Names and biographical information have been changed to protect client confidentiality.
The smell of gingerbread and sugar icing filled the air when Madison came to our office that December. Her three daughters bounced around as they helped the staff eat the treats they’d brought while Madison talked with an advocate.
Madison was dressed with holiday cheer in a large, green scarf and a holiday sweater. But the dark circles under her eyes didn’t tell a story of peace and joy. She was the constant target of her controlling partner. However, she had a lot of reasons why she didn’t think she could leave him over the holidays.
In a soft, reserved voice, she talked about how bad the last few weeks had been. But, she insisted, “It’s not his fault. I mean, we have my parents and his coming. We’re doing a big celebration at the house, and, you know, that causes lots of stress. Maybe I’m just being sensitive. Besides, it’s Christmas! What would the girls do if I took them away from their dad? How could I give them a proper Christmas? I really should hold on until after the holidays. For the girls’ sake—don’t you think?”
Madison’s concerns are echoed by many people intertwined with an abusive partner. It’s hard to see that the abuse isn’t caused by the alcohol at holiday parties, or anxiety about travel plans for family get-togethers, or worrying about shopping for gifts. It’s important to understand that abuse is not a reaction to stress or anxiety, and controlling behavior won’t go away once the stress of the holiday season has passed.
There’s a common assumption that the stress and increased alcohol consumption during the holidays lead to more domestic violence incidences. However, abusive incidents don’t necessarily rise with an increase in stress or in response to alcohol or drug use.
Making the choice to leave an abuser is very difficult, no matter what time of year it is. Deciding to leave around the holidays can be particularly hard. We all feel pressure to be “perfect.” Since family and friends are emphasized around the holidays, someone in an abusive relationship might feel extra pressure to stay during this time of year.
The truth is that there is no “perfect” time to leave an abusive partner. Domestic violence organizations can make it easier. They might be able to help provide not only safe shelter and food, but also gifts for children or other necessities that can still make the holiday season a time of celebration. The best gift of all would be a holiday without abuse.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call our 24-hour Helpline, 406-425-2222. If you’re outside our service area, call and we’ll put you in touch with your local resources. Or call the National Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
Beth Wiley is the educator and communication coordinator for Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Red Lodge