Domestic violence and the holidays

By Norma Peterson

Many people assume that domestic violence spikes during the holidays, but it doesn’t. Unfortunately, domestic violence is a year-round problem. Seasonal stresses like family gatherings, tight finances, and alcohol may add tension to an already abusive situation, but they do not cause domestic violence. Abuse is always an intentional behavior. We found that out the hard way with Stacy and Drew.  

I will never forget the first time we met Stacy.  For years we normally had our holiday get togethers at my mother-in-law beautiful home.  Our family was there and had been having a good time, eating, having holiday nog and playing cards.  So here we were, our family, my mother and father in law and in comes Drew with Stacy and baby Anthony.  You could feel the tension they brought in with them, made even more apparent by the red mark on Drew’s face!  As he introduces us to his new, very young wife Stacy, he laughingly explains that they had been in an argument right before they came in and Stacy had slapped him in the face.  It made for a very awkward situation, but we tried our best to get through the moment. Stacy seemed very upset and explained that Drew had not been very helpful in getting everything ready to come over to moms.  Drew just rolled his eyes and laughed it off, attributing it to her temper and inexperience dealing with babies and holidays. (a classic abuser move) So, here was this beautiful very young girl with a not even 6-month-old child, and we were shocked. We had no idea that Drew had gotten married and had another child until right before our holiday party.  

I think some context might be needed here in order to understand how we had no knowledge of Drew’s new wife and child.  What few people realize is that we had been in business with him and his third wife, Kathleen, which had ended badly. (That’s a whole other blog post for the future.) We had dealt with some of the very same issues with Drew that his wives had dealt with.  His narcissistic behaviors had caused emotional, psychological and financial distress in ways that took us literally years to get over. Due to the feelings on both sides after that we no longer had holidays, or anything else for that matter, together. My poor mother in law would have to schedule us at different times at her home which went on for several years. Apparently, Stacy had insisted to Drew that now that they had a child that she wanted him to know both sides of the family.  It was due to her love of family that had brought them there. From our first meeting, Stacy’s strength of character shone through. Drew had no choice but to accede to her demands if he wanted to keep his young wife happy. Thus, our first holiday together.   

How had my brother in law convinced Stacy that he was the man of her dreams?? There was a 30-year difference between them and yet here they were together.  It’s easier to get caught up in an abusive relationship than many people think. Abusers can be charming and particularly loving, especially at first. That is Drew to a “T”.  He would come in like a knight in shining armor, sweeping them off their feet, taking them on vacations, buying them expensive gifts, he loved the “honeymoon” stage of all his relationships. He recognized a need in the women he chose for a strong male figure to take care of them.  Sometimes it’s easier for friends or family members from the outside to recognize the warning signs of domestic abuse, there are times when I feel I should have done a better job in warning her of his abusive behavior but we had just met her. She was so young, and I naively thought he wouldn’t treat her as badly as he had his other wives.  Even then we really didn’t know the depths of his narcissistic and abusive behaviors. 

Until I became more aware of Domestic Violence statistics, I was always under the impression that the holidays brought more reports of DV.  In fact, data from the National Domestic Violence hotline for the years 2004 through 2010, indicates that the number of hotline calls drops dramatically during the holidays. However, in families where violence is already present, holidays often mean more time with family and therefore more chance of incidents of violence. So how do we reconcile those two facts? A lot of victims will try to keep the peace so that they and their children don't have to spend holidays in a shelter or otherwise away from loved ones or extended family.  As we go into the holiday season and have our family and friend get togethers, let’s try to be more aware of the signs of domestic violence that may be happening to our loved ones. The abuser’s behavior may be the biggest red flag for you that your friend or family member is in danger. Keep an eye out for these red flags from the survivor, such as:

  • Excusing abusive behavior as “moody” or “needy” or as being due to drugs or alcohol.
  • Needing to “ask permission” to go out or see or communicate with friends.
  • Jealousy or accusations of infidelity from the partner.
  • Criticism from the partner.
  • Constant “checking in” via texts or phone calls from the partner.
  • Partner accompanying survivor to events unnecessarily.

You never know what someone may be going through this holiday season.  Be kind to everyone you come across. Let’s try to take care of each other as the holiday proceeds.  I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.

Copyright 2019 by Norma Peterson. All Rights Reserved.

Norma Peterson is an advocate and speaker on the topics of domestic violence and safety. She is the sister-in-law of Stacy Peterson, who is a missing person and victim of domestic violence.

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