While most couples experience some type of challenge during their relationship, a significant number also experience emotional and sometimes physical violence. In the case of two University of Virginia students, their stormy relationship ended in the death of one and the murder trial of the other.
George Huguely stands accused of killing his on again, off again girlfriend Yeardley Love in May 2010 by slamming her head against a wall. Three months before Love's death, Huguely, who was said to drink to the point of intoxication up to four times per week, was seen choking Love in his apartment, and had sent her an email the week of her death in which he told Love he should have killed her after he found out about her relationship with a North Carolina college student. Later that week, says the prosecution, he did exactly that. Huguely defense attorney suggests that his client was drunk (again) the night of Love's death, and, therefore, wasn't responsible for his actions. When are we ever responsible these days as there is always someone else to blame for our actions, just like Virginia Tech senior Seung-Hui Cho did when he killed 33 and wounded 25 on that campus on April 17, 2007.
Each year almost three-quarters of a million Americans experience some kind of non-fatal domestic violence. In the U.S., the number of people involved in emotionally and physically abusive relationships is about eight million. The decision you make about your partner or spouse will, in part, determine whether you live a life of personal satisfaction and fulfillment or experience years of frustration and fear, emotionally chained to someone who abuses you emotionally and perhaps physically.
Most relationships begin with an introduction. One might first take positive notice of the other person, perhaps identifying him or her as someone they’d like to get to know better. It is at this time that we need to know the warning signs of an abusive individual and use these signs as a kind of personal litmus test as we perhaps consider this person for a long-term relationship. Knowing the characteristics of such an individual can help you avoid the emotional and physical pain that accompanies an abusive relationship.
A third of all women experience at least one or more physical assaults by a partner, while a smaller but still significant number of men experience similar assaults. Four women are murdered by an intimate every day in the U.S., while another 600,000 muster up the courage to report that they had been assaulted by a boyfriend or husband, while others suggest that somewhere between two to four million women are actually assaulted by an intimate every year in the U.S. Women are 10 times more likely than men to be assaulted by a partner or spouse. Unemployed men are twice as likely to be batterers as those employed full-time.
Most know that members of both sexes can and do bear the emotional scars that are inflected on them by someone who initially professed to care for them. Therefore your choice of a friend, partner, or spouse is the most important emotional choice you will ever make, one that can have significant long-term consequences if you make the wrong decision. Every time I have lectured on abusive relationships some women and a few men attending the lecture put their heads down, their eyes welling up as they think about the abuse they have suffered at the hands and in the presence of a significant other. “If only I had known,” they later tell me.
Most who marry today hold out some hope that they will spend the rest of their life with their spouse, establishing a home, raising children, experiencing the joy of grandchildren, and perhaps dying in bed together some 50+ years later of old age. Most also realize that upwards of 50% of marriages end in divorce. Therefore half of us will never realize our marital dreams, at least not with our first spouse. But we hope, pray, plan, and work toward this goal anyway. Although some accept the remote possibility that their marriage will not work out, few anticipate that they will be the victim of severe domestic abuse by their spouse. After all, who would willingly enter into a relationship that endangered you or your children?
We know acts of domestic violence are many times committed by a husband or boyfriend against his female partner. Yeardley Love died after her boyfriend beat her head against a wall. According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the United States accounts for 32% of the female population among the 25 highest income countries. But, ominously, among these 25 nations, the U.S. has 70% of all female homicide. This same study confirmed that women are more likely to be killed at home by their spouse, boyfriend, ex-boyfriend, or some other intimate, while men are murdered away from their home. In the U.S., about two-thirds of the men who kill their wives or girlfriends have been drinking, almost 25% have been using drugs, and 12% have a history of mental illness. Although no one can accurately predict which man or husband will murder his partner or wife, there are signs, characteristics and indicators that should not be overlooked. These include:
The Characteristics and Early Warning Signs of an Abusive Individual
- History of abuse as a child.
- History of his/her verbal or physical abuse of parents, family, and friends and even pets.
- History of acts of vandalism or other crimes, especially those of violence against others.
- Lack of a positive male role model in the home, or the presence of an abusive male or female authority figure in the early or formative years.
- Exhibits a violent temper along with poor conflict resolution skills.
- Needs always to be in control of situations and those closest to him.
- Is usually jealous and may spy on friends and family.
- If male, he views and owns pornographic materials and may spend hours on the Internet without allowing you to see what he is into.
- Abuses alcohol or exhibits other kinds of substance abuse.
- Has a very low or especially high self-image; if male, a “macho” man, possibly connected to his physical stature, or his educational or professional background or occupation.
- Is unable to talk about or discuss his personal feelings.
- Insensitive to the feelings of others – he does not feel your pain.
- Lies frequently, many times for no apparent reason.
- Cannot admit to guilt or responsibility in any situation.
Remember: Knowing these early warning signs can help you “self-screen or screen out” those who could be abusive in a personal relationship. Non-abusive individuals may also exhibit some of these characteristics at various points in their lives, but with less frequency, severity, and duration than the truly abusive individual.
We know that about 75% of domestic homicides occur during or around the time of separation and abandonment. Anyone who says he or she can accurately predict violent human behavior is being less than honest at best. No matter what the media tells you, very few people just “snap.” Indicators of emotional challenges that could lead up to homicidal behavior are usually present to some degree, but are intentionally overlooked, foolishly disregarded, or perhaps simply missed by the victims of significant other homicide. Who, after all, wants to admit that the person they trust most with their life is the person who may take that same life in a moment of frustration, anger, rage, or calculated stupidity. No one who enters into a personal relationship with another expects to be murdered by the one closest to them. But for hundreds of women on a yearly basis, the one they trust the most commits the ultimate betrayal.
If you are considering a new relationship, know the early warning signs of an abuser and avoid him or her like the norovirus. If you are already in such a relationship, or know someone who is, seek help and assistance. The abuse will not get better by itself. It will not go away, and it may even kill you.
Clint Van Zandt and his associates developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues."