Given the events in Las Vegas on October 1st, I want to acknowledge the victims, survivors, their families, as well as the public safety workers who have worked tirelessly to help people following the worst mass killing in the United States.
As we discuss how to move forward after Las Vegas, I want to highlight another type of domestic problem our country is dealing with; violence in intimate relationships.
A Case Study
Recently, I was contacted by *Susan who was living with her boyfriend, Jim.* She felt that they needed to see a therapist together, given that their relationship had become volatile and their fights were starting to get physical. We scheduled an appointment for them to come in for a consultation.
When the day arrived, I was contacted by the receptionist. I went out to the waiting room to greet Susan and Jim. I scanned the waiting area and saw two couples, and they both looked so cheerful and happy. I figured that there must be a mistake, or perhaps Susan and Jim were waiting in a different area of the floor. Neither of the couples looked like they had a domestic violence issue. I started to turn around to go back to my office, and then it occurred to me that perhaps one of those “happy and serene” couples, could be Susan and Jim.
I asked if anyone was waiting for Kay, and a woman jumped up happily and extended her hand. A pleasant looking man, who I assumed was Jim, stood up after her and also shook my hand. I remember a voice in my head saying, “you have a domestic violence problem?!” They didn’t fit the image of the couples that we see on the news or the cases that often make local or national headlines.
Many of us, even seasoned professionals, have misconceptions about who has a domestic violence problem or what a relationship containing domestic violence looks like.
When I started the consultation, Susan’s spirited demeanor and Jim’s pleasantness shifted to a more serious and sometimes sad look. They both said that their once wonderful relationship was starting to have some bumps and some occasional drinking. Their fights were starting to get physical and Jim admitted to pushing Susan after a recent fight.
Both said that they have not spoken to friends and family about their situation as they are so shocked that they are having a relationship where there is battering. Both said that they viewed domestic violence as an issue that people have when they come from unstable and unhappy backgrounds or have limited resources or ways to cope with life’s problems.
As we proceeded with the treatment, I gave psychoeducation around myths and misperceptions about people who seek help for domestic violence.
There are many couples who appear happy and well-adjusted, who come from stable backgrounds and find themselves with a partner where conflict becomes unmanageable. Sometimes that is due to drinking, whereas other times it is due to conflicts around the children or family dynamics.
IOnce we were able to debunk some of the myths about domestic violence, I was able to work with Jim and Susan and their relationship improved.
Jim and Susan both admitted when their various relationships have conflicts, they are unable to resolve it, the fighting starts, and they don’t know how to manage it. I reviewed “Rules for Fair Fighting” and “Communication Do’s and Don’ts.” After giving Jim and Susan homework and being able to process their conflicts, they were able to relate to one another without the volatility that they had before.
I hope that this case highlights that therapists and individuals in our broader society, may need to check their assumptions about domestic violence. You simply can’t tell who might be in a relationship containing domestic violence, based on outward appearances.
Kay Gimmestad, LCSW-C is a business coach and clinician in New York City with 20 years of experience working in the profit and not for profit sectors of Human Resources, Health and Human Services. She has built a reputation for being highly skilled in facilitating behavior change while working with employees, both individually and in groups, on matters relating to performance management, substance abuse, crisis intervention, and stress/wellness.