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How to Identify and Respond to the
Seven Warning Signs of a Troubled Relationship
How to Identify and Respond to the
Seven Warning Signs of a Troubled Relationship
Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book and Da Capo Press was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed in initial capital letters.
The relationships used as illustrations in this book are composites of individual cases. They represent the most common relationships involving domestic violence, as represented in the literature, and from my direct experience over the years as a practicing psychotherapist, clinical psychotherapist, and trial consultant. Names and many details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.
This book is not meant to replace ongoing support groups, therapy, or any other counseling. If you’re getting help, keep it up! You’re on the road to health and wholeness.
Copyright © 1997 by Noelle Nelson
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Printed in the United States of America.
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eBook ISBN 9780786731367
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First paperback printing, March 2001
I have known Dr. Noelle Nelson’s work as a clinician since 1987 and have been continuously impressed with her insight and skill as a clinical psychologist. She has used her years of experience in her work as a basis for Dangerous Relationships. Dr. Nelson reveals her personal journey as a clinician and shares many others’ stories—their abuse, their pain, and their road to self-discovery. She offers examples of clients and their struggles and triumphs.
Dangerous Relationships is a must for any individual entering a relationship with doubt. Dr. Nelson has clearly developed guidelines that delineate the warning signs of abusive relationships. The book illustrates what kinds of relationships are dysfunctional from the outset and which ones are likely to succeed.
Dr. Nelson’s characterization of the abuser is illuminating. It becomes apparent as relationships progress that abusers follow a pattern in developing relationships. As we increase our understanding of these patterns, we are better prepared to pursue healthy relationships. We can heal and grow with the knowledge and understanding that we have a choice to create a more positive, supportive, and healthier life. Dr. Nelson provides us with the awareness and tools to make more informed and, ultimately, wiser choices in our search for love and intimacy.
Dr. Nelson has done a brilliant job in identifying those behaviors that lead to abusive relationships. We are, indeed, indebted to Dr. Nelson for the insight and gentle guidance that she offers in this book. In a world where creating relationships is fraught with many perils and difficulties, Dr. Nelson has provided a valuable road map.
Marcia G. Lamm, Ph.D., QM.E.
Director, West Valley Psychological Clinic
Domestic violence hurts. It rips at the very fabric of what is most precious to us—our relationships with the ones we love. Domestic violence hurts not only those who are violated, but also the families of those involved and our society as a whole. As a clinical psychologist, therapist, and trial consultant, I have met and worked with too many individuals who have suffered from domestic violence. I was trained to sit quietly and listen to my clients with objectivity and a certain distancing, so as to better work with them in their search for health and wholeness. I found, however, that I could not sit quietly through tales of domestic violence! It was too painful, and I cared too much. I wanted to do more than just help those individuals who came to me for healing once the damage had already been done.
As I heard story after story of pain and heartache I realized that there were many similarities in these stories, even though the individuals involved were very different. This led me to research extensively the phenomenon of domestic violence. I discovered that there are certain key defining characteristics inherent to the very nature of these relationships—characteristics that appear in non-violent forms early on, usually within the first three months of the relationship. I knew that if I could sufficiently identify those characteristics and make them easily recognizable, they could serve as warning signs. These warning signs might enable people to spot potentially violent relationships before they become violent.
Domestic violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Domestic violence is committed by a certain type of individual and occurs within a certain type of relationship. Abusive individuals are, at first, often very charming, taking care to present the side of themselves they know is most alluring. Their potential for violence can be easily missed. However, if one looks at the nature of the relationship, at the interplay between the partners, the warning signs of domestic violence, even during the first few months, are clear and virtually unmistakable.
This book does not address individuals who are currently experiencing a violent domestic relationship, for they are long past the beginning stages. Nor is it addressed to people who are not in a position of choice, such as children or the elderly living in an abusive household. This book is designed specifically to help individuals who are looking for love, romantic or platonic, to recognize the warning signs of a relationship that will nurture not love, but abuse.
There are two ways to end domestic violence. One way is to heal the domestic violence that is already going on in homes all over the country. The other way is to learn how to prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place. This book focuses on prevention: helping yourself and those you love recognize and respond appropriately to the warning signs of a potentially violent relationship.
