Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a man in an abusive marriage. My wife is a very angry woman and I honestly never know what is going to set her off. I am sure you are wondering why I stay? Simple, we have three children who I fear will be destroyed if I left her.
I have heard you speak, Dr. Respler, and I appreciate your acknowledging that men can be abused just like women.
I would like to go for counseling, but she refuses. She says I am too sensitive and overreact to her anger, which causes her to be even angrier – so it’s all my fault.
Yet, I am not the only person she has difficulty with. She does not speak to her sister and has a poor relationship with her parents. She is always screaming at them and they will sometimes tell her that I am a tzaddik for living with her.
Do you think that I should go for help to learn how to deal with her?
An Abused Husband
As you noted, men can also be abused spouses. In general, women are emotional abusers and men physical ones. However, we do come across cases where the woman is physically abusive as well.
You talk about your wife’s refusal to go for counseling. Very often in abuse situations, the person with the anger problem refuses to go for help and just blames his or her behavior on other people’s action. It seems that is your situation. What I would suggest is that you go for professional help without your wife; it will make a difference.
Until then, I suggest you try using countermoves.
When your wife gets upset, what do you do? Do you ignore her or leave the room? If yes, that could be making her even more upset – and it might make her feel abandoned. Remember, underneath her anger is probably an insecure woman with a fragile ego. Answering her in an assertive, but soothing manner may help to curtail her anger.
I would like to share a story with you of an effective countermove a husband made with his wife who was an angry person. His usual method of dealing with her rage was the silent treatment. He would just tune her out when she ranted and raved. He believed his silence would curtail her anger. Instead, it made her scream even louder.
Since she did not believe in therapy, he came alone. We decided that his countermove would be to tell her, “I care about you and I want to hear you, but I would appreciate it if you stopped screaming. I promise you I will listen to your feelings.” He said this in a soft soothing voice and he was shocked when she burst into tears and began crying and talking. At some point she agreed to come to therapy, and baruch Hashem they are now beginning to enjoy a loving productive marriage.
I have so many questions to ask you, and just general information to provide. Please seek professional help to deal with your very challenging situation. Hopefully, your wife will agree to join you.
I wish you much hatzlacha.