Is Divorce Deadly?
(Los Angeles - April 8, 2009) - So many people have been killed in family massacres this week ... here are the warning signs to look out for.
There have been so many horrific family massacres this week. First in Colorado, a man murdered his ex-wife, then killed himself with a shotgun blast. In Texas, a man shot his estranged wife then himself on an Army base. In Washington, a man whose wife was leaving him shot and killed five of his children in their mobile home before taking his own life. And in Alabama, a man sought in the killings of his estranged wife and three others was found dead Tuesday.
These killings are just the latest in a long line of similar incidents. Last month, a gunman barged into a nursing home in Carthage, N.C., looking for his estranged wife. Police say he killed seven elderly residents and a nurse who cared for them.
Last Christmas Eve, Bruce Pardo dressed like Santa Claus and barged into the house of his ex-wife's parents. He shot and killed his ex along with eight of her family members.
Tragedies like this make us wonder: Can divorce be deadly?
"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, there really are no warning signs. And that's the most tragic part of all.