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Norman M.
Norman M., Principal psychotherapist in private practice. Newspaper contributor, over 2000 satisfied clients on JA
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2536
Experience:  ADHP(NC), DEHP(NC), ECP, UKCP Registered.
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Husband is verbally abusive, denies it. What makes abusers

Resolved Question:

more likely to come to understand that they ARE verbally abusive, that it IS harmful, etc?

A recording of a typical abusive interaction between us could serve as a textbook example of verbal abuse: he calls me terrible names (b*tch, lazy f*ck, stupid, etc.), asks condescending rhetorical questions ("Did you want to keep your iPhone?" when seeing I've left it in a hotel room we're checking out of), rolls his eyes when I say something he disagrees with, frequently shows contempt, is critical of nearly everything I do ... I could go on and on and on. His defense of his behavior is also just like he's reading from a verbal abuse handbook: "You're just too sensitive!", "If you wouldn't do X, then I wouldn't talk like that to you.", and after making a belittling "joke" at my expense, "You need to learn to laugh at yourself."

Despite all this, he is sincerely XXXXX XXXXX I, or anyone, would classify his behavior as "verbal abuse." He seems to genuinely believe that he just "says things that are kind of mean" when he's angry (justifiably, of course, because everything I do is wrong). He thinks calling it "verbal abuse" is akin to me seeing him shaking hands with the librarian and saying that qualifies as him having a torrid affair with her.

We've been married 15 years. The first few years there was no verbal abuse. It began and got progressively worse over the next 5 years. I saw a counselor on my own, read a million self-help books, and changed MY behavior and reactions to him, and he agreed to go to counseling with me. After just 3 sessions, his verbal abuse honestly and sincerely XXXXX XXXXX for about 5 years. This year has been one extremely stressful event after another: major move, death of his mother, job problems, money problems, new baby, me transitioning from stay-at-home-mother to part time work-at-home mom (less time for him & housework), and it has started again and escalated right back to where it was at the worst point years ago.

Fortunately, he is going to counseling with me and does recognize that he needs to improve.

A few nights ago, we got into a big fight and I retreated to the bathroom to avoid continuing the fight. He pounded on the door and yelled, and when I finally came out, he pushed the door open, grabbed me by the throat and squeezed (but not hard enough to make me choke or leave marks), and hit me with an open palm on the side of my head (not hard enough to hurt me).

I spoke with our counselor the next day, who agreed with my assessment that he was not likely a serious physical threat to me over the next few days, and we have an appointment together in 2 days.

I am fully committed to leaving him if he hits me again, regardless of the "severity," and will also leave if the verbal abuse continues.

My question is really, what are the factors that "convince" a person like him that he IS verbally abusive, and that in fact he was physically abusive as well? I recognize 100% that it would be extremely counter-productive for ME to be the one to try to convince him, but I'm assuming that our counselor will be working with him on that.

I really have come a long way from where I was when I allowed the verbal abuse to escalate over 5 years. I recognize now that it's about him, not me, that even when what he says is based on a truth, but it isn't the truth (e.g. the kitchen IS messy, but it's not "full of 'piles of garbage' every night" when he comes home, etc. I am not going to accept it any longer.

I'm just frustrated, at this point, less about the verbal abuse itself (because I understand it's sort of a "syndrome" that he's experiencing -- for all of the unpredictability in the timing, when a known trigger event occurs, his verbally abusive reaction is actually very predictable), but with his lack of acknowledging that it IS verbal abuse, that it IS harmful, and that "sort of" choking me and hitting me "once, and not very hard" IS physical abuse.

I guess what I'm looking for is validation. Not that it will stop (I will leave if it does not), but that it's possible that he WILL learn to recognize that it is verbal abuse, that it's harmful, that I'm not just "blowing things out of proportion," that it's not my fault for doing X that he is verbally abusive.

I'd like any thoughts on how often men like my husband DO reach those realizations through counseling, and what kind of things help them to reach the realizations? (Again, understanding that it won't be ME who is doing any of the "convincing".)

