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Husband suddenly showing physical agression, how worried should I be?

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Question - (7 August 2015) 12 Answers - (Newest, 11 August 2015)
A female United States age 41-50, anonymous writes:

Married for 15 years, we learned to deal with each others faults and most notably his short fuse, shouting and verbal abuse. He's been seeing a shrink for years now. HE was NEVER physically abusive. And yeas, he has some great qualities too (he's not just his worst part!) and always appolgizes. What does he yell about? Well, it's mostly unrelated to me directly (growing bills, shitty appartment, deadend job...) but at the same time he's looking to start a fight. If I don't react, I don't give a shit. If I join him, it's never enough and he sometimes thinks that I don't believe in what I'm saying, that I just want to calm him down, and there he goes... needless to say when I do try to calm him down, that's just the trigger he needs. Those tantrums have gotten rarer, especially since he started seeing a shrink.

But. In the last couple of weeks he's had a lot of episodes. The worst two? The day before yesterday and today. The worst part? We are on vacation!

During the first one he grabbed me by my hand and squeezed tight. He wanted to prevent me from standing up. I was shocked at first, he has never done that. Nobidy has ever done that to me. I asked him calmly and politely to let go. He wouldn't. Then I told him it was hurting me (I didn't want to make it personal and say YOU are hurting me). He still wouldn't. His eyes was wide open and somehow I couldn't see him in there. I had an impression that he was not hearing me. I tryed to get out of his grip (even thugh I was sure I wouldn't be able to unless he let go). Nothing. I repeated that it hurt and then he let go but continued the argument. What were we arguing about? Well there was stuff on the coffee table and he criticized me for making a mess (he had gotten some bad news from his colleague prior to this). When I pointed out that some of them were his put by him, he exploaded! When I tried to get up to clear my things he grabbed me.

And he did appologize later.

Today we went riding a bike in a forest. I'm decent at it but not great. I don't drive, btw, and my knowledge of traffic is limited. But I know my limits and I never drive on roads. He knows that. But over the years he's been pushing me to do just so, because he wants me to go beyond my limitations (note: He loves swimming and running and I excel at both, riding a bike is something he does sometimes, he's not crazy aboout it). I never ever pretended that I liked it. It stresses me out. Before going on this vacation I underlined several times that if we do bring our bikes I can't ride he on roads. He agreed.

But, today, that forest bicycle road turned out to be sometthing else. There were many parts where you had to share the road with cares and the road itself was pretty bussy and narrow. I did my best, but I rode too slow for him. It pissed him off and he kept nagging me all the time. When I told him that I understand his frustration but that I don't know how to do better at this moment he flipped. I can't recall what exacly he told me. It was just awful. He didn't let me say anything it was a real yellfest. After that, when we were going downhill with heavy traffic passing us by, he wasn't happy with how fast I was going and he PUSHED ME to speed me up. Now he didn't push me off of my bike, I just lost my balance, but his action was pointless. I was already going as fast as I can go (I didn't use any breaks!). He didn't slap me but it did feel strange. As I got scared I started screaming at him. I wasn't calling him names I just told him never ever to do that again.

He applogized later, saying that it's normal. That that's something people do. I told him that the context was negative. It was not a apt on teh back, a prank... hey we're having fun... it was him leating off his steam. He agreed.

Later on, at home, I was dead tired and he asked me for a glass of water and accidentaly I broke it because I tripped. This time he just yelled and was worried about the floor he didn't ask if I was OK.

I felt so belittled.

The worst part is that I look at him and feel nothing. I know it'll pass. I thought about trying to taalk to him in the intermission, between his episodes and see what's been bothering him. But our mutuam friend is coming to stay with us for two weeks! I can't tell her not to, she has already bought the tickets. I dread the situations we may get into. I know that he usually controls his anger when we have witnesses (I'm using th eword deliberatly). But it's mostly when there's someone around whose oppinion he cherishes so much that he wants to be the best versio of himself. I'm afraid that he'll be too comfortable and let himslef do things he normally does when we are alone.

I know it's vain, but I'm affraid I may get humiliated as well.

I know this is still fresh and that maybe it'll get better.

I just thing that what he did is physical abuse. Am I blowing it out of proportion?

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A reader, anonymous, writes (11 August 2015):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you Honeypie. I live in an European country that hasn't been welcoming to the immigrants (I'm not judging, that' teh way it is). I would really have to be in an immediate danger. Being financially dependent (btwn he's in a way dependent on me too since he can't live the way we live now without me - buying an appartment etc.).

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (11 August 2015):

Honeypie agony auntConsulting a lawyer would be a good idea.

The friend that came to visit, is she able to help you in any way get on your feet?

And I would still look for a shelter if this escalate even further, I can't imagine there is nothing out there to help someone who is an immigrant. If course my knowledge of this is 0, but in a country build by , on and for immigrants there has to be some kind of help.

I hope you will be OK and get away from this nightmare of a marriage. The sooner the better.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (11 August 2015):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you HooneyPie.

I'm not with him for the citizenship. He himself has gotten it recently and I will get it on my own, teh way he did. I don't need him for that, thankfully.

But, I do understand people who stick it out so that they can get the papers. Sometimes it's the only way to get away from the hell they came from.

My problem is that even though I work two jobs I'm not financially independant. I may lose one soon, since the firm is going downhill. The other one is just complementary. I cannot rent another appartment and continue paying for the little appartment we bought together.

I need to regain my financial independece first. I'm not a desperate case the society has organizations for. Thank God.

We had a few episodes in the last two days. He's completely unable to take responsability for anything. Whenever he makes a mistake (and it happens to all o us), it's my fault. He fell of a bike because ppur friend and I were ridig to slowly and he had to turn his had to see if we were coming. He claimed that I was the one who switched his shorts in a store and that he ended up bying a smaller size. Funny thing, I have a witness (the friend was with us all the time) that I was nowhere near it. When I told him that, he threatened me that he will make a scene. So I let it go... Why? I don't want to spend the next few days going back and forth between him and our friend.

I finally feel something and that's good. I feel sad... but I don't feel weak.

I have to leave him. I knnow that these cold be considered as minor things... but I agree with you. It IS horrible to walk on eggshels every single hour of the every single day.

When we get back from the holiday I'll consult a free lawyer at hour city hall. I need to know how long it takes, how much it costs and what it involves to get divorced here.

I just know that he will never respect me and treat me the way I diserve because he doesn't need to impress me.

Thank you or your support!

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (9 August 2015):

Honeypie agony auntI'm sorry you are stuck between a rock and a hard place, but I have to ask... is it worth it to live with this man to get citizenship?

If you have been married a while an you work you have SOME kind of legal standing. As in the process for immigration has started? You have a social security number for instance?

I'm not sure how long you "have" to stay married to someone to be able to apply for it WITHOUT him, I do know it isn't easy.

You also mention he always complains about finances and with you 2 working two jobs - I'm sort of wondering how you two came to met. If he SOUGHT a foreign wife on purpose, because he KNEW that you would put up with more crap in order to get your citizenship. It's an "extra" power a man like that has to hold over a spouse's head - that he can "kick" you out and you get deported.

It is GOOD that you are willing to see what's going on, but that will not (necessarily) stop him.

And yes, being foreign can make it harder. I don't know the inner working of woman shelters when it comes to that.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (9 August 2015):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you again for your answers. I didn't get around to writing you back since yesterday.

Before I give you an update, I just wish to tell you that it was very hard for me to think about what's been happening in my marriage as abuse. Not (just) because it's easier to minimize everything but because there are many positive and constructive sides to our relationship.

However what he did/does is abuse. Period.

I've been conered for the last couple of years and have been working day and night to be financially independant (I hold two jobs and I have been adding skills to my CV in hope of finding a good, stable one). I am perfectly aware that he's been using this. Maybe not consciously, but he has. He may think (and be right up to a point) that I have no choice (living in a foreign country still waiting to get the citizenship etc.). But I know that when I succed in securing a stable decent paying job that will no longer be the case.

My friends (who are my family as I have no "blood" family) are far away. The friends I have here are his friends as well. The lack of support around me is my fault. I've been working on it, but it takes time.

