My Husband’s Anger Spills Over

Posted by Lloyd on April 04, 2011
Stress Management

As a child, I was sexually abused by my father. My mother knew about it but didn’t protect me for many years. As a result of this experience, I have always chosen abusive partners. My last boyfriend put me in the hospital. Another one raped me. Now I’m married to a man, Will, whose anger is spilling over. Usually he breaks things, but one time he hit me really hard. Everyone tells me to leave him, but Will has good qualities, too, and we love each other so much. No one seems to understand why I tolerate this behavior, and even I am ashamed that I stay with him when he hurts me, but I can’t seem to leave. Why am I repeating the past when the past has been so terrible? Am I crazy?

No, you’re not crazy. It does seem hard to understand why we hurt ourselves and don’t protect ourselves, just because we were hurt and not protected as children. But many women reenact the past in adult relationships as an unconscious attempt, however misguided, to come to terms with a traumatic history. Some women repeat family patterns in hopes of giving an old story a new ending — often without even being aware of it.

We may desperately want to believe that our love or our innate goodness is strong enough to reform or save an abusive partner, just as we may have wished that we could magically fix our parents when we were little. We may also repeat the painful events of the past as a way to make sense of them. Why did the parent who loved me also harm me? Was I too seductive? Was I too pretty? Was I bad? Did he do it because he hated me? Did he do it because I was so special to him?

Whatever the reasons that drive your actions, know that you are not alone. Many women put themselves in dangerous or hurtful relationships. Some women even harm themselves. In her book “Women Who Hurt Themselves,” Dusty Miller discusses the many ways that women reenact past abuse by secretly inflicting pain on themselves through self-cutting, eating disorders, and other forms of chronic injury. She illustrates how self-destructive behaviors can be a way to come to terms with a trauma that we can’t seem to work out in words.

Not all women who choose to stay in unsafe relationships are reliving a history of trauma or abuse, and the “why” of human behavior is always a matter of speculation. These explanations may or may not fit you. What’s important is what you do now.

You need not feel ashamed of the deep connection that you and Will share. Your friends may never be able to appreciate the intensity of the bond between you, and how frightening it feels for you to leave him. You owe no one an apology for deciding to stay with Will.

But you do owe it to yourself to take immediate steps to ensure your personal safety. I’m not suggesting that you file for divorce next week. What you must do is protect yourself from his rages, for your sake, for Will’s sake, and for the sake of the marriage you are hoping to preserve.

Have you drawn up a safety plan to use for those times when you sense that Will’s anger is about to erupt? Do you know, in concrete terms, what friends and family members are willing to do to support you? Have you thought about where you would go if you had to get out of the house in the middle of the night? Do you have the phone number of a nearby women’s shelter?

Seek out whatever resources are available in your community so that you can devise a good plan to protect yourself. If you refuse to leave when the situation becomes unsafe or scary, you will put at risk all that you hold dear, including your marriage. From a position of safety, you can let Will know that you love him and want the marriage to work, but that you are terrified of his violent outbursts and can’t be with him unless he gets help.

Please understand that you are risking escalating violence if you continue with the status quo. Keep in mind that Will, too, must surely feel diminished each time his anger gets the better of him. The only way you can truly protect your marriage is to protect yourself first.

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