Abused wife needn’t stay in home while he gets ther­apy

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST/TELEVISION - CAROLYN HAX Chat on­line with Carolyn at 11 a.m. each Fri­day at wash­ing­ton­post.com. Write to Tell Me About It in care of The Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071; or email tellme@wash­post.com

DEAR CAROLYN: Can ther­apy for anger ever re­ally work? My hus­band is a screamer and a bully when he feels he isn’t get­ting the at­ten­tion (sex) he “de­serves.” He agreed to go to in­di­vid­ual coun­sel­ing a few months ago af­ter I is­sued an ul­ti­ma­tum. We have small chil­dren and I wanted to give it one last shot.

This week there was an­other out­burst that re­sulted in scream­ing for hours at me. I know it is time to leave for my sake and that of the kids, but I want to feel I have ex­plored the op­tions fully be­fore I blow up the kids’ lives.

— Anger Is­sues DEAR READER: And “scream­ing for hours” is not “blow[ing] up the kids’ lives”? Leav­ing in such cases is typ­i­cally the first step to­ward putting lives back to­gether.

I’m ahead of my­self though, so, back to your ques­tion.

Let’s say ther­apy for anger can work, and does (since it can and of­ten does). Then what about his sense of en­ti­tle­ment to things that aren’t his? Your body and your con­sent are ar­guably the only two things that are ut­terly and in­alien­ably one’s own. Which makes his ex­pec­ta­tions only the more egre­gious.

And what about his open dis­re­gard for his kids’, and your, emo­tional health, which he proves when he screams for hours?

What about the pro­found in­sta­bil­ity he ap­par­ently feels — and like­wise im­poses on the house­hold — that moves him to take such dras­tic, de­hu­man­iz­ing steps to achieve the sense of con­trol and val­i­da­tion he craves?

Ther­apy can help peo­ple find their way out of places even as dark as the one your hus­band is in. I hope he keeps go­ing. I hope he opens him­self to the need for pro­found and com­pas­sion­ate change.

But if you think you have to “ex­plore the op­tions fully” due to your mar­i­tal vows, then please note how many vows he has bro­ken with his abuse. If you think you have that duty for your kids, think what his bul­ly­ing teaches them.

You are not ob­li­gated to live with him while he gets treat­ment, or to sub­ject your­self and your kids to his rages.

You are not ob­li­gated to look the other way on the en­ti­tle­ment and in­sta­bil­ity just be­cause he’s work­ing on the anger.

You are not ob­li­gated to stay in ex­change for his get­ting help.

The fact that he has taken a first step to­ward wellness is good. Promis­ing, even. But it is in­de­pen­dent of you, your health and your choices.

If he doesn’t see it that way — if he thinks you owe him some­thing in ex­change for get­ting ther­apy — then he’s still not on the thresh­old of change, be­cause it says he sees coun­sel­ing as a quid pro quo and not a sin­cere ef­fort to re­pair him­self.

Your ul­ti­ma­tum no doubt en­cour­aged him to think this way, which is one rea­son I don’t ad­vise them. But even though the im­pli­ca­tion built in was that if he does get coun­sel­ing, then you won’t leave, you’re still not bound to a prom­ise to stay. Not when you and your kids are at risk.

Please be aware too that abusers are at their most dan­ger­ous when their vic­tims try to leave. So get on­go­ing guid­ance of your own from a pro­fes­sional trained to han­dle do­mes­tic abuse. (800) 7997233. Take care.

Washington Post Writ­ers Group/NICK GAL­I­FI­ANAKIS

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