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This past week in a nearby town, a young woman and her boyfriend died. He shot her and then turned the gun on himself. In the next room, their toddler wailed.

Killing yourself and your partner is the tragic ending to conflict in a couple’s relationship. I did not know this couple’s intimate details. I only know what I read in the paper, but what I read told me a lot; she was planning on leaving him and he carried a gun.

While her family was concerned, the young woman obviously felt sure he would never hurt her. Making the wrong call in most life decisions is fixable, but when uncontrollable anger is combined with guns, there are no do-overs. Now, three lives are ruined-two expired and the 18 month toddler who bears this legacy.

How does this happen?  

First, one or both parties suffer from an inability to regulate feelings. Sometimes, these individuals seem to be mild mannered but lose their ability to control their anger when they drink alcohol or take drugs. Like a defective oven lacking calibration, this person’s feelings go from a temperature of zero to 550 in a flash. There is no middle ground on their self regulation dial. They are never “warm”. They are cool or blazing hot.

Second, denial and minimalization are at work. The woman who is with a man who exhibits exaggerated response to even minor transgressions often responds by simply modifying her behavior.* For example, he yells and screams because she forgot to put the cap on the toothpaste. Rather than look at his behavior as unacceptable, she focuses on how she can change her behavior to “make him happy.” She reasons, it is no big deal to put the cap on the toothpaste. In making this decision, she has unconsciously decided to take responsibility for his behavior. Once that dynamic is in place, she continues to modify, adjust and eventually she finds herself tiptoeing around him. Over and over, I meet with women who say, yes, sometimes, I am afraid, or yes, sometimes he hits me, but he feels bad afterwards and he would never, ever do anything really bad. She may identify her fear as foolish, “After all, I know he loves me,” she reasons. What she has lost sight of is that love is no longer a part of the relationship. Love is ineffective against domestic violence. Her denial of the problem is supported by her minimalization of the evidence, and that puts her at risk for harm.

Third, is the issue of the gun. It is not my intent to wander off here into a politic controversy regarding gun control, but in truth, without immediate access to a firearm, this probably would never have happened. A gun in the hands of someone who lacks the ability to calibrate their feelings is a lethal combination. Without a gun, he would need a knife, a rope, maybe a pillow. Because all of those involve a plan, by the time he collects what he needs to attack her, his anger might just have cooled. She would also stand a fighting chance.

Right now in your life, you may know someone who is a relationship where the anger is escalating. Look back on the history of the relationship and see if you notice a change. He may appear the same, but you will see the difference in her-maybe rings under her eyes from sleepless nights and crying  or a startle response that seems exaggerated. There may be unexplained frequent bruises. She may be withdrawing from friends and family.

If you have concerns over someone’s safety do not be afraid to say something. Your concerns will more likely to be considered if you stay focused on what you see rather than making any judgments. For explain, “I notice you are frequently anxious and tired and losing weight and that your kids seem distracted and withdrawn. Let’s figure out a way to reduce the stress in your life.” This is a better approach than to attack the partner. (Victims of domestic violence are often extremely loyal and protective of their partners.) Stay focused on what you see and offer options rather than reaching conclusions or judging. Of course, if you think someone is in imminent danger, call 911. Many law enforcement people have commented they would rather the call be a false alarm than a homicide.

When there are weapons in the home, you can approach the gun owner, and state simply, “ How about we get the guns out of your house until things cool down?” Never ask this of someone who is in the throes of rage or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A moment of sobriety, one that may exhibit remorse, is the best time for this intervention.

Lastly, if you recognize yourself in this article, please know you are not alone and that help is available. By getting professional counsel you can not only avoid a difficult situation from getting worse, you may even save your life. Keeping it a secret only perpetuates the problem. Be honest with yourself and if you are not sure if your relationship is a “problem”, check it out with a mental health professional. Remember this: If you are even a little bit afraid of your partner then something is very, very wrong. Healthy relationships are filled with a gamut of feelings, fear is not one of them.

*While it is true that men can be victims of domestic violence, in most cases it is women who find themselves in that position. More women are killed by the hands of a lover, boyfriend, partner or spouse than by a stranger.

For more information on statistics and resources for getting help and support, please click on any of the links below.

 http://www.domesticabuseshelter.org/InfoDomesticViolence.htm#statistics

http://www.mysistersplacedc.org/about-domestic-violence.html

http://intervalhousect.org/

 

© 2012 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice and is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

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2 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 30. Sep, 2012 remarked #

    A very important topic that has to be discussed on many levels – and rarely is. thank you, Donna.

  2. Panama on the 05. Oct, 2012 remarked #

    You can listen to this part of the Survivor’s Handbook (mp3)There are a number of different definitions of domestic violence. In Women’s Aid’s view, domestic violence is physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ crimes. Domestic violence often includes a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are, in themselves, inherently ‘violent’ – hence some people prefer to use the term ‘domestic abuse’ rather than ‘domestic violence’.

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