When the “We” Lives with Danger: Understanding Relational Violence
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When the “We” Lives with Danger: Understanding Relational Violence

October 16, 2019
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“We” is a very powerful word that involves relationship. We come into this world entering relationships, we move through life with relationships, and refer to ourselves by our relationships – parent, sibling, partner, spouse, co-worker, and friend. “We,” in its essence, is a contract between individuals to be vulnerable and build intimacy. In the healthier realm of relationships, there is hurt: intimacy challenges, avoidance of relationship issues, losses, and disconnection. Then, there are times when relationships have traumatic and harmful interactions that turns the territory into a dangerous minefield. When the “we” lives in danger, they are referred to as Domestic Violence (DV) and Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) relationships.

Domestic violence and intimate partner violence involves violence between more than just partners. For instance, “30 to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.” For the purpose of keeping the understanding that violence can occur in any relationship, we will use the term “relational violence”. Relational violence in all its forms is a public health problem that affects millions of Americans with impacts that are felt within our homes and communities across the nation. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports, “On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States – more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.” We, as a community, are not left untouched by the horrors and wounds of relational violence.

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What is relational violence?

Relational violence is an interaction involving threatening and violent behaviors that ultimately leads to an abusive individual having power and control in a relationship. Sexual violence is relational violence. Physical violence is relational violence. Mental, emotional, and psychological abuse is relational violence. Any form of threat to the safety and wellness of the body, mind, heart, and spirit of a human being is relational violence.

Relational violence can involve a mixture of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual violence, financial abuse, cyber abuse, reproductive control, stalking, and property destruction. Reproductive control may show up with a partner refusing to use protection, sabotaging birth control methods, and controlling pregnancy decisions. Physical violence can sometimes be perceived as a definer for relational violence and it is important to know that any type of controlling or threatening behavior defines a relationship as unsafe. Physical abuse can leave marks such as bruises, so it has become a clear symbol of harm, but it is important to remember that mental and other types of abuse leave scars, as well.

Relational violence does not have a single profile for the person who is doing the abuse and the individual whom is suffering from the abuse. Relational violence does not have any particular race, age, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, social status, gender, or disability that is immune to the vulnerability and impacts of relational violence. It is happening in the intimate relationship between partners. It is the children whom are abused or witnessing abuse. It is violence between family members. It can occur in any type of relationship. Relational violence becomes the source of relational trauma.

Relational Trauma Symptoms

Any individual who has experienced relational violence may notice changes in their emotions, behaviors, and beliefs about relationships. These changes are referred to as trauma responses. A survivor may continually prepare for danger by being watchful or “hypervigilant.” Someone who has experienced abuse may develop symptoms that include the following: startled responses, difficulty concentrating, re-experiencing moments of the abuse either through memories or nightmares, detachment from relationships, trust struggles, anxiety, depression, fear, beliefs about blame, paranoia, intimacy challenges, and shame.

Someone may work hard to avoid thoughts, people, places, or any reminder of their abuse by isolating or using substances and behaviors to push away any source of distress. When abuse becomes severe, a survivor may cope with the violence with a phenomenon called “dissociation” –  detaching from emotions and disconnecting from reality such as spacing out. These are merely a few examples of symptoms, but any change someone has used to cope with their trauma is a trauma response.

How to Respond

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If you are currently experiencing domestic violence or intimate partner violence, it is critical you seek help from domestic violence resources or coordinate with your mental health provider. Domestic Violence Resource Center’s 24-Hour Crisis Line is 503-469-8620 or 1-866-469-8600. Utilizing domestic violence specific resources is critical, as they have resources to help support understanding of this violence and help you coordinate safety measures that may be needed as leaving can be a risk factor for harm.

If you are a survivor of relational violence and notice you are experiencing trauma responses, reaching out for support with community resources, cultural practices, and mental health resources can help care for those wounds. It is important to not be alone in the healing. Safe relationships are a key ingredient to the healing process from relational violence.

– Michelle Sideroff, LPC


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Learn more here

 If you are in need of affordable, compassionate counseling, we are here for you. Our therapists have a range of specialties, including relational violence and trauma. Call our intake line at 503-253-0964 for more information.



The National Domestic Violence Hotline

Domestic Violence Resource Center

Ganley, Anne. (2002). Understanding Domestic Violence: Preparatory Reading for Participants. http://www.andvsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/60-ganely-general-dv-article.pdf