When we hear about someone who is involved in a domestic violent household, most people think that the home is filled with raging fights that occur for no reason. People typically assume that abuse also comes with some form of poverty or severe mental illness. When we mention abuse the images that come to peoples mind tend to include things like dirty children wearing worn out clothing, a bruised weak woman and a strong domineering male partner. These images always involve situations where the line between a typical argument and an abusive situation has clearly been crossed. Unfortunately this is not the way domestic violence actually looks.
Domestic violence is simply a control dynamic that happens between two people. They may be a romantically involved male and female, but they just as easily can be in a same sex relationship or very close friendship. What makes a relationship domestic violence is the imbalance of control that happens in a household where both parties reside. This means that domestic violence can also be directed from a child to a parent, it can occur between two siblings and it can even occur between dating teens.
Sometimes domestic violence only occurs in specific situations like when one person drinks too much, when stress levels are extremely high or when finances are tight. The number of occurrences doesn't define domestic violence, the violence is birthed through the pattern that is developed within the relationship. These patterns form over time as the people get comfortable with one another and boundaries slowly become blurred, rather than occurring suddenly after some kind of argument as most people assume.
Similar to the frog who will not suddenly jump out of boiling water if they are cooked in a pot when the water is cool and the temperature is slowly increased. However, the same frog dropped into boiling water will jump out immediately. Domestic violent relationships are relationships and they take time to form. Things do begin well, and both persons become deeply invested in the relationship.
While there are almost always signs that there is potential abuse forming in a relationship very early on, these signs are not nearly as easy to spot as Hollywood might suggest. They start with small excusable offenses that eventually become the norm, then the limits and boundaries are pushed a bit further until abuse is occurring on a regular basis. It is the emotional investment in the relationship that makes it difficult for a victim to leave. It is also the abusers investment in grooming their victim that makes it difficult for them to allow the relationship to end.
Abuse isn't always physical and the dynamic in the relationship evolves over time, so it can be extremely difficult to identify the point when a relationship shifts from two people struggling into an abusive relationship. It is never a good idea to assume that you would 'never' get caught up in an abusive relationship, nor is it helpful to ask a victim "why she can't leave". What does help is to be a safe person who understands abuse doesn't just 'happen', it develops and grows slowly long before the signs of serious problems begin to show outside the home. If you are seeing the signs, then the abuse has been occurring for a very long time. Your intervention may not be welcome, but your respect for someone who is struggling in this kind of situation will ALWAYS be welcome.