Verbally Abusive Husband, What Do I Do?

Question: “My husband grew up in a very verbally abusive home. When his family fought there were harsh words always and things I never had in my home. Now that we are married and have been for 9 years when we get into arguments these words come out. He is usually a very sweet, and quiet man but when we argue he says things are as so hurtful. An example was the other day we fought about something silly and he got angry and said “I am about to get rid of your A**!” about an hour later he said sorry and that he does not mean to say those things they just come out because that is how is family was. My problem is I think it’s horrible to even say things especially if you don’t mean it. These words hurt even when I know he is not meaning it. I do not know how to handle these situations. I know sometimes I will say things that provoke him even more but still. How do I proceed with this?”

Answer: The scenario you spoke about is a common pattern in couples that come from homes that are high conflict. It also appears in ones that are not. The patterns of communication that are modeled by parents are often woven into the psyche of individuals as children and despite their disdain for the hurtful words, those same children grow up and replicate the behavior in their own marriages and families. In the case of your husband, it appears that he is aware that he has an issue with emotional outbursts and is also aware that he says things he really does not mean. This is a function of his inability to manage emotion and the idea that if he threatens you or hurts you he will feel better. It appears that you had a debate or argument. Instead of discussing his core emotions and issue with what you are saying he ends up threatening you and attempting to hurt you. The thinking is twisted in that it is clearly irrational but something he likely does over and over. The irrational piece of this pattern is that he thinks subconsciously that if he in fact hurts you by belittling or saying things that are caustic he will in some way ‘win’ or otherwise feel justified in his views of the argument and with his treatment of you. Now, all that being said, the family of origin is part of the issues. I underlined part as it is likely only about 25% of the cause of the issue. Just because he learned it from the family he was raised in does not mean he is helpless or a victim to those old patterns, though it does mean that for him breaking the pattern and learning to talk about his core upset or disagreement is clearly a mature and healthy way of doing it versus the immature punitive way he threatens or name calls you.

In the future when it comes up I’d simply respond that you can tell he is upset and ask about the upset. Inform him clearly and firmly that his name calling and disrespect will not be tolerated by you. Letting him know that you realize he is upset but that his ‘punishing’ you does not help you understand him but actually adds more tension and conflict, the very thing he is trying to avoid.

Stand your ground, it will take him some time. Be patient and remember that you teach your husband how to treat you by what you tolerate. Your putting up with it only shows him that he can get away with poor behavior and that you will in fact forgive and move on despite his continued slip ups. Draw the line, be patient, don’t react to him … do guide him to speak about the core of what he is feeling thus helping him not fall into patterns of critical remarks that only lead to more conflict and hurt.