A: I mean, what is the likelihood that the person closest to you in your life is a candidate to go from annoying, wearisome, irresponsible, moody, emotionally too cold or too hot, unfaithful, etc. to being actually a hazard to your sanity and your life?
Q: I don't think my partner would ever deliberately hurt me. The incidents we've had are just over-reactions, times when he's been under a lot of stress or drinking a lot. He's always so sorry afterwards and I know he loves me. Don't all relationships have ups and downs, rough periods?
A: Depends on what you mean by "ups and downs". When you are in the midst of a relationship with someone you love, it can be very hard to get perspective on what is going on. Things can slowly get worse and worse, but we have a way of adapting that makes it hard to see how far things have gone.
To get some perspective on negative side of your relationship with your partner, it is important to know two things: First, abuse can take many forms and almost every abusive relationship includes a pattern of various abuses rather than the occasional BIG incident. People inside and outside the relationship tend to focus on the BIG incidents, which may not happen very often. The greater portion of abuse of one partner by the other varies in type, in intensity, and the person on the receiving end is encouraged not to complain or "make a big deal" out of anything. Months and years pass, and the victim becomes more and more discouraged, resigned, and helpless.
Here's a quick list of signs that you are in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship. How many apply to you?
The second thing to know is that there are checklists which can indicate what is important in your situation - important in that your safety and sanity may be at risk. These checklists have been compiled by social scientists who looked at large numbers of domestic abuse situations that have had bad outcomes (homicide, serious injury) to find out what was going on in them before the crisis occurred.
The Danger Assessment at this link was developed at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and is used all over the United States to help alert people about what is dangerous in a relationship and what is less likely to be dangerous. I encourage you to take a look, and check off what applies to you.
Additionally, there is a printable calendar you can use to track what goes on in your relationship. Far from being a throw-away task, you might see for the very first time that the "ups and downs" have a pattern, and that the pattern is possibly escalating in severity or varieties of insults and incidents.
Sample questions include:
- Do you have a child that is not his?
- Has he ever tried to choke you, either in anger or during sex?
- Has he ever threatened or tried to commit suicide?
- Does he follow or spy on you, leave threatening notes or messages on answering machines, destroy your property, or call you when you don't want him to?
(Thanks to the Hartford Courant newspaper for the image above. Unfortunately, no artist credit was available.)