Many thoughts to everyone who commented on last week's question. I agree with Margaret, who said, "I believe that domestic violence is a conditioned and learned dysfunctional behavior."
The consensus among those who commented seems to be that the primary place we learn such behavior is in our childhood home. I also agree with this. Children learn by watching the examples we provide, and tend to replicate the environment in which they were raised. Young men who observe abuse between their parents learn that such behavior on their part is normal and will be tolerated. Young women in similar situations learn that they can expect no better from life and that they should put up with it.
When I see a young couple where she has low self-worth and he lacks maturity, these are red flags for me that the relationship will have serious issues, maybe even to the point of domestic violence. Ronni offered a list of other behaviors for girls to watch out for in their boyfriends:
If their boyfriend wants them to do things like dye their hair,
If he badmouths their friends and parents,
If he tries to get her to do things he knows are against her family's rules, like drink, or stay out past curfew,
If he pushes her around, even in fun,
If he sets "rules," or gets angry,
If he wants her to withdraw from school activities, like choir or cheerleading,
If he wants her to date him exclusively,
Any or all of these things are Red Flags.
Above all, girls need to remember that whatever he says or does, the behavior will escalate.
Most girls don't realize how serious this behavior can and WILL get.
Amen to that. A list like this should be required reading for all high school girls (and guys, for that matter). Girls should learn they can choose guys who don't act like this (and there are plenty of them out there) and guys should learn that such behavior will put them in the Alone Club pronto. Unfortunately girls do put up with guys like that, and the guys don't end up alone as a result. The sad truth is that too many young men believe this to be normal, and too many young women are so anxious to be validated and wanted that they will put up with it.
The one comment I have about that list is the exclusivity part. That may be a red flag for very young girls (and I suspect that is what Ronni meant) but being monogamous is a good thing for couples who are dating seriously, such as when they get to the point of contemplating marriage.
Ronni also offered some advice on how to attract the right kind of guy. I have heard about this type of strategy before and it makes perfect sense to me:
Women who feel that they need to be in a relationship in order to be happy or fulfilled tend to attract abusers. For grown women, I would suggest visualizing your life alone. Think about it down the years until you can see yourself as an old lady, alone. Now tweak your scenario until you like it. Maybe just in a studio apartment with a cat and your hobbies and friends. Maybe owning your own home. Maybe sharing a home with a room mate. Tweak it until you like it, and then set out to make it happen. There are much worse things than being alone.
All of a sudden you will start to attract men who respect and admire you for your self-confidence, rather than those who would control you.
We all advertise ourselves to the world. We tell others about the type of person we are and what we expect from the world, all by how we act. If you project an aura of fear and quiet desperation, you will tend to repel confident, "together" guys and attract those who can't quite seem to manage life. In other words, the image you project will determine how people respond to you.
Finally, Klynn told a powerful story from her own life that reinforces these thoughts. It seems she learned the right kind of lessons from her upbringing:
When my first marriage was getting rocky, my then-husband and I were having a loud argument. At one point, he pushed me, and I fell back to sit on the couch. It was just a push, nothing more. But silence ensued. After a moment of stunned wide-eyed silence, I picked up my toddler daughter, and walked out of the house, barefoot. I did not stop or look back. He eventually caught up with me a couple of blocks down the road, and was crying and begging me to come back. I made it clear that physical violence of any kind would NEVER happen in my house again. I was dead serious when I walked out that door, and he knew it. Eventually the constant arguing would lead us to the realization that we were not going to work it out, and that was no environment to raise a child, and we divorced. But, he never raised a hand toward me again. The moral to my story is that I had the upbringing and the self-esteem to not tolerate physical violence.
I know it can be tough to draw a line in the sand and really mean it when it comes to your marriage. Some behaviors, though, should be considered dead-stop deal breakers, and physical violence is one of them. Please, if you are living with this kind of abuse, make a commitment to make it stop. Tell your partner that you will no longer tolerate it, not for one instant. And if it doesn't stop, find somewhere else to be. Staying in such a situation can literally be life threatening and, as the comments from several readers attest, can doom your children to a similar life when they become adults.
Violent abuse is not normal. It is criminal.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed.