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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

If a person is either physically or emotionally abusive, refuses to get help, and continues the abuse, is a divorce the best option for the health of the abused and the children?

Answer

I receive many questions dealing with variations on the theme of emotional and physical abuse. People in the United States have become much more conscious of the prevalence of both physical and emotional abuse. As more people are willing to make their stories public, it gives others the courage to examine their own relationships.

In the past, much of what we hear about today was considered the normal interaction between spouses. A smack or punch, arguing with the intent to undermine the integrity of the partner, cruel words uttered in the course of battle, all were considered "normal" and were euphemistically called "spats" or "lover's quarrels." Speaking harshly, derisively, putting one's spouse down, all were considered unpleasant, but not abusive.

And when these abuses were directed toward children, authorities turned a blind-eye unless there was obvious, physical abuse requiring medical attention. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was the by-word of child discipline. Verbal abuse is still considered a parental prerogative. Very little, if anything, can be done for a child who experiences verbal assaults on his/her integrity, dignity, and self-respect.

The problem with emotional abuse is determining what is considered abuse. It is much easier to identify physical abuse. A black-eye, a bruise, a broken bone -- these are objective. Hurt feelings, bruised egos, damaged self-esteem, loss of confidence -- these are difficult to observe and to attribute to the abuser. As such it becomes a judgment call. However, no one has to put up with behavior that one doesn't like or that does not feel good. A relationship, especially a marriage, should leave both parties feeling better about themselves than if they were alone. It should enhance one's feelings about oneself.

Many people are not aware that their behavior is abusive. Others believe that as a spouse or parent, it is their right to behave "authoritatively." Frequently, these individuals came from abusive backgrounds themselves. So it seems natural to behave similarly. All too often they see no adverse consequences to their behavior. They get away with it. Unless there are some drastic consequences, there is no reason for them to change their way of thinking or to seek professional help.

So rather than suggest that divorce is the only way to deal with emotional or physically abusive people, I would suggest that something be done that lets the abuser know, in no uncertain terms, that the behavior will not be tolerated. One such method would be to separate from the abuser and refuse to return until the abuser seeks help and the behavior is controlled. In the case of verbal abuse the couple could seek marriage counseling; in the case of physical abuse, the abuser needs the help regardless of the circumstances.

If physical abuse is occurring, or if there is the suspicion of physical abuse, I suggest you peruse the following link in our magazine:

SelfhelpMagazine.com Resources Department

The links provided at this site will assist you in understanding your options. If physical abuse is happening to a child, call your county's Child Protective Services or the police.

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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