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Dr. Olsen
Dr. Olsen, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
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Experience:  PsyD Psychologist
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my wife is regularly verbally abusive and occasionally physically

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my wife is regularly verbally abusive and occasionally physically abusive. She has poor impulse control and will fly into anger with little provocation. I don't feel like the emotional space between us is 'safe' so communication has become less open and the emotional intimacy of our relationship has lessened significantly. The sexual intimacy has also lessened... In a rage last night she said that all she wants from me is more communication, openness and honesty. She does communicate a lot, but it is frequently in an aggressive, confrontational way, which causes me to retreat. Although often upset/angry, I try to 'stay in' the situation and communicate, but I have a very measured tone that she finds very provocative and frequently labels patronizing. Last night she lost her senses, hitting me, screaming, threatening to kill herself. I want to be compassionate and caring, but things are way out of control. We have a counseling appointment tomorrow, but should I go home tonight?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Olsen replied 6 years ago.
Hello. I am sorry to hear your situation. Let me ask you a question before I offer an answer. Do you feel danger from her?
Is she dangerous to herself or you right now?
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Hello Dr. Olsen,

Thank you for your reply. It's hard to say. I feel a little nervous about both things. I'm over 6 feet tall and athletic, and she's 5'4" and slight of build, so the disparity in size makes me feel a bit silly to feel threatened. However, after arguing at some length last night I went to bed and she went to sleep on the couch. After a few minutes the door burst open and she yelled "I want to hurt you". After some more frantic yelling she dissolved into tears back on the couch.
She has a propensity for standing over me (or if I'm standing, getting on her tiptoes) to put her face in mine (inside my personal space) and gesticulate aggressively. She has thrown things, and hit me before -pounding her fists on my chest, but not hitting me in the face or anything. But now she pounds the bed table, etc. However, her outbursts almost always end in heart-rending tears.
Last night, she came at me, flailing and screaming/crying and I thought I was being attacked. I had told her several times in increasingly stern tones earlier in the evening that she cannot hit me or touch me aggressively. When she came at me I grabbed her wrists and pushed her away. She fell on the bed, crying. She later said that she was coming at me because she needs affection and wants me to reach out to her. Very confusing and upsetting.

This morning she said that it was out of fear of shaming and emotionally ruining her family that she wouldn't kill herself, otherwise she doesn't want to live. I feel an unpleasant and complex set of emotions - concerned, scared, sad, compassionate, angry, etc. After more than a year of this type of dysfunction (spooradically, and sometimes in streaks), I don't know if I can take it anymore. I'm at my wits end, but I don't want to abandon the cause if it can be worked out to the point that we can both have and enjoy the intimate, rewarding and happy marriage that I think we both want and deserve.
I have the keys to a friends house and his permission to stay there for a few days, but I don't want to set her off further. Our dynamic is totally toxic right now, so i don't know if being together is better or worse. We have an appointment tomorrow afternoon to see a couples therapist in the city. My fear is that when I'm open and honest in that 'safe' (or at least neutral) environment, she will be very angry/hurt, and having to go home w/ her will put us in physical space where the hurts manifest into anger and acrimony. I want space, but fear that she'll see that as more of my 'avoiding' or not really wanting to reach out to her.

I know i'm just brain dumping on you, and for that I apologize. I wanted to give some background because i understand that it's difficult for you to make a succinct and sound judgment on a complex situation just based on a few paragraphs of text. Ultimately I want to do what is right for both of us as human beings. If that means divorcing, I can come to terms with that. However, I don't want to make any conclusions without some professional input. I have gone to a therapist a few times to talk this through, and am interested in your opinion about: 1) what you think might be motivating my wifes behavior 2) what tools i should avail myself of to 'decode' and 'defuse' her language and the situations we get in and 3) is it just better to be apart and have some 'space' while we go through therapy?

Expert:  Dr. Olsen replied 6 years ago.
Hi, It sounds like your wife may have impulse control or anger problems and/or mood disorder like depression. Her behavior towards you may be inappropriate and problematic as she is verbally abusive, hit you, and makes such remarks as hurting you and herself. Some of her behavior may be indicative of Borderline personality disorder features as her impulsivity, angry outbursts, suicidal gestures, etc..

I am not sure as to why she gets so angry at you often. It sounds like she complains of your communication style based on the information. I think she may not know how to control and communicate her rational or irrational emotions with you.

Is there other issues between you and her? If you think there are some problems like communication between you and her that may cause her angry outbursts,
you may see a marriage/couple therapist. It sounds like you two are going to see a couple therapist tomorrow. That's a best idea.

I also wonder if your wife may have mood disorder like depression. She may also need to learn appropriate communication and anger management.

First, you may encourage her to see her primary care physician for a physical check-up go detect and rule out any medical condition that may cause her mood problems. If she is healthy, her problems may be psychological and communication. She may need to see a psychotherapist who specializes in depression, anger management and/or communication skills. You can search a licensed psychotherapist on internet- such as the PSYCHOLOGY TODAY website. Go to ( and enter your zip code and optional category of specialty such as Anger management, Relationship etc.. Read psychotherapists’ profile to see if he or she has the specialty. She may also want to create her mental image of psychotherapist that she wants to work with – Male or female? Old or young? To note, many therapists offer initial consultation for free. So she can see it as an informational meeting. She can ask any question and negotiate psychotherapy fee.

I understand that you have difficulty in communication as you may not be in the same page in terms of some issues and your wife may not be able to communicate with you appropriately and assertively without being verbally abusive. The book ASSERTING YOURSELF by Bower & Bower may be helpful.
If you feel that she is dangerous to you, talk to her that you may need time and space alone until you two meet a marriage therapist tomorrow. You also may encourage her to be with her family or friends.

Please let me know if I have overlooked any or you have more questions. Warm regards,

Edited by Dr. Olsen on 11/1/2010 at 11:33 PM EST
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