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My Spouse Is Abusive

Dear Dr. Bill: I'm in a torn situation with no idea where to go from here. I am 25 years old and have been married for 5 years to a man who is, overall, great. He's a wonderful provider, buys me anything I want and always wants to see me happy. But I have suffered repeatedly from his verbal and physical abuse. He has an anger problem that he obviously picked up from his father, but he makes excuses and tries to sweep it under the rug. And no matter how nicely I try to talk about it with him, he always becomes very defensive.

My husband has hurt me physically four times. After the third time, I threatened to leave him if he hurt me again. The other day we had a bad argument, and he pushed down on something that bruised my back from the impact. At the time, I truly believed and trusted that he would stop this destructive behavior. And now I don't know what to do. My husband makes excuses and blames me for his problem. I feel hopeless, and I know that I cannot keep living like this. What do you suggest I do?

I'm so sorry to hear about what you've been going through. My advice would be to seek professional help immediately. As difficult as it may be to admit, you are a victim of domestic abuse, and your husband is a chronic abuser.

Without professional intervention, there is a good chance that things will only go downhill from here. Men who have abused their wives in the past are likely to abuse again, and next time you may suffer more serious injuries.

The first thing you need to do is break the silence on this issue. You need to let others know about the abuse. Talk to a female friend whom you trust and let her know what's been going on. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents, I believe it would also be wise to tell them about your husband's abusive behavior.

You also need to have a safety plan in place in the event that your husband threatens to harm you again. At the first sign of anger, leave the house and go a prearranged place where you will be safe. That could be a friend's home or a local women's shelter. It's also a good idea to have some extra clothing and toiletries in the trunk of your car. If your husband threatens you as you leave, call 9-1-1 when you get to the safe place and file a police report.

Find a supportive counselor who can help you develop a plan to confront the abuse and protect yourself. Our counseling department at Focus on the Family can refer you to a licensed Christian therapist in your community who has experience in dealing with domestic abuse.

Depending on your situation, the therapist may recommend a formal "intervention" involving friends, family members and perhaps even your pastor. During this meeting, this group of individuals will back you up you as you confront your husband about his abusive behavior. Tell him that you are not going to allow him to abuse you any more, and insist that he get counseling for his anger problem immediately.

Given his past behavior, it's likely that he will beg for your forgiveness and promise that he will never harm you again. As much as you may be tempted to believe him, don't. Set a deadline for him to start counseling and stick to your guns. Your therapist may even recommend that you separate from him for a while and file a restraining order with your local police department.

Clarissa, it will take a great deal of personal courage to do these things, but they are essential. The most loving thing you can do for your husband is to take action to find help, both for yourself and for him.

To reach the Focus on the Family counseling department, call 1-800-A-FAMILY between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). In addition, I'd recommend you order the book Love Must Be Tough by my colleague, Dr. James Dobson. You can learn more about the book by visiting our online Resource Center.

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