Most of the approaches to wife beating counseling that I have been familiar with deal with it from the wife’s or victim’s point of view. The general assumption is that the man or husband is evil. I’ve even heard counselors refer to it as a “possession.” With this kind of attitude it leaves little wonder as to why most men in such a situation feel uncomfortable going to a counselor. The wife is portrayed as a martyr, and that she is so good that her only real problem is that she is just too good. She is advised to leave him, and often to prosecute.
I am not advocating wife or spouse abuse, quite the contrary. But I feel that the above scenario will incite a spouse abuser to further abuse. It is naturally frustrating to be accused of a crime one feels embarrassed about, regardless of guilt. Thus, I feel that it is a “normal “, although not desirable, reaction to want to retaliate. For such a spouse, the truth, if in fact he did abuse, is sometimes very hard to take.
Sole counseling of the wife appears to be of little value. Again, most counselors in this situation are women, who likely have been abused themselves. There is such sympathy for the victim, and a lot of hostility toward the perpetrator of the beating. This again is easy to understand. However, it does nothing to alleviate the situation. In fact it usually makes it worse.
If allowed to acknowledge such unpopular behavior, without moralistic accusations, the husband can begin to deal with the problem.
The legal and moralistic approach only serves to deepen his sense of frustration, while temporarily suppressing it. This creates a time bomb. The husband is scheduled to go off when he can no longer suppress his unresolved feelings.
The following is representative as typical of the kind of spouse abuse cases that I have dealt with. I believe that this is a significantly different and useful approach for many counselors.
We will call the battering spouse John Doe and the battered spouse, Jane Doe. John realized that if he continued to beat his wife, his company would, of necessity, have to let him go. His company felt that they had an image to uphold and that beating his wife indicated instability on John’s part. Thus he had several practical and economically necessary reasons to want to change his own behavior. However, even though he tried very hard, he found he could not. Often the harder one tries the harder it becomes. He had had several run-ins with the police because of this behavior, and his wife had been bruised quite badly on several occasions.
Thus when he came to me with the desire to alter his behavior, I believe he was sincere. I believe that most spouse abusers would respond this way if given a chance. I initiated the counseling situation by telling the abuser that he did not have to see me, that I would stop at any time he wished, and that I would tell anyone who asked that I simply felt too inexperienced in such matters; but that it in no way reflected his desire to improve. Thus the pressure was taken off him in the counseling situation. Now, if he stayed it would be more likely because he wanted to. He would not feel as compelled to please me by stating he had changed when indeed he had not.
Typically, he had come from a family where spouse and child abuse were part of the normal daily routine. He had even turned in his own mother for abusing his younger brothers and sisters. He was, as is typical, a product of spouse and child abuse and well aware of its negative effects.
At the age of 17 he married a girl of 18.
He had been eager to leave home. Financial problems were inevitable. Both had wished for a life much better than what they were able to afford. She simply wanted the money to be there, while he found it difficult, if not impossible, to provide her with her wants. Not having felt loved the way he had wished as a child, he was pleased when his wife became pregnant. He hoped to raise children the way he had always dreamed he would, unlike the way he had been raised. He constantly kept the remembrances in his mind of what had happened in his childhood. He swore he would never do those things. He tried very hard.
After taking a case history to gain general information about him of a personal and emotional nature, he realized that he could talk to me about almost anything. The doors were being opened. Among the first things I did with him was to teach him how to relax, or meditate. I had him counting his breaths from 1 to 10 until he experienced a mental and physical state of relaxation. I had him practice this two or three times a day. The sessions lasted varying amounts of time. He was to practice until he could achieve a subjective state of relaxation. This he was able to do. He felt this helped him quite a bit.
I taught him to remove the feelings of anger with visual imagery and subjective feeling states. I had him imagine being very angry with his wife, to centralize these feelings and to let them saturate his body while in the relaxed state. In this state he was to imagine that all of the feelings of anger were to build into his right fist. Since he was right handed I assumed that he most likely struck with his right hand. Once these feelings were in his hand, he was to shake them out and let all those negative feelings drop onto the floor. He claimed that this strategy also helped him very much.
I got him into jogging as a way to release pent-up hostilities. The energy required would help to relax him. Also the jogging exercise becomes sort of a moving meditation; and after a certain amount of exercise, i.e. 1/2 hour, it appears that endorphines are released which help to modify the subjective and objective thresholds of stress. He responded well to this as well.
After about ten sessions of reflective counseling and these strategies, I told him that this was about as far as I thought we could go, since there had been no more incidences with his wife. I told him that if he wished to resume counseling at anytime, I would make myself available for him immediately.
Most counselors in this line of work are women and naturally reject the idea that spouse abuse is victim precipitated. To some extent I feel that Jane was a victim precipitator.
She appeared to be the kind of woman who thought very little of herself. For example, shortly after they were married she had to wear false teeth. Unfortunately, these broke only a few weeks after she had them. She could have had them repaired, as they were still insured, but she kept putting it off until warranty had run out. She seemed to want to show that she would sacrifice everything for her husband.
He could have had them fixed for her with aid from his company and time payment plan from a local dentist. She constantly came up with reasons not to follow through on this for over 6 months after I had intervened in their relationship. This involved almost two years total.
