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Back and forth, back and forth

DEAR COUNSELLOR

With Wayne Powell MA Counselling Psychology Relationship Counsellor

Monday, March 31, 2014    

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Dear Counsellor,

I am 22 years old. I got involved with a young man the same age. Five months into the relationship we started living together. Things were OK at first until it took a rocky turn. We started drifting apart as his behaviour became disrespectful, abusive and aggressive. I started dating someone else and we broke up, but he begged me to come back and I did. But he again got very abusive and I left the relationship again. After him begging and begging again, I gave in and went back, but eventually I moved out again and I started to date another guy. One day I went to see my ex and we had an altercation. We were fighting for an entire night. I went to the police station and reported him and they arrested him. His mother begged me to drop the charges and I did, but now he has lost his job. He is saying he still loves me and wants us to be together, and for some strange reason I still have feelings for him. But I am scared and don't know how to feel comfortable around him because I don't think he has changed. I am feeling lonely and depressed and feel responsible for him losing his job. Please help me. I don't know what to do.

What you have described is exactly what happens in a relationship that is troubled with intimate partner abuse. There is an established cycle of events that occur that is evident in your situation. Let's look at them and see if you can identify with the phases.

The first phase of the cycle is 'tension building'. At this stage the abuser issues threats and intimidates the victim. There is a breakdown in communication as the abuser exerts control while the victim cowers in fear and withdraws, hoping to calm the abuser. The tension escalates and becomes uncontrollable.

The second stage is the 'abusive incident'. At this stage the threats intensify and are even actualised. Physical violence is frequent and can result in injuries to the victim. The victim is traumatised and most times is blamed by the abuser for the unfolding events. And so the victim becomes helpless and feels a sense of powerlessness.

The third stage is the 'honeymoon phase'. At this stage the monster transforms into a calm and loving person and is super apologetic. The victim is most times taken off guard and is sympathetic to the abuser and even minimises what may have occurred earlier on. Sometimes the victim takes responsibility for the abuse and oftentimes considers reconciliation. The abuser will often shower the victim with gifts and promises not to repeat the abusive behaviour.

The important thing to note about this cycle is that in a few hours, days, weeks or months, there is a complete revolution and the tension-building phase re-emerges.

Based on your account it does appear that you have been through this cycle numerous times, and now you are confused as you contemplate the future of the relationship.

Let it be understood that abuse of any kind, whether it be physical, verbal or emotional, is unacceptable and cannot be condoned. If you are in a relationship and your personal safety is threatened, you need to do what is necessary to protect yourself. The same applies to your personal happiness. If your relationship is in turmoil as a result of intimate partner abuse, then you need to make a decision that is in your best interest.

As indicated in the domestic violence cycle, in the honeymoon stage it is very common for the victim to take responsibility for the abusive behaviour of the abuser and it is not surprising that you feel responsible for him losing his job. Expect to be taken on a guilt trip which is sometimes aided by family members who would seek to defend the abuser and even cover up the mishap.

So your present state of ambivalence and distress is expected as you try to navigate this relationship. Yes, you would feel an emotional attachment to him, but you must decide what is more important to you: a life of bliss or blisters.

You decided to move in with him after five months in the relationship, and soon after he started to become abusive. It is always wise to pay attention to the "red lights", especially in the first few months in the relationship. Ignoring them could be to your own peril, as you have experienced.

It is critically important that your friend gets help for his anger control issues. If he fails to manage his anger, then you or his next girlfriend will suffer abuse that can escalate to fatality.

Wayne Powell is a relationship counsellor. Write to crisscounselloronline@ gmail.com.

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