Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2005
Are you marrying an abuser
Take off your rose-colored glasses and see the truth
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
How do you know you might be marrying an abuser? Are there any warning signs? There are no particular signs, but there is a pattern of behaviour that might indicate the relationship faces trouble, says Sherwood Park social worker Jim Kiernan.
"The fundamental and primary qualities that you look for in a marital relationship are caring and respect and in an abusive relationship you get the opposite of that," he said. "You get a pattern of coercion, intimidation, emotional abuse and economic abuse." The relationship might be caring and respectful at times, but then moves quickly to intimidation and manipulation again.
The problem is people in abusive relationships seldom realize they are in one. "When people in a relationship want the relationship to work, they often begin to lose some of their objectivity and their judgment," Kiernan says. "Is there a pattern? Yes. Will the woman necessarily spot it? No, because what will happen is she will tend to explain away the abuser's behaviour if she really wants the relationship to work."
And abusers know how to play the game, often blaming the woman for their behaviour. "In other words, there is a problem between us and it is your fault, you better stop it. And if you were a nicer person, this would be working."
Women can abuse too
Women can be abusers too and Kiernan has dealt with a number of them. But he said for the most part it is the male who inflicts the most abuse. "A lot of men get kind of defensive when you speak of male abusers, but the reality is that statistically males are far more likely to abuse a woman than the reverse."
Kiernan, a married father of three, has been giving courses on marriage preparation through the Family Life Office for five years. He teaches a 90-minute session seven times a year on how to make marriage work.
The marriage preparation course also deals with abuse in relationships and a woman who was herself in an abusive relationship gives the one-hour session, noted John MacDonald, director of the Family Life Office. "She tells her story and she identifies some of the warning signs that were real in her life," he said. "And she does encourage people to be very careful in this area."
Power and control issues are definitely signs of a potential abusive relationship, MacDonald said, who agrees spousal abuse can be physical, psychological and even financial. He described it as a learned behaviour, saying more than 35 per cent of the couples entering into marriage can relate to some experience of family violence in their upbringing and in their dating relationships.
"Family background plays a role because some people have grown up in an abusive family relationship and there is a strong tendency for that to be repeated in the next generation," MacDonald said. "It requires a lot of hard work to change a learned pattern."
Kiernan says the pattern of abuse sometimes begins prior to the marriage. Things seem to be going well: Then there is an explosion of violence, either emotional or physical, and a lot of blaming.
Abusive relationships, according to Kiernan, move back and forth from periods of intense pain, threats and manipulation to a period of reconciliation.
"A lot of 'normal' relationships have that pattern too, but it is not nearly as intense and not nearly as destructive because people do obviously get along well for a period and then have disagreements and then come out of it and move on," he noted.
"But in a healthy relationship, the issues are resolved with a sense of equality and caring and respect. In an abusive one, the woman gets blamed.
"I hit you because you make me do it. And then when it looks like he is going to lose her or he feels less tense then he tends to become charming and approachable again; he brings her flowers and they might go to the movies. It feels good for awhile but within a relatively short time, it becomes tense again and it becomes painful."
A smart abuser is not going to leave marks on a woman especially early in the relationship because that's too visible and too graphic, contended Kiernan. "An abusive man usually works emotionally, although it (eventually) explodes into physical violence."
Couples getting engaged tend to look at the world and at each other through rose-coloured glasses, he said. "They are fairly optimistic about the relationship and they feel very committed. But that can work against you when you've got somebody in the relationship that is obviously not prepared or not able to make the relationship work in the way that people expect."
Most relationships have periods of distress and anger and irritation. "But the question arises how do we solve them and how do we move back towards feeling good with each other again? Feeling good is on a scale - sometimes we feel bored, some days we feel excited, some days we feel grumpy, but most people will always feel good being with each other. In an abusive relationship you have feelings of terror, fear, disillusionment, confusion and desperation all the time."
To avoid getting into an abusive marriage "you should ask yourself before the wedding day how do I feel most of the time with this person and when there are problems between us how are they resolved?" Kiernan recommended. " Are there times when I feel that I'm being used or that I am not really loved by this man in a healthy way?"
"An abusive man usually works emotionally, although it (eventually) explodes into physical violence."
- Jim Kiernan
Postpone the marriage
Considering the emotional and financial consequences of what will happen if the relationship doesn't work out, it is wise to put off the marriage until you are sure you want to be with this person, Kiernan said.
"If you two feel you can solve things and work things through, that's a hopeful sign. A lot of people in my experience have the idea that, Okay, things aren't quite right now but after we get married things will work out better or the other person will change. That isn't necessarily so; people usually don't change."
As a young man or woman, nobody really teaches you how to have a perfect relationship, said Kiernan. As a result, young people get into relationships with a "strange idea" of what it is to relate to another human being. "People become so focused on defending their own turf in a marriage they forget that the role is to help the other person feel good and the other person should help you feel good. And you do that by working together."
As Kiernan put it, "The secret to a good marriage is to continually work from a perspective of caring and respect toward each other."
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