Conjugal Violence During the Perinatal Period
You know that I’m usually very direct when I talk to you. Unfortunately, even if for the majority of couples the arrival of a baby is a happy and joyous event, it’s not the case for others.
Life as a couple and the associated dynamics are often subject to different challenges over time, but shouldn’t be governed by the notion of control over the other, fear and inequality.
The arrival of a baby leads to higher levels of stress and anxiety. There are unknowns, unexpected events and changes required in daily life. This transition requires that couples adapt, change the way they live, manage fatigue, redistribute tasks, communicate differently, and intimacy also changes. Most of this occurs harmoniously over time, as a couple and family. However, these changes can also increase tension in the home, especially if it was already tense, and lead to violence.
Violence won’t stop after childbirth! On the contrary…
Transition to Parenthood
Even if we know that conjugal violence can occur at any time of life, the perinatal period is a significant transition period, one full of vulnerability for certain couples.
Conjugal violence during the perinatal period is a current issue that has to be dealt with. It concerns public health officials, as scientific data seems to show a significant increase in violence during this stage of life, principally targeted at women.
“It affects very few new parents,” you might say! Well, it does! Conjugal violence affects 1/10 women during the perinatal period (INSPQ). You would be surprised by the number of official cases, so imagine if we added all those that remain hidden. This reality is underestimated.
You all know how much I love parents and babies. Over my 12 years of in-home nursing during the prenatal and postnatal period, I have witnessed many violent situations. When I talk about conjugal violence, it’s not necessarily physical. Conjugal violence isn’t easy to recognise because it often takes place far from prying eyes, in the shadows.
Defining Conjugal Violence
There are many ways to define conjugal violence, and I would like to refer you to the definition from the Quebec Government definition:
“Conjugal violence is violence that occurs between two people who are living together or in a relationship, or have lived together or been in a relationship in the past. It concerns people of all ages. Conjugal violence places the victim’s physical or mental integrity at risk, and involves daily behaviour ranging from threats, harassment and superficial blows to serious physical injury.”
Conjugal violence can take on many different forms.
Forms of Conjugal Violence
Any person can experience violence at any age, in any kind of relationship, irrespective of sexual orientation.
We all know that it’s a topic we don’t like to talk about on the sidewalk with a friend, right? It’s taboo, and given that it usually takes place behind closed doors, it’s not easy to recognise, even if friends or family may have doubts.
Even today, the vast majority of conjugal violence victims don’t come out and expose their aggressors for different reasons. There are as many reasons as there are couples.
Here are a few examples:
- The victim is often scared of even more severe violence after;
- The victim is afraid of being alone and helpless;
- The victim is afraid of losing their children due to threats;
- The victim feels shameful and guilty;
- They fear reactions from their family, friends and in the workplace.
Conjugal violence isn’t easy to identify, as it’s often subtle, hidden and gradual. However, the abuse is always associated with one person trying to control another. The person suffering the violence finds themselves isolated, dominated.
Conjugal violence can take on different forms, for example psychological, verbal, physical, sexual aggression, or even economic or administrative aggression. Each type can be found separately from the other, or interlinked within a single couple dynamic.
Psychological and Verbal Violence
Psychological violence can involve insults that denigrate, humiliate. We can also see situations where the victim acts under threat, is harassed continuously in their daily life and in their social relationships.
The controlling person can read their spouse’s private emails or listen in on their telephone calls.
Physical violence is the primary cause of injuries during pregnancy, and can be caused by a fall down stairs, pushing, being grabbed by the arm, etc.
This type of violence directly impacts a person’s physical integrity. A punch, a kick, bites, burns or threats with a weapon are concrete examples of trying to exercise control over another person.
Economic violence refers to an aggressor that attempts to have full control over the household finances, both for decisions and access. They can block bank accounts so that their spouse doesn’t have financial autonomy.
Only the aggressor will have control over the budget, daily expenses, and the victim will always have to ask the aggressor for money to buy things.
