The following advice column letter appeared in the “Five Towns Jewish Times” on pages 33 and 34.
I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. I hesitated because I felt that no one would believe my story. It will sound strange. But things have become more unmanageable than ever, so I’m writing in to you for some advice.
I’ve been married for seven years now, and I feel as though I am being emotionally and physically abused. I know that people are used to hearing about women who are abused physically by their husbands.
I rarely hear about the opposite situation, which is what I find myself in.
I once tried talking to my close friend about my problem, and he started to laugh. I quickly changed the subject, because I realized that I wouldn’t be taken seriously.
My wife has many great qualities. She’s very smart and gets things done. But she’s also very aggressive, both with her mouth and her hands. I guess I would have to admit that I knew about the mouth part before we were married. She was always good at letting me feel small when she disapproved of what I did or said. The physical stuff started after we were married.
I’m sure people reading this column are wondering why I would marry someone who spoke to me in such a way. I’ve asked myself the same question many times. Freud, I’m not, but what has become clear to me is that I was used to being bullied by my father. He isn’t the sweetest guy, and he has no problem putting his wife and children down with insults. So I guess when I met “Caren,” her words weren’t all that bad compared to what I lived with growing up.
I am over 6 feet tall. Caren is about 5’2″.
The first time she raised her hand to me I was so stunned, I couldn’t even react. It was insanity. At least my father wasn’t a hitter. But Caren is. She’s a hitter, a scratcher, and a thrower. After the first time, I thought it was a fluke and it would never happen again. But it did and it does.
It doesn’t take all that much to get her going. She can feel provoked by the stupidest things, like if I leave my dirty clothing on the floor. And I stand there, trying to shield myself like a fool. I know, however, that I would never raise a hand to her or anyone else. I’m big and I’m strong, and I could really do some damage. The entire scene is so pathetic, but I don’t know what to do about it.
I’ve suggested and even begged Caren to go with me for marriage therapy, or even to go by herself to a therapist. But she refuses to go. She claims she’s not crazy and doesn’t need therapy, but that I
should go—that I need it.
I try very hard to keep Caren happy, so that we don’t get into these matches. But somehow, inevitably, despite how hard I try, things fall apart and I get the brunt of it.
What are your suggestions?
An Abused Male
Dear Abused Male,
I think it’s important for you to know that you are not alone. There are far more men than you might realize who find themselves in your position: men of integrity, who would never dream of raising a hand to a woman, even in the face of being physically abused. Like yourself, such men find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, with no clear exit from the absurd situation they find themselves in.
Nevertheless, Caren is a bully, plain and simple. She’s probably always been a bully, and perhaps she saw bullying in her home growing up. She continues being a bully because she can. No one is stopping her—most of all, you aren’t stopping her.
Caren, however, is right about one thing. You should be in therapy. Yes, couples therapy would be great, but I think you need to figure out how you got into this mess in the first place and what your options are in terms of reactions and ultimate strategic moves. You are correct in connecting the dots to the verbal abuse
you grew up with by your father. We often continue unhealthy patterns when we haven’t worked through their impact on our psyches. Without doing the work, it remains a comfortable (though painful) place to be.
Your present reaction of just standing there, like a gentle giant, is not good for you; it’s not good for Caren; and, if you have any children, it’s certainly not good for them to witness. I agree that hitting back is certainly not the answer. You don’t want the violence to escalate. You want it to cease. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any options. There have to be consequences for Caren’s behavior. The question is, what should they be? Aside from hitting back, what reaction is available to you that would enable Caren to understand that no bad deed should go unpunished?
For instance, do you generally bring flowers home for Shabbos? Help Caren with her personal errands? Buy her
gifts? Help with the dishes? I know I’m grasping at straws here, but my guess is that there are a number of things you do to show Caren that you appreciate her. The idea is to hold back on these actions in order to give her a clear message that you don’t appreciate her behavior and will not reward it. Caren has to be made to understand that you will not tolerate aggressive behavior as if nothing was wrong. Until you receive an appropriate apology and her word that she will no longer attack you in any way, you must stay strong and hold your ground.
Equally important, you should be working on your own self-esteem issues. It sounds as though you may not
be respecting yourself as much as you should. If you don’t respect yourself, it sounds like Caren is the type of person to pick up on that cue and follow your lead. Paradoxically, I would think that the tougher you manage to become in terms of your own healthy expectations, the more Caren will ultimately respect you. You have to believe that you are worthy and that Caren is lucky to be married to you.
Also, I have to believe that, at her core, Caren is a very unhappy person. The yelling and hitting usually come from a place of frustration and sadness. Do you have a clue what could be making Caren so miserable? Is it possible that she does have some legitimate bones to pick with you? What are her screams and fists really trying to say? She, too, has a lot of work to do in order to answer these questions for herself.
So, as they say, it’s time for you to “man up,” communicate healthy messages and boundaries regarding what you will no longer tolerate, and get to work on yourself— and, hopefully, when Caren comes around, as a couple.
I find the advice given by this “therapist” to reprehensible.
If you turn it around, make it a woman being physically abused by her husband, I’m sure the therapist wouldn’t tell her to “woman up”. The advice would be to, “get the hell out of there”.
Would a therapist suggest that the women is doing things wrong to encourage her husband to hit her?
Men shouldn’t hit men. Men shouldn’t hit women. Women shouldn’t hit women. Women shouldn’t hit men.
It doesn’t matter who is taller or who is stronger. Physical violence is wrong. If you the victim of physical abuse, don’t put up with it. Regardless of the relationship to the hitter, it is WRONG to stay. Leave!