Domestic Violence Isn’t Always Obvious

Domestic Violence Isn’t Always Obvious

By: Fardowsa Ahmed (Mommy Monitor’s Youth Subcommittee)

This blog includes an interview with a survivor of intimate partner violence, who shares her own insights and experiences. *Note: Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals sharing their stories

In the early days of their relationship, Jenna* did not believe that she was being abused by her partner, Daniel*.

At the beginning of their relationship, Daniel made sure to establish a strong sense of trust in her. He wanted her to believe that he was protective of her; that she would never be hurt or harmed by anyone as long as he was around. 

And then, they got married—and everything changed.

At first, this began in slow, subtle ways that were difficult to articulate. In fact, the first sense Jenna had that anything was wrong was the feeling of uneasiness that she could not shake off. 

“His behaviour left me constantly on edge,” she noted.

According to American psychologist Lenore Walker, signs of tensions mounting is the first stage in the cycle of abuse, which is the theory that abusive relationships follow a cyclical pattern. In this initial stage, the victim becomes tense and afraid, so they direct their attention towards appeasing the abuser.

Daniel then began having ‘episodes’, where he would insult Jenna and humiliate her in front of friends. These episodes were a sign of his constant need for control. He would go so far as to push her and even throw objects at her, but he would avoid hitting her. For someone experiencing this type of abuse, they may feel as though this type of behaviour is relatively tolerable—since the physical abuse they experience doesn’t seem to be as obviously abusive as being hit and physically injured.

Once Jenna gave birth to her first child, the toll this abuse took on her increased. 

“After I had our first baby it got worse. Danica* was an unsettled baby, and I was beside myself from exhaustion from getting up in the night and struggling to breastfeed. I’d stopped working and lost contact with my work friends. Feeling vulnerable and isolated from the rest of the world, I became very dependent on him.”

Image source: Very Well Family 

Eventually, Jenna made new friends at a mother’s group. But Daniel could not stand for this either. 

“He didn’t like that. Over time I had to cut myself off from them too, because he’d be so rude if they visited the house.”

Like many abusers,  Daniel was careful to appear to the outside world as a good father and partner to his family. At home, he not only refused to care for the children or help out with chores, but he would also use his power to undermine the little authority Jenna had. 

“If I told the kids it was time for bed, he’d say “we don’t need to listen to her do we?

The psychological tactics he used chipped away at Jenna’s dignity and self-esteem and made her question the self-perception in her ability to even be a good mother to her children. 

“At some level I thought the abuse was my fault – I was inadequate and couldn’t cope well as a mother. I was ashamed to tell anyone.”

As her children became older, Jenna noticed that Daniel’s conduct had a definite impact on her children. While her oldest child coped by becoming reclusive at home, her youngest child actually started to adopt his demanding behaviour. 

Eventually, while at the doctor’s office, Jenna accidentally revealed her circumstances at home. The doctor immediately recognized that she was experiencing domestic violence and suggested that she find support. In seeking help at a domestic violence service, she finally found the strength to leave. 

Just as she found her resolve, Daniel started apologizing. While the second stage in the theory of abuse is known as incident—which is when the abuse in question occurs—reconciliation is the third stage in the cycle.  Abusers’ resort to this stage once they realize they could lose control of their victim.

“I made a couple of attempts to leave, but he would beg and cry and tell me how much he’d miss me and the kids. I caved in and stayed. But after one horrible incident, in which he pushed me up against the wall and threatened to kill me, I decided I had to get out. I picked the kids up after school and we drove to my sister’s place in the country. There, I rang him and told him I wasn’t coming back.”

After continuing to receive support from the domestic violence centre, and seeking legal assistance, Jenna was finally able to break free of this cycle. She has now found a home, work, and is undergoing counselling—slowly rebuilding her life, step by step. She would like to share her final thoughts for others who may be in—or know someone—in a similar circumstance. 

“I know how difficult it is to leave, how much you want to believe the justifications and excuses. I know it’s difficult to get the energy to plan a way to get out when you are living day to day just trying not to provoke an angry outburst. But you can do it. Just take the first step:  get help. There are services out there who will understand. Call them. Find ways to build your confidence and keep your focusing on yourself and your children. We are supposed to believe that children need their fathers. But this all depends on what their father is like. Believe me, children are better in a happy, stable environment with one caring parent, than living with two parents in an unhappy, tense atmosphere.”

We thank Jenna for sharing her story, and commend her for her courage. To learn more about gender-based violence and available resources, be sure to check out our We Need to Talk About Gender-Based Violence blog post. We have also included relevant links below for people living in Ontario (for information for more provinces/territories, check out the Canadian Women's Foundation):

Shelters and Transition Houses

Crisis Lines

Newcomer Services

Sexual Harassment

Legal Aid