Domestic Violence

Letter #1

Introduction: This week, instead of printing the questions of two people, I am featuring a series of three letters, and my answers, from one person. The letters begin with concern for her safety and end with her in a shelter for battered women. It is at this point in her nightmare that her choices may mean the difference between life and death. For more information on this subject, refer to my column, Angry Outbursts.

Domestic violence is not as common as people think. Most of the troubled couples I've counseled have never experienced domestic violence and most couples, in general, go through life without having had a single physical altercation. If your spouse has ever hit you, or if you have ever hit your spouse, you're in a tragic and dangerous minority. But as uncommon as the problem is, whenever it occurs, people are shocked and confused as to what to do about it. My perspective as a professional who has counseled hundreds of violent clients is that these couple should be separated until there is assurance of safety. In many cases that assurance can never be given.

If you have ever hit your spouse, you are a perpetrator of domestic violence and need to take extraordinary steps to protect your spouse from yourself. Most violent spouses are deeply remorseful after sending their husbands or wives to the hospital, and sometimes to their death. But remorse does not make up for the mistake. Violence is one of those mistakes in life that you cannot ever afford to make, and if you've done it once, you're likely to do it again.

But if you are a victim of physical violence, you should separate immediately, obtain a verification from a hospital, and report the incident to the police.

Throughout my career as a marriage counselor, I have done whatever I can to save marriages, but when it comes to domestic violence I draw the line. Unless a spouse can guarantee the other's safety from their own anger, I don't believe they should live with each other.

I hope G.S's situation and my advice can offer perspective to you if you find yourself in her situation. And if you are a perpetrator of violence, I hope you get help immediately.

Dear Dr. Harley,

It is hard to know where to begin.

I met my husband on the internet. We "talked" for a while that way then exchanged phone numbers and finally met face to face.

It seemed we had so much in common, I guess we still do. But now things have gone very wrong for us. He is often depressed and becomes extremely angry with me if I question him in any way. Only lately has there been a hint of violence. In anger, he put a dent in my car and some bruises on my arm.

I know that I have been moody. I am pregnant and I am finding it hard to adjust to all the hormonal changes in my body. Sometimes I think I am being very reasonable when in fact I am not. Later I am sorry and apologize. Even so, I don't think that my bad behavior gives my husband the right to be violent toward me.

I am finding it extremely difficult to be intimate with him in any sense of that word. If I tell him a confidence or admit to a fault he throws it up in my face every time we fight. In bed I just can't get aroused at all, which I don't think it is totally due to my pregnancy. I try to please my husband in that way anyway because I know that is very important for him. He knows that I am not enjoying myself and that makes him even angrier at me. It seems to be a cycle that feeds on itself. I need to get back to emotional and intellectual intimacy before I can really enjoy the other.

I am becoming increasingly frightened, and I need some good advice. Please help me.


Dear G.S.,

Angry Outbursts is the most destructive of the six Love Busters and Disrespectful Judgments comes a close second. What is happening to your marriage is that your husband's anger, not his depression, is destroying your love for him, and with it goes any sexual desire you may have had. I'm sure you are doing your best to try to control your reactions, but your emotions will dominate you, as they should in your situation.

Your husband's anger has gotten the best of him. He can't quietly discuss your problems without blowing up, so he avoids talking about it at all. From your description, you need professional help to guide you through this crisis, but it may not be solved even with professional help. The anger that you are describing is very difficult to control.

What, specifically, has gone wrong, and how are you approaching your problems? I gather that you are going to him for the solution, possibly even blaming him for the problems, and he can't handle it. He may have tried to solve the problems in the beginning, but has given up trying. His depression may be due to his failure to provide solutions, or maybe he feels he is the problem. Perhaps he has a long history of having failed, and thought that marrying you would give him a fresh start. Now he finds himself in the same mess he has been in before. When you try to talk to him, he might be angrier with himself than he is with you. Your pregnancy may have given him a sense of overwhelming responsibility. Perhaps he is reacting to that feeling with alternating expressions of anger and depression.

These suggestions are pure speculation on my part, but your husband probably knows the answer to the question, what is depressing him? What makes him feel so angry? It may be his inability to fix the problems that have plagued your short marriage. It's no excuse for abuse, but it may be an explanation.

E-mail me back some other details and I will try to help you through this. But at this point I feel very uneasy about your marriage.

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