Partner Bill of Rights: Speaking to the Cycle of Abuse

James Schroeder, PhD
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In 1993, the World Health Bank estimated that domestic violence, or intimate partner violence (IPV), was a greater cause of poor health than traffic accidents and malaria combined1.  It was believed that 5-20% of healthy years lost for women were attributed to IPV2.  By definition, violence is considered to be any physical, verbal, or sexual assault that significantly comprises a person’s body, trust, and sense of self2.  But it is not solely a female issue even as women are disproportionately perpetrated against in this way.

Results from a study conducted in the United States found that 22.1 percent of women and 7.4 percent of men reported acts of IPV in their lifetime3.  Over fifty percent of those surveyed claimed to be physically assaulted at some point in their life, often as children.  Certain groups appear more at risk even beyond the obvious female preponderance.  For example, one report indicated that women in rural or isolated areas noted significantly higher rates of abuse than those in urban areas4.  According to the CDC, estimates are that one-half of all stalkings, one-fourth of all physical assaults, and one-fifth of all rapes are reported to authorities5. It suggests that substantiated, or even alleged abuse, only represents the tip of the iceberg.

The cost of abuse to societies and the individuals is tremendous, none more than in the area of psychological health.  Fear, anxiety, mistrust, depression, fear of intimacy and other consequences often persist long after the threat of physical violence is gone.  But those who know this area well will attest that the issue is much more complex than what the abuser brings.  Intimate partner violence often develops in insidious ways and through seemingly isolated circumstances, only to emerge as a cycle that looks all too similar no matter what story is told.  Tension, rage, blaming, protection, denial, reconciliation, and calm underlay a process by which each incident becomes part of a larger cycle.  Beneath this, one area common to abuse is each partner’s difficulty in clearly communicating not only the expectations of the relationship, but the consequences (intended and unintended) that stem from an erosion of basic, human rights.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to bring a voice to the basic expectations of a relationship, and what will occur if these expectations are not met. This is especially important for our young people as they learn how to navigate the challenges and promises of intimacy. The goal is to assist them in developing the necessary skills for personal relationships.  These expectations are defined in the following Partner Bill of Rights.  To some, this may seem very obvious and easily achievable, to others it may seem like an unattainable request.  But for all, it speaks to an inner reality of our longing to be treated in a way that we deserve by those who promise to love us the most.

I have the right to be treated as a human being, equal in worth even though different in roles.  When I feel disrespected or made to feel stupid, I have the right to be heard about the way I feel dehumanized.  If I continue to be treated poorly, I have the right to seek out advice and counsel as needed.

I have the right to be treated as an adult, not as a child.  As an adult, I have the right to make decisions about what I can handle, and information should not be withheld from me on the premise that I am not strong enough to handle it.  I will make that decision.  

I have the right to feel safe in my relationship.  If you do anything that violates my security, or I feel threatened in any way, understand that I have the right to seek safety for myself and my children with those I trust.  

I have the right to coherent conversations and coherent answers.  If you say something to me that does not make logical sense, I have the right to ask questions until I feel that a reasonable, sensible answer is given.  If you are not able to provide coherent answers, understand that I will seek out counsel and advice from close friends or families that may be able to.  

I have the right to ask any question about your actions or behaviors at any time.  Although you are not bound to share all of your thoughts, temptations, or other odd or uncomfortable ideas, you, as my significant other, are bound to share what you did and why it occurred.  If you do not give satisfactory answers, I have the right to continue to ask until answers are provided, even if you are annoyed by the questions as they occur.  If satisfactory answers are not provided, know that I will not be able to trust you as long as they are not, even if I work to forgive you for what I know.

I have the right to share my insecurities, worries, or concerns at any time, even if it involves something that occurred in the past.  Although I promise to try and not flood you with these, and work to resolve my own struggles and those around past issues, I have the right to let you know when I am feeling unsure or uncertain about the status of our relationship.  If you disregard or scoff at these concerns, I have the right to bring them up again until I feel that you adequately understand me.  

I have the right to not be blamed or “pulled through the mud” for mistakes that you have made.  Although I am willing to hear about areas in which I may have contributed to the problems we have, I have the right to not be attacked or shamed for the errors of your ways.  I do not deserve to be the scapegoat for your sins.  

I have the right to apologies when you make mistakes just as I should continually seek out forgiveness from you when I go wrong in my ways.  When you do not apologize for your mistakes or outrage, understand that I will naturally feel bitter and that although I may not like this in myself, I will feel less likely to want to do the same.  

