I just watched an inspiring video on the TED site about a woman recovering from a horrible situation where she was physically and emotionally abused for many years but finally could break free. Her name is Leslie Morgan Steiner and she talks about how even the most horrific abuse did not seem to make her leave her husband, and the question of why did she stay is answered.
I was thinking about how this sort of situation applies to men in abusive marriages also, if similar psychological factors make men stay in despite domestic violence, and what makes them want to go back sometimes! Watch the TED video it if you have time – article continued below.
What is Domestic Violence/Abuse?
This is a pretty broad spectrum actually, and I feel it is unfortunate that most people think of it purely as ‘man on woman’ physical violence when there is a LOT more to it. It is generally defined as these types of abuses:
- Physical Abuse: The most commonly known one. This involves direct violent such as hitting, kicking, scratching, biting, or whatever can cause physical hurt and injury. It is also the THREAT of violence as well. Some relationships never get to physical hurt but the threat is so omnipresent it is just as bad. Women are just as capable of this if they choose and will employ this if they feel they can get away with it – or to provoke the man into a violent response deliberately so she can call the police.
- Emotional Abuse: This is the broadest of all abuses and can involve a number of different methods all with the intention of making the partner afraid, have extremely low self esteem, and generally be emotionally crippled and left without support. Methods include:
- Verbal abuse and yelling
- Put downs and cruel remarks
- Rejection and isolation
This is probably the most easily employed type of abuse against men as it is the most subtle and insidious of abuses and can take many years to develop while the man is unaware to a large degree.
- Economic Abuse: This is where one spouse controls the finances to such a degree that they cripple the ability of their partner to have any sort of economic freedom. While this might be more difficult for women as a typical household the man earns more – some women demand control of the finances and will sue any method they can to blackmail the husband, or stop him spending money on anything but what the wife says.
- Social Abuse: This is about freedom of association, and controlling who and when you see people. Isolating you from your family and friends is one way. Insulting you in front of other people is another. Women are also very good at this often causing conflict deliberately to force the husband to side with his wife and not contact those involved any more.
- Spiritual Abuse: Is the control of what you believe and how you believe. In religious households this can be extremely stressful – but it can also be conflicts between opposing philosophies as well where the controlling spouse wants to belittle the spiritual beliefs of their partner. This can be employed by women just as a easily as a man.
The first thing we can really see is that this is all about CONTROL. An abusive partner wants to control their spouse as often as possible, and as cruelly as possible. The abused partner becomes a whipping boy for the frustrations of the abuser as they take out any anger, fear, or grievances upon them. It is also about designing relationships where the abuser can always feel in control, always right, and always gets his or her way. It is nearly always planned and calculated also, not just random violence or abuse for no reason.
Men as Victims of Domestic Abuse
So what does this all have to do with men? Well the issue of domestic abuse AGAINST men is not very well known; that is a great shame. It is also something that plays very well into the hands of abusive women who are destroying good men’s lives because they can – and they know they can – get away with it. Men are extremely reluctant to report domestic abuse to any sort of authority, because they are afraid they will not be taken seriously, or that they will feel like they have lost any remaining sense of masculinity for doing so. This is well known by the abuser and used often to break the man’s self esteem.
Men are so vastly under represented, on this matter and while not directly linked to post divorce-life and recovery from divorce for men, I think it is an extremely important issue that needs more attention. Some men are held for ransom by their wives by a number of the means above. From the conversations I have had with men both divorced and not, I see a number of patterns. Most aimed two things specifically: Trying to cripple a mans self esteem through emotional abuse so he does not argue or fight back, and economic abuse in a different way – threatening to take him for all his worth if he DOES divorce her.
Abusers will use every tool at their disposal to control or destroy their plaything; it’s a horrible thing to see. I have known men controlled like this, and divorce for them was a blessing – but also a curse. Here is the link to post-divorce life.
Why Do Abused Men Still Want Their Wives Back?
There are stages in the cycle of grief we experience in divorce that we refer to as denial, and bargaining. We all go through these stages at some point, but those who have been through domestic abuse are even more susceptible to these stages even if the MAN was the one who initiated the divorce (probably because of the domestic abuse). The self esteem of a man subjected to long periods of emotional abuse cripples their ability to believe in themself. They can be unable to cope with living without their wife even though they were miserable with her. They can believe that they are still in love with them so strongly despite the emotional scars. The ex-wife may also continue to torment them after the divorce as well making life very difficult because there will be no support to stop them like there is against violent men trying to hurt women.
Men like this have been programmed to give in and sometimes grovel for forgiveness, or make any amends just to feel loved. The mental and emotional programming of their ex can extend well into the post-divorce years destroying the mans ability to be independent and break free of the illusion of low self-worth that was thrust upon them.
Men’s Recovery from an Abusive Marriage
This is where the hard work begins for many guys. Most men coming out of a relatively non-abusive marriage will have the stresses of living alone, being separated from their children, legal problems, financial problems, low self esteem, depression, and many more – but an abused man who cannot break free from that abuse will have all these plus they can be crippled emotionally, even more isolated from friends and family, have an incredibly skewed view of women, and will be tormented by the mind games of the abuser for many years.
While my eBook on Men After Divorce does not deal directly with domestic abuse (or spousal abuse as it is also known), the same principles apply to all men recovering from divorce. The same idea of rebuilding your life by understanding the emotional path, your own sense of self, and the scioence behind how the brain handles grief and the tearing apart of long term relationships still apply 100%
If you want to find out more information on this issue, here are some moe links that might help:
http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2012/07/19/3549006.htm – An excellent radio interview about men in domestic abuse as the victim
http://www.oneinthree.com.au/ – The Website of that interviewee which is a very good place to go for detailed statistics and information
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/05/men-victims-domestic-violence – Not just in Australia, this is from the UK and I assume it would be similar in the US
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/scottishnews/3181055/Trouble-and-strife-in-Scotland.html – more stories from Scotland
http://www.ahlanlive.com/the-rise-of-domestic-violence-against-men-145848.html – Even in the traditionally patriarchal Middle East we are seeing signs.