Thank you.
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Norman M. replied 4 years ago.

Hello, and thanks for visiting JA.

I think it's fair to say that through counseling, some men can come to terms with the fact that their behavior is abusive, and then change it, but a large proportion do not.

It is therefore impossible to predict how he will react.

That said, he needs more than counseling. Let me something crystal clear to you - he hit you, and put his hands around your throat. Have you the slightest idea how little it takes to move from 'hands around the throat to a fatal incident, especially when someone is out of control. He needs to be brought up short.

First off, your husband needs to be confronted with your feelings about his behavior, and made to understand that, while you care for him his behaviour is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated, at least by you

He also needs to understand that that any continuation of this abusive behavior will have consequences. They need to be spelled out to him very clearly, with clear emphasis on the fact that they will apply immediately. Especially he needs to be told that if he ever threatens you physically again, or assaults you again – just once - that the police will be involved.

We humans only indulge in behaviour that brings reward of some kind. Only when that reward (whatever it might be) disappears, or the consequences of our behaviour promise to be unpleasant do we consider changing what we do. Stop indulging him. You don’t need counselling for his behaviour.



Here is the clue to sorting things out. When you are faced with non-co-operation – give him choices, and make sure they understand the consequences of his choice – and always follow through. If you don’t he will continue to take treat you the way he is doing just now.

Ask him too, what he is prepared to do to change his behaviour in future – tell him to research what might help him, what professional help he might get, and even consider a ‘contract’ between you. In other words, involve him in his own change, with a prospect of a small reward for success and dire consequences for failure.



However, don’t get angry, stay cool and in control, matter of fact and stick to the facts. Avoid drama.

I do feel that you would benefit from some individual therapy yourself, so that you are seeing ypur situation with as much clarity as possible, and for that reason, I’m going to suggest that you would benefit greatly from a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It is a form of therapy that addresses problems in a direct and targeted way and is brief compared with most other therapies.

CBT is based on the fact that what we think in any given situation generates beliefs about, and reactions to that situation, and also cause the behaviour and feelings which flow from those beliefs and reactions.

These ‘automatic thoughts’ are so fast that generally, we are unaware that we have even had them. We call them ANTS (automatic negative thoughts) for short.

If the pattern of thinking we use, or our beliefs about our situation are even slightly distorted,

the resulting emotions and actions that flow from them can be extremely negative and unhelpful. The object of CBT is to identify these ‘automatic thoughts’ then to re-adjust our thoughts and beliefs so that they are entirely realistic and correspond to the realities of our lives, and that therefore, the resulting emotions, feelings and actions we have will be more useful and helpful.

Cognitive therapists do not usually interpret or seek for unconscious motivations but bring cognitions and beliefs into the current focus of attention and through guided discovery encourage clients to gently re-evaluate their thinking.

Therapy is not seen as something “done to” the client. CBT is not about trying to prove a client wrong and the therapist right, or getting into unhelpful debates. Through collaboration, questioning and re-evaluating their views, clients come to see for themselves that there are alternatives and that they can change.

Clients try things out in between therapy sessions, putting what has been learned into practice, learning how therapy translates into real life improvement.

Please visit this website for much more detailed information on CBT:

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/treatments/cbt.aspx

If you cannot afford to see a therapist, there are good free CBT based self-help resources here:

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/cbtstep1.htm

Best wishes,

NormanM

Customer: replied 4 years ago.
Thank you so very much. I sincerely XXXXX XXXXX answer, particularly your straight talking and emphasis on prefacing very important concepts by saying, for example: "Let me make something crystal clear to you."

That line really hit home for me; particularly since what followed was a discussion of the fact that his movement to choke me really was a serious violation, even though it didn't hurt. What you say does make sense. I hadn't really thought about it before, but there is a difference between, say, a husband's first physically violent action towards his wife to be grabbing her by her arms and bracing her against a wall (which to me seems to indicate anger/control), and putting his hand against her throat and squeezing (which does seem to indicate, in that moment, hatred and a desire to harm).

