Recently, we lost American folklore legend John Prine to COVID-19 complications. He is known for being an excellent story teller and he reflects on challenges faced in everyday life. He tells these stories with humor, fun, sadness, empathy, and through many decades, he tackled difficult topics. Substance abuse, anger, harmful practices that destroyed the environment, marriage, life stressors, and even domestic violence were chalked up to humans flaws, the progress of man, or more simply, “That’s the Way that the World Goes Round.” In concert, John would not only sing, but along the way, he would stop and tell tales about his personal life. And, this song, was no different. In fact, a lot of diehard fans know this tune as the “Happy Enchilada” song. The song begins with a glimpse of domestic violence and alcohol abuse in our society. Two very difficult concerns that many Americans may be struggling with our Safer At Home initiatives.
How do we go from domestic violence and alcohol to the “Happy Enchilada” in one of his most loved songs?” It is this very point that I want to take a few moments to address. He stops in the middle song and begins a discourse on the pitfalls of communication. Sometimes, what the listener hears is not what the sender said. That’s how we get to the happy enchilada in “That’s the Way the World Goes Round.” A fan wanted John to play her favorite song. It’s a song about stressors in the moment and it makes her happy. John reminds us that some days we are up and on others, we are down. When we are down, he says, “It’s a half an inch of water, and you think you are going to drown.” The fan, well she had been singing “It’s a happy enchilada and you think you are going to drown.” What a clever way to point out, that in relationships, we often are inattentive listeners. Inattentive to ourselves and to our partners. I started thinking about warning signs within relationships that could be flags for domestic violence. Second, could working on our communication skills diffuse potential domestic violence situations?
Research on domestic violence is often mixed on what is the root cause that can predict a future violent event. However, verbally aggressive communication styles, the inability to know how to effectively manage emotions, underlying mental health issues, substance abuse, poor stress coping, limited problem solving skills, a history of prior family violence, and high conflict topics, are a few factors that contribute to incidents. High conflict discussion topics should be considered red flags for couples who suddenly have more time together or that are finally taking time out of their life to address relationship stressors during the “Stay at Home” executive order. Perpetrators are more likely to use aggressive forms of communications that include being more critical, ridiculing, threatening, denying responsibility, complaining, accusing and use name calling toward their partner. If you and your partner are talking about difficult subjects, try to practice good communication skills (accepting responsibility, compromising, and reflecting). Communication, miscommunication, retaliation, substance abuse, the need to control, or coercion are often precursors to violence. Listen to your inner voice if you are approaching dangerous thresholds. Reach out for help. You are not alone and domestic violence is not a normal coping mechanism to deal with the current stressors associated with COVID-19 or any other negative life event. Simply put, it’s not the way the world goes round.
If you are in a violent relationship, help is available at 1-800-799-SAFE or www.hotline.org. Local resources can be found at www.endabuse.wi.org/get-help//. Or for additional information, resources, and referral services, you may contact the Service Member Support Division at 1-800-292-9464 option 1.