I’m lucky. I have been with my partner for more than eighteen years and in that time we have barely exchanged a cross word. We’ve never had a full scale row. ‘Yeah, right’, I can hear you saying. But it’s true. Of course we have the odd disagreement, but I can’t recall a single occasion when we’ve had a full scale screaming match or slammed a door in high dudgeon.
So when I read an article which claimed one in four gay or bisexual couples have experienced some form of domestic violence it took some time to sink in. I know no one, gay or straight, who has been on the receiving end of domestic violence. Yeah right. Who am I kidding? Given those statistics, and I imagine they are no different among straight couples, I must know someone who is carrying a dark secret, it’s just that they haven’t shared it with me – or probably any one else.
Domestic violence comes in many forms. It’s not just about physical violence, it can be about mental torture too.
I’ve often wondered why victims of domestic violence stay in their relationships. I suppose it must be because of unconditional love and they imagine things may get better. But do they ever? Not that I have ever been in the situation, but I have always imagined that if it happened to me it would be the first and last time. I’d quit the relationship with barely a second thought. That’s all very well in theory, but as those who have been in the situation will no doubt confirm, it’s usually a lot more complicated than that.
It’s not necessarily the physical violence that has the deepest effect. It’s the way it can blow your self-confidence and eat into your self-esteem. After a while, it can lead to chronic depression.
I don’t pretend that I am qualified to advise people who are in this situation. I’ve looked up on the internet what the professional advice is and it doesn’t really seem to go very far. Advising people to involve the police is not necessarily the only way forward.
The worst thing one can do is to bottle it up and pretend it isn’t happening. I suspect you have to get over the feeling of embarrassment and acknowledge that because it is happening to you it will inevitably be happening to others. You may feel alone, and on your own but in reality you are not.
The old cliché about a problem shared is a problem halved is something to hang onto. OK, it’s not something to tell an acquaintance, but telling the right person can be an enormous help. Just having someone listen is a start.
In the end domestic violence is about control. One part of the relationship wants to exert physical or mental control over the other. It can be for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the person committing the violence may also suffer from self-esteem issues. This can often happen in relationships where one partner is seen as more successful than the other. Instead of talking it over and admitting to the other what the problem is, literally thrashing it out seems an easier option. It’s followed by tears and contrition, but if it happens once it will inevitably happen again.
Some people still think it’s a myth that domestic violence can ever happen to men. They need to wake up. They still think that to admit, as a man, to being abused by another man is somehow to appear less than masculine. It actually takes a real man to accept there is a problem and ask for help. I’d like to think if it happened to me I’d be able to do that, but if I am honest I suspect I’d be like most others and shut my eyes and hope the issue would go away. Sadly, that rarely happens. It will only ever go away if the issue is confronted. Easy for me to say, more difficult to do, especially if it has been going on for a long time. But with courage, it can be done.
There is a national helpline for LGBT people experiencing domestic violence called Broken Rainbow. Tel 0300 999 5428
This article first appeared in the January issue of Attitude Magazine