I am familiar with the legislation here. Unless he phisically hurts me, there is nothing I can do. A husband can go on verbally abusing his wife or vice versa for as long as he/she wants. It simply doesn't count. The two episodes I mentioned can be treated as "misunnderstandings". I would really need to prove that I fear for my wellbeing or even my life to get anywhere. Safe-houses are for women whose lives are in immediate danger and none of them deals with foreigners. Ironically, a good deal of foreign women deal with problems of spousal abuse.

I've tried the silent treatment, but then he would just sit and continue talking and would follow me aroudn the two-room appartment. I would leave on an occasion, but sometimes it is not an option - when we're in teh car on the highway... or in the middle of the night when i have to get up early for work the next day.

The best I can do (and I'm not saying it is nearly enough) to keep comunication to the minimum and not pretend that I'm having fun.

Yesteday things were normal. That is, he was respectful. Suddenly, in the evening (it was rather late), he started yelling because I mixed up his and my Gmail Inbox on our shared computer (yes, it was that banal, at least in my eyes). He went on and on and on... I appolgized and said that I made a mistake, BUT that he's blowing everythung out of proportion and that his reaction was hurtful. He exploaded. Didn't get physical this time... Anyway, when I managed to get a word in I told him that what he was doing was verbal abuse and what he had done (the twwo episodes) had been physcal abuse. He was shocked ("anybody could see that it is not abuse"), while continuing to offend me.

I told him that we should see a couple therapist when we get back. He didn't like idea and his only comment was that I was looking for a judge, somebody to be on my side and feed those overblown ideas of mine. I aksed why he was so sure that she would consider these two episodes to be abuse, when he kept saying that they were so obviously not and that anybody could tell the difference. Maybe she'll take his side ad tell me that i am a hysterical, spoiled woman and help me deal with my delusions. When I saw the look in his eyes I KNEW I HAD HIM. Of course he knows what he did. Maybe he was not aware f it at the moment, but he did understand when I explained it to him later. He just likes to thinks that he's all perfect.

He's otherwise a good debater, but he lost his ground. He suddenly caame down and we could talk. part of teh problem is that the society we both come from is extremely misogynistic, so when compared to most men there he's a feminist! The proble we have is not men-woman issue. It's him being disrespectful, not because I'm a woman, but because he takes me for granted and thinks I am weaker. And I am in a sense. And that is why I feel ashamed. That is why i don't want anybody else to know. I want to deal with it by myself. If I decide to leave him (if the things do not get better) I'll need a more stable situation, and I'm working on it.

In the meantime, this morning he did agree to go to a couples therapy. I don't know if it'll work, but I know it'll help me make an important decision. I feel that somehow it would give me some power over my own life.

Btw, I ADORE Stephen King, but somehow have missed Rose Madder. It may not be a coincidence...

Thank you again for your support!!!

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A female reader, Ciar Canada + , writes (9 August 2015):

Ciar agony auntTwo things you said I want to highlight for you:

1. 'I know that he usually controls his anger when we have witnesses (I'm using the word deliberately). But it's mostly when there's someone around whose opinion he cherishes so much that he wants to be the best version of himself'.

Abusers always manage to control themselves around someone they want or need to impress. Fear of being hurt or humiliated is a very effective tool for dealing with a bully. Think on that.

2. 'I try to depersonalize it because I don't want him to think that he's awful'.

This is the WRONG approach. Feeling bad is the resulting of doing bad. Experiencing the negative consequences of our actions is what moves us to change our actions. He IS awful. If you want him to be better, then you must hold him accountable for ALL of his actions. No free passes.

Your husband treats you this way, not because he has things on his mind, or because he's unhappy, but because he doesn't think highly of you. Your high regard is not something he has to earn.

As for this friend coming over, or anyone else for that matter, what do YOU have to be humiliated about? Are YOU acting like a psycho? Do YOU act like a thug? Do YOU blow a gasket every time things don't go your way? Do YOU launch into screaming tirades? THAT is how you have to start looking at this. Relieve yourself of the responsibility of trying to make him look good in front of others. That's HIS job. If he wants to scream and rant when this friend comes over, offer no explanation or apology. If the friend complains, you respond with a simple, matter of fact 'Now you know the real John'. Chances are nothing will happen. This friend is someone he thinks highly of, yes? Things will be fine.

