Could your ex be violent? Here are warning signs to look out for.
On Christmas Eve, a man dressed as Santa and carrying what appeared to a present pulled out a handgun entered a family party and began shooting indiscriminately. By the time it was over, at least nine people at the party were dead and the house was torched. The gunman, who police identified as Bruce Pardo, killed himself hours after exacting revenge against his ex-wife Sylvia by executing his former family at his former in-laws' home.
Lawyers say that Bruce Pardo never displayed signs of violence and his ex never saw this coming.
"It's unlikely a woman would marry a man she believed to be dangerous," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in New York City. "In the beginning of a relationship, it's easy to ignore the warning signs of abuse and focus on the positive aspects of a person. After all, you're on a romantic hormonal high so everything he does seems wonderful."
What's more, people are not just two-dimensional. We all occasionally act in ways we're ashamed of, and nobody is perfect. And sometimes relationships go through rough patches and it can be difficult to gauge between someone behaving poorly and legitimate abuse. However, Dr. Greer says to be aware of specific signs a person is capable of hurting you.
If your spouse or ex exhibits any of these behaviors, seek help immediately:
• Explosive anger or violence (i.e.: throws objects, is physically aggressive)
• Blocks exits or hides car keys to prevent leaving
• Isolates you from family and friends or otherwise limits your contact with the outside world
• Emotional abuse (name calling, ridicule, frequent criticism)
• Disregards your feelings and has a complete focus on their own needs
"The problem is, for many women, abuse is an ongoing cycle, and even if they acknowledge what's going on, they may feel it's their fault -- especially if the aggressor has worked hard to make it seem that way," says Greer. "And because the woman thinks his behavior is her responsibility to fix, she won't take proper safety precautions."
And oddly enough, many times controlling behavior can feel like love. For instance, if your spouse complains when you spend time with your friends and family, at first it may seem flattering ("He wants me all to himself!"). However, Greer says this is a sign he wants to remove your support system so you have no one to turn to -- except for him.
If you see these warning signs, Greer says to disengage from the relationship right away. "Leave with your children, then call to let him know you won't be returning and clearly -- but briefly -- tell him why," she says. "Don't confront him in person -- otherwise, he'll likely try to stop you."
If you fear he'll track down your family, don't stay with them, but make sure loved ones know where you are and have ways to reach you.
But sometimes, like in this case, there really are no warning signs. And that's the most tragic part of all.