I am deeply grateful to all those who had the courage to tell me their stories and thus give me the opportunity to contribute to the healing of domestic violence. I am also greatly appreciative of the constant support, encouragement, and valuable input from my colleagues, in particular Dr. Marcia Lamm, whose wisdom and friendship has guided me unerringly through the years. Special thanks to my editor, Frank K. Darmstadt, and his colleague, Charlie Cates, who saw the potential of the book when it was but a thin manuscript and wholeheartedly engaged in the vigorous dialogue that led to a solid work. As always, I thank Diane Rumbaugh for her marvelous ability to work with me and smile through it all and my friends and family, who put up with me when I’m in “Don’t talk to me, I’m writing” mode and are still there loving me when I resurface.
This book is dedicated to all those who have suffered the horrors of domestic violence. May your next relationship be the loving one you truly deserve.
How to Identify and Respond to the
Seven Warning Signs of a Troubled Relationship
“I never believed it could happen to me!”
How often have I heard that cry as I have counseled yet another woman, sobbing as she tells me of how her boyfriend or husband beat her up, or yet another man, telling me of his lover’s cruelty. People never believe domestic violence can happen to them. You don’t fall in love with the expectation that you’re headed for the emergency room, yet unless you know what to look for in a relationship, there is a chance that it is exactly where you are headed.
✓ The incidence of domestic violence is estimated at 4 million cases annually, or one assault every 15 seconds1
✓ Over 50 percent of all women murdered are killed by male partners, and 12 percent of murdered men are killed by female partners2
You are at risk! Given the statistics, it is critical for anyone seeking a relationship to learn about domestic violence and how to prevent it.
WHAT IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE?
Domestic violence is a relatively neutral-sounding phrase that covers some not very neutral behavior: being hit, having things thrown at you, being pushed around, or otherwise being brutalized by those you are either living with or related to. Most often, domestic violence means being beaten up by those you love.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone at any time. Domestic violence does not respect age, gender, or sexual preference. Parents have hit their children, children have beaten up their parents, wives have knifed husbands, husbands have battered wives, brothers have hacked away at sisters, sisters have thrown countless objects at brothers. Cousins, uncles, aunts, live-in mates, girlfriends, boyfriends—all have been party to or victims of domestic violence.
This book is addressed to those who want to be in a healthy, happy, loving relationship, as lovers, partners, or friends, and who fear that they might be on the receiving end of violence. In a world of increasing violence and fear, it is important to be able to discern who is and who is not likely to hurt you. Such knowledge is far preferable to the alternatives—avoiding relationships entirely to be sure you won’t get hurt or trusting to luck that somehow you won’t get battered.
This book can also be of service to clinicians, to help assess whether clients are at risk of domestic violence.
Dangerous Relationships is not addressed to batterers or people who fear they might become violent in a relationship. The dynamics of those who perpetrate domestic violence are worthy of a separate book and are beyond the scope of this work.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK
If someone screamed at you or hit you the first time you met him or her, you’d know exactly what to do. You’d know that person meant trouble, and you’d want no part of it. The problem with a violent domestic relationship is that it doesn’t start that way. Most relationships that end up in domestic violence start off as any nonviolent relationship does—with kind words and passion, togetherness and devotion. It may seem impossible to know the difference between the violent and the nonviolent until it’s too late. Fortunately, that’s not so.
A violent domestic relationship is a type of relationship that fosters the development and occurrence of abuse, most commonly in the form of battering. The violence that erupts comes out of a larger pattern of abusive behaviors, such as indifference to your needs, blaming you for everything that goes wrong, and being extremely possessive, which, although present in the relationship from its inception, are not usually recognized as abusive behaviors.
These behaviors, however, are readily identifiable and can be used as early indicators of possible future violence, long before you suffer from blows. The purpose of this book is to help you spot and then deal successfully with the seven key warning signs of a potentially violent domestic relationship. It will teach you what to look for and what to do so you don’t end up on the receiving end of a loved one’s fist.