Here are some other things you can do to help yourself (things I and others have done). Contact police, for information gathering purposes. Take a couple of their business cards. The next time your husband goes on a bender, you say nothing but leave one of the cards on the kitchen counter. He'll get the message loud and clear.

A well timed stony silence can be very effective as well. Start using it. When you do speak to him, keep it very brief, to the point and in a quiet, determined voice (one that implies danger) say something like 'If I ever feel threatened in my own home again, there will be consequences'.

Reach out to a domestic abuse support group. Tell close trusted friends and immediate family what's been going on. Do NOT isolate yourself. If it's good enough for your husband to do, it's good enough for you to talk about.

You must adopt a zero tolerance policy with your husband. He has exhausted your patience and is not entitled to any latitude. His behaviour must be perfect at all times. There is nothing so terrible in his life that he should be allowed to torment or terrorize anyone else. Stop apologizing and accommodating, making excuses and trying to see the better him and just see him for what he is and deal with him accordingly.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (8 August 2015):

Honeypie agony auntDo you like Stephen King?

Read Rose Madder.

Then rethink your marriage.

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A reader, anonymous, writes (8 August 2015):

This is verified as being by the original poster of the question

Thank you so much for your answers.

I try to depersonalize it because I don't want him to think that he's awful. If he sees it that way he might think he's beyond redemption... I don't know...

He's been seeing a shrink for years now, and it's true that in the past month they had no sessions, because te shrink's on the sick leave.

It's awful that i feel nothing because it's so empty. I'm not angry. I'm tired, if anything. Tired of the vicious circle. Trigger-outburst-appologizing-rest-trigger.

Today he's fine... but I'm not. I don't feel like doing anything.

I'll write more later.

Thank you again!

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (8 August 2015):

Honestly, he sounds horrible. I can't understand what the appeal is it all. Humiliating you and you treading on eggshells worrying about how you word things so you don't upset him?! He clearly doesn't mind upsetting you. Grabbing you and not letting go when you asked shows you he doesn't care if he hurts you during these 'episodes' that is DANGEROUS. I would move out immediately and have nothing to do with him again. If you want I guess you could tell him you will return when he sorts himself out- but you say he already is seeing a shrink! Think about your personal saftey here and mental happiness.

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A female reader, YouWish United States + , writes (8 August 2015):

YouWish agony auntI agree with Honeypie 100%.

I also read something in your post that had me do a double-take.

When he had you by the hand and hurting you, why didn't you tell him "You're hurting me"? If it were me, I'd have said that. YOU'RE hurting me. YOU'RE abusing me. You're inflicting physical pain on me right now.

Why didn't you use that sort of direct message? Why did you minimize it while he was doing it?

His abuse is escalating, and that is scary. Pushing you on your bike? Physically restraining you. You can't de-personalize it because it IS personal. It's happening.

You say that he's seeing a shrink, and his behavior has become worse?

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A female reader, anonymous, writes (8 August 2015):

I totally agree with Honeypie. This sounds like the 'tip of the iceberg'. Reading your post sent chills right through me. I know what it's like to be in a relationship with someone who is almost permanently angry and I've seen the odd ways it can start to develop into physical harm.

I know the country where you live is far more accepting of long term counselling/psychiatric help, but I'm from the UK and, overall, we don't regard it as healthy to see a 'shrink' for long periods - I admit I'm making a huge generalisation here and I've had counselling myself. But I've also known at least two people - one man and one woman - who really were VERY bullying people and yet who constantly acted like THEY were the victim and went to counselling for years on end. In both cases and over time, what I came to realise is that these privately paid counsellors only 'saw' what the clients told them and had no other perspective on events, so were inadvertently encouraging the people involved to be more "assertive" or were obviously spending ages and ages going through tiny details of social interaction which, to the clients' minds, proved they were being victimised, when in fact the reality was VERY different. In both of the cases I know of the female and the male involved had very deep, underlying rage and it was impossible to just "be" with them on a friendly, intimate level - I spent years with each of them, empathising and trying to help, and occasionally being subjected to unexpected outbursts of rage. The woman involved once told me she had punched a man in a park because he came up to her to try to sell something to her(!). The man in question started bullying me in the most vile way possible, when I made it clear I wasn't sexually attracted to him; he was married and had very extreme anger and resentment against his wife. In both cases I honestly felt that the counsellor was both "keeping the lid on" these peoples' rage but, also, being used (possibly without realising it) to HELP these people to become more bullying and manipulative. It was almost as if, by getting this regular dose of very intense attention from a counsellor, the people involved got really angry when the world did NOT meet with their expectations. In both cases both of the people involved started in low paid, dead end jobs and a MAJOR factor in the counselling seemed to be helping them to build confidence to get a better job - and both of them did eventually get high paid jobs, but were quite obnoxious people by the end of it.

