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What Does Marriage Mean, part 2

What does marriage mean?  That’s a good question, and its answer has a significant impact on how we perceive the social construct.  Marriage means commitment, defined in the dictionary as the formal and legally binding relationship of a couple.  On the one hand, many people assert that commitment can take place outside of marriage, and many are in court fighting for the right to the same benefits enjoyed by married persons.  People are questioning why a piece of paper, a legal document, is even needed to prove that you are in a permanent relationship, since people who have that piece of paper still split up in rather significant numbers. In other words, the argument here is that marriage doesn’t necessarily mean commitment.  On the other hand, there are those who say that making the commitment legally binding with that piece of paper is essentially putting your money where your mouth is.  According to them, if you really feel that you’re permanently committed to each other, a piece of paper shouldn’t be a problem.  Many people agree that this sounds logical.

 

Circle back to the topical question: what does marriage mean?  Marriage essentially is a means of creating the committed hub from which all other relationships in life radiate.  In other words, marriage is fairly important, and has a significant role in the wider community, as well as in the family itself.  Why is marriage that important as compared to a couple who simply state themselves publicly to be committed?  Do not such couples stand every bit as good a chance of being permanent as a couple who actually marry?  Let’s bear in mind that we’re talking about civil partnerships as well as marriage, since a civil partnership has the same legal and effectual scope in terms of community and family impact.  In essence, we’re going to be comparing legally recognised committed relationships to partners who simply co-habitate, as well as the issue of children resulting from those relationships.

 

When addressing the questions around the level of commitment in marriages as compared to partnership made permanent by co-habitation, we might compare two ways of living in a home: purchase or rental.  Now, buying a house is a huge commitment.  We know that it isn’t just about the deposit, or even the monthly mortgage.  That payment will be due every month for the next 30 years, and 30 years is a long, long time; but in addition to that payment will be the responsibility of maintaining the house and garden.  There will need to be considerations in the budget for any big expenditures, such as roof repair.  There will need to be regular maintenance, such as gutters cleaning and lawn mowing.  When you sit down and begin to really go through all of the details that you’ll need to be prepared for, all of the years that you’ll be needing to live up to this, what would happen if you can’t pay the mortgage or repair the roof, when you’d be able to sell up without losing a fortune, etc, you really begin to recognise the level of commitment you’re making.  How does this compare to just renting a house?  Well, everyone always points to the fact that in many cases, mortgage payments can be cheaper than rent, especially if you happen to have a good down payment.  However, unlike a home owner, a renter doesn’t have to worry about major repairs, property taxes, or any of the other added expenses that go with home ownership.  They get to let the person who owns that property worry about all of that.  Instead of having a savings account that serves as a safety net should anything huge need to be dealt with in home ownership, the couple renting can have a savings account for a nice holiday.  Of course, the money in that account stands a good chance of being used instead to fund the move to a new property because the owner of this one decided not to renew the lease for any number of reasons, or because the new lease brought increased rents, or even worse, because the owner wasn’t taking care of repairs and the living conditions were becoming unbearably substandard.  Because you don’t own the property you’re renting, you can’t control how repairs get done or when, you have no control over whether or not the lease gets honoured or renewed, and you can be evicted.  You can be forced to move each time the lease is up, so there’s always that sense of things not being entirely permanent somewhere in the backdrop.  Okay, so how does this apply to the meaning of marriage?