He had told me how she would taunt him.
I have known enough about squabbles to realize that everyone involved sees himself/herself as a victim of some sort. Therefore, I listened to these remarks acknowledging that I heard them, but not indicating belief or disbelief. I maintained this approach even after people who he worked with, and who knew both he and his wife, acknowledged his perceptions as correct.
About 3 weeks after I had called off the counseling sessions, I received a call from his supervisor stating that there had been an incident at John’s house. He stated that John had left before anything of an adverse physical nature had occurred. Soon I was talking with his wife, who resented my interfering with their relationship. She felt that they should be able to work it out themselves. This feeling is perhaps similar to the situation of when the wife goes to a counselor, and the husband feels that the counselor and his wife are ganging up on him if the therapist is female. In this case, she felt that we, John and I, might be ganging up on her. She wouldn’t come to counseling as much as he, so consequently I learned more about the problem from his perspective.
As it turned out she had been tormenting him by saying things like: “Go ahead and hit me and the kid! I don’t care any more! Prove yourself to be a man! Beat me up!” She would scream these kinds of things at the top of her lungs, when he hadn’t yet touched her. Perhaps she felt she had to get some definite response out of him in order to verify to her satisfaction that he really cared. He tried to avoid responding to these kinds of remarks; but at the same time, felt that the police might come and arrest him and if so he could lose his job. Thus he was tempted to hit her. The final straw came that evening when she picked up some dirty baby diapers, held them inches in front of his face, and threatened to rub his face in them.
He left the house and stayed with a friend.
I felt that my therapy had worked in that he had not ended up hurting her. However, from a marital point of view, the relationship still left a lot to be desired. Thus when I talked to her, I assured her emphatically that I would talk to him very sternly; and when I talked to him, I implied that I would also talk to her similarly. I had them both agree to come in to my office to see me the next day.
A strong initiative seemed necessary or their marriage was bound to disintegrate. Some counselors may decide that the goal under these circumstances, could be divorce or separation. If both were willing, the marriage might yet be saved.
I felt he had learned how to handle himself as was indicated by the last incident. The problem was definitely a function of the two of them. I wanted them to listen to me so that I could be influential in their relationship. I asked them to tell me any solutions that they might have to the problem they were facing. They both sincerely agreed that they knew of none. By this time they were both very emotional. I emphasized the situation by agreeing with them that things were not working out for them at all; and that if something didn’t happen soon, their marriage would soon be on the rocks for good. I did not do this for any sadistic counseling urge; but to lay the ground work for the acceptance of any future suggestions by concentrating their minds through the negative emotions that they were experiencing. Once they agreed to accept my suggestions, I told them that I wanted them to do exactly as I would tell them. I gave them instructions to go home without speaking a word to one another. They were to go into their home and close the door before they said another word to each other. I told John to sit down and say nothing. I told Jane to take exactly 1/2 hour and tell John everything that bothered her about him. John was to listen to her, not agree or disagree, just listen. They were to do this every night, after the baby was asleep, for 1/2 hour each night. Then I sent them home.
About one hour after they left my office I received a call from Jane. She was crying and said that, “He was not taking the process seriously and was laughing.” She said that this was terribly frustrating to her. I told her to put him on the phone and that I would talk to him. I said this in a very stern voice. When he got on the phone I remained just as firm, telling him that he wasn’t behaving correctly. That he must treat this seriously, that it was serious and that if he wanted the marriage to work out he must listen to her without response and that would be the way to increase their mutual awareness of each other. He put her back on the phone and I reassured her that if anything more happened like what just had, to call me right away. Then we hung up.
What was happening was exactly what I wanted and had hoped would happen. He had told me during this conversation that he had been laughing because he truly felt her complaints were funny and that she, in fact, had been laughing. I had emphasized to her not to laugh.
This lasted approximately two weeks. John was observed by his supervisors at work to appear much calmer the first day after these new exercises with his wife.
It has been over a year since the last session. I have seen him periodically and have been told that they are getting along much better. He states that things are not easy due to their financial situation, but that they are able to discuss their situation without becoming irrational. He especially thanked me for teaching him the method of relieving his anger by letting it drop out of his fingertips. He said that many people had told him not to get angry, but that this had never helped. Six months afterwards, his wife finally got her false teeth.
Troubles and complaints that most couples have are usually insignificant until our egos are on the line, and we strive to defend our position. By forcing them to confront their problems in a contrived manner, the response was inevitably laughter. I had confidence in him that he would be able to control himself. From this point on her nagging would have an inevitable association to humor. There is perhaps no better remedy than humor to lend objectivity to an otherwise heavy situation.
I felt, however, very unfortunate and inadequate with Jane. I feel, that with an appropriate counselor for her, the therapeutic interventions would have been much more complete.
Bill Ronan, LICSW
Medical Hypnoanalysis Practitioner
Clinical Member of AAMH
American Psychotherapy Association Diplomat
PTSD Clinician APA Certified
Mindfulness & CBT PESI Certified
“Psychological Autopsy Of Elvis Presley” Author
Address: 527 2nd St NE, Hopkins MN 55343
NCFM Adviser Bill Ronan, LICSW, THE BATTERING HUSBAND published in the Medical Hypnoanalysis Journal
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