This is a psychology of women blog. The post I did on verbal abuse got a ton of hits. Clearly, abuse and mistreatment in relationships is a big problem.
Statistics do show that women are much more likely to be in domestic-violent relationships. However, there are couples out there who have the reverse problem, where the man is the victim and the woman is the abuser. Certainly, homosexual relationships are not exempt from this issue either. For the record, when I reference abuse in this column, I am talking about physical violence, the threat of physical violence or emotional abuse, all of which are devastating.
What made me think about this issue was a flyer I saw on a wall when I was up in Minnesota last week fishing with my son. It was a flyer about a support group for men in abusive relationships. “Wow!” I thought, “this is a small town in Minnesota and they have a support group for men going through this?” I was impressed. I live in a city with a population that averages 3 million, and I have never seen any information out there for men who are suffering with this problem.
This made me think about how men are socialized and how this puts men at a disadvantage at getting help when they find themselves in an abusive relationship. Sadly, society tells men the following “gender rules” that makes dealing with an abusive spouse/girlfriend/partner more difficult:
1. Men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, especially with other men.
Of course this is untrue. Men need to talk about their feelings and share with others what is going on in their deepest hearts. Sadly, many men can only share these things with their intimate partners and if one’s partner does not respect or handle these feelings and vulnerabilities with care, that can make it exceptionally troubling for a man who has no one else.
Hopefully, this holding feelings in is changing. However, I see how my sons interact with their friends. They don’t discuss when they are feeling hurt by other guys’ behaviors. I see teasing and acting tough. While some strides have been made that help men, I still see that boys are supposed to “be boys,” even if this means teaching them to cut themselves off from their feelings. As a therapist, I have seen how this leads to depression, anxiety and substance abuse, and perhaps a propensity to accept unacceptable behavior in intimate relationships…
I love this book about men and depression by Terrence Real aptly titled I Don't Want To Talk About It.
2. Women get abused by men not vice versa.
Statistics show that this is definitely the case. Wouldn’t that make a man feel more isolated, powerless, and confused when the reverse happens? Inherent in the domestic violence cycle is the dynamic where the abuser makes the abusee question themselves. “What’s wrong with me?” is a normal response to the brainwashing and power disequilibrium. If a man knows that he is WAY in the minority, won’t that naturally feed into the self-doubt and add to the feelings of powerlessness? I think so.
3. A man is more physically powerful, therefore, for him to succumb to any physical violence makes him weak.
Everybody knows that in general men are physically more powerful than women. Therefore, it must feel emasculating to have this happen. And if a partner or women is screaming profanities, or throwing things, this may not be direct violence but it is still threatening and abusive.
In addition, if the cops are called, who are they going to believe? I have known some men who have told me that their abusive partners used this tactic to control them.
4. You are supposed to make the woman or partner in your life happy.
“A happy wife is a happy life,” or “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” Sometimes, I cringe when I hear these sayings because I don’t want my sons to believe that they are supposed to consistently sacrifice their needs for the happiness of a partner. These are dangerous mottos to completely buy into if either one of the parties feels like they have to oppress or suppress their needs tomake someone else happy. Not good.
5. Shelters and domestic violence centers are mostly for women victims.
Whether we see advertisements on the sides of buses, or fundraisers for domestic violence, most of the information and support we see out there is for women. This has to make it tough for a man to know where to go or what to do if he is being abused or mistreated.
It takes courage to get out of an abusive relationship, man or woman. If you are a man and are being abused, there is help out there. I found a domestic violence helpline that serves men and women. It is 1- 888-7HELPLINE/ Dial 1-888-743-5754.
** If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.