People are usually surprised to hear that during my 20+ years of family law practice, I regularly counsel ambivalent individuals and couples not to end their marriages. Or, at least to delay their decision, and not pull the plug impulsively.

Recently, I received a call from a friend regarding a couple needing help. They had young children, were under financial stress, and arguments were increasing. Although there were no physical assaults, there were frequent threats of violence. Because the parties were traditional, they had avoided involving police or lawyers. The marriage counselor they used proved ineffectual. The couple did not want to discuss ending their marriage or even a separation. What advice could I offer?

This is an incredibly common scenario. Abuse and violence occur in 25% of relationships, at all socioeconomic levels, cultures, ethnicities, and religions.

First, it’s critical that both parties understand that violence in a relationship cannot be ignored. Safety is paramount, with no exceptions, ever. Emotional or verbal abuse and economic control are damaging. Experts agree, domestic violence is psychologically harmful to both the victim and minor children in the household. The trauma is lasting, even if not life-threatening.

“Can an unhealthy or abusive relationship be saved? If so how?” The answer depends on the unique facts and circumstances of the marriage. 

The parties must resolve to eliminate abusive habits in their relationship and to  communicate respectfully.

The abusive party must receive counseling to learn how to appropriately behave in a relationship without controlling the victim.

The victim must receive counseling to learn how to set boundaries, protect and empower oneself to stand up to their partner.

In most cases, intensive support will be required via counseling over time, along with family and community support.

There is usually a cycle of violence and abuse. The batterer can be loving at times, and then become abusive again.

The abusive party must understand that violence in any form is unacceptable, and should it continue, the police will be summoned.  If the abuser thinks the victim will hesitate to seek help, out of shame or fear of gossip, the abuse will become more frequent, and escalate in severity. The risk to the victim’s physical and psychological welfare is real.

If the abuser refuses to participate in making improvements to the relationship, or to acknowledge their role in the violence, the victim should still go to individual counseling. Shalom Task Force and The Safe Center (with a new location in Cedarhurst) are excellent (free and confidential) resources.  If there is physical abuse in the relationship, or threats of violence, the victim should seek help without delay.  A family law attorney can give advice on how to obtain an order or protection as well as other issues of concern.

By Jacqueline Harounian, Esq.
Partner, Wisselman,
Harounian & Associates
A Matrimonial & Family Law Firm

Jacqueline Harounian is a Partner at Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C., a family law firm in Great Neck, NY.