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Counseling for yourself
You may feel depressed, helpless, and overwhelmed by your situation if you have been living with an abusive partner. It is very hard to make decisions or changes when you are anxious about or afraid of the consequences of those decisions. It’s especially hard to think when you have no one with whom you can talk or share your concerns for yourself and your family. Without someone to help you sort out all of these things, you may continue to feel trapped or too frightened to make any move. A professional counselor can help you find some alternatives or at least provide emotional support for you during very difficult times. Your local domestic violence service provider can refer you to a counselor who understands your domestic violence issues. Please note that, when an FRO is granted, an exception is not created for counseling. Thus, parties are not allowed to go to counseling together since this is a violation of the FRO.
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Counseling for your children
Many abusers were abused as children or came from violent homes where they learned to think of violence as a normal way to resolve conflicts. Unless children who have grown up with violence are taught that it is not an acceptable or a normal way to behave, they may grow up to imitate their parents and become abusive parents or spouses.
Growing up in a violent home is painful. It is very important to give your children a chance to talk about their experiences and feelings. Many counselors will work with you and your children, together and separately, to help you heal wounds, restore your self-confidence and self-esteem, and to finally break the generation-to-generation cycle of abuse. Call your domestic violence service provider for information about children’s services.
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Counseling for batterers
Many domestic violence programs now have services for batterers, which are often called interventions or batterers' education programs. Under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, a judge can order a batterer to attend counseling. Many people want their partners to enter these programs and request this relief, hoping that their partner will change his/her violent behavior. There are several things you should know about these intervention programs in order to keep yourself safe or to assess the effectiveness of the treatment as it progresses.
While some batterers have learned to change through intervention or education programs, many have not successfully completed such programs. The key to the success of these treatment programs is the batterer’s motivation. There are three critical things to look for:
- The abuser accepts responsibility for his/her violence.
- The abuser enters treatment without you.
- The abuser goes into treatment with absolutely no expectations from you, such as asking you to stay with him/her if he/she goes into treatment.
One other thing to look for is that the program keeps you and any services they give you separate from the services they give to the batterer. Bear in mind that changing violent behavior takes time—a lot of time. Sadly, very few batterers have the motivation to change or to make the time commitment to change their attitude and behavior. Many batterers agree to treatment because it provides an opportunity to manipulate their partners and family. Under these circumstances, it is not likely that the intervention will succeed. Even when a batterer completes a treatment program, there is no guarantee that the battering will never happen again.
If your partner agrees to enter a treatment program, you should still be mindful of safety measures, as well as the possibility that s/he may be manipulating you. You may also want to stay involved with a support group at the domestic violence prevention program, so that you can discuss what is going on and get some feedback about any concerns you may have about your partner’s non-violent, but still very controlling, behavior. If your spouse is being manipulative, s/he may stay in treatment for a month or two, and then come to you claiming that s/he doesn’t need it anymore. It is truly rare that any real change can take place in just a couple of months. In fact, it takes many batterers a year or more of treatment before they learn to change their behavior. So, while your partner is in treatment, do keep all of your safety measures and support systems in place.
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Marriage or couples counseling
Most domestic violence experts agree that traditional marriage counseling or couples counseling is not appropriate when there has been domestic violence. In fact, it may actually be harmful for you to participate in such counseling. You and your spouse will need many months of individual counseling before you are ready to be counseled as a couple. Your spouse needs to separate himself/herself from you, to confront his/her own behavior and accept responsibility for it. You need to build your self-esteem and independence. One or both of you may have problems with alcohol or drug abuse that must be faced and dealt with before you can work together as a couple. Any counselor you see must understand the dynamics of abuse.
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Counseling for alcohol and drug abuse
Many abusers also have problems with alcohol or drug addiction. Even though the abuse may be happening more often when the abuser is drunk or high (and may be worse at these times), it does not mean that things would be fine if the abuser would only stop drinking or using drugs. Abusers often use being drunk or high as an excuse for their violence. They frequently claim that they did not know what they were doing because they were drunk. But addiction and violent behavior, while they often come together, are separate problems. They are very serious and life threatening, but each must be dealt with separately. Abusers seldom stop beating their spouses or children just because they get sober or clean. Often, they will only find other excuses to justify their violent behavior once they stop drinking or using drugs. If you insist that your abuser stop drinking or using drugs, you may also want to insist that s/he get into counseling for batterers.
If you are using alcohol and drugs to help you cope with the stress of living in a violent relationship, or if you have come to think of drinking or getting high with your partner as something you can do together, you are probably developing your own alcohol or drug abuse problem.
Alcohol and drugs will only make a bad situation worse. You cannot possibly hope to make good decisions about your future or your children’s future if you are not sober or clear-headed, and you risk becoming addicted and damaging your health. Your children, already living with fear and uncertainty, will have to face the additional burden of dealing with parents who are not quite “there” because they are drunk or high.
Alcohol and drugs (even tranquilizers and other prescription painkillers or mood-altering drugs) may keep you from thinking clearly enough to free you and your children of violence. If you are dependent on drugs or alcohol, you will have to do something about that dependence before you can find solutions to your abusive relationship. Honestly answering the following questions can show you how dependent you or your abuser may be on alcohol or drugs:
- Has someone close to you expressed concern about your drinking or drug use?
- When faced with a problem, do you use alcohol or drugs for relief?
- Are your responsibilities at home or work left unmet because of alcohol or drugs?
- Has drinking or drug use caused problems in your relationships with family or friends?
- Have distressing physical or psychological reactions occurred when you have tried to stop drinking or taking drugs?
- Have you or your mate ever required medical attention as a result of drinking or drug use?
- Have you experienced blackouts—a total loss of memory while still awake—when you were drinking?
- Have you broken promises to yourself to quit or control drug use or drinking?
- Do you or your mate feel guilty about drinking or drug use and try to conceal it from others?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, drinking or drug use is having a major effect on your life. If you come from a family with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you are at an extremely high risk of becoming an addict or alcoholic yourself. If you answered yes to any of the questions, get help right away. Recognizing that you have a problem is only the first step. Solving the problem takes time. Don’t try to do it alone. There are agencies and self-help groups that deal with alcohol and drug abuse. You can find their addresses and telephone numbers in the appendix.
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Copyright © 2010 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 11/2/11