Q: THE other day my husband of two years slapped me after an altercation. This was the first time that I had seen him so furious in the seven years that we have known each other. The sad thing is that it was over a minor argument that didn’t need to end up the way it did. I was dependant on him all these years and recently found a job and I am finally contributing to the household. I suspected he preferred it when I relied on him for everything but this is not the life I want for myself. I know it’s one slap but I have always heard people saying it’s best to walk away from the time he starts laying a hand on you because the next episode might be worse. I don’t want to believe this but could my husband be abusive? Can you elaborate on what the signs of an abuser are. - WORRIED WIFE
A: INDEED, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference when someone you love is simply having a bad day and when they are being abusive. This is exacerbated by the fact that he did it once and has never done it in the seven years you’ve been together. It’s natural to blame yourself. It’s also natural to want to confirm his behaviour so that you’re better armed to deal with the situation. People in healthy relationships do not use violence to express their emotions.
Abuse can come in many forms and is more than just physical violence. Emotional abuse, psychological abuse and verbal abuse are also forms of abuse. Abusive people try to control you by using threats, coercion, manipulation and other tactics. Healthy relationships involve mutual trust, respect, acceptance, and allowing the other person to be themselves without fear. Notwithstanding some of the reasons that cause many abused spouses to stay in abusive relation- ships, we’d never encourage you to continue staying in such a relationship – under any circumstances. Your life is worth more than any relationship.
Your husband, having laid his hands on you for the first time, has to know that it was the only time he had. You should never stick around for the second time, no matter how regretful he may be. You shouldn’t do so, especially if he’s in denial or blames you for it. One of the most common traits of abusive people is that they attempt to shift the responsibility for their actions and feelings, away from themselves. We encourage that you seek intervention and stay apart until you’re utterly convinced and comfortable to rebuild trust in your marriage again. Here are some signs to look out for:
¦ Does he show controlling and possessive behaviour? – This behaviour may seem ‘normal’ to you, but it is one of the most common signs of an abusive partner. He may say he wants to know what you are doing all the time, for instance, because he ‘cares’ so much about you. But true caring involves trust. Undoubtedly, him wanting you not to pursue your dreams and relying on him for everything is a sign of control.
¦ Are you heard in your marriage? – Some people are natural leaders who ‘take charge’ of things and that’s fine. However, if you don’t feel like your husband acknowledges your needs and ideas, or if he often makes decisions that affect both of you without talking with you, this is a problem. In healthy relationships, both people listen to each other and try to come to a compromise, even when they disagree. Abusive relationships are typically very one-sided.
¦ Is he petty? – If he makes a big deal out of nothing or focuses on one small, negative aspect of an issue, that’s a sign. This might show itself as being extremely particular about how his food is prepared in a restaurant or seeming impatient if someone drops something. In a loveless relationship, his behaviour will make you feel reduced to nothing as if you have never done anything right in your life. You will feel criticised and diminished for the smallest of infractions, real or imagined.
¦ How does he talk to you? – We all say things that we regret. Even in healthy relationships, people will not always speak to each other with kindness and respect. However, if you notice a consistent pattern of disrespect, belittling, intimidation, or humiliation, these are signs that you’re not in a healthy relationship. Do you feel like he constantly criticises you, even in front of others? Does he call you names or other abusive terms; or often raise his voice at you? Do you frequently feel put down, dismissed, ignored or ridiculed? Does he tell you that you’ll never find anyone ‘better’ than him, or that you don’t ‘deserve’ anyone else? Do you feel bad about the things your husband says about you? You may well be in an abusive marriage. Re-evaluate how you’ll relate in your marriage and take decisive action before it’s too late