Recent Letter to the ElderWisdomCircle™
MARRIAGE: Worried His Explosive Anger Will Turn Into Abuse
My husband and I have been married for three years. Over the last year, he's become increasingly angry and explosive. While he's never physically hit me or my kids, he has done other things that could technically be considered abusive at least emotionally, verbally and maybe physically in other ways (tonight for example, he was 'playing' Mercy with me - the game where you interlock fingers and try to hurt the other person - my hands are sore now). The problem is that I suggested we see a counselor together. He refused and was floored that I would even suggest it. And ever since, he's been on his best behavior. He has helped with dishes and cleaning and laundry and even babysat the kids. This has been going on for about 2 weeks. I want to trust that he's changed and realized the error of his ways but he's gradually slipping again. I don't want to just wait until he does turn abusive and hurts someone. But I don't want to bail on the marriage and give up on him.
I don't know what to do. Is this quasi-abusive stuff enough to justify leaving? Or am I obligated to stick it out and see if he has changed?
I'm glad you wrote to us, and I'm so sorry that your husband has become abusive. You're correct that all abuse is not necessarily physical. Mental and emotional abuse are not considered 'quasi-abuse' - they're just as damaging as physical abuse and can often escalate to include physical hurt.
I'm wondering if you know why your husband has become angry and explosive over the past year, especially if he was not this way during the first years of your marriage. It seems he had no idea how difficult he has become when you suggested counseling. Just a thought, but perhaps he needs to talk to his doctor about his anger.
It's good that he is trying so hard to make amends, but I have to tell you that this 'good behavior' is not uncommon in abusive men when they think they may lose control over their partner. It's known as the 'honeymoon period' in the cycle of abuse and does not usually last long. I was interested that you said he 'baby sat' the children. Are they not his children? I ask that because my son corrected me when I asked him if he was baby-sitting his daughter - he tells me he doesn't baby-sit, he 'parents' her as he and his wife have equal responsibility for caring for her. Most couples today share domestic chores too, so your husband is not really doing anything out of the ordinary.
You're definitely not obligated to stick it out if you fear he may revert to his angry behavior. You did not mention if you love him and how much you want your marriage to work, but I assume you do. However, it does sound as if you're bit afraid of him. Your suggestion of counseling is a good one, but it only works if both partners are fully invested in it , and he didn't sound interested. He may change his mind if he feels you're thinking of leaving him.
I think it would be very helpful for you to talk to the counselors at The Helpline. Its a free, 24/7 very safe and confidential service for all women in the US who are in any kind of abusive relationship - or believe their partner to be abusive. The number is 1-800-799-7233 or check them out at www.the hotline.org. The counselors are very easy to talk to and they would be able to discuss with you the likelihood that your husband would revert to his angry and explosive behavior and they could also suggest a safety plan should you decide to leave.
I hope he has truly changed his behavior and that all will be well. However, it doesn't hurt to be prepared! I wish you the very best and hope you'll feel free to write back if we can help more.