"Recognising the signs or precursors to domestic violence can be difficult because of the nature of the relationship. When you are in love with someone, it is hard for you to believe that they would ever want to harm or hurt you (even emotionally). Domestic violence is often a dance of extremes from acting as a perpetrator, a victim, and a rescuer. The key to a healthy relationship is to be none of these of any extreme," explains Clark.
What are some of the behaviours that could be precursors to domestic violence?
"Precursors can often be signs of jealousy, isolation (from your social network), possessiveness, threats, acts that shame or put you down, coercion (persuading you to do something by using force or threats) or deprivation of basic liberties (from basic material necessities, freedoms or money)," says Clark.
"Image-based abuse is another form of abuse often not appreciated. This is when someone shares, or threatens to share, intimate images without your consent. Domestic violence can take many forms, whether emotional, psychological, sexual or physical and whilst your partner may not have physically hurt you, it is important to recognise the signs before things progress to that level."
While some signs might be more obvious than others, there are certainly ways men act every day that aren't necessarily seen as being related to domestic violence. Clark suggests that many not-so-obvious signs are related to typical "manly behaviours" that have traditionally been seen as trivial.
"These beliefs may have been learned from growing up and watching the power balance in their home. It may also have been learned through their social group, their community or culture. These behaviours can also stem from personality factors such as narcissistic personality traits. Often domestic violence is related to a ‘heart’ problem driven by a want for (unhealthy) power and control," she says.
"They will often use intimidating or hurtful words, make threats or insults, or use ways to control their partner. This can range from controlling money, through to controlling what their partner wears, what they do with their time or sexually. A domestic abuser will often also try to shift the blame on their partner, by blaming them for their own actions."
So what action can you take to help stop the trend?
Firstly, the onus is on you to keep your mates in-check and keep them accountable for their actions towards women.
"Often, domestic violence abusers can think that they are entitled to dominate their partner or that their partner is to blame for the abuse. This is of course not the case, but it can make it hard for the abuser to even recognise that they are at fault.
"So, taking some accountability for their own actions is the first step, then seeking the help of a professional. Our brain has neuro-plasticity and with structure and repetition we can evolve to be how we want to be. Once upon a time we could only walk, it took guts and tenacity to learn to walk. We could achieve that as a baby. We can achieve a lot more as an adult. But you have to want to be better.
Clark also suggests that there's nothing wrong with seeking help to address any unacceptable conduct.
"Counselling is a non-judgemental, structured way to learn fundamental life skills such as emotional self-regulation, relationship and communication skills. Counselling can help to teach the perpetrator to recognise their own behaviours, ways to admit being at fault with dignity, learn respect for their partner. Lysn offers counselling services with qualified psychologists that men can access from the comfort of their own home."
If you do find yourself out and your mates reveal their abusive actions, Clark recommends using the opportunity to both interrogate them and call out any behaviour that isn't acceptable.
"Whilst it can feel awkward to interfere or pry into someone’s private relationship, doing nothing about warning signs can have detrimental effects. Being indifferent only hurts to victim and supports the perpetrator. Talk to other men about domestic violence and create awareness about the behaviours. Something that could seem simple like your mate monitoring their partner’s text messages is actually a sign of domestic violence. Call them out about it or talk to them about it privately and explain how their controlling behaviour is hurtful to their partner. Some strategies that can help in the moment:
- Distract your friends by saying something like ‘relax, that’s enough’.
- Don’t laugh – silence cuts. Tell your friends to stop.
- Name it: “Come on, I know you are better than that”, or “What did you say? I’m not sure what you mean.”
- Bring it home: “What if someone said that about your sister or your daughter?”
- I believe: “Abuse is not on”
- Show that you do not approve of their behaviour.
If you find yourself in a heated confrontation, what are some measures you can take to prevent things from escalating?
Clark recommends taking deep breaths and removing yourself from the situation. She also suggests taking a moment to consider your partner's feelings.
"Focus on listening to your partners concerns or how they are feeling, rather than feeling the need to control the situation or react in a certain way. The key to a healthy relationship is not to convince others you are right. First understand, in order to be understood. Once you have a mutually respectful relationship, you will both get into a flow of getting each other and meeting each other’s needs.
"There is help available for a person who might potentially be an abuser and if you think it is serious, you can suggest these options. The causes of domestic violence behaviours often include deeply held beliefs about masculinity and it’s likely they will need to seek the help of a professional. Also, be aware that not all domestic violence is caused by men – anyone can be abused, and anyone can be the abuser. In either case, it is imperative to ensure that the victim is ok. Make a point of discussing it privately with the victim and offering help if they need it. Often victims don’t want to admit that there is something wrong in their relationship, so ensure that they know they have someone to turn to if they need it."
If you have experienced sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 (24/7 counselling).
If you need help addressing your use of family violence, our counsellors are trained to support men. Call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491