This guest post is by my friend, Chelsie Sargent. Chelsie is a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX. She worked at a non-profit counseling agency for 4 years before opening her own private practice in April 2011. Chelsie loves her husband Steve and prefers reading to movies, running to yoga, and slow dining experiences to fast food joints. Chelsie and Steve have one daughter – two and a half year old Cora June.
You can learn more about Chelsie and her work at www.chelsiesargentcounseling.com
The following scenario happens in my office several times a year:
A client (usually female, but not always) sits down on my couch (with hands wringing and nervously chattering on about the framed art hanging on my office walls or why I chose this particular shade of green to paint those walls). After a few pleasantries and exchanging confidentiality limits, I shift the conversation to the matters at hand and I ask, “So, why are you here today?” A story is shared, bits and broken pieces of the whole coming out at varying speeds. In this particular scenario, the dialogue usually begins this way:
Client: I never thought I would be in a situation where I would need to seek outside help.
Client: You know, like I never thought I would need to talk to a counselor about my marriage.
Me: Gets like what?
Client: Well, you know, he sometimes yells at me if I forget to turn off the sprinklers in the backyard. Or that one time he hit me after I told him his yelling hurt my feelings. Or when he threatened to hurt me or himself if I did not do X, Y, or Z better.
Me: How long has this abusive behavior been going on in your marriage?
Client: I would like to say this started just recently, but I think there were red flags while we were dating. I had no idea it would lead to all this.Red flags. Warnings. Heads up.
When I refer to a “red flag” I am referencing anything in the relationship that seems off base, or something that could be labeled as a small issue (emotional manipulation, name calling, yelling, pushing) but later turns into full-blown abuse.
For example – many women I’ve talked with who have been in a longterm abusive relationship say that at the start of dating, their partner was quite directive in what she wore, who she talked to and hung out with, or how she spent her hours when apart from each other. These red flags may have looked nonthreatening, or even like chivalrous protectiveness, but would, over time, morph into blatant control. She is silenced by him, she is shamed by him, because he has taken away her voice and crushed her spirit.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that, on average, it takes a woman seven times of leaving an abusive relationship and then coming back to it before she finally leaves the relationship for good. Why would an abused woman stay in such a situation? Why does it take someone so long to believe they are worth far more than what’s being impelled upon them, that they are precious and lovable, that they do not deserve to live in fear and isolation?