 

In the illustration, we used the assumption that the couple could actually afford to buy a house, but chose not to.  The questions that they sat down to try and find answers to involved the level of commitment they were prepared to meet, which is similar to the questions around marriage.  If a couple sat down to go over all of the things that a real, long-term, legally binding commitment meant, it could get a bit overwhelming.  In the case of marriage, you aren’t talking 30 years….it’s a lifetime commitment.  If we were to use the same process for counting the cost of owning a home for thirty years to count the cost of being married for life, we would consider what happens if our income or circumstances change.  What happens if there’s a major, life-changing event, such as illness that is debilitating?  What if one of you loses your job?  How would you cope if children came along who might not have been planned for?  What is the plan regarding children, for that matter?  Children are a commitment of at least 18 years, and often longer.  The expenses of child-rearing can be comparable to the expenses of owning a home, and then there are other things to consider, such as school, after-school clubs, or if your son wants to play football, or your daughter wants to be a physicist.  Children do not come with guarantees, so you would both need to make sure that you’re on the same page in terms of how you would cope with all of the unpredictability that children bring.  A couple thinking about all of that could easily become overwhelmed and decide to “rent” their relationship by moving in together and taking it all in stride.  Where it all falls down is when the circumstances of life change.  It becomes too easy to use the fact that you’re not actually married as an excuse, and to just walk away.  There’s that little loophole of not actually owning the house.  You can always leave.  Now, as was said from the beginning, even a legally married couple can do that.  They frequently do, but the ones who do are usually the ones who didn’t really sit down and plan for how they would navigate the storms.  The ones who did are the ones who are most likely to be able to stick with it for the long haul.  When young people ask older ones for the secret to staying married for so many decades, many different answers are given regarding patience, tolerance, a sense of humour.  However, the most important answer is this: make sure you mean it when you say forever.  Make sure that you count the cost of what that will mean, and that you’re prepared to meet that cost regardless of the difficulties encountered.

 

So, what does marriage mean?  It means that you’re willing to put it all on the line so that this relationship will last, regardless of the difficulties, hoping for the best whilst being prepared to weather the worst.  It means that you’re willing to make that commitment a legally binding contract, to prove to your partner that you really mean what you say…that you’re putting your money where your mouth is.  It means that you’ve sat down together and counted the cost, and then said that you’re going to get married anyway.   If we’re being honest, we might be able to see why that would make a relationship more secure than one that is entered into with no such contract, just like we can so easily see why you wouldn’t want to get too settled into a flat that you’re renting without a lease, with no written promises of what will happen should things go wrong or if repairs are needed.  Marriage means security, faith, hope, determination, and love.  Marriage means the courage to face a life-time commitment of whatever happens.  Children born into this marriage between two parents who have that level of determination and commitment are more secure, do better in life, and are most likely to go on to have good marriages themselves.  The family have benefited from that commitment.  Because the family is stable, there are stronger support systems in place to help cope with life-changing events that happen to us all.  The more determined and committed the couple, the stronger the family unit, the more resilient each member of the family unit can be.  That actually benefits the wider community in many ways, as well.

 

What does this mean for couples who have developed significant problems that they can’t cope with together, couples who feel that they’d be better off splitting up?  Well, a good marriage counsellor might be able to help them to sit down and count the cost of doing that, comparing that to the cost of trying to repair the damage.  Many times, a marriage that has gone through that process comes out stronger than before.  Divorce isn’t the only option, and isn’t always the best option.  The only requirement for success at getting back on track is that each person must be equally determined to make it work, equally committed to doing the work necessary to getting back on track.  If you have that to work with, your chances of successfully repairing any damage are very good.  Marriage doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficulties.  Marriage means that you’re willing to fight hard to keep the relationship alive forever.

 

 

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Domestic Violence Against Men

Many people don’t realise this, but men are quite frequently the victims of domestic violence.  Whenever there is an awareness drive for domestic violence, no one addresses the issue of what happens to men who are victims.

Even though one in six men will be victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives, it’s more difficult for men to report domestic violence; but it isn’t just because they’re ashamed to admit that they’re afraid of a woman.  It’s also because people are far less likely to believe them when they try to get help.  There are very few safe places where men who are in danger from domestic violence can go, and yet when organisations do drives to raise funds for shelters, they never address the lack of shelters for men.  They say that the reason for this is that fewer men find themselves in this situation.  I would disagree.  Far fewer men who are in danger report it because they know that no one will listen, and they know that even if someone did listen, there are no refuges available for them to hide in.  That doesn’t mean that these men don’t exist.  It means that no one has heard about them, and this isn’t the victims’ fault.

