A friend told me that her three-year marriage—which seemed loving—was actually abusive. She was too embarrassed to tell anyone that her husband calls her names, belittles her and has thrown things at her. In the beginning, he was romantic and put her needs first. They have just purchased a home. He works full-time. She has a chronic disease that prevents her from working much. But she raised three girls and one boy on her own, all adults now. Last night, her husband got into a fistfight with her son. My friend got hurt trying to separate them. The police told her to call immediately if her husband gets like that again. I told her to see a doctor and get her injuries on record. Sometimes couples argue as a way of negotiating needs. Where should women draw the line? Without the anger problem, I believe that he’s a great guy who loves her. Should she wait for him to get better?
That depends on this: Is he willing to employ any means necessary to heal himself? Rage is complicated. It’s frequently a symptom of something else, like unresolved trauma and grief. That’s why it can be seen in some of the people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Rage can also be a symptom of a brain tumor or other serious medical condition. Outbursts of verbal and physical violence are also symptoms of certain medications prescribed for physical health issues. And explosions of rage are common to certain psychiatric disorders. Yes, it’s complicated.
Unfortunately, we’ve been socialized to believe that a violent person is mean, a bully who needs to curb his behavior. Or even worse, some people perpetuate the belief that a violent person is evil, or a monster. Those labels support ancient thinking—pre-20th century—that the individual is possessed by a demon or is a devil. That’s embarrassing for our species, isn’t it? It’s time to engage our 21st-century brains on the reality of the human condition. We can’t solve this contemporary relationship problem with an ancient understanding of human behavior.
So where should your friend draw the line? The boundary can be established after certain relationship basics are understood. Let’s begin here: Communication is an exchange that creates intimacy. But even the closest couples will sometimes have disagreements. In order to manage conflict each partner must be self-aware so they understand when to cleave to their core values (honesty, respect, integrity, etc.). Each partner must also know when to collaborate on a solution. And, they must be mature enough to accept that some disagreements do not need closure or agreement. However, if name-calling begins, a cooling-off period is required immediately. Never push to resolve arguments that spin toward abuse. Return to the issue at a later time, if it is safe to do so.
Never permit anyone to throw anything at you. If you stay in the room, you are offering yourself as a target. If you offer yourself as a target, and permit practice throws to continue, you will eventually be physically injured, or worse. If you are in a relationship in which your partner intimidates you, and you want to work through it, perhaps because of his or her PTSD diagnosis, you cannot live together.
You must both see a psychologist weekly in separate sessions. You must also engage in courses, such as stress reduction and communication skills, to learn how to interact in healthy ways. You must continue to do the work of healing on your own before living together again. Yes, that means buying a house together was not a life-giving choice for your friend. It ties her to a situation that is currently harmful to her spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health.