Q: What do you mean by “dangerous”?
A: I mean, what is the likelihood that the person closest to you is a candidate to go from annoying, wearisome, irresponsible, moody, emotionally too cold or too hot, unfaithful, etc. to being 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. 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 in the wrong direction.
To get some perspective on the negative side of your relationship, it is important to know two things: 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 but the BIG incidents. Months and years pass, and the victim becomes more and more discouraged, resigned, and helpless.
The second thing to know is there are checklists which describe important cues – they can alert you that your safety and sanity may be at risk. These checklists have been compiled by social scientists who looked at large numbers of abuse situations with 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.
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?
Additionally, experts suggest using a small calendar and “X” the incident days. You may see for the 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, with the “rough patches” coming closer together and lasting longer.
The more you know about yourself and your partner, the better decisions you can make. Looking at unpleasant things in your relationship can be a big step towards living the life you want, in love and safety.