I have the right to suggest ideas about things I feel are important even as I work hard not to badger, demand, or nag at you.  If you do not listen to me, I have the right to bring these suggestions back to you until you entertain a reasonable response or consideration to them.

I have the right to clear, regular, daily communication about all types of issues.  Although you may not think that I understand much about what you do, I nonetheless have the right to hear about things that go on in all aspects of your life whether or not you feel it matters.

I have the right to chastity in our relationship.  If you violate this commitment, know that it hurts me deeply and leaves me feeling that I have not provided for you in the way that I should have, and that something is wrong with me.  Do not expect that I will be able to resolve this hurt and pain for some time.  I have the right, in a respectful way, to express and discuss my feelings with you in this matter, even as I work to forgive you.  

I have the right to demand that in the “contract of our marriage,” this bond supersedes the contract or code of any other type of relationship, family or friend.  “Guy codes” or “girl codes” do not trump “spousal codes.”  If this happens, it will lead me to trust you less.  

Finally, I have the right to a relationship that promotes the health of each other, our children, and our united body.  If you do anything to jeopardize the health of these three most important gifts, then I have the right to do what I need to do to make sure that this is resolved, even if it involves taking drastic steps.  I have the right to protect and shield our children from harm, and ultimately, I have the right and responsibility to make sure that my issues, your issues, and our issues do not leave the next generation in a worse place, now and forever.

And if we are married, please know that I committed to you for life, in richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, and in good and in bad.  I take that commitment more seriously than any other commitment I have made in my life.  In making that commitment, I committed my life to you so that we would both grow (for us and our children), not be degraded, dehumanized, or disregarded.  Because of this, I promise to you that if you violate the spousal rights of our marriage, I will not accept these terms nor should we accept them together.  I do this not out of pride or malice, but out of love because each of us promised to another, in the presence of others, to be unified in our search for a transcendent life regardless of the trials or tribulations that come along the way.

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References:

1) World Bank. 1993. Investing in health: World development indicators: World Development Report. New York: Oxford University Press.

2) World Health Organization. 1997. Violence against women: A priority health issue.  Accessed April, 8 2008

3) Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, Department of Justice, 2000

4) Peek-Asa, C., Wallis, A., Harland, K., Beyer, K., et al.; Rural disparity in domestic violence prevalence and access to resources. .Journal of Women’s Health. 20(11) 2011

5) Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, Department of Justice, 2000

9 COMMENTS

  1. I liked this article and I certainly believe that various forms of trauma can and do lead to psychological problems. However, I’ve always been skeptical of the 22%/7% statistics. I don’t know if these numbers are based on criminal convictions or on self reports. I also think the 7% might be artificially low due to males being less comfortable reporting physical abuse. I think rather than trying to compare numbers and decide which group is being more victimized, we should simply acknowledge that people sometimes treat other people dreadfully and see what we can do about improving that situation.

  2. Sounds nice but the fact is – people who live by these rules don’t need to hear them and those who violate them couldn’t care less. The only thing one can do if their significant other violates most of all of these rules is to leave and that is always hard.

  3. I like this article, yet somehow it doesn’t ring true either. I agree that anyone who would follow these guidelines wouldn’t need to read them, and anyone who would commit these abuses, at least the serious ones, wouldn’t pay much attention to this.

    I would think it would have value, though, as a way for someone who wasn’t used to standing up for themselves in a relationship to have a set of guidelines for themselves of what they were entitled to in a relationship.

    About abuse in general, it makes me very sad to realize how common it is, and how destructive.

    And yes, it makes it very hard for someone to be trusting in a close relationship after experiencing abuse. I have seen this more than once in my personal life, with people who I loved, and who loved me, but who were so hurt by their earlier experiences that they couldn’t trust me or let me come close.

    • Loving someone makes you vulnerable and opens you up for abuse. That’s a sad fact and it’s a price for a possibility of connecting to another person. No everyone is lucky in their choice of a partner and if you love and care for someone who’s willing to take advantage of it you’re in a world of trouble. Most often leaving is the best way to go but it is not easy to leave someone you love and care about even if they don’t deserve it at all.

      • “Loving someone makes you vulnerable…” How true. I just lost an important friendship with someone, and our mutual vulnerability didn’t help us stay together. Both of us had experienced terrible childhoods, and your past never leaves you, not really.

        Thinking about this article for a while, I am starting to see how important its subject is. Certainly contemporary psychiatry almost defines love as a mental illness nowadays.

        And certainly our movement for human rights is nowhere near as supportive and nurturing as it needs to be. I think I want to explore this more

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