will expire after a specific period of time. The police do not enforce them. You or your attorney has the burden of reporting any violations of the restraining order to the court. The police or other law enforcement officials, however, enforce protection orders. Accordingly, you may be better off obtaining a protection order because it provides greater relief and is much easier to enforce.
Regardless of whether you have a restraining order or a protection order, you must remember that it is you that has the burden to pursue the claim to make sure the charges are filed against the abuser. If you do not make affirmative steps to seek permanent judicial protection such as incarceration, probation or monetary fines, your case may remain on the back-burner as a low priority for police officials. Prosecutors will only press charges against an abuser in situations where the woman suffers serious injuries and the abuser has prior arrests. Negative characteristics such as drug/alcohol usage or failure to comply with court orders will increase the likelihood that the State will press charges.
Finally, when you recognize that you are indeed in an abusive and unhealthy relationship, it is important that you take affirmative steps to leave the relationship, protect yourself from future abuse and begin the journey of emotional recovery. It takes courage and strength to leave an abusive relationship. It takes even more strength to open yourself up to love again. Regardless of the length of time you have been in an unhealthy relationship, you must always remember that being free of anxiety, confusion and helplessness is priceless. The road ahead may be daunting, but remember, it has to be better than what you are leaving behind.