Do you have any answers for someone who's stuck in a destructive relationship? I just had a baby with my boyfriend of six years. We've always had problems, but things took a turn for the worse when we moved in together a year and a half ago. Our plan was to share rent and other expenses, but I've ended up doing everything myself. I wanted out a long time ago, but when I got pregnant I thought I should give it another shot so that our child would have a family. We're still together, but things are horrible. He's become emotionally abusive and has even smacked me twice. I'm honestly afraid to leave our son with him. He says that if I leave him, he won't pay child support. I have no family to fall back on. What should I do?
What you are describing is essentially a case of domestic violence and abuse. We'd advise you to take decisive action as soon as possible. Emotional oppression is bad enough, but "smacking" is completely unacceptable. Your attitude toward physical violence must always be one of zero tolerance. It's a red flag that should never be ignored. Your basic rule of thumb should be "safety first." This consideration becomes all the more pressing when, as in your situation, there's a child present in the household. The potential for danger here is very real.
You've been spending far too much time and energy "taking care" of your boyfriend and not enough attending to your own needs and the needs of your child. It's time to take a fresh look at your circumstances. Ask yourself exactly what your role should be in this relationship, how you view that role, how your boyfriend views it, and how much value you want to attach to the entire arrangement. Things being what they are, you have to ask yourself whether it's worth the effort.
As we see it, you have two major responsibilities at this point in time: 1) to protect your baby and keep yourself safe; and 2) to teach your child what positive, healthy relationships are all about. Your current living conditions are not conducive to either. Do you really want to remain in what you've described as a "horrible" situation just so your son can have what seems to be a very poor excuse for a "family"? We wouldn't recommend it. While we appreciate the fact that you value the generally positive arrangement of a two-parent family where both Mom and Dad are present, when a relationship is as volatile and unhealthy as yours, physical safety must be your primary consideration. Instead, we'd urge you to make it clear to your boyfriend that his behavior is unacceptable and that you won't be sticking around to put up with it any longer. If you feel he may react violently, postpone announcing your plans and intentions. Either way, don't wait for the next flare-up before taking action. Just pack your bags, take your baby, and find someplace else to go. If you feel that you're in immediate danger, find the number for your local Center for Domestic Violence and get help. If you have just experienced physical harm, call 911 and let the police intervene.
Naturally, you're going to need a lot of help to make it on your own – all the help you can get. We strongly recommend that you start looking around and reaching out for support wherever you can find it.
If family isn't an option, we suggest you explore the possibility of accessing community resources. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) is a federally funded and locally administered program that provides food for pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children through age five. State welfare services are another good source of potential assistance. So is your state or county Department of Health and Human Services. These agencies can help you with finances, housing, transportation, child daycare, and job training. And there's a good chance that you can qualify for most of this aid even while living with parents or family members. You may also find it worth your while to get in touch with a local chapter of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), an organization that exists to "connect moms all over the world to a community of women in their own neighborhoods who meet together to laugh, cry, and embrace the journey of motherhood." You can find out more by visiting the MOPS home page. Finally, if you aren't already involved in a local church, we'd encourage you to find a good one in your area – a church that loves people and lives by the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. You'd be amazed at what it a difference it can make to have the warm and loving support of a genuinely caring congregation of Christian people.
We'd also strongly suggest that you seek help from a professional counselor. Make sure that the therapist you choose understands the dynamics of abuse, power, and control, and that he or she is well trained in the highly specialized field of relational conflict. Among other things, a therapist can help you gain insight into any deeper issues that may be underlying your willingness to put up with this kind of treatment for so long. Many abusers use violence as a way of maintaining control over another person. In most cases they are also extremely manipulative and highly adept at convincing a partner that her or she is unworthy of better treatment. A good counselor can help you recognize to what extent you may have become brainwashed by your boyfriend's behavior and thus lulled into a state of resigned acceptance of your lot. He or she can also help you identify the "red flags" you should watch for in future relationships so that you don't end up repeating this pattern.
Call us. Here at Focus on the Family we have a staff of trained family therapists available to provide you with sound advice and practical assistance over the phone. They can also refer you to reputable counselors working in your area.
Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)
Red Flags in a Relationship