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When love leaves bruises

By Han Qiao | China Daily | Updated: 2012-10-08 10:08

Ningning (pseudonym) was unsure about marrying the man who gave her roses and bruises.

The nurse, who works in Beijing, says her fiance, a tour guide, was generally kind and charming during the two years they dated. But, occasionally, he became violent.

The first warning sign emerged during an argument about furnishing their new apartment.

Ningning's boyfriend shoved her to the floor. She was shocked and humiliated. She ran home, crying the entire way.

Her fiance apologized profusely and vowed to never attack her again. Ningning saw regret in his eyes and forgave him.

So began a cycle of violence followed by apologies.

Ningning still loved her fiance but was unsure about marrying the man who battered her.

Her experience can be classified as dating violence, Beijing Normal University sociologist Wang Xiying explains.

"Violence between unmarried couples has long been neglected in China," says Wang, who has studied dating violence among Beijing youth since 2004.

"Love is sweet. Violence is out there, too. But many women like Ningning are unprepared for it."

Wang says many youth are unable to tell whether they're in a healthy relationship, which makes it difficult to identify their partner's potential for abuse.

"Sometimes, the violent behavior takes small and subtle forms, but it may grow into bigger problems," Wang says.

"When it happens, the abused partner must make it clear he or she won't accept it."

Dating violence doesn't necessarily involve physical abuse. It can take various forms, such as checking a partner's mobile phone or e-mail without permission, engaging in verbal aggression or pressuring a partner to lose weight.

It can take sexual forms, too, such as unwanted touching or forced sex.

Wang's study says both genders can be dating violence victims. Women tend to use verbal abuse, while men are more likely to physically attack.

There are no official statistics on dating violence in China. But a 2011 All-China Women's Federation study found one in four women experienced some form of domestic violence.

Wang points out Chinese are dating at younger ages, and many don't know how to handle their anger or anxieties. Consequently, some use violence against their partners to vent their negative emotions.

There are several ways to respond to dating violence, Beijing University psychologist Huo Liqin says.

"It's important for the couple to have an in-depth discussion immediately after the first instance," Huo says.

"At that point, they usually still have feelings for each other."

Huo suggests a three-step communication method.

First, the both individuals should share their feelings.

"Tell your partner how shocked and heartbroken you are! If there are uncertainties about the relationship, you should tell your partner!" Huo says.

"At this step, the abuser - suppose it's the man - will probably feel regret upon seeing his girlfriend in tears. He will likely find beating to be a bad way to release anger and exert power."

Secnd, it is important for the abuser to talk.

"He must be extremely angry before the attack. Find out what makes him so angry," Huo says.

The woman should be a good listener to pinpoint the cause, Huo explains.

For example, the argument may initially be about furniture but escalate when the woman tells her boyfriend she's disappointed in his low-paying job. It's important to identify the final straw that led to the attack.

Third, the lovers should find ways to avoid escalating arguments and to prevent abuse. For example, when the man feels angry and is on the verge of an outburst, the woman should stop talking. If he looks like he's about ready to attack, she should leave the room. The discussion can resume after both parties have calmed down.

Huo explains that most people with violent tendencies tend to be poor communicators.

"They can't make their partner see things the way they do," she says.

"Consequently, they get angry and attack. It's important for the woman to listen and help her boyfriend improve his communicative abilities. Otherwise, he may beat their child if they have one later."

It's vital to get professional help if dating violence becomes a cycle, Beijing Maple Women's Psychological Counseling Center psychologist Hou Zhiming says.

Ningning came to the center for help before her wedding. Hou recalls that, deep in her heart, Ningning did not want to end the relationship. She wanted her fiance to change.

After examining Ningning's case, Hou learned that Ningning's fiance was often beaten by his father as a child, which may contribute to his own abusive behavior.

As an adult, he was violent in his intimate relationship but not at his workplace, proving he can control himself and could change.

Ningning's boyfriend was reluctant to participate in the center's anti-abuse program and only showed up to one of the six sessions.

The couple continued dating for a while after the program but eventually split up.

Hou says women should learn as much as they can about their boyfriends.

"If a man grew up in a family where the parents hit each other and beat the children, and he always wants to tell his girlfriend what to do, this man is likely to be violent. So, leave him."