How do I handle the aftermath of domestic violence?

How do I handle the aftermath of domestic violence?

How do I handle the aftermath of domestic violence?

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 26 2010 6:51 AM

Domestic Disturbance

I struck my wife in a moment of desperation. How do I deal with the shame and remorse?

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Dear Prudie,
I am a happily married man in my early 30s with a beautiful baby. My wife is a few years younger than I am and very strong and independent—on the surface. She has some self-esteem issues, and I tend to be stubborn. We have been arguing more lately, and the fights have gotten worse. They tend to revolve around her saying that I am cold and distant. I don't think I am, and I frequently list the ways I show my warmth. I am in agony over what happened recently during a heated argument in which she kept egging me on and pushing me—literally—then struck me several times. At first I didn't respond, but the last time she did it, I struck her back. Never in my life had I hit a woman, and I had planned to die with that record intact. I thought to myself, "That's it; there is no going back. I am one of 'those guys' now."  My wife has told me that she understands what I did and does not blame me. This did not make me feel any better. I love my wife and child more than anything in the world. I don't know what to do, and even worse, I think she may try to provoke the same reaction again.

—Ashamed and Confused

Dear Ashamed and Confused,
You did cross a line when you struck your wife, but it's in your power to know that when you die, you will have been a man who did such a shameful thing only one time. And your wife needs to be a woman who never strikes her husband again. When she started getting out of control emotionally, and certainly when she began assaulting you, you should have left. Now that this taboo has been violated, you two have to recognize how dangerous things get when your fights escalate. Next time she starts goading you, say, "Julie, we can't resolve our problems this way. I'm going out. We'll continue the discussion when we're both calmer." Then leave the house. You both also need to confront the fact that your marriage has taken an ugly turn and you need intervention to stop what is becoming a dangerous dynamic.

Your wife wants things from you—attention, affirmation, affection—in quantities you aren't providing. It's possible she wants these things in quantities no one could provide, because she may need the constant soothing of an outside supply of esteem. So, in her twisted logic, if you can't make her feel good, at least you can make her feel bad—and there's no doubt that if you respond with a slap or a punch, you're "connecting" on a sick but elemental level. It's concerning that your wife's reaction, instead of horror at how low you both sunk, is one of calm forgiveness. Your hitting her has given her incredible power. She knows she can make you do things you thought you were incapable of; she knows she has the ability to pick up the phone and get you arrested. What's particularly telling is your worry that your wife will try to go another round. You need to find a counselor who's experienced with domestic abuse, and one who understands abuse is not necessarily a story of an angry man terrorizing a vulnerable woman. You two have a child who deserves to grow up in a home with adults who are in control of themselves. Insist to your wife that while all marriages have disagreements, yours needs rules of engagement, and for that, the two of you must find a qualified referee.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie:
I am an Asian girl about to enter high school. I have always done well academically, excluding math. However, my social skills consist of being awkward, talking to myself—especially about my novel-in-progress—not being able to tell whether someone is talking to me, and avoiding eye contact. When I was younger, I did not understand when people were being sarcastic and was often suckered into making a fool of myself; I have been emotionally bullied to this day. My best friend recently advised me to research Asperger's syndrome. I took several tests online, and they all said that I have a very high likelihood. I think things could be improved if my parents understood that I have special needs, however they treat the mentally ill as inferior. Should I tell them? And how do I bring up the possibility I have a mental disorder?

—Paranoid Potential Aspie

Dear Potential,
If you do have Asperger's, you already know it can give you special strengths, but the attendant social difficulties can cause acute pain. Your parents may indeed be resistant to the idea that you have a disorder, but there is a world of help out there, so persevering with them could have a big pay-off. You should approach your parents as if you are preparing a presentation for class. Print out some of the tests you've taken and articles about Asperger's. You might find help from others who have been through this at support groups. Wrongplanet.net and OASIS @ MAAP are two places to start. Tell your parents what Asperger's is, why you think you have it, and that you want to be diagnosed so you can get treatment to make your life better. Ask them to accompany you for a talk with your school counselor to get things started. Your life may be harder than "neurotypical" kids, but you have a lot of positives to build on, such as your strong academic performance, a good friend who understands you, and a novel you're working on. For inspiration, read this marvelous novel: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a brilliant young man with Asperger's. Writer Tim Page's memoir Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger's should also be on your list. As should The Big Short, about our recent financial meltdown. In it, Dr. Michael Burry emerges as one of the few investors in the country to see what was coming—and much of his ability to pore over the numbers everyone else was ignoring came from the amazing focus Asperger's gave him.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Recently, my family had the misfortune of having two uncles pass away within a day of each other.  Unfortunately, I had already paid for and planned a five-day getaway before these tragedies occurred. Now my immediate family is really disappointed and upset with me for not canceling my trip. I loved these uncles dearly and always showed it to them while they were with us. I have sent a sympathy card and remembrance gift to each surviving spouse and my cousins expressing my apologies for not being there. I plan on visiting with both families at a later time. Am I really a bad person?

—Family Disappointment

Dear Disappointment,
The question here is not your worth as a human being; it is the propriety of the fact that you would have been mourning with the rest of your family except for the inconvenience of a nonrefundable trip to Aruba. So there they were, shuttling from funeral to funeral, bringing casseroles to the bereaved, and sobbing into their tissues. And there you were, hoisting a round of piña coladas in memory of your departed uncles. It's for unforeseen events such as the near-simultaneous deaths of two uncles that trip insurance was created. In the absence of purchasing such insurance, the best thing to do would have been to wave goodbye to your deposit, so you could actually say farewell to your beloved uncles. What you can do is sit down and write a real letter to each aunt and your cousins saying what each uncle meant to you and make a contribution in memory of each uncle to a charity they supported. Then tell your immediate family they were right and you were wrong, and no one feels worse about it than you do.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I recently began working at a temporary job. One of my co-workers is an elderly man who is a permanent employee. He's friendly, albeit fairly eccentric. He recently asked me to bring bread and fruit to him at the office on a continuing basis and said he would pay me back. Last week, I noticed another temporary employee bringing food in for him, as well. He lives a very short walk from work, and I'm guessing that he has physical difficulties getting to the grocery store and no social support network. I'm concerned for him, but I don't want to run his errands, and it's not a sustainable solution. What's my obligation?

—Errand-Runner

Dear Errand-Runner,
I bet you're right that he's proud, lonely, and in need and is trying to put together an ad hoc grocery service. You're also right that the answer is a dignified, permanent solution to his troubles. You should go to your supervisor and say you are concerned that your older colleague has physical limitations and requires help with getting groceries to his home. Say that you don't want to embarrass him, but you're hoping someone—or a group—at his longtime workplace can make sure he connects with the kind of social services that will see that his home is stocked with food and his needs are being met.

—Prudie

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