Behind the Charmer May Hide an Abuser



CHARMING. Life of the party. Generous to a fault. Who does not know someone who matches that description?

Few would think twice before bonding with a person who seems to possess the qualities idealized for a lifetime companion.

But to paraphrase the adage about an old medium, fonts don't make the book. Open it and browse before purchasing to avoid buyer's remorse.

Same rule should apply to potential intimate partners: Appreciate the appealing first impression, but don't rush into a commitment. Because behind the affability may be malevolence exposed only to the most unsuspecting beholders -- the ones who get captivated, literally.

Survivors of dating and domestic violence say their partners who abused them have two faces: the one they show the public and the one they take home, behind closed doors.

Marlene Caballero knows too well.

In her testimony to raise awareness of domestic violence October 1 in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in South San Francisco, California, Caballero related how her ex-husband hardly was around when she gave birth to their four children, minimized a serious ailment and riffled through her closet rummaging for evidence of an imagined affair when he was the one who was fooling around. He tried to strangle her with the telephone cord and stopped only when he realized she was a breath away from death.

"I never saw this abusive behavior before we married," Caballero told some 150 medical professionals, resource providers, public officials and individuals seeking help for their troubled relationships at the program organized by ALLICE Kumares & Kumpares, the all-volunteer domestic violence prevention education nonprofit based in Daly City. "He was always honest and humble about his upbringing, hardworking and always poured all-out efforts into his professional projects."

Abuse, say experts, is a learned behavior. People who abuse employ tactics they’ve observed to be effective.

Had their partner been obnoxious when they first met, survivors say they would not have paid a second look at the person they thought was heaven-sent in the beginning but who revealed a devious side later.

Neither wiser was accountant Nenette Flores of South San Francisco, among the attendees supporting fellow survivors at the ALLICE gathering.

"I thought he was the answer to my nightly prayer for a partner who would love and protect me," Flores spoke of the dashing Californian she met after fleeing Manila and her first husband, who beat her up when they quarreled over his gambling and womanizing.

Her then-suitor only had eyes for her and swept her off her feet with his chivalry.  He made every date special, complete with flowers, which thrilled the object of his attention.

Her guard down, she found every reason to accept his marriage proposal after a brief courtship.

"I never suspected that his affection would deteriorate into unreasonable demands for sex," Flores said, knowing now how pleasure can turn to pain on several levels.  "He insisted on intimacy so often to the point where he ordered me to skip work."

He broke her prescription glasses to prevent her from driving to the office.  

"He was relentless, forcing sex even after I had just survived a car accident trying to get away from him," Flores told Positively Filipino.

That incident drove her to the ER, where a question from a caring nurse about her home situation unlocked a secret that one out of every four women suffers in the United States.

Abuse, say experts, is a learned behavior. People who abuse employ tactics they've observed to be effective.

Likely to grow up an abusive adult is a child who witnesses his or her abusive father constantly berating if not beating up the mother into an unhappy, fearful wreck. The child may see the domineering parent as the better model than the submissive one.

Who wants to be the sorry victim when the dominant party gets all the attention?

"Abuse is about power and control," stressed Dr. Jei Africa, a licensed psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Many abusers can be charming and 'nice' not to control others but to mask their abusive behavior."

"Abusive behavior" is a phrase frequently used and misunderstood.

Merriam-Webster defines abuse as a corrupt practice or custom, improper or excessive use or treatment, deception, vilification and physical treatment. 

What one culture may find appalling, however, another might consider typical. Bribery may be a way of life in a particular society and an act of treason in another. Similarly, one culture frowns on extra-marital or multiple partnerships, which might be a tradition in another.

To therapists and counselors in this country, cheating or having a relationship outside an intimate relationship is unhealthy and potentially abusive behavior. It is a form of dating and domestic abuse they say betrays and humiliates the offended partner whether or not the former is aware of the infidelity.

The home is not the only place where abusive behavior begins and explodes.

"Abuse may be learned through many different things: media, personal experience and seeing others go through the experience, misinformation," Africa said, with a caveat. "When abusive behavior is normalized or reinforced, it can be seen as an acceptable response."

Some communities approve of spousal battery as a means to resolve a domestic conflict, for example. When a celebrity athlete is charged with perpetrating domestic violence, he or she gets a pass from most fans who say the matter is between the intimate partners because only they know what actually triggered the incident.

By the time the abuse turns physical, therefore visible and obvious, perpetrators will have already inflicted silent or unseen attacks causing tension, making the victim feel she or he is walking on eggshells around the perpetrator.

San Francisco Bay Area licensed marriage and family therapist Jennifer Jimenez Wong reminds clients to be mindful of how their partners behave and how the behavior affects them to assess if the relationship is unhealthy and potentially abusive (see side bar).

Wong, a clinical supervisor at Fred Finch Youth Center, says that if an individual constantly worries about angering the partner, the relationship may be in trouble.

Knowing the signs for a tendency to crave power and control indeed may save someone from a lifetime of sorrow.     

Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie Querol Moreno

Cherie M. Querol Moreno founded and directs ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment, an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to preventing family abuse through education. Visit For crisis intervention or information in the U.S., call National DV Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

More articles from Cherie Querol Moreno

Warning Signs Your Partner May Be Abusive

Fred Finch Youth Center Clinical Supervisor Jennifer Jimenez Wong, LMFT, says think twice before falling for someone when:

  • You find yourself worrying about what your partner may think or react to the things you do.

  • You stop expressing your own feelings and needs out of fear.

  • You prioritize your partner’s needs over your own.

  • Your behavior changes around your friends because you are afraid that something you do or say with your friends will upset your partner.

  • You limit or stop hanging out with your friends to avoid conflict with your partner. 

  • You change what you wear and how you look.

  • Your grades have declined.

  • You are afraid of making your partner angry.

  • You start to believe that everything that goes wrong is your fault.

  • You find yourself pressured to choose between your partner and your family/friends.

  • Your partner physically hurts you by hitting, kicking, pushing, choking, or biting you.

  • Your partner destroys objects or property to intimidate you.

  • Your partner embarrasses you in front of others.

  • Your partner does not take responsibility for his/her actions.

  • Your partner checks up on you by calling or texting you and gets upset if you do not respond “on time.”

  • Your partner often checks and monitors your phone, text messages, email, facebook, snapchat, and other social media. 

  • Your partner has you change your text message settings so that they know that you have read their text message.

  • Your partner tells you that they cannot live without you.

  • Your partner will threaten to hurt themselves or others if you break up.

  • Your partner is “moody” and blames you.

  • Your partner gets jealous easily and accuses you of "flirting" with others.

  • Your partner accuses you of dressing too provocatively.

  • Your partner uses alcohol or drugs and pressures you to do the same. 

  • Your partner wants you to be “serious” too fast, even though you are not ready.

  • Your partner demands and expects affection and/or sex even without your consent.

  • Your partner will not take “no” for an answer.

  • Your partner uses guilt and says, “If you really love me you would___” in order to get you to do things.

  • Your partner wants you to limit your activities to spend more time together.

  • Your partner does not like your friends and family and tells you to stop spending time with them.

  • Your partner calls you derogatory names.

  • Your partner makes offensive jokes about you and claims it’s only a joke and that you are too sensitive.

  • Your partner makes you pay for things, and claims to pay you back, but does not.  You are afraid to ask for your money back.