3 lessons from tragedy: Avoiding violence in personal relationships

Just a few months ago, a woman I had trained with in an upper-level shooting class was suddenly murdered by her soon-to-be-ex-husband. The San Antonio murder-suicide rocked our community of aware and prepared people.

Jennifer had pursued hours and hours of education on various firearms platforms, and what comes with this community of one-percenters is a natural emphasis on awareness, mental preparation, and the ability to react quickly to stop a threat. I have a theory: I think she had not fully considered the concept that the man she had loved could end her life. This is a pretty high-level look at some intricate issues, but I hope it’s enough to get us all thinking outside the box of stranger violence.

Lesson One: Rethink what a bad guy looks like

Ladies, it’s time for some tough love. It’s time for us to talk about what a “bad guy” looks like. Because it’s not the picture in your head.

If you’ve taken a Refuse To Be A Victim class with me, you’ll know where this is going. We do a fun little exercise in the first hour that’s like a wedding shower game: everyone gets a piece of paper, some markers, and five minutes to draw a bad guy. Most everyone draws some scruffy looking dude who hasn’t seen a razor in a while, hiding in a hoodie and looking a lot like the Unabomber. Now, I’m not saying that guy shouldn’t be on our radar – he absolutely should – but there’s usually one student in the class who “gets” it. That student’s sketch might be a woman who looks a lot like you and me, or a handsome guy with a dashing smile. That’s when I roll out the slides of Ted Bundy and other “normal”-looking guys who’ve Done Very Bad Things.

Do not assume that someone with facial symmetry and blue eyes and a perfect smile could never hurt you.

Lesson Two: Listen to your gut

I’m going to ask you to take this path with me now, somewhere you don’t want to go: what if your bad guy is the one in your wedding photo? The guy whose face is on the pillow next to you?

There doesn’t have to be a history of domestic violence for it to strike a sudden, devastating blow. It only has to happen once. Does that mean we have to live in fear of violence from those we love, or have loved? No, that’s no way to live. And if you’re indignantly asking that question, I’m not talking to you.

I’m talking to the woman who has wondered, in the silence of her heart, “Could he?” Because if you’ve wondered it, he could. And you know it. Your intuition is God’s way of speaking to you, warning you of what could happen. Learn how to trust that still, small voice (and if you haven’t read it, read The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker). Do NOT shake off those niggling little doubts you’ve banished to the shadows of your mind to feed your secret guilt and insecurity. Those doubts exist for a reason, and that reason may very well be to save your life.

Lesson Three: Listen to real talk from friends and family

Let’s say your friend has a new beau. He’s a little coarse, but you give him the benefit of the doubt. Then, you hear about an altercation she had with her beau the night before. He stood over her, intimidating her with his physical presence, violating her personal space while angry, and called her an unforgivable name in a raised voice. Of course, you would tell your friend to run for the hills, right? This guy has no respect for her boundaries, seems to have anger issues, and was quick to escalate to Jerry Springer-level behavior. None of it bodes well for your friend, so you offer a warning.

Many people fail to recognize warning signs because they’re too close to the abuser/potential abuser. The bottom line is: don’t ignore the warnings of people who love you. They’re not hell-bent on ruining your love life. They want you to thrive and find your happy, and they’re sometimes better at spotting trouble than you are when it comes to your intimate relationships. Take a step back, take a breath, take a break. Realize that there is something to consider when someone risks losing your friendship to protect you from something you can’t yet see.

Take off the blinders

Above all, consider the possibility that your guy could become your bad guy. Covert conditions like narcissism and PTSD shroud themselves in normalcy and are more prevalent than ever these days. Those closest to a potential time bomb – if they’re observant and don’t bury their intuition – know that violence is a possibility if the right trigger sets him off.

Just taking that mental leap could mean you get to see tomorrow. Train, yes, but also be awake.

Violence perpetrated by known actors is not limited to male-on-female scenarios, but often this is the case. For the sake of the highest level of applicability, for ease of understanding, and in deference to the examples given, I will refer to typical male and female roles. Remember, though: violence is never typical and doesn’t wait for us to expect it.

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