Battered Women and Tensions Behind Them

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By Gienie Assink

Dialectical tensions, conflicts that arise when two opposing or incompatible forces exist simultaneously, occur often in many relationships.  For couples especially, privacy dialectic centers on decisions to reveal or conceal good news about their relationship. “Should we tell our friends we’re dating?” or “Is it time for you to meet my family?” are questions they might ask about sharing positive relational information with others.

For some couples, however, the concealed news isn’t so pleasant.  Lara Dieckmann, author of Private Secrets and Public Disclosures, looked into the world of battered women and found that most of them wrestle with the dialectic of staying private or going public about the abuse in their relationships.

Dieckmann conducted in-depth interviews at an agency for battered women in Chicago.  She also talked with shelter volunteers and drew upon her experience as a legal advocate for battered women. 

 

Her goal was to interpret “abused women’s experience in relation to their social and political context and with reference to their own words.”  A word that Dieckmann used to describe the women’s experience is balance—that is, their need to constantly balance the competing demands of privacy and publicity, secrecy and disclosure, safety and danger.

 

Telling others about partner abuse can be the first step in disengaging from a violent relationship, but it can also threaten a woman’s self-esteem, security, and very life. 

 

Consider, for example, the dilemma of a battered woman who wants to reach out to friends and family for help, but fears her mate will find out and react violently.  Or, imagine the spouse whose shame at confessing to being victimized conflicts with the desire to share the problem.

 

From the outside, it can be hard to understand why victims of abuse keep quiet about their awful situations.  But understanding the dialectical tension between openness and privacy can help us appreciate the dilemmas often faced by people in abusive relationships.