The warning signs described in the following chapters are just that, warning signs. They are meant to alert you to the presence of possible danger ahead, much like a warning label on a bottle of medicine warns you of possible side effects. A warning label on a medicine bottle c doesn’t mean you will suffer the side effects, just as the presence of a warning sign in a relationship doesn’t mean it will develop into a violent domestic relationship. However, a warning does mean you should pay attention. The more warning signs present in the relationship, the more aware you should be to the possibility that you are at risk. The more intense the warning signs, even if they are few, the more alert you must become.
Does that mean if you notice someone you’re getting involved with is behaving according to one of the warning signs you should get out of the relationship? Not necessarily. What it means is that you need to pay attention to the warning sign and deal with it. People do, for example, blame others, without such behavior being indicative of a violent domestic relationship. Being aware of blaming as a warning sign gives you an opportunity to deal with your lover’s/friend’s blaming behavior. If you are successful in communicating with your partner the impact of always blaming you, you can work together to find healthier ways of sharing responsibility (see Chapter 10). You will be less likely to be involved in a violent domestic relationship. If, however, you cannot, and your lover/friend continues to blame you for anything and everything, you may very well be in the beginning stages of a violent domestic relationship and should start thinking seriously about whether you want to stay in that relationship.
Because this book approaches domestic violence prevention from a real-life problem-solving perspective, it shows you the warning signs in real relationships: Mary/ John (heterosexual lovers), Bob/Karen (husband and wife), Peter/Tony (homosexual lovers), Teri/Anne (platonic roommates). Since no two relationships are alike, you may find aspects of each of the four illustrative relationships that apply to you. Whatever your gender, age, and sexual preference, read through all of the examples, and then go back and focus on the situation that seems closest to your own.
As different as these four relationships may appear on the surface, they have very similar underlying dynamics. Each of the relationships has an active partner, the abuser who perpetrates the violence, and a passive partner, the person who is violated. The active partner is the more obvious, since he or she is the one doing the kicking and screaming. However, long before the active partner becomes overtly violent, he or she has behaved abusively toward the passive partner. Because these early abusive behaviors are subtle, the passive partner generally does not recognize them for what they are: preludes to violence.
Dangerous Relationships is written from the perspective of the passive partner. The passive partners, Mary, Bob, Peter, and Teri, did not recognize the potential for danger in their relationships. How could they? We are not taught “The Anatomy of a Violent Domestic Relationship” in school. We are largely unaware of how a relationship in which violence is possible develops. We are thus unable to respond in a healthy and successful manner to the beginnings of such a relationship. No wonder passive partners often feel so helpless and hopeless in the face of domestic violence! Yet as abusers, John, Karen, Tony, and Anne all behaved in certain characteristic predictable ways, which almost inevitably lead to violence in a domestic relationship. The predictability of an abuser’s behavior is what makes domestic violence, to a large degree, preventable. Because it is difficult, if not often impossible, to stop the violence once it starts, learning to identify the warning signs of a potentially violent domestic relationship and how to deal with the situation appropriately and immediately can significantly contribute to your future health and well-being in relationships.
There are no guarantees in relationships. Although the great majority of violent domestic relationships are preceded by the warning signs described in this book, some violence does come “out of the blue” Use this book as you would a manual for safe driving: You can’t prevent all accidents from happening, but safe driving habits will certainly minimize your chances of getting into an accident. Similarly, you can’t predict all occurrences of domestic violence, but safe relationship habits will certainly diminish the likelihood of your finding yourself in a potentially violent relationship.
If you are currently experiencing domestic violence—beating, shoving, hitting, or any other violation of your human rights—call your local domestic violence hotline immediately. In the “Resources” chapter of this book you will find a listing of a number of organizations that can help you with more detailed information. The “Personalized Safety Plan” has also been included to give you ideas on how to help yourself.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
The first seven parts of the book discuss the seven key warning signs of a potentially violent domestic relationship. Each section contains chapters detailing the warning signs, breaking them down into easily recognizable parts, with examples from the four relationships to illustrate how the warning signs show up differently in different relationships. The companion chapters to each warning sign focus on how to respond to the behavior, that is, what to do when you encounter one of the signs in a relationship.
The first section deals with the passionate beginning of a violent domestic relationship and how to differentiate between healthy intensity and dangerous intensity.
