*Editor’s note: Names have been changed for safety and privacy purposes.*
The last time James’ fiancee gave the engagement ring back, he decided he would not fight to keep her any longer.
James Lawrence*, BYU-Idaho alumnus, said he first met his ex-fiancee in Rexburg while attending BYU-I. After one month of dating, they got engaged, and after seven months, he realized the verbal outbursts, manipulation and threats to end the engagement had left him feeling drained and exhausted.
Domestic abuse is not uncommon among BYU-I students. One-fifth of BYU-I students are in or will experience a domestic abusive relationship, according to the Family Crisis Center.
“Everyday there was something that I was going to be in trouble for,” Lawrence said. “But there would be moments where we’d have fun and it (felt) totally worth it.”
Rebecca Tedford, Hispanic services coordinator of the Family Crisis Center in Rexburg, said that recently, the crisis center has found that forms of domestic abuse where a person physically harms their partner is decreasing, but that mental and emotional forms of abuse are problems in Rexburg.
“It might not be easy to recognize domestic violence against men,” according to mayoclinic.org. “Early in the relationship, your partner might seem attentive, generous and protective in ways that later turn out to be controlling and frightening. Initially, the abuse might appear as isolated incidents.”
Lawrence said there were at least five instances during the engagement that his ex-fiancee gave back the ring after an argument and made threats to terminate the relationship, but he wanted to do whatever he could to make things right.
Lawrence said the last time his ex-fiancee gave the ring back was during a trip to Salt Lake City for general conference. They were staying the night at Lawrence’s sister’s house and one of the rules they had to follow was to sleep separately.
“She texted me when she was downstairs saying, ‘I just don’t understand why you don’t want to be down here with me,’” Lawrence said. “I said, ‘These are the rules, I don’t want to break those, we’re trying to be good.’
The next day she was super mad at me and gave the ring back, and there was just so much yelling driving back from Utah and I still had the ring.”
Four in ten men have experienced at least one form of coercive control—isolation from friends and family, manipulation, blackmail, deprivation of liberty, threats, economic control and exploitation—by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Lawrence said his relationship fit into the category of abuse by manipulation and control. He said his relationship was like a roller coaster his ex-fiancee needed to be in control of, and when she felt a loss of control, she would verbally abuse him and manipulate him.
“This would happen time and time again,” Lawrence said. “She would lash out at me and I would think, ‘No, it’s fine, things will change because our communication has gotten better.’ I thought because we were engaged and that I was committed to her, that we’ll work through this. But every day I felt like I was walking on eggshells, fearing that if I did or said the wrong thing, she was going to blow up. I was always very cautious of everything I did.”
After conference weekend had ended and Lawrence returned to Rexburg, his ex-fiancee said she was ready to take back the ring. Lawrence said he told her “no” and that his ex-fiancee confessed she had no intentions of ever breaking up.
“In my argument I said, ‘So every time you asked for the ring back it was only to prove how serious the argument was — you were never trying to break up?’” Lawrence said. “She said, ‘No.’”
Shortly after this conversation, Lawrence said he and his ex-fiancee broke up, and he began to tell family and friends about the abuse he had experienced.
Only one in seven men reports intimate partner violence in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tedford said the reason many male BYU-I students do not seek help when experiencing domestic abuse is the embarrassment caused by the belief that men are supposed to be capable of handling these types of situations and to those men, it is humiliating.
“The client I am working with right now came in for help, but only came because he was pressured by his friends, mother-in-law and mother,” Tedford said. “If he did not have that pressure, then he would not have come. When we wanted to provide him help with a psychologist, it was hard for him to go.”
Lawrence said a part of what kept him from telling anyone about his situation was the idea that men are not supposed to show weakness and that as a culture, society says women do not abuse men.
Margie Harris, executive director of the Family Crisis Center, said there are many reasons why men do not report domestic violence.
“Mostly, the reasons that men will not come in to get help is that they do not think anyone will believe them,” Harris said. “Another reason is because of the cultural stigma of people saying to men, ‘A real man wouldn’t let a woman abuse you,’ or something to that effect.”
Tedford said many people react differently when a victim is a man versus a woman because of the perception of gender.
“So many people have the concept that the woman is delicate, fragile and sweet,” Tedford said. “For men, (people) have the concept that they are strong and have a lot more control of their emotions.”
Tedford said when society sees something that is contrary to cultural stereotypes, such as the belief that women are only abused by men, it is difficult for people to believe a male victim at first. However, when people are educated on a subject, understanding will take place.
“I think about 95 to 96 percent of my clients and people that I know use the phrase, ‘Oh I didn’t know (I was being abused),’” Tedford said. “So during this process of talking to people and explain (domestic abuse) to them, they are able to understand and comprehend things about abuse. So one of the best ways to help themselves from abuse is to know and become educated about the topic.”
Lawrence said what got him through his abusive relationship was eventually being able to talk about it with friends and family. He said he encourages anyone stuck in a similar situation to do the same.
“To tear someone down is never OK,” Lawrence said. “To tear who they are as a person — what they believe, what they are trying to do — for your own personal gain is pure evil.”
Lawrence said admitting to being in an abusive relationship is a necessary step to really deal with it and move forward.
Lawrence said if someone is currently in an abusive relationship, they need to first share with their partner feelings they have about the relationship, and if their partner is not willing or does not change the abusive behaviors, to remove themselves from the situation.
“There’s no point,” Lawrence said. “You’re always going to feel frustrated, you’re always going to feel sad, you’re never going to feel like life’s enough, and that is not God’s purpose. God’s purpose is for you to be like him, and he is not limited by someone telling him he’s not enough. He’s everything and wants us to be everything.”