I'm saying all of this because a. I wouldn't necessarily assume that, because your husband it seeing a shrink, this is actually changing his deeper character flaws - it may be making them worse because he is expecting the same kind of cooperation he gets from a counsellor, from you.

b. I definitely would not assume that your 15 years of marriage will protect you in any way, in his mind, from harm. Having been in a very long term with a narcissist and bully, who was physically abusive, I can tell you for a fact that it very often begins in this way - little 'shoves' here and there or hand-gripping that hurts and a "blank" non-registering stare when you say it hurts. It starts to undermine your judgement on everything, slowly, steadily and surely - you increasingly doubt yourself and your behaviours and you lose confidence in yourself. The situation you describe with a friend's visit is so sickeningly familiar to me - you will increasingly feel like you have to 'put on a show' in front of others and this will slowly and surely put up more and more barriers between you and contacts and friends. I ended up almost totally isolated.

Do you have friends of your own you can talk to about this? I'd strongly suggest that you speak to someone beyond this website about what's going on. Go to see your own doctor about it if there's no one else and just say you are concerned about your husband's behaviour and don't know where to turn to.

It will only get worse. To me, he comes across as a total narcissist and bully and I've seen how counsellors inadvertently can end up helping these bullies into better jobs, so they just end up as well paid bullies and abusers behind the scenes.

Best of all, I'd leave him. But I know it's far easier for me to say that in retrospect and having finally made that leap for myself.

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A female reader, Honeypie United States + , writes (8 August 2015):

Honeypie agony auntNo, you are not blowing this out of proportions.

I would 1. refuse to ride bikes with him any more. If he then throws a fit, you WALK away. You tell him, I want to talk but I will NOT be your punching bag. Tell him when he wants to push your limits it doesn't feel like encouragement but punishment (at least that is how it looks to me). You wouldn't have lost your balance if he hadn't PUSHED you, so yes he pushed you off the bike. Don't make excuses for him. It doesn't help you in this matter.

When you get home, take the time to read up on HOW to behave in traffic as a bike rider - what rules etc, they are always good to know. Not knowing how to drive has nothing to do with it. I have kids who ride a 3 mile ride (on roads) to their cousins house and home. THEY know the rules. So you can learn too. Do it for you.

EVERY time he wants to start one of his rants/arguments - tell him no, I'm not going to stand here and be your verbal punching bag. If you want to discuss something, fine, TALK to me without raising your voice. Then walk away. Don't engage in his outbursts.

I say you look at him and feel nothing.. That is scary - I would feel fear, anger and confusion.

I also think you need to tell him that HE needs to stop. Apologizing afterwards doesn't make his actions OK.

What will he do next? REALLY hurt you? To me it sounds like there is something wrong here. That you are just mentioning the tip of the iceberg. Maybe you are so desensitized to his outburst and behavior that you constantly look for ways to excuse it.

This would NOT be OK with me.

I live a veteran with PTSD I know about outbursts, about rants, the short temper, about his night terrors (which are actually more scary than the outburst he has when awake) - but he has NEVER crossed the line with physical abuse. NEVER.

I use the - get up and walk away method with him and I have to say it has been pretty useful. He will even catch himself in one of his "pissed off moods" and stop.

You need to wake up and smell the coffee. He is beginning to be physically abusive, it will escalate. And guess what? YOU will be the one in the ER or 6 feet under. IT is not OK. He can't really apologize to you if you are not alive....

He needs to go back to the shrink and talk this through and you... should consider moving out till he has sorted this out.

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