There are many factors that may influence couples to stay together, even if they’re in a toxic and potentially dangerous situation. Financial dependence, immigration status, fear of making the situation worse, and fear of losing custody over the kids are all potential reasons that often come up in conversations about domestic violence. There is, however, another reason that isn’t always as clearly articulated: the importance our society places on two-parent households.
Although divorce has become a lot more common and widely accepted than it was 50 years ago, there’s still a stigma around single parents, especially single mothers. In fact, a Pew report from 2010 found that 69% of Americans thought single mothers tasked with raising children on their own were bad for society, while 61% said that a child will be happiest if they have both a mother and a father in their life. Our society’s go-to definition of “family” still involves a household with both a mother and father, and that’s making it harder for people in abusive relationships—especially relationships with the parent of their children—to get out of them.
The “Perfect Family” Image Is Bad for Both Partners in an Abusive Relationship
The pressure to present the image of a “perfect family” hurts both sides in a toxic relationship. In some cases, both partners may become verbally or physically abusive and will continue antagonizing one another rather than separating. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, marital violence often begins with more minor acts, like pushing and shoving, but builds to more serious incidents if left unchecked. Couples’ fights may escalate until a dispute results in someone calling the police, and one or both of them may be arrested on domestic violence charges as a result.
In other cases, there may allegedly be only one abuser, and the victim ignores early “red flags” because he or she doesn’t want to admit that the relationship isn’t working. In these types of situations, stress may continue building for both people, and the person accused of abuse may react to that compounded stress in a way that they never would if they had gotten out of the relationship earlier. The victim may experience physical and emotional suffering as a result, and the person accused of abuse may face life-altering penalties such as steep fines, a protection order, loss of custody, or even prison time as a result of losing his or her temper in the midst of a bad situation.
No Quick Fix to the “Ideal Family” Problem
The best way to approach the issue of domestic violence in our country is to prevent it from happening in the first place, rather than doling out penalties after the fact. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding single parenting isn’t going to change overnight, and some couples will continue to stay in unhealthy relationships because of this. However, that’s not to say that we can’t push to change the public perspective over time.
Legislators, police, and social workers need to start emphasizing that the safety of both partners is more important than staying together and trying to mend a broken relationship. If there are no warning signs that violence may escalate, couples may be able to work out their differences through counseling, but if there’s any chance that either partner could be in danger, the focus should be on separating rather than trying to fix the relationship. If lawmakers and even ordinary citizens begin stressing this idea of “safety first” in families, we will hopefully see a decrease in the number of domestic violence cases.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area for the Law Offices of Andrew Weisberg. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.