The second section looks at possessiveness, the kind that is normal in a relationship and the kind that seeks to control and dominate you.
The third section introduces you to the quick and sudden personality changes abusers make, from Mr./Ms. Wonderful into a monster you wish you had never met.
The fourth section alerts you to the abuser’s blaming behavior, where you are wrong about everything, while the abuser is always right.
The fifth section discusses verbal abuse, words that criticize, demean, and cut you to the quick.
The sixth section examines the insensitive attitude abusers have toward the fate of others, an indifference that sets the stage for violence.
The seventh section exposes how the violence is too often minimized and made acceptable, denied and pushed away, only to have it come back worse.
The last section revisits Mary, Bob, Peter, and Teri and lets you know how each of them used the skills and aware nesses they learned to help them move forward with their lives.
1. Richard Jones III, “Let Our Voices Be Heard: Domestic Violence,” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 81(1), January 1993.
2. Susan McLeer et al. “The Role of the Emergency Physician in the Prevention of Domestic Violence,” Annals of Emergency Medicine, 26(10), October 1987.
The Four Relationships
The relationships that we focus on in this book ended up as follows:
Mary, a 45-year-old cashier at the local grocery mart, was beaten to the point of unconsciousness by her lover of two years, John, because she was late coming home from work. It was the fourth such beating that year.
Bob, a 52-year-old engineer, was diagnosed with an ulcer, panic attacks, and clinical depression when his romantic fling with a co-worker, Karen, turned into a nightmarish marriage where insults and objects were hurled at him in equal measure.
Peter, a 31-year-old production assistant, lay in a hospital bed seriously injured after his lover of six months, Tony, tried to strangle him for supposed infidelity. Peter was found by the apartment super who was concerned by his apparent absence two days after Tony had left him for dead.
Teri, a 24-year-old insurance clerk, came home one night horrified to find that her roommate, Anne, had torched all her belongings, set in a near pile in the middle of the living room of the apartment they shared. Anne was enraged with Teri for never spending time with her anymore. The fire department managed to put the fire out before the entire building was engulfed. It was only as the firefighters were sorting through the debris that Teri realized Anne had also torched her cat.
Tragic stories. Damaged lives, all derailed by domestic violence.
But that’s not where these relationships began. Instead they began, as all love stories do, with happiness and sweet words, hearts and flowers.
WARNING SIGN #1
A Whirlwind Beginning
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
“Tell me how it all began,” I said. The attractive middle-aged woman in front of me sighed, looked out my office window for a moment, then said, “How it all began? It seems so long ago—like on some other planet!” I waited patiently. It had taken Mary much courage to start therapy. She’d only left her abusive relationship three weeks ago and her wounds, emotional as well as physical, were still fresh. Finally Mary spoke up again: “How it all started? With a kiss! Literally, with a kiss.”
Now that she’d started, Mary found it easier to go on. “I was running an errand for our store manager, delivering receipt envelopes to the accounting offices, and as I was rushing down the hall, I heard someone yell ‘Wait.’ I turned around and there was this great looking guy—real handsome, rugged, kind of like the Marlboro man—and he was holding one of the envelopes I’d apparently dropped. ‘You dropped this,’ he said, coming over to give it back to me. I put my hand out to take it, and before I could do that he took my hand and kissed it—real nice—and said, ‘You’re so beautiful,’ and then he like blushed and stammered and dropped my hand real quick and said, ‘I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ and he’s backing away and I said ‘No, it’s OK—it is—thanks for picking up my envelope’ and he said, ‘Really, you’re not upset with me?’ and I said, ‘No, thanks’ and I turned to go. I mean I was getting later by the minute and he said, ‘Can I call you? What’s your name?’and I’m running at this point, I’m late, and I yelled out, ‘Sure! It’s Mary—I’m at the Grocery Mart on 3rd Street’ and kept running. He flashed this great grin at me and just stood there looking until I disappeared out the door.
“When I walked into the store the next morning, there was a single red rose at my check stand, with a card that just said ‘Delivered with a kiss’ on it. No name. But I knew exactly who it was. And then he called. And that’s how it all got started.”
- On Sale
- Apr 27, 2009
- Page Count
- 332 pages
- Da Capo Press