Domestic abuse, or spousal abuse is perpetuated when one of the partners in a romantic relationship or marriage exerts power and control over the other partner. Domestic violence occurs when domestic abuse comprises physical violence. Likewise, domestic violence happens when an intimate partner uses physical force against the other partner in a manner that hurts or jeopardises the latter’s safety. The goal of domestic violence is to exert total control over the other partner (sometimes by any means necessary) and can happen to anybody, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, class and financial situation. Although more women are abused than men, men fall victim to verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse too. Domestic violence or domestic abuse is always wrong and should never be excused, regardless of who is perpetuating it.

Domestic abuse often begins with verbal and emotional abuse and then moves to physical violence. Although domestic violence may be the most immediately dangerous, the emotional and psychological toll of verbal and emotional abuse is very serious. Domestic abuse can cause depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation and helplessness, and can damage your self-esteem. Thus, the most important step in breaking out of an abusive relationship is to acknowledge that you are in fact in an abusive relationship – only then can you seek assistance.

The signs that indicate an abusive relationship

There are various signs that indicate an abusive relationship, but the clearest is fear of your significant other. Other indications of an abusive situation are a demeaning partner who exerts control, and feelings of self-hatred and powerlessness.

Domestic violence includes any unwelcome or unwanted sexual activity (even if consensual sex is had at other times. In addition, acts of violence are still considered domestic violence even if the physical assault appears ‘minor’, has only been perpetrated ‘once or twice’, the physical abuse stops once the victim grows submissive, or if the perpetrator has not been physically abusive again, but continues to emotionally or verbally abuse his or her partner.

Indeed, the perpetrating of domestic abuse and domestic violence are active choices made by the abuser. The cycle of violence helps to explain how domestic violence occurs in a pattern. First, the perpetrator uses physical violence to put the other partner ‘in his or her place’. After the abusive acts have been committed, the perpetrator feels guilty, and worries about the repercussions of potentially being caught. Then the abusive partner makes excuses in order to exonerate him or herself. Next, the perpetrator behaves ‘normally’ in order to prevent the victim from leaving the relationship. This is often referred to as the ‘honeymoon phase’. After this, the abuser fantasises about perpetrating more abuse, and then formulates a plan to enable this. Lastly, the perpetuator executes his or her plan by producing a set-up or scenario in which he or she can rationalise the abuse. This pattern is repeated over and over again.

Reg flags indicating domestic violence

There are several red flags that can indicate the occurrence of domestic violence. For example, victims of physical assault may have regular injuries, which they dismiss as being ‘accidents’; they may be regularly absent from social engagements, their job or school without providing reasons; they may wear clothing that conceals their injuries – such as long pants and shirts on hot days). It is crucial to speak up if you think that someone you know is being physically, emotionally or verbally abused.

Contact counsellor Louw Alberts for help with domestic violence. Louw works in the Centurion, Pretoria area.