Couples Therapist Says Domestic Violence Can Be Subtle

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

  domestic violence

In my Love Essentially column published yesterday in Sun-Times Media,I address domestic violence, and weigh in with a couples therapist who said she sees a lot of it, but that domestic violence doesn’t always show up as a black eye, but rather in a very subtle way.

The Good We Can Take From the Ray Rice Video by Jackie Pilossoph

Using the words “good” and “Ray Rice videotape” in the same sentence might seem inappropriate, or even offensive.

Yet, I truly believe that when the world watched a hotel elevator videotape of a football star decking his fiancé in the face, it was like forcing a sleeping person to drink a Venti coffee.

That videotape was a true wake-up call to the fact that domestic violence exists not just in poor, uneducated communities, but on all socioeconomic levels, even the rich and famous.

When it comes to affluent suburban couples, physical violence in relationships is subtle. It doesn’t always mean a black eye or arm bruises, but rather a shove or a kick or grabbing someone’s shoulders and shaking the person. And what I want to say is, any physical assault, NO MATTER WHAT or how minimal, it is completely, 100 percent unacceptable.

“He crossed the line, but he didn’t punch me or anything,” is NOT OK. Not even one time.

Terri Ammirati is a Bannockburn and Oakbrook based licensed clinical professional counselor who has been a couples therapist for more than 20 years. She said when couples come to see her for counseling, physical abuse is often the elephant in the room.

“They don’t come to see me to talk about domestic violence, but as I am working with them, it comes out in very subtle ways,” she said. “Couples often blame their problems on depression or anxiety, when in reality the abuse is what’s causing these issues.”

Ammirati said there can be several reasons women don’t come forward in domestic violence situations. They include low self-esteem, shame, embarrassment, blaming themselves and protecting their partner. However, the biggest reason is financial restraint.

“Women who are dependent on their spouse financially don’t want to give up their lifestyle,” Ammirati said. “They make the decision to stay, rationalizing that they can live with it because ‘It’s not that bad.’”

“It’s not that bad?!” Is that what Janay was thinking when she married Rice AFTER he punched her in the face?

I don’t want to judge the Rices, or anyone, for that matter, and I don’t want to make people think that a one time incident of domestic violence means that you are headed to divorce court.

But, I do think that one hit, one shove, one kick or one shake will undoubtedly lead to a second incident if nothing is addressed after it happens. In other words, seeking therapy is crucial for many reasons that go far beyond saving a marriage.

Ammirati said she has worked with countless couples over the years in teaching them how to handle emotional intensity, or the times they “get flooded with adrenaline” that can lead to violence.

            “Most of the time, domestic violence is a learned behavior that they have seen from their parents,” she said. “We’re not born knowing how to beat someone up.”

Ammirati said she works with couples to teach them how to handle and manage conflict effectively, using methods such as taking a time out and walking away, or learning how to release anger in a non-dangerous way.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ammirati when she explained that the first step is recognition and self-awareness by the couple that they need help. In other words, get out of denial. Drink the Venti coffee.

Because, the long-term effects of physical abuse are almost unspeakable: low self-esteem, no self-worth, lack of self-love, and unhappiness to the extreme that the inside damage is so much worse than a couple bumps and bruises.

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    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at:

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