There was an intimate partner murder near where I live on Thanksgiving evening. It hit me hard as I envisioned how it happened, in the recall of the moments of my own shooting. A seemingly wonderful man, a youth pastor, killed his wife, her adult daughter, and boyfriend. Both were physical therapists visiting for the holiday. It happened a year after a church friend’s sister was murdered by her fiance in front of her small children, left to bleed to death. Neither likely understood the unique dynamics of abuse and holidays. Both reminded me of how unlikely it is to survive.
Of course, it is clear now neither murderer was a wonderful person at all and that once again, public images can be deceiving. Neighbors who say he was a “nice guy” don’t really know who he was. We don’t know what others are doing behind closed doors, only the persona they choose to project to the world outside.
My husband would wait until the children woke up on Christmas morning, excited to open presents. He’d then proceed to either wander outside without explanation or get in the car and leave, leaving the children to question if he was coming back, and starting the day with a(nother)black cloud hovering over our every move. There was hell to pay for not waiting for him, and children’s sadness and disappointment if we did. If we went to visit family he couldn’t wait to get back home to start picking. What I said, what I wore, how ungrateful I was, how I didn’t control the kids… Rare was a holiday or special event that wasn’t darkened by his moods.
Abusers tend to purposefully disrupt family gatherings. They can’t stand their partners focus being on anyone else, even their kids, or anyone being happy. It means their family has feelings they aren’t in control of and that spells trouble, especially if the holidays involve extended family ergo support systems. The abuser will go to any length it takes to interrupt the day, and violence is common.
As the holidays approach it’s a good time to revisit safety planning. Prepare. Be sure to leave your purse especially keys, coats and shoes by the door and an overnight bag for you and the kids hidden away from home, perhaps with a friend. If the niggling starts, no matter how small it starts, it’s likely to escalate. Always move towards an exit instead of interior rooms, and out of the kitchen. Be sure the kids know to get out of the house and call 911. Prearrange a neighbor for them to go to.
Here’s the thing. You think you can manage it. But you can’t, any more than you can manage a volcano erupting. Take action. Call the police if needed. Take out a protective order, which is only a piece of paper but carries weight in jobs and social standing and violation can result in arrest.
The more they get away with the more they will try to. One day or another it will become life-threatening. Regardless of whether it involves physical abuse or verbal and emotional abuse. The later can develop into physical violence, in too many cases lethal, in an instant. A vast majority of women murdered by partners never called the police, never accessed DV services to safety plan or develop a sustainable plan to safely leave the relationship.
Announcing plans or intentions to leave, or not to put up with it anymore can be the tipping point. Call your local domestic violence agency today to talk about what you need to have in place and be supported. 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) can connect you with the org near you. Be safe.
Wishing you peace.