It is commonplace these days to hear talk about how couples separate because they are not prepared to work on their relationship. Interestingly, the trend for us to divorce in ever-increasing numbers started in the late 1800s which, using this logic, tells us our great, great grandparents didn't work hard enough on their relationships either. What a relief-we can blame them!
In all probability, societal changes which have supported the right of women to be more independent and equal to men, is a more likely contributor to the current trend in divorce rates. This positive shift has enabled women to leave abusive relationships more easily. However, the recent Men against Violence campaign points to the fact that many women and children live in unsafe environments.
Amidst this campaign, a number of newspaper articles printed research which highlighted statistics indicating women as being just as likely to be involved in the perpetration of domestic altercations as men. This type of research is often pounced on by some to support their claim that women can be just as violent as men and both are equally responsible for domestic violence in our communities.
Such claims sidestep the fact that most men are larger, physically stronger and far more likely to inflict serious damage in a domestic dispute. Men need to take responsibility for misusing their strength to dominate others and both men and women need to be held to account for their perpetration of domestic violence.
Domestic violence cannot be justified and its prevalence in our communities cannot be ignored. However, despite lamenting how people lack commitment to their relationship, a huge number of people put up with unacceptable behaviour from their partners. Belief, fear and love keep both men and women in unhealthy relationships despite the concerning behaviour of their partners.
When is your partner's behaviour a problem? The behaviour becomes a problem when the person you are concerned about behaves in a way which is distressing and/or harmful. Alcohol and drugs, abuse, gambling, getting into debt and misusing the family's finances, negatively affect relationships and the health and wellbeing of those closely associated with the drinker, drug user and gambler etc.
Steps you can take
If you are concerned about your partner's behaviour, it is important to Stop thinking about the person with the problem and focus on what their behaviour does to you and others. Think of it as your story of concern and list the behaviours and the impact they have on you and others in your family. After you have developed your story of concern (in your mind or on paper) you might wish to take the following steps:
1. Reflect on the ups and downs of your relationship and the impact it has had on your and your family's physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Think about the good things and not so good things your partner's behaviour has brought to the relationship. Note what you have learned from reflecting on your relationship.
2. Often people who are in a close relationship with someone who is behaving badly spend a lot of time trying to change that person. While you can't change the behaviour of another person, there are some things that may be helpful for you to do, such as telling the person the effect their behaviour is having on you. Write down the things that you would like to see happen before you communicate it to them.
3. Your safety is paramount and you should not make the above request if it compromises your safety.
4. If you are unsafe, develop an escape plan. Try to put money aside, have clothes ready to take with you and develop a list of people who can help you, for example, a friend or the Women's Refuge.
5. Imagine what your relationship would be like if the concerning behaviour stopped? Imagine what your relationship would be like if it continued? Is it worth staying or is it better to leave?
6. If you think it is worth staying, be clear about what you want to change and invite your partner to make change. Remember, in relationships change usually involves both people.
7. Seek professional help if you can't find a way forward. Changing patterns of violence requires professional help.
Change often involves taking two steps forward and one back, however, if the concerning behaviour is set to continue, separation or divorce may be the best option.
Our Online Relationships Reporter has been involved in Couple and Family Therapy for twenty years.