I am fully prepared to be very clear with him that it was unacceptable and that the police will be called and I will start a separation if he is physically abusive again.

I will take your advice to make the consequences clear and commit to following through. I will also take your advice to involve him in his own change (I believe it's best to do this in conjunction with our counselor, who is also a very straight shooter who has taken his verbal abuse very seriously), and I do like the idea of a contract between us. I will do this.

I am also currently receiving counseling, and have been for several months. I have tried to find a cognitive behavioral therapist and will continue to seek one out (I'm not sure if my current counselor has been really implementing CBT with me or not).

I do accept your answer and will pay the $35 originally offered. I'm trying to figure out the JA system, however, and I do have 2 follow-up questions that I would like to ask for an additional fee. I can't figure out how to do that and keep this question string going, so I'd like to offer the next response to the following 2 questions be paid at an additional $35 each.

My next question is how best to handle the time we are together in the house (both before our next counseling session and as counseling progresses), and would like some insight on my perception that we really need something like 3 full days in counseling to even address a small percentage of the issues we need to discuss!

1. Regarding sharing the house with him and how to behave toward him both before the counseling session and as counseling progresses: I would prefer a separation, because it's difficult for me NOT to be "nice" and normal to him when we're at home together (and particularly around our children), but it really IRRITATES me to BE nice to him.

I've been telling him I didn't want to talk about it until I'd had more time to think about it and we were at the counselor. I've been trying to schedule our time at home together so that we're "on" with the kids in shifts, not together, and have been cordial to him, neither hostile nor friendly.

About 3 days after the violent incident, he kept wanting to talk about it, and I kept telling him I just needed more time to think about it (both because that was the truth and because I don't trust our mutual ability to have a "discussion" without it turning into a heated argument). The next day, he said he understood my need to think about it more, and to take some time for myself. He offered several suggestions, including me going to go stay overnight at a hotel to get some time to reflect and recharge.

I took him up on that (which kind of surprised him, but he was supportive of it, and that's where I am now. I'm scheduled to be home Monday morning by 7:30 so that he can go to work and I can care for our 2 preschool age children.

Our counseling session is on Tuesday. I want to maintain distance (in attitude) with him until our session, which I think will be possible.

But, of course, it's not like "everything" is going to be solved in one session.

So I'm really confused about how we're going to live together in the upcoming few weeks. Absolutely, I think it's very critical that a line has to be drawn that if a "discussion" between us escalates to, say, a 6 on a scale from 1-10, we need to stop the argument and go to physically different locations (even if within the house, but weather permitting, one of us should go on a walk).

Also, I do recognize that it's important that *I* am not angry, overly emotional/dramatic, etc.

But it's the little daily interactions (like when he comes home from work and the kids say, "Daddy, daddy!" in joy and he usually would hug each of us) that have me in a quandary. I find it very hypocritical to just smile, accept the hug, and say, "Welcome home!"

I'd appreciate any insight on this.

My second question is related: I feel like one 50-minute weekly joint counseling session isn't going to make a dent in our issues. I feel like we need to "book" an initial 3-hour session, followed by daily sessions, both together and separately, to make any progress! I'm confused about how we're going to make any significant progress unless we were to do such an intensive schedule, which I realize isn't feasible. I'd appreciate insight into this.

Thank you.
Expert:  Norman M. replied 4 years ago.
Thanks for getting back to me on this - the way toget your 'supplementary questions' answered is to post them (together) as a new question, prefaced by the words "for NormanM)

If you can do that, it will give me time to consider in detail what you have said, and prepare a (hopefully) comprehensivre answer.

Norman M., Principal psychotherapist in private practice. Newspaper contributor, over 2000 satisfied clients on JA
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2536
Experience: ADHP(NC), DEHP(NC), ECP, UKCP Registered.
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