Relationship Cancer

Understanding the psychological dynamics of domestic violence

By C. Dwight Bain, Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach


Her cries for help in the middle of the night startled us awake and when we turned on the lights and let our neighbor inside, the red welts on her arms and face shocked us even more. “How could he do this to you?” My mother asked, and all she could sob out was “He didn’t mean to do it, please don’t call the police.”

That was my first exposure to domestic violence almost 35 years ago yet I can still vividly remember the look of terror in her eyes after being beat up by her husband, (who was so out of control that he had actually pulled out a weapon to use against her). She ran for her life, but an hour later as the police were handcuffing him for transport to the jail, she was begging them to leave him alone so she could take care of him. It was a long night for everyone, but the next day it was like nothing had ever happened, because it was never discussed again. Nothing ever changed at that house for years until a sudden divorce ended the marriage and they just went their separate ways.

It baffled my teenage mind back then that someone would treat the woman they had promised to love like a punching bag; yet now it breaks my heart even more to know how common it is for someone to be abused, yet often feel too afraid to call out for help; so the violence continues behind closed doors in every part of our community while the victims suffer alone in silence.

Every House a Safe House
Slowly think about the word “home” in your mind. Does it stir up feelings of peace, safety, belonging, comfort and love? Or does that seem like an impossible concept because life at your house is more about panic than peace?

Domestic violence shelters are often referred to as ‘safe houses’ because they are hidden away from the general public to allow the victims of abuse to be in a protected environment away from any violence or threat of abuse to heal. I’m glad there are safe houses to help wounded people rebuild their lives; however, I believe God’s design for the family was to see every house as a safe house where people could connect to each other heart to heart and soul to soul.

Sadly many people try to avoid thinking about how common domestic violence is because once their eyes are opened to the harsh reality of this abusive behavior they see the urgent need to do something to stop it. Here are some startling statistics to show you how big this problem really is. As you read through these very sad numbers I hope it will prepare you to take positive action to make sure your house is always the safest place for your family and to be better equipped to reach out and support the people you care about most.


Domestic violence can vary in frequency and severity. It occurs on a continuum, ranging from one hit that may or may not impact the victim to chronic, severe battering. Repeated abuse is also known as battering.
~American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious, preventable public health problem affecting more than 32 million Americans, that is more than 10% of the U.S. population which results in nearly 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths nationwide every year. (Centers for Disease Control)

85% of domestic violence is directed toward women. (National Crime Victimization Survey)

31% of American women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. (Commonwealth Fund Survey of Women’s Health)

30% of Americans say they know a woman who has been physically abused by her husband or boyfriend in the past year. (Family Violence Prevention Fund)

On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data)
Eighty percent of women who are stalked by former husbands are physically assaulted by that partner and 30 percent are sexually assaulted by that partner. (Center for Policy Research; ‘Stalking in America’).

More than 1 million women and 371,000 men are stalked by intimate partners each year. (Tjaden & Thoennes, National Violence Against Women Survey, Department of Justice)
Previous literature suggests that women who have separated from their abusive partners often remain at risk of violence (Campbell et al. 2003; Fleury, Sullivan and Bybee 2000).
Between 4% and 8% of pregnant women are abused at least once during the pregnancy (Maternal and Child Health Journal)

Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any other cause and evidence exists that a significant proportion of all female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
Forty percent of girls age 14 to 17 reported knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend. (Children Now/Kaiser Permanente poll)
In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children. (Physical Violence in American Families; Strauss, Gelles and Smith)
Studies suggest that between 3.3 -10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually. (Carlson, Bonnie E., ‘Children's observations of interpersonal violence.’ Report of the Twenty-Third Ross Roundtable. Ross Laboratories).
Domestic violence can and does happen to people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Without help, abuse will continue and could worsen. Though there are no typical victims of domestic violence, abusive relationships do share similar characteristics. In all cases, the abuser aims to exert power and control over his partner. Many resources are available to help you understand your options and to support you. No one deserves to be abused. ~ Mayo Clinic

Relationship Cancer Kills
Did you sense the despair and hopelessness reflected in those statistics? I sure did and that’s why I really want you to understand what to do to find freedom from the silent and shameful secrets of abuse that ruins the home life of millions of people in our country. I view the abusive behavior of domestic violence as a form of deadly cancer in the relationship, and relationship cancer kills!

We plead with people to pay attention to the early warning signs and symptoms of cancer, which often can save their physical life. In the same way if we take positive action to deal directly with this manipulative and mean behavior we might save our relationship from being destroyed.

