My wife’s violence when angry is eating me alive
‘Face punching has become the norm’
Kate Holmquist - who always wanted to be an agony aunt - and her dog, Luna. PHOTOGRAPH: ALAN BETSON
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Q I’m in a situation which is really quite alien to me. My wife can get quite violent when angry, and this is increasing massively. There seems to be some kind of assertion of dominance here and I really just don’t know how to go forward. Face punching has become the norm.
It generally starts with something tiny like dishes in the sink. We both work, though I have no problem admitting her job is more stressful but with that said her career was her choice and I fully support her. She can be quite antisocial where I am totally the opposite. This is something she hates, and can be thrown into a rage of jealousy, resulting in physical confrontations.
I want to make it clear: I work hard, I’m faithful, I never retaliate and after yet another recent and very violent outburst by her, I’m ready to hit the road. I have a constant feeling of dread in my stomach at the thought of going home in the evening. When I hear a message sound on my phone or when it rings, I think “crap!! what now?” I can’t live like this anymore.
She seems to think that the last outburst was just another fight and “good old me” will forgive and forget . But I’m really struggling this time. Inside I am being eaten alive.
When we met it was important to me that I wanted kids but she maintained that she didn’t want kids. At the time it would have been difficult, as we both work long hours so I accepted that maybe it wouldn’t happen.
However, in the past year and a half she has been increasingly adamant about having kids. The problem for me now is that I don’t think she is capable with her tendency to just explode and go from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye.
A You are courageous to have finally broken the silence and secrecy of what you describe as a seriously abusive relationship. You are being intimidated and subjected to physical violence and psychological, emotional abuse that Relationships Ireland ranks as “severe”. You are putting on a brave face so that no one else knows, while you are being eaten up inside.
“It is common for victims in abusive relationships to minimise what is happening in order to tolerate the abuse. Most people, especially men, in abusive relationships feel a sense of shame which makes it difficult to break the silence. But you do need to break the silence; you need to inform yourself and look for help,” advises Christine May, counsellor with Relationships Ireland.
The behaviour you describe comes under the Irish legislation in relation to domestic abuse, which makes provision for the protection, safety and welfare of spouses and other persons in domestic relationships so you should also consider talking to a solicitor or a member of the Garda.
Your letter was also read by Pat Grange, another counsellor with Relationships Ireland. He too advises that you talk to a solicitor and/or a member of the Garda. He explains, “In situations of domestic abuse, experts in the field increasingly distinguish between two types. One type is situational violence in which low-level mutual physical aggression occurs in the context of an argument between partners, eg pushing, shoving and grabbing.
“ The other type is personality-driven violence, which is severe emotional and physical violence used to dominate, control and manipulate a romantic partner.
“Your description of your partner’s behaviour indicates strong elements of personality-driven violence including high-level physical aggression and intense emotional and psychological abuse characterised by attempts to dominate and isolate. The behaviour you describe is against the law,” he says.
Clearly you have reflected deeply on your situation and considered leaving the relationship. You should also be aware that for many victims of domestic violence of the type you describe, attempts to resolve the situation or leave the relationship are often met by an escalation of the abuse.
“It is important that you continue to resist the temptation to retaliate and take steps to ensure that in situations of potential conflict you have an opportunity to exit the room without a physical confrontation,” Grange advises.
Couples counselling is not recommended in situations of severe and persistent abuse. You might benefit from meeting an experienced counsellor alone. They can work with you to prepare a ”safety plan” which involves clear strategies on what to do if violence escalates to a level where physical harm is likely.
You are most likely correct to surmise that your partner has “serious issues” which are influencing her abusive behaviour. If your partner is willing to take steps to identify and address these issues with the help of a competent professional, it is possible the relationship may be salvaged.
“In relation to the possibility of starting a family we would definitely caution against that at this point,” Grange says.
My personal advice? Leave, but do so carefully and with legal support.
cosc.ie, information on domestic violence; citizensinformation.ie, information about safety, protection and barring orders. AMEN, confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse, 046 9023 718. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Kate on Twitter @kateholmquist. Selected entries will be published on an anonymous basis only. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into.