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A conversation with SAFE: the cycle of violence, and how to maintain healthy relationships

WIN Services

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. KDLG talks with Gregg Marxmiller from SAFE, the women’s shelter in Dillingham. In our second segment with Marxmiller, he breaks down the cycle of violence, the signals of abuse and unhealthy versus healthy relationships. 

Tyler Thompson: Gregg, thanks for stopping back in with us today, as domestic violence awareness month rolls on. Last week we talked about the definition of domestic violence. Today, you wanted to talk about the circle of domestic violence.

Gregg Marxmiller: So cycle of violence is a model we go back to, it was developed in the late 70s and published in a book by Lenore Walker to describe a cycle that is appearing in most violent relationships. The first phase is called tension building. The second phase is an explosion and the third phase is the honeymoon phase. In the first phase – tension building – an abuser may get angry. There may be physical intimidation, punching walls and a breakdown of communication. The victim needs to keep the abuser calm to make sure there’s no explosion. And then tension becomes too much, the victim constantly feels like they have to manage the abuser. They’re walking on eggshells. Then there’s an inevitable explosion where it could be physical abuse, sexual abuse, it could be whatever act of violence the abuser is using for power and control in this case. After that, there’s the honeymoon phase where everything de-escalates. The abuser may apologize abuse, promise it will never happen again – blame the victim for causing the abuse. They will deny it took place, gas lighting, saying it’s not as bad as what the victim said and promises to make up. When you say “make it up” constantly if someone does something wrong, generally we want to make up for that. But in this case, the concept of making it up is only so the abuser doesn’t get in trouble. Not to help the victim, it’s a fear of going to the police.

Cycle of violence is something we teach about because people see it and go, ‘oh okay. This may be something happening in my relationship, I need to talk to somebody about or this might be something I’m doing. And this is not a good way of me living and I want to be better.’ The cycle can continue, sometimes becoming more lethal.

Thompson: Almost like escalating?

Marxmiller: Yeah.

Thompson: So if you are in that situation, and you are the abuser, what are some ways you can recognize you are that person?

Marxmiller: This is really difficult. It’s hard to take an open and honest inventory of yourself and say hey, I may have some problems I need to deal with. I’d like to say, if you’re doing that, there’s help there. Also, I have a mad amount of respect for you. That is great. 

So red flags in an abusive relationship would be communication in a hurtful, demeaning way. You mistreat someone – and remember, this is all within the sense of power of control over someone else. Accusing the other person of cheating or having affair when you know that’s not true. Denies that any abusive things are happening. Controlling another person -- that may be like going through someone’s cell phone without their permission. Isolation is a classic technique that abusers use. They try to cut off everyone else no friends, no family. It’s insidious. They could force sexual activity or pregnancy. Economic control. It’s not a problem if someone makes most of the financial decisions if it’s consensual. Manipulative parenting, using children as a tool against one party in the relationship – I can’t tell you how bad that can be. Those are some of the signs that you really need to seek help in an abusive relationship. Talk to someone. There’s people and we have some resources on our website as well.

Thompson: It’s a mentally taxing thing to discuss.

Marxmiller: Yeah, it’s emotionally charged. You know, there’s a lot of discussion about emotional intelligence and how to deal with emotions. Some people may be passionate about that. I have two techniques that I’ve been taught and that other practitioners teach that help interrupt emotions and get us back into a place where we can kind of think better.

The first is called the “CAPACITAR Method.” It’s taught all over the world. It involves your hand, you put out all fingers and start with the thumb. You hold on to your thumb with your other hand. Completely encapsulate it for 5-10 seconds. Then you move the hand from the thumb to the fore finger – another five count. Go to the middle finger, the next finger and finally your pinky. You can do that with both hands and that can help people mellow out. Each of those fingers have a connotation, it’s a grounding technique.

The other one, it may seem hokey, but don’t forget to breath. Basically, you’re getting all the bad air out of your lungs and oxygenating your mind. We exhale all the air out of our lungs through our mouth. Then you inhale as far as we can with our nose. We do that three times and it clears out all the gunk. Do this three times. It helps us when we’re angry and feeling all kinds of emotions. It may not solve it, but I can guarantee it will help.

Keep that in mind, those are some things we can use right away. Now let’s look at self-examination and caring for our partner, ending the things we don’t want to do. Abusive behavior is bad behavior. Some of those things may not be abuse – bad behaviors – because relationships are on a spectrum. We’re all doing different kinds of things.

Thompson: When you say spectrum, what does that mean?

Marxmiller: I don’t think anybody has a perfect relationship, right? We say relationships are work, but I think it’s good work. There’s healthy and unhealthy relationships that aren’t on the abuse part of the spectrum. In an unhealthy relationship one of our partners is not communicating. There’s problems, there’s fights, they don’t discuss it and give the silent treatment. Being disrespectful, going out to try and win points or hurt somebody else. It may do something quickly but it’s really unhealthy and could lead to problems later on. It’s really important to have trust in a relationship. You’re partnered up for a reason and you need to look out for each other in the world. Then trying to take control like power plays. Feeling like your choices and your desires are more important. Only spending time with your partner, making that person your world. You need to have a network out there. Pushing people’s boundaries, be respectful of those whether it’s a romantic relationship or anywhere. I guess I talked about unhealthy relationships and healthy relationships in the same way. The things I talked about before, they are not necessarily abusive but they are pushing towards that. Without being checked they can become abusive.

In the end here, talking about healthy relationships and communication, it takes guts. It may be difficult but the other person is there for you; you can add to each other. Enjoy your personal time. Being financial and economic partners, having that economic strength together. Engage in supportive parenting so you can raise the next generation right up right so we can have an awesome Bristol Bay. The trick is if you have unhealthy behaviors to first recognize them, then work to change them. Sometimes we can’t do that ourselves. You may be able to recognize them but we need to ask for help. That may be with a counselor or therapist, talking to a pastor, you may be researching it and talking to a trusted friend or working with a life coach. To some degree, by saying I really respect people by trying to do better. It can be hard. I’m going to say it’s hard all the time but it can be. To me, that’s a sign that it can be really worth it. You’re trying to make yourself a better person. We’re not perfect yet.

Thompson: Well thank you, Gregg. We’ll see you next week.

Marxmiller: Thank you.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200

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