As if domestic abuse isn’t an epidemic enough … within the military life, it’s even more of an issue.
One of the women in my support group (I’ll call her Jane because that’s a plain name) is the wife of a military officer. It took a long time—over a decade—and a wake-up call from concerned friends to finally help her admit that no, her marriage wasn’t normal. Women in normal relationships don’t walk on eggshells around their partner, constantly monitoring every word and action so as not to activate one of their husband’s countless “triggers” (triggers that keep changing from day to day, so victims never know up from down, left from right, or black from white). Women in normal relationships don’t cringe in terror every time their husbands punch a hole in the wall in violent rage, or have to clean up the sharp, cutting pieces of broken pottery, bowls, glasses, vases … and their own hearts.
Women in normal relationships aren’t called “stupid f*ck!ng retarded bitch” and “whore” and “crazy” and “selfishly uncaring … full of hate.” Women married to empathetic, loving partners don’t creep around the house, trying to be silent so as to go unnoticed, all the while listening attentively to the sounds coming from the kitchen. More ice clinking in the glass … there goes the door to the liquor cabinet again … that’s four drinks so far this evening, and it’s only 7 PM … tonight will be a bad one, be prepared ...
Jane has been living in a form of hell.
But anyway. That’s not the point of this post. My point is, I’ve come to a wonderment …
Here’s what I’ve been wondering: is domestic violence more prevalent in military households? I wonder this because Jane isn’t the only military spouse who has opened up to me. Also, she’s told me that her husband thinks his behavior is perfectly normal. Guys punch holes in walls when they’re angry—that’s just they do, he’s told her. Guys sit around watching porn (and thereby violating their sacred marriage vows, demeaning their wives and women in general, and abusing themselves in the process—go look up CCC 2352 and 2354—all in one fell swoop). Guys call women names—it’s a “guy” thing and “names are just nouns.” Is that like “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”?
We all know just how bogus that saying is.
Jane has also told me that it’s a “normal” thing for guys to stalk their “loved ones” by installing nanny cams or other “home security” cameras in their homes, then watching their wives at random, often sharing the video with co-workers. Jane’s husband actually chuckled as he told her stories of his co-workers spying on their wives like this. Sorry, but that’s not funny. It’s creepy.
The list goes on, but it's too long to mention here. I'm sure you get the point.
Why is it that Jane’s military husband is surrounded by men who validate his abusive patterns and attitudes with abusive patterns and attitudes of their own? Is intimate partner violence (IPV) so incredibly common that the majority of men in all walks of life simply “don’t know better” and normalize it through their own distorted beliefs?
I think not. IPV is far too common, that’s true—but it’s not the norm in genuine relationships. This led me to wonder about the sorts of men, and the atmosphere, Jane’s husband is surrounded by. Is it something in the water on base? Or, perhaps it’s in the sands of Afghanistan …
What I found out is that “soldiers with PTSD are up to three times more likely to be aggressive with their female partners than those without such trauma,” according to a 2011 report from the Pentagon. The increased levels of domestic abuse among soldiers affects all branches. Jane’s husband is in the Army, with multiple deployments to his credit (and to her detriment). The Air Force, Navy, and Marines follow a similar sad pattern.
The statistics are actually a bit frightening:
2-3: Male combat veterans who suffer from PTSD are two to three times more likely to abuse their female partners than veterans not suffering from PTSD.
1/3: About 33 percent of combat veterans with PTSD report having been aggressive with their intimate partner at least once in the previous year.
9 in 10: About 91 percent of combat veterans with PTSD reported being psychologically aggressive with their intimate partner in the previous year. (Info from domesticabuseshelters.org)
If you’re a military spouse experiencing domestic violence in any form (physical, emotional, psychological, verbal, or a combination of any of those, whether covert or overt), I’d love to hear your story. I want to find out how many more military spouses are suffering in the same way—and what we can do about it.
You can email me at createsoulspace [at] protonmail.com or use my contact form.
(Military photos are from freepik.com; "Sticks and Stones" copyright of Keariel Peasley)
Unwittingly Describing the Abuse Cycle
The abuse cycle is the circular recurring pattern that keeps playing out, again and again, in abusive relationships. When a relationship initially begins, it tends to be roses and happiness—the “love-bombing” stage can last as long as the dating period lasts. Once an abusive personality realizes he “has” his target, whether through marriage, children, living together, or any other deep emotional bond, the abuse cycle begins to rotate in earnest …
The initial incident of abuse leaves a target feeling confused, dazed, and full of disbelief. What happened to prince charming? Happily, he soon returns after that first shocking break in trust. It’s then that you enter the opening act of the abuse cycle.
The “Adoration/Idealize” stage is when the abuser is contrite, kind, seemingly empathetic and caring, loving. It’s wonderful, and feels like such a relief after the cycle of mistreatment. But then it all falls apart.
You’ve entered the “Tension Building” stage of the abuse cycle. You can feel something simmering, even though it may not be overtly obvious. He turns cold, or critical, or … something. Often the shift is so covert that it’s hard to explain in words, yet it can certainly be felt. It's viscerally, intuitively, fearfully felt ...
