An Open Letter to Men
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
If my husband found out I was writing this to you I don't know what would happen. So, please keep this e-mail in confidence.... I feel embarrassed to write this to you, but I don't know what to do. Maybe you can help me. I think my husband has a problem with his anger…it's a problem I've lived with for years. He isn't a bad man, but sometimes he gets so angry that there is no reasoning with him. I feel like a prisoner in my home, and I don't think this is good for the children. Please help me.
Anonymous E-mail Respondent
I get these letters with far too much frequency. When I probe deeper, they are generally from an abused woman who fears for herself, her children and her family's welfare. She usually doesn't know where to turn. So out of desperation she turns to someone like me. Most of the time, she doesn't identify herself until we've established a great deal of trust. This will usually require that we exchange five – seven e-mails. Sometimes I can convince her to get some help. At other times, she stops writing, and I wonder what's happened. I normally console myself with the thought that she has gotten some help, but there is a place inside me that knows how difficult this is for abused women and how unlikely this may be - may our Heavenly Father be merciful.
I guess that's why I've decided to direct my thoughts in this article to all men. It's not that we're all abusers, for most of us aren't. But the message can't be understated nor swept under the carpet as though this behavior doesn't exist.
The truth is wife abuse crosses over ethnic, religious, racial and class boundaries. Estimates suggest that 1 out of every 6 women are victims of physical abuse. This and other similar statistics indicate that there are many women who are victims of our abuse, and it is up to us to do something about it. Yes, professionals and civil authorities can help, but they can't do it all. They need our help.
So, if you happen to relate to what I will describe, then I implore you to get some help. A good place to begin is to consult your local pastor. If you don't receive help from your pastor or for some reason don't believe this is a good suggestion, then reach out to a local professional who specializes in spouse abuse. Help is as close as a telephone call.
In addition, if you don't identify with the information that appears in this article, but know another man who does, then try and convince him to get some help. Sometimes abusive men need a Good Samaritan to give them the push they need to get help.
What is Wife Abuse?
I don't have the space to describe this behavior adequately, but here's part of a definition of wife abuse. It involves a pattern of physical and emotional abuse that men perpetrate against their spouses or significant others. Hitting, slapping, pushing and a large assortment of threatening gestures are examples of wife abuse. Furthermore, over time and in all instances, this pattern reduces your partner into a submissive, helpless state. I'll have more to say about this below.
Why Get Help?
If you physically abuse your partner, here are three good reasons why you should get help.
Wife abuse is against the law. If you don't get help, eventually you'll be mandated to get help. When this happens, the embarrassment and disturbance to you and your family's life will be compounded ten-fold as compared to you reaching out yourself for help. Sooner or later, someone will call the police and they will arrive and take you away in open view of all to see. I have been witness to these scenes more than once, and they are always heart wrenching sad experiences – especially for the children.
Do you know the toxic effects that physical abuse has on your partner? Over time, physical and emotional abuse causes her to lose her voice and sometimes her ability to form her own opinions. If she's still is able to formulate her own opinions, she will not express them freely. She will weigh her words very carefully so as to avoid offending you and triggering yet another angry outburst that might lead to another abusive incident. Generally, when you're present she walks around the home as though she is walking on egg shells, and is always filled with a great deal of mixed emotions, feelings and thoughts. “Should I tell someone? What will happen? How will this affect our family? How could he do this? Doesn't he love me? Doesn't he know I love him? These are examples of what I mean.
This kind of abuse also has a very toxic effect on children's well-being and development. There are few experiences that are more frightening than when they witness their mother being beaten by their father or significant other. At minimum, research indicates that children who witness this type of behavior grow up thinking that violence is an acceptable way to resolve their differences. These children are also at greater risk of experiencing hypertension and depression. There is also an association between these children and suicide, criminal activity, drug and alcohol abuse.
What Does the Church Teach?
I've worked with men who tried to convince me that their abusive behavior is God's will. But nothing could be further from the truth. Christian tradition does not justify this behavior. Here are two references that support this last point.
In the first century, Saint Paul counseled, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph 5:25). A few centuries later, St. John Chrysostom would offer the following counsel. "But one's partner for life, the mother of one's children, the source of one's every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she is a slave, and not a woman by her own free will?”
The bottom line is this: abusive behavior has a toxic effect on men, women and children. It is against God's will, and unhealthy for whose lives it impacts.
So, if you've personally identified with what I've written, please consider taking some action. Ask God to help you reach out for help. He will, because he cares for you, your partner and family. Please believe me when I state, there are far more effective ways of dealing with disagreement. These techniques are available and have been proven effective. Our Lord bless you.