Think of it this way; a girl and guy meet, then fall in love, get engaged, and a few months later make promises to love each other forever during a wedding ceremony in front of God and their closest friends and family members. And then an astounding number, (almost one third), of these couples begin to slide into the process of moving from caring for each other to one person trying to control the other and calling it ‘love’ when in fact love had nothing to do with it.

Abuse is about power and control not about anger
This next section is to help you or someone you love to understand what to do to break out of the destructive cycle of domestic violence and abusive behavior. Many people want to believe that it’s just a little too much anger, or they try to excuse the behavior as being something cultural or generational because their family of origin is just ‘louder’ than other families.

So how can you tell if it’s abuse? Here are some key indicators to consider as you begin to study this important subject that will allow you to protect yourself, your kids or to more effectively reach out to others you may know who are really struggling in this area.


Eight primary types of Domestic Violence and Spouse Abuse:

1) Physical- (scratching; pushing; shoving; kicking, spitting, throwing, grabbing; biting; choking; shaking; slapping; punching; burning, restraining, hitting walls, breaking or throwing things)


2) Sexual- (forcing a person to engage in a sexual act against their will through intimidation, restraint or physical violence. Includes being forced to watch or participate in perverse sexual behaviors)


3) Verbal- (using words to shock or attack by twisting conversations into power struggles that the abuser must ‘win’ at all costs to prove that they are ‘right’. Extreme use of moody silence, criticism, sarcasm, guilt trips, deception or continual questioning and harassment. Using street slang, cursing, put-downs, insults or shouting to beat down the other person through forceful language and threatening tones of voice to utterly destroy their self worth, dignity and self-respect through verbal intimidation and aggression)


4) Emotional- (playing ‘head games’, or otherwise attempting to make the other person feel ‘crazy’ or bad about themselves through blame shifting everything onto the victim; continual attacks against their self worth with feelings of guilt, or shame about themselves, their past mistakes or family secrets)


5) Financial- (taking away access to family income or taking paychecks away to limit the ability to function financially, includes stealing money or secretive spying on spending or driving patterns in an effort to manipulate every area of daily life that involves spending to ‘trap’ the victim into staying by eliminating any opportunity to travel to friends or family who might help)


6) Isolation- (continual attempts to prevent any access to healthy peers, parents, friends, neighbors or coworkers, often uses ‘jealously’ as the motivator, but the real motivation is to block out any other person who might support the victim in facing their fears to break out of the addictive cycle by seeking help to change. Common to see ‘tracking’ behavior through GPS on cell phones or mileage on the odometer of the car to insure complete obedience and compliance)


7) Bullying- (threatening or intimidating with harsh words, hateful gestures, or hostile aggression toward the victim or toward their children, friends or family in order to manipulate the situation to get what they want when they want it. They set the rules as to what everyone in the house must do in order to keep the bully happy at all times. Treats everyone and everything as a possession to do with as they want)


8) Terrorist- (open aggression, rage, hostility, assault, breaking things, open use of weapons, regular threats of serious injury or painful death to victim, children or pets if they don’t get their way. Stalking behavior fits in this aspect of domestic violence since the goal of the stalker is to create a feeling of intense fear, trauma and terror)

Tracking the toughest form of Relationship Cancer to fight
Now let’s consider one of the most common forms of abuse that creates a subtle relationship cancer inside of many marriage and family relationships, especially those who identify with the teachings of the Christian church and would classify religion and spiritual values to be highly important to them.

The category is emotional abuse, and I suspect that many of the people who utilize this form of aggressive and manipulative behavior don’t completely realize how totally devastating their words and feelings are that go along with this highly destructive and toughest form of abuse to tackle because it’s so hard for the violator to realize just how mean and hateful this form of abusive behavior really can be.

The extensive checklist below shows one of the most tolerated parts and still least understood forms of domestic violence dumped out on millions of victims and then minimized or justified away by the abuser who often misquotes the scripture that a wife is to submit to her husband, like a slave to a master, which is nothing even close to what God’s Word teaches about the Christian home being a place of incredible love and intimacy, and never of critical hostility or cold-hearted insensitivity.

It was written by my friend June Hunt, a Christian Counselor who is an author and founder of Hope for the Heart, a non-profit educational organization offering comprehensive resources from a biblical perspective. Think about your relationship, or someone you know as you answer the following indicators of this massive, but silent killer of marital closeness and intimate connection.

Emotional Abuse Indicators and Warning Signs
While all forms of mistreatment are emotionally abusive, certain behaviors can be overtly labeled as “emotional abuse.” An emotionally abusive behavior will fit into one of two categories: passive or aggressive.

