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    Domestic Violence

    By Tom Moon, MFT–

    (Editor’s Note: Tom Moon is on vacation/hiatus. This is one of his more popular past columns.)

    Q: My partner dislocated my shoulder last week in an unprovoked attack. He hit me for the first time about two months after we met, and it stunned me so much that I didn’t say a word. Since then it’s gotten worse and worse. At first I kept my friends from knowing, but now I can’t hide the black eyes, broken nose, and bruises from them. I’ve tried to get him to get therapy to find out why he’s so angry, but he says he doesn’t need help. I really love this man, and I want to save our relationship. Can you refer me to a good couple’s counselor who can help us?

    A: No, I’m afraid I can’t.

    The purpose of couple’s therapy is to negotiate mutually acceptable solutions to relationship problems. But what is there to negotiate when you’re being beaten? If you were being mugged by a stranger on the street, would the solution to your “problem” be for the two of you to sit down and “discuss your differences?” Of course not. Why should it be any different with a partner?

    You might not like to hear your partner compared to a mugger, but the fact is that he’s mugging you repeatedly. What you’re describing is battery. Criminal behavior and gross violations of your basic human rights are not items which should be on the table for negotiation.

    I suggest that your first order of business should be to make a commitment to yourself that you’re never going to allow yourself to be beaten again, and then put a stop to it. How do you do that? I don’t know enough about your situation to advise you on all of the steps that you need to take, but the first step is for you to decide that you’re willing to do whatever you have to do to ensure your safety.

    If you need to move out, temporarily or permanently, then do it. Don’t hesitate at all to involve the police or to obtain a restraining order, if necessary. If friends can help, don’t think twice about involving them, and don’t try to protect your partner by hiding the truth from them. If you’re not sure how to proceed, find a counselor in your area with an expertise in domestic violence.

    Once you’ve established your personal safety, couple counseling may make sense. But the first order of business should be to settle the question of whether your partner can have a relationship with you without beating you. If he can’t, then you’re better off living without his “love.”

    Maybe this isn’t the kind of advice that you want to hear. One of the most common characteristics of victims of domestic violence is a wholly unwarranted sense of responsibility for the violence they’re enduring. Sometimes it seems as if the basic instinct for self-preservation has been short-circuited, so that, instead of feeling outraged when attacked, they feel guilty and ashamed. Some are more concerned with “helping” the abuser than with protecting themselves, and the idea of leaving the perpetrator feels like an unthinkable act of disloyalty.

    All too often the abusers have the opposite psychology. Instead of feeling guilty and overly responsible, they resist assuming any personal responsibility for their actions. They don’t “own” their internal states, but see their feelings, especially their disappointments and frustrations, as caused completely by external factors. Many actually see themselves as the innocent victims of the partners they beat.

    Their fundamental problem is usually not anger, as you seem to believe, but control (which is why placating an enraged batterer doesn’t help). They dominate and attack their partners as a way of getting some sense that they’re in control of themselves. That’s why they’re often the most dangerous when the partner threatens to leave. Losing a partner endangers their fragile sense of self.

    A book that might help you to think more clearly about your situation is Men Who Beat the Men Who Love Them, by Patrick Letellier and David Island. It’s full of intimate knowledge of the issue, because one of the authors was himself a victim of prolonged domestic violence. This book can help you to think more clearly about your real responsibilities in this situation, and it will provide some valuable advice about how to proceed.

    Don’t imagine that you’re doing your partner any favors by enduring the abuse. When you put up with it, you’re probably validating his insane belief that you deserve the treatment you’re getting. Your partner has a serious problem, and it’s his responsibility to recognize that fact and to get help for it. Your responsibility is to yourself—to defend your basic human right to physical safety.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. For more information, please visit his website