As promised, in follow-up to my article on women who are emotionally abused by their husbands, and in light of the comments regarding the fact that it’s not always men who are emotionally abusive, I am posting this article regarding wives who abuse their husbands, not only to provide a resource to abused husbands, but to also to hopefully help wives who abuse recognize the behavior and get help for themselves.
Marriage is not about beating someone’s body or soul, whether it be with fists, objects, sex, or words. Marriage is about—or at least it’s supposed to be about—love. Living out the rest of your life with a person you love more than life itself and would give your life for. Most of us would say that about our children. But how many of us struggle with that in our marital relationships.
A World of Opposites
“The U.S. Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) defines domestic violence as a ‘pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner’.” (Wikipedia) Obviously this definition is put forward by a women’s organization, but it applies to men equally.
It’s extremely difficult, perhaps even more difficult, for a man to admit to himself and to those around him that he is being abused at home. More difficult because society’s view of men is that they need to be in control of their situation and that it’s not really abuse. It’s just that the man is being a wimp and letting a strong-willed woman walk all over him—either physically or emotionally. Men may not be believed when they report it to police or a counselor or pastor. They may just be told to stand up and take it like a man.
Unfortunately, the damage done to the psyche of these men can be just as bad as what this kind of advice does to a woman under the same conditions. It’s time to stop the double standard. It is not okay for a man to abuse a woman. That is not what marriage is about, and certainly not a part of the covenant that was signed on the wedding day. It is also equally not okay for a woman to abuse her husband. That is also not what marriage is about and not part of the marital covenant.
A Woman’s Way
Just because women are physically smaller and not as strong in the torso as men, doesn’t mean they can’t get physical or physically hurt a man. They may also, as a means of getting the “upper hand” in a situation where they’re physically out matched, use a weapon—chairs, lamps, pans, vehicles. They can bite, pull hair, throw a kick to the groin, or stomp on toes. A woman’s physical strength is in her hips so many may take advantage of this.
This behavior goes beyond being bossy, difficult, moody, hormonal and strong-willed. And in the vast majority of situations, the wife’s actions are not in self-defense. In fact, a 1988 survey found that in 42-45% of respondent cases, the wife hit first.
A wife may verbally or physically attack her husband as a way of expressing anger, retaliating for emotional hurt, expressing feelings that they had difficulty communicating verbally, and gaining control over the other person (Hines & Malley-Morrison).
But in many cases, the abuse is a symptom of an emotional/mental condition (borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder), probably as a result of abuse in her background.
Dr. Tara Palmatier, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, gives this warning for men:
“Men … [i]f you walk on eggshells around your partner because you’re afraid she’ll flip out on you for minor transgressions or simply because she’s in a bad mood, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If nothing you do, no matter how hard you try pleases her, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she regularly puts you down, criticizes or demeans you through name-calling and humiliation, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. If she shuts you out, gives you the cold shoulder or refuses to have sex with you in order to control your behavior, you’re experiencing emotional abuse. There is no shame in admitting this … it’s your wife or girlfriend who ought to be ashamed.
“Emotional abuse is like a cancer that eats away at your psyche until you’re left feeling powerless, worthless, anxious and/or depressed. Most of the time it happens so gradually that you don’t notice it … She’s not abusive all the time. Sometimes she’s nice. Now and again, she’ll even make a grand loving gesture and you convince yourself that the relationship isn’t that bad. Abusive personality types frequently have a very charismatic and seductive side. If she was all bad all the time, you’d have never become involved with her, right? Their charming side is how they suck people in. Over time, the charm wears thin and their abusive traits dominate.
“You can’t fix this. You can’t make her stop. You can’t make your relationship better … you won’t be able to change her behavior … [I]t’s highly unlikely that [she] will see her behavior as abusive.”
If you—either husband or wife—are reading the below checklist from Dr. Tara and realize emotional abuse has infiltrated and infected your marriage, you need to get help for yourself, foremost, and, if possible, your spousal abuser:
• "Are you spending more and more time at work because you don’t want to go home?
• Have you dropped out of touch with friends and family? When you communicate periodically, do you smile and tell them everything’s great as you feel the knot in your stomach tighten and the lump in your throat harden?
• Do you always feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop?
• Have you withdrawn from life while retreating into alternate realities, e.g., books, films or the Internet?
• Are you experiencing feelings of shame, worthlessness, low self-esteem or emotional numbness?
• Are you experiencing physical symptoms like chronic stomach pain, nausea, headaches, digestive problems, insomnia or fatigue that your doctor can’t diagnose beyond 'may be stress-related'?
• Are you drinking more or using recreational drugs more than you used to? Are you using them to escape from or numb yourself to the unhappiness of your situation?
• Do you feel unlovable? Like something’s 'wrong' with you or that you’re 'bad' or 'crazy'? Do you worry that if you left your partner that no one else would want you?
• Do you experience symptoms of depression, including thoughts of suicide?
• Do you engage in risky behaviors in which your death would be considered 'accidental' like reckless driving, riding your bike along through rough terrain, going into dangerous neighborhoods, or walking into traffic without looking?
(**Note: If you are a wife reading this and you recognize any of the above or the following traits in yourself and in your relationship with your husband—or he has tried to talk to you about your behavior in the past—please seek counseling right away. This is not only affecting your husband, but also your children. It is NEVER okay to abuse another person. You are killing their spirit and their body. That is not what “love” is.)
Sources: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org – again, used for basic definition purposes); Men’s Rights Agency - American Television Programme on Men as Victims of Domestic Violence (ABC Television 20/20 21st September 1997, “Men Battered by their wives”) (http://www.mensrights.com.au/dvusa13g.htm); “Psychological Effects of Partner Abuse Against Men: A Neglected Research Area” by Denise A. Hines and Kathleen Malley-Morrison, Boston University (Psychology of Men & Masculinity 2001, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 75-85; http://www.fact.on.ca/Info/dom/hines01.htm); "When Love Hurts: The Emotionally Abused Man" by Dr. Tara Palmatier, PsyD (http://shrink4men.wordpress.com/2009/01/23/when-love-hurts-the-emotionally-abused-man/)