The most important thing to do is to ensure the safety of all parties.
Domestic abuse can present in many different ways – physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological – and can sometimes be very subtle and difficult to detect.
Research shows that power and dominance are actually related to predictability. The person whose behaviour and responses are least predictable in a relationship is usually the most powerful.
It’s important for people to understand these systemic issues.
It’s also vital to identify and acknowledge whether any form of abuse is taking place, and then work together to ensure that this comes to an end immediately.
In some situations, it might be more appropriate for both parties to have their own individual therapy. This ensures they both feel more able to talk openly about what has truly been going on.
Of course, there may be cases where the safest and healthiest course of action to take is to end the relationship completely.
It’s not always best to stay together.
It’s not possible to build a secure emotional connection if abuse is present, so this has to be dealt with first and treated as priority.
Putting an end to the abuse
Once all parties are confident that the abuse has stopped, you can then start to work on repairing those attachment wounds.
It’s important to reconnect and rebuild the emotional safety and trust.
Doing this means ensuring that both parties fully understand how and why the abusive behaviour was happening in the first place. This is so they can be sure that it will never happen again.
They need to understand what the causes and patterns of the destructive cycle were so that they can de-escalate the negative interactions and then start to promote and replace these with positive healing interactions instead.
We all have raw spots that can be triggered inadvertently by our partners. It’s important that we are aware of these, and of how we can regulate ourselves or take a time out when we do feel triggered.
Again, it may be appropriate for both parties to have their own individual therapy sessions.
This is to make sense of how they have been individually affected by what took place in the relationship, and to think about what they would need in order to heal.
This is the delicate process of rebuilding trust and emotional safety, both for themselves and each other. Going to therapy and openly discussing these experiences in a safe and mediated space is vital.
How to forgive
Forgiveness is about more than simply receiving an apology.
It’s an ongoing process of understanding the impact of these past experiences and coming to terms with the effect they had on the individuals and the relationship.
There may be all kinds of emotions to process on both sides. For example, the abuser may feel guilty, ashamed, remorseful, sad, or fearful of losing their partner.
The survivor may feel equally ashamed, angry, resentful, bitter, or fearful of the abuse repeating.
For healing to take place, it’s vital that both partners fully process each of these emotions.
Both partners also need to empathise with each other’s feelings and rekindle a sense of emotional safety.
This can take a significant period of time, but it can be done with the right therapist, and relationships can be repaired and go on to be healthier and happier than ever before.
Stefan Walters is a sex and relationship therapist based in a Central London. You can find him at Harley Therapy.
If you are experiencing any signs of domestic abuse, remember – you’re not alone.
Are you in the US? Contact The Anti-Violence Project hotline: 1-212-714-1141.
Are you in the UK? Contact Galop, who run the National LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
Or see our list of global support services for LGBTI people, in alphabetical order.
Author: Stefan Walters
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