Saturday, October 7, 2017

crossing the line

Either you're right or you're in a relationsip

Much of the literature advises “no contact” with a person who is abusive.  Sometimes I think I should do this with my husband.  Other times I’m not so sure.

I see a pattern in my life.  I've been the victim before.  Actually, I've been thevictim a lot! My boundaries have been violated by friends, family, colleagues... so I must be the common denominator.

My partner is working on himself. He is becoming more self-aware and the incidents of verbal abuse are getting fewer and farther between. He is in an anger management group and starting to look at his behaviour.

I don’t want to blame myself when my husband crosses the line (the literature calls this “blaming the victim”) but doesn’t every conflict have two sides?  Shouldn’t I be owning mine?

It’s easy to lump “abusers” into one pile and “victims” into another, and say never the twain shall meet.  This might be the only recourse in a relationship where the abusive person is so defensive that there is only ever one side to every disagreement. Your boundary is not really being crossed because, in the abuser’s mind, there is no “you”, just an annoying voice that needs to be quashed, controlled or silenced. It is a no-win situation and no-contact may be the only option.

But sometimes a black-and-white solution like no-contact is not the only answer.  In fact, in the majority of conflicts, even when one partner becomes abusive, the dynamics are usually more nuanced.  Both sides may need to do some work on maintaining boundaries.

Like you, I have noticed that most victims are repeat defenders just as most abusers are repeat offenders.  Without blaming the victim, I wonder: are victims possibly missing cues that might forewarn them of violence?

I recently read that victims of physical violence tend to push back on their abusive partners. Maybe they are misreading or ignoring a potentially abusive situation and failing to back away before it escalates? This may be especially true in a relationship where there is a pursuer-distancer dynamic.

“Distancers” get easily overwhelmed by strong emotions.  They need downtime to self-regulate (hence the famous dictum to “breathe”, “take a time-out” or “count to ten”).  The “pursuing” partner, rather than back away when the distancer becomes unavailable, attempts to bridge the gap by getting physically closer or asking what is wrong and trying to fix the problem.  The distancer, threatened by the encroaching pursuer who seems to be ignoring their need for space, feels warranted in pulling further away or pushing back harder and begin at this point either to sulk and go silent, or raise their voice and yell at or insult their partner.

Distancers often feel it is unfair to be called out for “abusive” behaviour. They see their partner as having provoked them. While pursuers do not deserve to be blamed for their partner’s violence, they may need to do their work on containing their emotions rather than acting them out.  They may be just as impulsive as their abusers.

So, to answer your question, it is quite possible you both need to work on your side of the conflict, even if only one of you resorts to verbal or physical violence.  When you work on your dynamic together, you become allies rather than opponents and stand a much better chance of managing conflict before it gets to the point where someone crosses a line.

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