Sexual violence also exists and can be experienced when a person is forced to have sexual relations that they don’t want. They can also be subject to undesired sexual practices under threat of repercussions if they don’t participate.
There are even aggressors that forbid contraception to fulfill their desire to reproduce, and this without the consent of their spouse. Throw away contraceptive pills, preventing them from going to the pharmacy to get what they need, hiding a diaphragm and demanding sex when they want it, based on their needs.
The Evolution of Conjugal Violence
As I said earlier in this article, conjugal violence won’t stop after childbirth. Even if the aggressor wanted the baby, a baby changes daily life, and even more intense reactions may occur due to felt frustrations.
There is a sort of gearing up that occurs, which develops the cycle of violence.
It starts with tensions. The violent person, who feels stress, can overreact, become very angry and threaten the other with a dangerous look, a scary look. The person who suffered the violence feels worried and is careful about what they say or do to avoid provoking more reactions from their spouse.
It moves on to aggression. The aggressor will apply control in different spheres of violence. Psychologically, physically, sexually or economically. The victim will be sad and feel humiliated.
It continues with justifications. The violent person will try to justify their excessive behaviour and/or disproportionate attitude. They will try to explain their reaction, their acts, and in the end will apologise for what they did or said. In these conditions, the victim will try to understand the situation verbalised by the aggressor, and try to help them. They may even doubt their perceptions, and in the end, feel responsible for the violent events. They will think it’s their fault it happened.
The violence moves toward reconciliation. This is the stage where the aggressor asks for forgiveness, cries, repents. They will become very attentive and be open to asking for help, go to therapy, see a professional to support them through their process trying to change their behaviour. They may even threaten to kill themselves. The victim is touched and thinks that the situation can finally change. They want to give them help, feels like giving them another chance. They may even change, adapt their behaviour to avoid situations where their spouse may become violent again.
This evolution of conjugal violence experienced in the perinatal period leads to consequences that vary in their intensity over the short, medium and long term and at different levels.
Consequences of Conjugal Violence
Suffering violence of any form can lead to significant implications for the victim. The impacts are many and affect them physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
For a pregnant woman or new mother, health problems can occur and be secondary to the violent climate she’s living with. Even if many symptoms remain not specific to the violence, they can nonetheless be associated with subjacent violence problems. Once again, this can explain the complexity of recognising violence.
In this context, we can easily think about:
- Mental health problems
- The use of alcohol and drugs
- Chronic pain
- Sleep problems
And many other problems…
For the upcoming baby, we know that a climate of violence increases the risk of premature birth. The baby will also have a lower birth rate, and their health will require more medical care than usual after childbirth. That said, one can understand that this baby will arrive in a pre-existing atmosphere of violence, and is directly exposed to the threat of experiencing violence themselves, such as being shaken (in french).
The baby’s process of emotionally attaching to their parents can be compromised. This also applies to their feeling of safety and trust. This can make them vulnerable to behavioural problems, social difficulties, learning problems, and physical and mental health problems over time. Finally, they are at a higher risk of experiencing violence themselves in the future, such as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.
Available Help and Resources
The violence cycle is a vicious circle that can be stopped. However, to do so, you need help. And to get help, you have to open to others, express what you experienced to someone you trust to keep the victim and children safe.
The perinatal period can be the right time to ask for help because a woman who experiences violence can expose her aggressor to protect herself and above all her children.
There are many services to help when exposing an aggressor, but also resources to work with you to help prevent conjugal violence:
- Police – call 911
- Youth Protection Services, who can help protect children and young mothers in dangerous situations.
If you are a witness of violence in a family or at work, use your judgment, intuition to avoid dangerous or dramatic situations.
I know that reading all of this isn’t really cool. However, at the same time, I hope this article helps you understand what some people around you’re experiencing or feeling. There are many ways you can get out of these types of situations to protect yourself and your children from conjugal violence.
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