If you’re a victim of conjugal violence, it’s important to break the silence.
In Quebec, about 1 in 10 women report having been a victim of violence by their spouse in the period surrounding their pregnancy. The abuse may begin before or during the woman’s pregnancy. In the vast majority of cases, the spouse will continue to be abusive after the child is born.
Conjugal violence is not a loss of control, but rather a way of dominating the woman. Unlike spousal conflict, conjugal violence involves an imbalance of power between both partners, where fear is used to secure control.
The context in which the pregnancy takes place can also increase violence between spouses. For example, if the pregnancy was unexpected or is a major source of stress, it may exacerbate tensions within the couple.
The cycle of violence
Not all women experience conjugal violence in the same way. However, according to many testimonies from victims, conjugal violence often occurs gradually. It can also come in cycles, which tend to repeat and accelerate.
- The growing tension stage
In the initial stage, the abusive partner has angry outbursts, is irritable, and expresses his displeasure through silence. In response, the woman becomes fearful and tries not to provoke her spouse’s anger. She’s very careful about what she does and says in his presence.
- The acute aggression stage
The abusive partner commits acts of violence against his spouse, which may take different forms. The woman feels humiliated and distraught.
- The self-justification stage
The abusive partner tries to justify his behaviour, trivializes what happened, and blames the victim. The woman tries to be understanding, going so far as to feel responsible for the abuse.
- The kindness or affection stage
The abusive partner apologizes and promises to never commit such acts again. He becomes kinder and more affectionate. The victim feels hopeful, believing that her partner has truly changed. The couple’s life is harmonious for a time, until the cycle starts again.
A woman’s pregnancy may have a particular impact on her spouse’s behaviour, as he may worry about no longer being the centre of attention or losing control over the mother-to-be.
The different forms of violence
Conjugal violence against women can take many forms:
- Physical violence
Hitting or punching the woman’s stomach and breasts; breaking objects; pushing or shoving; pulling hair; preventing the woman from leaving the house.
- Psychological and verbal violence
Threatening to cause a miscarriage or hurt the children; ridiculing the woman’s baby name ideas or choosing a name without her consent; ridiculing her body or complaining about her weight gain; doubting her parenting skills; questioning paternity; shouting and throwing insults; giving orders; criticizing the woman’s interests and skills.
- Sexual violence
Forcing the woman to have sex against her will; sulking if she doesn’t want to have sex; threatening to have sex with others if she refuses; forcing her to view pornographic films.
- Control violence
Not allowing the woman to meet her child’s needs; limiting her choice to breastfeed or not; denigrating her relationships and forbidding her from seeing family and friends; monitoring her movements; controlling her activities, calls, texts, emails, etc.
- Economic violence
Controlling the woman’s spending; not letting her participate in financial decisions; forbidding her from having a job.
The consequences of violence
Pregnancy is a time when women are more vulnerable to conjugal violence. Violence during pregnancy can have significant consequences for the mother-to-be. A victimized pregnant woman may suffer from the following:
Anxiety, stress, and symptoms of depression
Loneliness and isolation
Difficulty eating or sleeping
Unhealthy life habits
Abuse can also harm the baby, as it increases the risk of the following:
A premature birth
The baby being born underweight
Injuries to the baby during pregnancy
Health or developmental problems in the long term
Finally, conjugal violence can jeopardize the bond between a mother and her child.
Are you a victim of conjugal violence?
It’s not always easy to recognize when a romantic relationship becomes abusive.
Women who are victims of conjugal violence are often fearful and ashamed, and may withdraw from others. Unfortunately, the abuse rarely stops on its own.
If you’re a victim of conjugal violence, it’s important report what happened. You can do the following:
Tell someone you trust about what you’re going through
Find people who can help you
If you believe that your life or your child’s life is in danger, call the police at 911.
Things to keep in mind
Conjugal violence during pregnancy can take different forms.
It can have serious consequences for both the mother-to-be and her child.
If you’re a victim of conjugal violence, know that there are many resources that can help you.
Scientific review: Sylvie Lévesque, sexologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Update: February 2020
Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
Institut de la statistique du Québec. “La violence conjugale en période périnatale au Québec en 2018.” www.stat.gouv.qc.ca
Institut national de santé publique du Québec. “Violence conjugale : pour accompagner les parents.” Perinatal information portal. www.inspq.qc.ca
Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux. Pour une grossesse paisible : brisez le silence. publications.msss.gouv.qc.ca