It is actually extremely common for abusers to frame the victims for the violence, as well as blaming the victims.  I’ve heard men say that the woman broke her own arm so that she could frame him. She slammed her own head into the wall so hard that she needed stitches because she was upset at him.  She injected herself with drugs, and bruised her arms up to make it look like he had grabbed her and forced her to take drugs.  I have heard them all.  In each of those cases, no one believed the abuser.  It didn’t stop the men from trying it on, but no one believed them.  The police were supportive, the shelters were ready.  Try putting the man in the victim’s chair and see what happens.  If the woman beats him up and says he did it to himself whilst beating her, or that she only did it in self-defence, the police are more likely to automatically believe her….even if she doesn’t have a mark on her.  They are more likely to ignore the man when he tries to report his injuries, and are more likely to treat him as guilty from the moment he’s met up with.  He’s arrested, ignored, imprisoned, and victimised further by the abuser who wants to make sure that he knows how much power she has over him.  She has the upper hand, and she knows it.  Now, there are still many women who are failed by the police when they try to report stalkers and abusers, and we all know this.  However, I want to draw attention to the lack of help men who are victims receive.  When a man is accused of violence, he is likely to be arrested on the word of his accuser.  If he’s the victim, he’s far less likely to be listened to.  In fact, of the cases that I’ve been familiar with or involved in, two thirds of the men were victims of gross miscarriages of justice in addition to being the victims of domestic violence, because the women made a huge cry out about being abused and the police and magistrates automatically believed them.  One might think that the man was at least safe from her in the jail, but that isn’t necessarily the case any more than it’s the case for women who are victims after their abusers have been jailed.  In addition, once in jail, he’s subjected to contemptuous treatment by officers who have already judged him to be guilty, who refuse to listen to him trying to report his injuries or tell his side of events, who refuse him any help or support…in short, who treat him the way women who tried to report abuse were commonly treated 40 years ago.  On the one hand, I’m glad that women are more readily listened to now when they report abuse than they were in previous decades.  On the other hand, we’ve swung dangerously in the other direction so that men are automatically accused and arrested.  Unlike men who try to frame their victims but don’t get away with it, women who frame their victims hold all the power.  I’ve known too many cases where no one believed the man until he was found murdered by the woman he tried to tell people was abusing him.  If a woman reports injuries, police are now more likely than not to take pictures of every little bruise that will show up.  If a man reports injuries, he’s still most likely going to be completely ignored and told to pull himself together.  I find it appalling that police can still believe that women are not capable of this kind of thing.  They are.  In fact, women are capable of inflicting serious injuries, and then crumbling into delicate flowers with crocodile tears flowing down their cheeks as they tell the police that they are the victims, and his injuries are only from them trying to defend themselves.  The police fly to the rescue, and the real victim finds himself being further abused by the willing constabulary.  The police never bother to get his side of the story, and when he tries to tell it, they ignore him.  They throw him into the cell and lock the door.  In many cases, courts and police are trying to make up for all the times that they didn’t listen to women until it was too late, and I get that.  However, it’s never alright to throw men under the bus just to make sure that you don’t get it wrong.  Excuse me, but that’s still getting it wrong.

When I treat male clients who either are or have been a victim of domestic violence, I find that some of them do recognise that her behaviour was bad, but most didn’t think of themselves as victims of domestic violence.  Men in my experience tend to be a lot more lenient, giving and forgiving than their gender is given credit for.  So, when it finally becomes obvious even to them that things have gotten serious, it’s usually too late.