Passive emotional abuse is characterized by:
— Withholding emotional support
— Withholding important information
— Withholding money and access to the checkbook
— Not giving appropriate attention or compliments
— Not listening or responding
— Not taking a fair share of responsibility
— Not respecting your rights, opinions or feelings
— Sulking and brooding
— Using the “silent treatment”
— Choosing to be irritable
— Manipulating the children
— Neglecting important family gatherings
— Failing to return home at a reasonable time
— Refusing to help with children or housework
— Refusing help to overcome an addiction (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling)
— Refusing to express true feelings
— Refusing to leave when asked
— Keeping weapons in order to frighten you

Aggressive emotional abuse is characterized by:
— Isolating you from family and friends
— Not allowing you to have any part in major decisions
— Rushing your decision-making through intimidation
— Intimidating looks or body language
— Blocking the doorway when arguing
— Hiding car keys as a means of control
— Breaking promises or not keeping agreements
— Making threatening gestures
— Driving recklessly to instill fear
— Excessive jealousy and suspicion
— Prohibiting sleep
— Damaging treasured items
— Excessive anger
— Continually checking up on you
— Interfering with your work
— Monitoring your phone calls
— Making unwanted calls or visits
__ Following or stalking you


If you found this check-list helpful, I encourage you to check out the extensive Biblical Counseling Key June Hunt wrote on this subject, called “Verbal & Emotional Abuse” or “Wife Abuse,” You will find it listed with almost 100 other Biblical Counseling Keys and counseling audio podcasts at her homepage www.Hopefortheheart.org


What next? Take bold action to break the cycle!
Domestic violence is wrong and any form of abusive behavior that goes along with it is equally wrong. If you have seen sign or symptoms in the indicators above, don’t panic, begin to face it and build a stronger and better life. However, let me be quick to say that if you are in a dangerous situation, please let the people around you help out.

There are hotlines, counselors, pastors, friends, extended family, police officers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, family law judges and most importantly, survivors. These are people who were able to break out of the abusive cycle with new boundaries and supports and have regained their strength so they often will be your best source of encouragement to help you onto a new journey of healing and peace. But only if you let them by reaching out and asking for it.

If you are really afraid to do anything about the abuse and violence in your home, let me encourage you with these words- “You could be the next strong survivor beginning right now, if you have reached a point to say ‘enough!’ ‘This is it and I’m never going to allow some fearful things to block the best things that God wants for my life!’”

I believe that you read this far because you are ready for a change so I’ll look forward to hearing your story in the days ahead; about how you, or perhaps you and some friends came together to take positive action to make your house a safe one. Several times a year I’ll hear back from someone who took that next step to reach out to the safe people who were able to help them cross over to a new level of living without the fear of abuse and it changed their lives forever. God’s desire for you and your closest relationships is peace, comfort, contentment, security and connection. When you open up your eyes to look beyond the fear of abuse- you’ll be able to see that the freedom of a better life is available to you too. Isn’t that the very good news of the message the angels sang on the night Christ was born, “Peace on earth- Goodwill to men!”

It is my prayer that you begin to live out that true message of Christmas right now as you begin to experience the new light of freedom more than living in the shadows and darkness of your old fears. You are worth so much more than your fears have led you to believe and you don’t have to stay stuck in the relationship cancer of abuse for one more second because this is your time to come alive by making some bold decisions to move forward to a better place by God’s grace. This is your time to change. Know that you are not alone on that journey and that there are safe people to help.


If you or someone you know is frightened about something in your relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or logging onto www.NDVH.org

References for more in-depth study & analysis on Domestic Violence:
(American Bar Association) - http://www.abanet.org/tips/dvsafety.html

(American College of Emergency Physicians) -http://www.acep.org/webportal/PatientsConsumers/HealthSubjectsByTopic/Violence/FactSheetDomesticViolence.htm

(American Academy of Family Physicians) - http://familydoctor.org/052.xml

(Checklist for Leaving an Abuser)- http://womenshealth.gov/violence/checklist/

(Domestic Violence Hurts the Whole Family, Healthy Roads Media - Multi-language site) - http://www.healthyroadsmedia.org/topics/abuse.htm

(Domestic Violence Special Events- Family Violence Prevention Fund)- http://www.endabuse.org/newsflash/index.php3?Search=Article&NewsFlashID=794

(Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women)- http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw/

(Know Your Rights on Domestic Violence, American Bar Association - Links to PDF) http://www.abanet.org/domviol/knowrights.pdfhttp://www.abanet.org/domviol/conozcaderechos.pdf

(Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/domestic-violence/WO00044

(National Center for Injury Prevention and Control)- http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/
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About the author- C. Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

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