We marry dreaming of "happily-ever-after." But sadly, 25% of all women in the US (and a significant % of men) find themselves in an abusive marriage or partnership. And when that occurs, most are in denial.
Homelife: Shattered Dreams.
It's hard to admit, and take action, when abuse happens. Why? It's difficult to believe we lovingly chose someone who could hurt us in so many unforeseen ways. We think abuse is something that happens to others. And, since it usually happens so gradually, we question its reality. There is no billboard announcing: "You now are in a domestic violence situation".
Simply put, abuse is about power and control, and generally the perpetrator is very cunning. Abuse happens in many obvious ways, such as yelling, threats, verbal put-downs, and bodily harm. It also happens in subtle ways such as stonewalling and withholding money. It may only happen behind closed doors, which creates an additional challenge -- especially if the abuser is a successful, charismatic figure (think Bill Cosby).
The whole family suffers. Communication at home totally breaks down because the abuser's anger and control issues rule the family. While the behavior may only be directed at one person, the entire family walks on eggshells, suffering stress, pain and isolation. Chaos reins, especially when its victims experience the "wheel of abuse," which is a repeated cycle of bad times followed by a honeymoon period. Its crazy-making as it keeps everyone off-balance and off-guard.
Needless to say, recognizing and getting out of the nightmare takes amazing courage. Filing for separation and/or divorce is a heroic feat for the abused spouse, as the risk of retaliation is great. Intimidation, and often violence, escalates. Sometimes a restraining order is needed. If there are kids, it can become really ugly, especially when the abuser sees the kids as an entitlement.
Then there's tediously dividing everything acquired during the marriage, a daunting task even for level-headed people. It demands transparency, compromise, integrity and restraint. Not qualities you find in an abuser. When a marriage is abusive, the power balance is so skewed that it may not be safe or productive to even have the couple in the same room, let alone discuss a compromise.
Divorcing: Welcome to a daunting game of destruction -- legal abuse.
Given an abuser's tendencies, divorcing one can be like walking through a minefield. Often, the legal process becomes another tool in the abuser's arsenal -- especially if money is no object. And, the mistreated spouse quickly learns abuse at home gets replaced with abusive legal tactics. It can be a rude awakening and impossible to stop.
Expecting "justice", most first-timers are shocked to discover the cruel reality of our legal system: It's not about justice -- it's about how you play the game. And, in order to stay in the game, particularly against an abuser, you need lots of money because running up your legal costs is the opposing side's strategy to shut you out of the game.
Pursuing your legal rights is expensive and often there is great disparity in what spouses can afford. Commonly, it's the abuser who has the money, and unrelenting drive, to escalate and prolong the legal battle. Remember, winning at all costs is the abuser's goal.Without the means to level the playing field, an abused spouse is faced with harsh realities, such as:
- How do you negotiate with someone (the abuser) bent on winning at all costs and wanting revenge?
- Where is "justice" when your spouse can turn the courts and the legal system into a new weapon against you, especially by hiring an expensive attorney who's known to use bullying and nasty legal tactics to intimidate and drain family resources?
- How is it in "the best interest of the child" when the abuser has money to hire experts and take you to court, over and over again -- while you can barely afford the soccer shoes your kids need?
Time for a Game Change.
Experts commonly say, "as goes the marriage, so goes the divorce." It's no surprise that difficult people fuel difficult divorces. After all, does anyone really think an abuser changes his/her ways just because divorce is happening? Fact is, even nice people can morph into ugly people during separation and divorce.
The big question is: Why don't we protect abused spouses, and families, from being financially and emotionally pummeled through the courts? If someone gathers the courage to leave an abusive marriage, shouldn't there be oversight and procedures to protect him/her from being revictimized, and punished, by a retaliatory spouse?
We've come a long way helping DV victims become survivors and educating the public about domestic violence and its toll on the family. Making it a priority has saved lives and families. Taking it out of the closet has encouraged abused spouses to get out.
Isn't it time we took it a step further by stopping the abusers from using the courts as a weapon in divorce? Makes sense to me.
Note: Questions or comments welcome below. Also, the author will be a guest on Family Matters with Dr. Virginia Colin this Tues (1/27/15) from 6PM to 7PM EST. You are welcome to call in on 866-472-5788.