As a person with training in counseling, I am writing this for adults in a relationship that tends towards abuse. Tensions rise to a point where there is a real threat of violence.
First I want to explain that violence is not just hitting. It is also shoving and restraining and blocking. Here I will deal with preventing escalation to physical violence. I acknowledge that emotional abuse is occurring in these situations as well. Below are starting points for resolving conflict that escalates. This is by no means a complete anti-dote, but it could provide some help in certain areas.
- Triggers. We all have triggers. These are the areas where we are sensitive. We can get angry when someone triggers us. Knowing someone’s triggers can help us to avoid going there. Triggers are areas that need work. However, the work takes a lot of time and effort, usually under the guidance of a counselor. In the short therm, certain confrontations can be avoided if we think ahead about not triggering someone in their sensitive areas.
- Bait. If your partner baits you, this is a pathological relationship. This is not normal. This personality actually wants an opportunity to act hostile and feels the need to be abusive. This is a relationship you have to plan to leave. You are dealing with a dangerous person so you will need to plan your exit carefully.
- Impatience. A lot of flare-ups can be traced to impatience. Someone reaches the end of their fuse. The answer is to get a longer fuse. The person with the short fuse needs to see this is their problem. Practicing patience can make a big difference. Learn to give the other person more time, more space, more understanding.
- Inappropriate Entitlement. We are entitled to respect. But this is not a one-way street. Both are equally entitled. Neither has the right to be demanding.
- Competition. A little bit of competition can be healthy. It becomes unhealthy when one person cannot tolerate losing, or being seen as less competent.
- Put-downs, insults. Look beneath this kind of behavior. It is a form of non-physical violence that attacks another’s person. Why are you putting the other person down? In some cases this is a bad habit that needs to be broken. It may be how someone was raised, and they don’t know better. They might not even know how their words are effecting the other person. Deflecting by saying you were joking when you hurt someone is a further form of aggression. Ask each other, how much truth is there behind these words? Does the person intend to be cutting? Also examine whether this is in fact a reaction to words or behavior that hurt them earlier? It is not easy to stop any form of aggressive or inappropriate behavior. It requires a person to humbly admit they have a problem and then commit to changing.
- Blame. The blame game is never a winning game. Figure out what is the problem, not who is the problem. Focus on solving one problem at a time. Address other issues at a later date.
What are some positive preventative actions to take?
- Be kind. Think of considerate things to do for the other person. Do them out of the goodness of your heart, without expecting anything in return.
- Give a compliment. People who abuse others tend to have a distorted view of themselves which is often the consequence of how they were treated by others, especially as children. They have developed various forms of coping with feelings of unworthiness. Show you value the person. Compliment good qualities. Start with, I liked how you.… I like that you….When you did that it made me happy. People are starved for words of affirmation.
- Listen. Listen well. Let the other person finish. Let them express their complete thoughts. Then respond with, Thank you for sharing that. Or, I’m glad you told me how that impacted you.
- Empathize. Say things like, That must have been difficult for you to do/witness/go through. Or, I’m sorry that happened to you.
This is only a beginning. Your relationship is at a low point and will take a lot of work to rebuild. It may also be a situation you need to leave, for your own safety.
Understanding how vulnerable your partner may feel, can help you to be supportive. Just because a person is tough on the outside does not mean they feel that way on the inside. If a person is pathological, meaning they do not experience normal feelings of empathy for others and actually gravitate towards violence to get them high then you need to get out of that relationship. However, a lot of progress can be made when two people are willing to work at their relationship by being more open, communicating what you both want in your relationship, and showing you are for the other person.
It must be understood, and expressed to your partner, that violence will not be tolerated. In other words, “I love you and want to be with you, but if you continue to behave in this way, then I will have to leave you.” If you need to say this, then you also mean to follow through.
One last thing, which is by no means the least of problems, is the influence of mind-altering substances like alcohol. Alcohol tends to bring out the worst. If this exacerbates the problem in your relationship you can say, “You lose control of yourself and become a different person when you drink. When you drink to excess, you make me afraid.” In a normal relationship one partner will not want to cause the other person to be afraid and will in fact be willing to take steps to move the relationship in a positive direction.
Harmful behavior must not be allowed to continue. However, moving towards a more consistently loving and caring relationship will require commitment and hard work. It may be well worth it if there is an underlying desire to be together. Your future years together can be better than your past.