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How Do You Know When Your Marriage Is Over? - Part 3

When Divorce is Urgent?

We'll end with one final caveat. Occasionally, the decision to divorce is mandatory. In instances of spousal or child abuse (mental or physical)—in fact, whenever your safety is in jeopardy—you don't have the luxury of merely considering separation. If your life, limb, or sanity are threatened, it's important to make a quick and abrupt break. If you or your child is in danger, do not wait to organize your finances, collect your valuables, or even see a lawyer. Just get out.

One woman we know had been abused for years when, in the aftermath of one final, brutalizing battle, she phoned her oldest friend and one-time college roommate. The friend came over with her husband and a couple of shopping bags and gathered what she could: some clothes, a toothbrush, and spare cash. Then, the friend and her husband escorted the badly beaten woman out the door. The woman never went back; however, to this day, she states that if she had not been ushered out by her friend, she might still be in that abusive relationship.

When it comes to domestic violence, women are victimized most. There are millions of such victims annually, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, with a woman battered every nine seconds. Almost 5 percent of battering victims are men, and trauma can be similar regardless of the victim's gender. At the center of abusive relationships are issues of power, with the batterer using violence to maintain control over the relationship and his partner. Victims are often in denial about their situation, but it is hard to deny some typical battering tactics:

  • Isolating the victim from family and friends. This helps keep the victim locked into the relationship because she is kept away from her support system.
  • Intimidation. The abuser intimidates the victim through looks, actions, and gestures. As an example, perhaps the couple is at a party and the wife is talking to a man across the room. The batterer looks across the room and clenches his fist. She sees this gesture and knows the subtext: She will be assaulted when they get home. He might also intimidate her by destroying her personal property or displaying weapons around the house.
  • Name calling. This is a prime feature of emotional abuse.
  • Threats. Batterers might threaten their partners as a means of coercion. Threats might be directed at the victim, at the victim's family and friends, or even at the batterer himself. Threatening to commit suicide if the victim leaves is not uncommon.
  • Economic abuse. Batterers often control family finances and might keep the victim on a weekly allowance to take care of the household. Victims of abuse might not have access to family bank accounts or might be prevented from taking or keeping a job.
  • Minimizing the violence. Almost universally, batterers minimize violence they perpetrate by saying such things as, “What's the big deal? I didn't really hit you; I just slapped you.” They will often deny the violence outright and tell their victims that it was all imagined.
  • Blaming the victim. Batterers will blame their partners for the violence, saying they were provoked.
  • Using the children. Batterers think nothing of using the children to relay intimidating messages or harassing the victim during child visitation.

What can family and friends do if they think someone's in an abusive relationship? First, provide unconditional support. And second, provide a safe haven so the victim has somewhere to go.

What can you do if you are being abused? The first step is recognizing the telltale signs, and the second is seeking help and removing yourself from the situation as quickly as you can.

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