The holidays can be a wonderful time for celebration and joy for families. It can also be a stressful time--we sometimes have unrealistic expectations, money concerns, family pressures, and sometimes excessive drinking takes place.
In families where domestic abuse has occurred, the holidays can bring added tension and strain.
If you have abused your partner in the past, she may feel like she has to walk on eggshells around you. She wants there to be peace, but knows from past holidays that your behavior can be unpredictable whether at home or at a social event.
I interviewed many men who abused their intimate partners for the book Violent No More: Helping Men End Domestic Abuse. Most of these men had completed a 30-week domestic abuse program; they were either ordered by the court to attend, or they volunteered to go because they saw their lives spinning out of control.
At the time when these men were abusive, they may have felt that their behavior was justified. They felt wronged by their partner's actions or words and they were angry. Being violent or abusive ended the argument on their terms. But when these men looked at the bigger picture, they knew that the very people they claimed they loved (their intimate partners and children) were now afraid of them. Being violent, threatening or intimidating was so much a part of how they handled conflict that it was almost an automatic reaction. Does this description sound familiar to you?
After completing our domestic abuse program, many of these men made promises to stop being violent. They also pledged to stop using other coercive and controlling behaviors--making threats, throwing things, punching doors and walls, yelling and calling their partners derogatory names. Despite making these commitments, they told me that they continually have to work to avoid reverting to old behaviors especially during special times like the holidays. During the holidays, little and big events would compound their emotional responses. Rather than reacting to problems with a positive and peaceful mind, they let their anger overwhelm them, and would say or do inappropriate things.
Making promises that your past abusive behavior won’t happen again are not enough. To truly change and be accountable to the person you've harmed, you must take certain steps to ensure that the abusive behavior won’t reoccur.
I encourage you to talk to other men or friends who have gotten help, a mental health professional or a domestic abuse program about what has been happening in your life. While some people will defend or support your past actions because they think that’s what you want to hear, those who truly care for you will help you find ways to change and will support your efforts.
Many communities have domestic abuse programs. If you have abused your intimate partner you may feel reluctant to go to such a program. You may be embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about such personal issues in a group setting. I urge you to take the risk and join today. The other men in the group will have had similar experiences and you will feel less alone.
This holiday season make a commitment to your yourself and your partner and yourself that you won't be abusive. Get help and do it now. Even if you take this first step by enrolling in a domestic abuse program, your partner may still have a healthy dose of mistrust. This is understandable. She clearly remembers your past behavior. Give her time and make these commitments because it’s the right thing to do. The choice is yours.
I wish you and your family a happy and peaceful holiday season.
About the Author: Michael Paymar, MPA, has worked in the domestic abuse prevention field for over thirty years. He and his colleague the late Ellen Pence authored the groundbreaking curriculum Creating a Process for Change for Men Who Batter, the most widely used treatment model in the world. They worked together at the pioneering Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota, creating the Duluth Model. He wrote the award-winning documentary With Impunity: Men and Gender Violence. As a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives for almost two decades, Michael Paymar authored legislation to combat domestic and sexual abuse and sex-trafficking. In the third edition of Violent No More and in this accompanying workbook, Michael provides insight into gender violence and offers hope for men who want to change their behavior and live violence-free lives.