There's intense fear. Fear that he's capable of so much more than he's letting on. Fear that he's hiding so much. Fear that you're going to be hurt even more, whether physically or emotionally/psychologically. Fear of him. Sadly, that's what this stage is all about.
Next comes the “Rage Stage”--the explosion, the outburst, the full-fledged Mr. Hyde coming out like a roaring lion, waiting for someone (you) to devour (1 Peter 5:8). If an abuser is particularly covert, this stage may not take the form of violent outbursts such as punching walls, vicious shouting, accusations, and fiery rage, but may take the form of more subtle accusations, heartbreaking name-calling, betrayal, increased gaslighting, and more. Or all of the above. Or a mix. Abusers are unpredictable in their predictability.
Finally, you get much-needed “Calm.” You’ll often hear apologies, although be vigilant and alert. Any apology that has a “but” in it isn’t a real apology (“I’m sorry I called you a stupid bitch, but I was drunk,” “I’m sorry I smashed your vase, but you pushed one of my triggers,” and the like); there are actually many forms of fake apologies, but that’s a topic for another blog post. Anyway, you’re in the “Calm” phase of the abuse cycle, where you feel you can breathe again and perhaps even trust again. He promises to change, or ignores the abuse altogether (making you feel as if perhaps you exaggerated things and it really is all your fault). He slips back into “Adoration/Idealize,” and you’re on top of the world again—until the cycle just keeps on going and you’re onto the “tension building” phrase once again …
This is how trauma bonds are formed, but that’s also a topic for a separate post. For this one, I want to focus on the abuse cycle and how victims can oftentimes be aware of the cycle even if they’ve never been educated or have never read a single article about it. They only know their own experience, and when they finally do start reading and realize that their experience is cookie-cutter similar to other victims of domestic abuse, feelings of shock, disbelief, relief, and understanding merge in a swirl of highly-charged awareness.
Below is a letter one of my clients wrote to her husband long before she’d ever read anything about the “Cycle of Narcissistic Abuse.” When she found out that her experience was typical, she told me she was flooded with empowerment and relief. And yes, shock. No longer could she deny that she was experiencing abuse. It was then that she finally sought help.
(June 24, Some Years in the Past ...)
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, and realize that until the time when you can stop clinging to your old resentments and hurts, and until you can change your behavior, I can’t get close to you. It’s impossible, because you’ll just hurt me again with your built-up anger and penned-in resentment. Until you can let yourself go enough to stop clinging to those things and nurturing them so that they grow, we can’t become close.
I’ve been on a cycle of letting myself get close to you, only to be betrayed, hurt, abused and accused yet again; then we get closer, and I’m relieved and happy and allow that closeness, only to get crushed again. Each time I’m hurt worse and worse to the point that now, I can’t be hurt again and survive. So for now, I can’t let myself get close to you like I want to. It’s just not possible. You expect me to forgive you for everything, and I have (which isn’t to say that I’m not still extremely hurt and can’t trust you at the moment because trust has been broken), yet you refuse to forgive any real or imagined hurts I may have caused, because you don’t “believe” in forgiveness, you’ve said. That’s hypocritical. Additionally, you’ve never believed me when I’ve told you that I forgive. I know how I feel, yet you’ve tried to tell me otherwise, tried to tell me that I don’t forgive (as if you can get into my mind and heart and know me better than I know myself). Now I realize why. It’s projection. You’re projecting your own inability to forgive onto me. Yet I’m not you. Unlike you, I actually want to forgive and don’t want to cling to anger and resentment, because I know it just festers and destroys from within. Until you can reach that point—which will take a great deal of work, effort, healing, and above all a lot of time—I can’t allow myself to get too close to you.
Your determined effort not to get hurt is based on nothing but your own unfounded fears, yet it has directly led me to getting hurt. You’ve sacrificed my happiness in this marriage in an effort to try to protect yourself from what you see as vulnerability. You’ve repeatedly hurt and betrayed me so you can remain unhurt, which in the end will hurt you because of how deeply and grievously it has hurt us and our relationship. We’re broken because of this. What a wicked and pitiful cycle.
(P.S. I’d like to say that this letter changed the narrative of our marriage and helped my husband to become aware of his destructive pattern of abuse, to help him see how urgently change was needed and impel him to do something concrete toward making steps to change. Ah, that would have been a dream come true! But, sadly ... no such luck.)
Photographs © of Keariel Peasley
To say it hurts to be betrayed is an immense understatement, but to express the anguish that’s experienced when an intimate partner deceives you—not once, or twice, but repeatedly through domestic abuse—is impossible to describe. The cycle of both major and minor betrayals show just how much narcissistic parters care—about themselves.
Even one betrayal is shattering. Jesus allowed Judas Iscariot into His intimate circle, sharing wine and laughs, bread and life-giving conversation. And more. Yet for a mere fistful of coins, Judas sold his Master’s life, condemning Him to an excruciating death.
Our Lord knows all about betrayal. He can help us through this, if we ask.
Betrayal is such an intricate topic that I found it necessary to go more into depth in my the book I'm currently writing, Don't Plant Your Seeds Among Thorns: A Catholic Guide to Domestic Abuse. Here, I’ll just cover a few basic essentials.
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.