Butterflies swirled in her stomach for the first time in years when he approached her at work the first night and asked for her phone number. She had just, weeks before, amicably resolved her divorce and this new and foreign spark was a welcome balm to a heart that had been hurting for too long. He was also a divorcee and father of two boys. They connected over co-parenting as she was a new single mom to her three school-aged children.
She reveled in being swept up into the object of someone’s loving affection after having been neglected in a loveless marriage for years. She was flattered by the flowers and daily texts that started first thing in the morning and continued until they said good night. Within weeks, they were seeing each other often and knew each other’s routines. He checked in on her often when they were apart, and she thought it sweet.
When he started insisting that she spend time with him and his sons if she had any free time, she thought he was a good dad. She shyly mentioned it to a girlfriend that she wished she had some alone time but didn’t want to be ungrateful for this man’s attention.
This would be the first red flag that went unnoticed. It was easy enough to discard the prickling of her instincts and justify his annoyance when she wanted to spend time without him as a compliment that he really liked seeing her. At first, she thought it was funny that he feigned jealousy and pouted about her parenting days.
With his continued behavior, she started to feel caged in and wondered if she was rushing too fast into another committed relationship. But she had never been pursued like this before and worried this was a possible once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. She didn’t know she was in danger.
For over 25 years, I have worked with families impacted by domestic violence. In college and in law school, I worked as a women’s advocate at a local domestic violence shelter. My aim in attending law school was to use a law degree to advocate against domestic abuse. I have counseled countless scared spouses in safety planning and protection from their partner.
I have observed the stages of domestic abuse: tension, incident of abuse, reconciliation, and calm become as predictable as a cycle of wash, rinse, repeat. I see the Power and Control wheel mercilessly spinning on without slowing or failing.
The beginning behaviors of power and control are typically nuanced and barely detectable. An abuser will generally align their lives with their target’s schedule as they seek to control the relationship and shift their partner into a position of dependence on them. They will masterfully woo by saturating their partners with big romantic gestures and constant attention. It will often feel “too good to be true.” And it is.
*This series is based on a true story.
If you recognize abusive traits in your partner, please talk over your concerns with a family law attorney, therapist, or local domestic violence prevention organization. You can call the 24-hour national domestic violence hotline at (800) 799 – 7233 or call the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA) at (402)345-7273. The WCA can assist anyone in the Omaha area who is experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking. They can help address immediate safety need and can provide ongoing emotional support. While it may be difficult to leave an abusive relationship, you do have choices; your safety and that of your children should be your top priority.