We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.  Just recently, police who had told me about 7 years ago that they were really trying to improve their reputation for poor responses to domestic violence gave a woman a fine for wasting police time when she tried to report a dangerous stalker – who later became her murderer.  I wonder how long it’s going to take police to recognise that men can also be seriously abused.  I wonder how long it’s going to take for police to start listening to men who try to report abuse.  I wonder how long it’s going to take men to find a voice.

If you’re a man who is being abused, don’t take no for an answer.  Get help.  One source of help is www.mensadviceline.org.uk.  Others are http://new.mankind.org.uk/ , www.hiddenhurt.co.uk, and www.dvmen.co.uk.  Find out what you can do to get help and advice.  If the police aren’t listening, find an advocate and make them listen.  Don’t be embarrassed.  Anyone can be a victim.  It doesn’t mean that you’re weak or silly.  It just means that someone is abusing you. Both men and women are equally capable of being violent, and of being victims of violence, and both men and women equally deserve protection and support.

 

 

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Male victims of domestic violence

Most people don’t realise this, but the number of men who suffer from domestic violence almost matches the number of women who do.  It’s a fact that is hidden in clear view.  Statistically, the figures for men are one in six, compared to the figure for women being one in four.  However, that’s just the statistic.  What this means is, that’s the number of known male victims.  My experience in treatment of victims causes me to believe firmly that the actual number for men is at least one in four, just the same as for women.  Why the disparity?  Equally, why don’t more people know about this?

Men are far less likely to disclose that they’re victims.  There are cultural and societal reasons for that, of course.  Few men are willing to admit to their friends and family, or even to themselves, that a woman is beating them up or terrorising them.  If women would feel embarrassed to admit that they were in a controlling and abusive relationship, one can only imagine how embarrassing it would be for a man.  Men are supposed to be the strong protectors, not the victims.  Being a victim is seen as a weakness.  Men are not allowed to be weak.  Men are not allowed to be victims.  Culturally, men are supposed to be the dominant gender, the ones who are in control.  They’re the ones who go to war.  Only recently have women been allowed to take on combat roles, because that’s always been seen as the man’s duty.  Women have been declared by the military to be unfit for combat because they aren’t strong enough, hard enough.  Of course that isn’t true; but if we think it took ages for the world to catch up to that, imagine how long it’s going to take for the world to recognise that women are strong enough, hard enough, and cruel enough to be perpetrators of serious abuse against their biological male partners.  Men are murdered by their abusive partners in this country every month.  It rarely makes the news.

I treat victims of domestic violence as a counselling therapist who specialises in that field.  Some of them are women, and some of them are men.  There are things that they have in common.  In all but two cases, the victims have claimed that the abuse was their fault because they wound their partners up.  If they hadn’t wound their partner up, he/she would not have abused them.  In all but one case, there were excuses for the abusive behaviour, including the excuse that the partner had mental health issues; so the abuser shouldn’t be seen as being at fault for the behaviour, even if the victim wasn’t at fault, either.  It’s easy enough to trace where that comes from.  Perpetrators always blame their victims.  They do not take responsibility for their own behaviour, and even try to claim that the victims inflicted the injuries on themselves just to cause trouble.  I’ve heard it all, just as many of us have.  Victims of both genders will face victim-blaming from the perpetrators just as part of the course.  Perpetrators will even say that the victim is the one who is being abusive and that they themselves are actually the victims….the smoke and mirrors game.  This does tend to make investigating domestic violence cases more complicated, and the waters can be very muddy.  However, the result of the victim-blaming will be vastly different for male victims.  This is where the similarities end.

