Q. My husband has physically abused me for the second time in the past year. We have been married for 13 years. I feel that if I had not argued he would not have raised his hand to me. I feel guilty that I should have kept my mouth shut. He cried and asked me to forgive him.
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I am a stay-at-home mom of two kids, a boy of 11 and a girl of 4. My husband thinks that what he does is important. According to him, housework is nothing. I am drained by the end of the day.
I am not sure how to make him understand. He wants me to obey him like a kid. He says that the children should learn by seeing me obey him. What should I do?
A. In my opinion, this situation is not salvageable. I think you should formulate a plan to get away from this man as soon as you are able.
Your story has the hallmarks of a chronic domestic abuse situation. Such situations typically get worse, not better.
A man who demeans and devalues you, who instructs you to obey him and who needs to exert his power over you, is emotionally abusing you. Your husband has added physical abuse to the mix.
I suspect he also says that you are unable to survive without him. He may, in fact, have constructed a scenario where that is the case. It’s likely you don’t have a means to support yourself, you don’t have access to much money, and you have been isolated from friends and family who can help you. These are also hallmarks of an abusive situation.
The example he is setting for the children is a horrible one. In fact, people often become abusers after growing up in a house of abuse.
Your husband is teaching your son that men behave by hitting, hurting and controlling the women in their lives. He is teaching your daughter that love is hurtful, and that she should pick a man who will beat her and make her feel worthless.
Nobody deserves to be abused, either emotionally or physically. All marriages have disagreements and arguments, but this does not include cruelty, torture, drawing blood, breaking bones or laying a hand on someone.
Abused women often feel guilty, believing they must have done something to deserve the abuse, and that their partner is worthy of forgiveness.
Abusive men often cry and beg for this forgiveness. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it again. Typically, domestic violence escalates in both frequency and severity. You could end up with permanent physical injuries or disabilities. Your husband might even kill you, the children or all of you.
It is impossible to make a man like this understand the realities of the situation. The only exception is the rare occasion where someone has lost control, realizes he desperately needs help, and seeks immediate treatment. But it doesn’t at all sound like you are describing this.
You need to devise a plan to get yourself and the children away from this man. I don’t suggest you tell him you are planning to leave him, because your priority is to get out of the house uninjured and alive. If you tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, you might well be putting yourself at risk.
You need a quiet, secretive plan that includes a place to go where he won’t be able to follow, whether that be with a relative, a friend or a shelter. You need to re-engage with people in your life who can be resources and whom you can confide in. It may be necessary to get a restraining order from the police.
In the U.S., you can get help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The TTY number for the hearing-impaired is 1-800-787-3224. The service operates around the clock, and is free, confidential and anonymous. The hot line receives nearly 20,000 calls every month, so you are not alone.
The Web site at ndvh.org includes a warning to use a safe computer if you are concerned your computer use might be monitored by your abuser. There’s an “escape” button at the top right, which immediately takes you to a neutral site — in my case, the Google homepage — if you fear your husband will come along and see what is on your screen.
I usually advocate working out issues in a marriage, but not when it comes to physical abuse.
Your husband has physically injured you more than once. I suspect you are underreporting the emotional abuse you are subjected to.
There is no good in remaining with a man like this. You will never be better off with him than without him. If you cannot leave for your own sake, do it for the sake of the children.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Women should never, ever accept physical abuse from their partners. Those who are in danger should devise a plan to leave before the situation worsens, as it almost inevitably will.
Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.
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