When a man tries to blame his victim for the abuse, or tries to say that she threw herself across the room and split her scalp open just to make him look bad, he isn’t believed.  He gets arrested and she gets taken to a refuge.  When a woman blames her victim, she is successful far too often.  In fact, she’s successful almost 99% of the time.  Her victim will get arrested even if he’s the only one with injuries.  During the police interview, a woman will be sympathised with more often now than was once the case.  Clearly, there are still times when this doesn’t happen, but the situation is improving for women.  There are education and training modules and courses available to the police from AVA and VAWG which are very informative and helpful, and many police are taking those things up.  A man being interviewed, however, will not be asked questions about what happened, nor is he allowed to disclose.  It will automatically be assumed that he is the perpetrator, and that he’s just doing the standard victim-blaming.  Questions asked will not be based on trying to find out what happened, but will be put forward as accusations and attempts to find out the motive for his bad behaviour.  If he tries to insist that he’s the victim, he’ll get harsher treatment because he will be accused of failing to take responsibility for his bad behaviour.  Unfortunately, this is the way it will go for him in court more often that makes for comfortable reading.  I’ve seen men be found guilty on no other evidence than the woman’s crocodile tears.  If a woman gets treated this way, and it does still sometimes happen, there is outrage in the streets.  Parliament issue statements, and MPs get involved.  When it happens to a man, it never even makes the news.  He’s guilty, and that’s the end of the matter.  If he tries to appeal the verdict, he runs the chance of a harsher sentence.  If the appeal isn’t successful because the next panel of magistrates is equally convinced that only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims, he faces an almost certain jail sentence, never having committed a crime.

Supporting a male victim through that system is gut-wrenching.  Watching police laugh at the idea of your client being a victim, mocking him and being rather abusive themselves in their level of disrespect, isn’t easy when you are helpless to make them stop.  Supporting a victim who has actually been convicted of the crimes committed against him, while he’s being mocked by the magistrates who are clearly wanting to send him to prison, is difficult.  Watching probation officers treating him like a criminal who isn’t willing to make progress in being reintegrated into civil society by admitting his crimes so that he can take part in courses that teach him not to be abusive is difficult.  He’s being victimised all over again, and this time, by the very people who are charged by law to protect him, and all because he’s the wrong gender.  In addition to these things, he has little support.  There are some organisations, such as the Mankind Initiative, who can offer phone support.  However, face to face support groups such as women have easy access to are non-existent.  I’m trying to start one for my area.  Refuges or safe houses for men are non-existent.  The ignorance of MPs on the matter of men as victims is appalling.  One told me that 90% of victims are women.  Since roughly 46% are known to be men, his ignorance on the subject was inexcusable.  What was worse was his dismissal of any offer to have any information on the matter that would help him to understand the male constituents who were trying to get his help, and the only answer they were getting from him was that men weren’t really in that bad of a state.  I wonder how many of us can imagine just how frustrating that would be, just how powerless we would feel if these things were happening to us.  Imagine living with a conviction on your record, no longer able to get housing very easily, jobs becoming a problem, etc., when you’re not only innocent, you’re the victim.  I do know that the prisons are full up of men saying that they didn’t do it when they clearly did.  However, for that to be used against you when you actually didn’t do it just adds to the sheer helplessness.  It adds new layers to the trauma that I end up treating.  It also adds to the number of men who end up committing suicide.  If their perpetrator didn’t kill them, the system will.

So, what’s the answer?  For a start, be proactive in getting more information for yourself and your organisation.  Mankind Initiative will happily send you flyers and posters so that you can promote information and awareness amongst your colleagues.  They will also give training that will help you to recognise and support male victims.  Give men a voice, and help them to recognise that there is no shame in being a victim.  The one who should be ashamed is the perpetrator.  Imagine how it would feel to be a male victim in an organisation where the awareness is all about women, and your perpetrator is a woman.  Then do something about that, and make sure that men are equally represented.  When your organisation is looking for something to do to support a charity, do a fundraiser for men’s abuse needs.  There’s no funding for shelters for men, and there’s no awareness.  Do an awareness drive from time to time, as well as fundraisers, and ask Mankind Initiative what else you could do.  They’ll be very happy for the help.  Be part of the solution, be part of changing attitudes.  Only then will attitudes change and information become more commonly available.

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