"Abused" Wife Keeps Going Back

Dear Robin:

My sister, an abused wife, has once again gone back to her husband and everyone in the family is done.  We are sick and tired of this story being replayed every few months and don’t know how to help her.

I know how cold that sounds but what do you do when someone you love keeps making the same mistake over and over again?  It has only gotten physical once two years ago but she ended up in the hospital! He is also verbally abusive to her all the time.

She moved out in August and stayed with me but he’s again convinced her to come home.  I’ve gone from feeling scared and sorry for her to just being pissed that she keeps going back. Any ideas?

Sad Sister

Dear Sad Sister:

I have a feeling I’m going to be delivered a giant raft of shit for what I’m going to tell you today.  Before I place my order for that raft, let’s clue the readers in on a few details you emailed me.

For obvious reasons, I’m going to name this couple George and Martha.  If those reasons aren’t obvious to you, you need to read Albee’s play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and see the movie STAT.

  • It isn’t just George who is verbally abusive – Martha not only gives as good as she gets, she often instigates arguments in the presence of others, including you.
  • George and Martha have no kids.  Thanks be to Goddess.
  • The incident of physical abuse is hardly clear-cut.  She hit him several times with a cucumber (no, I am not making this up) and threw her phone at him during a very drunken dinner party.  When the phone bounced off his head and landed on the floor he smashed it with his foot.  She ran over to stop him and when she lunged at him he shoved her away, sending her flying about ten feet and landing on her ass.  She fell backward and broke her wrist, which is why she went to the hospital.  What I wouldn’t have given for a seat at that party.
  • Speaking of drinking, they both do.  A lot.
  • She weighs about 210.  George weighs about 160.  Let’s give George and Martha the last name of “Spratt,” shall we?
  • They have been like this since their marriage 11 years ago.  George has also left from time to time but always comes back.

George and Martha put the “fun” in “dysfunctional, don’t they?  Rather than worrying about your sister so much, perhaps you should be contacting some reality show producers so this fine couple can cash in on their misery.

The Incident of “Physical Abuse”

Let me preface my opinion about what happened with the following public service announcement:

Domestic violence is a very serious issue.  It is never OK for anyone to lay their hands on anyone else in anger and I abhor violence.  

I had a live-in college boyfriend who smacked me around on several occasions and I didn’t leave him until I woke up when I passed out.  What does that mean?  

This fine young man, I’ll call him “Dave,” hit me in the face one night (hardly the first time) and I fell backward, knocking my noggin on a windowsill and briefly losing consciousness.  I knew when I came to I was getting deeper and deeper into a sick relationship that could define me and all my life choices in the future, and not in a good way.  

I left that night and I never came back.

Get it?  I do not condone domestic violence.  I hate it.  That being said…what the hell did Martha expect would happen?

Men should not hit women.  Women should not hit men.  But those women who physically attack men and expect to get a vagina pass (otherwise known as “it’s never ok for a man to hit a woman”) are playing a dangerous and stupid game.  Let’s review what happened that night:

  1. Martha hit George repeatedly with a fruit.  Yes, cucumbers are fruits.  You learn something new here every day, don’t you?
  2. She then threw her phone at his head and, thanks to her history as a star softball player in high school and college, nicely found her target.  
  3. When George understandably stomped on her phone (I’d call this preemptive self-defense, wouldn’t you?) she then “lunged” at him.
  4. The normal human reaction to someone lunging toward you would be to shove them away, which George did.  I don’t fault him for that.  In fact, I wish he had pelted her with a tomato at the same time.
  5. The fact Martha’s wrist was broken was an unfortunate accident.  If George had snapped it on purpose I’d be much more concerned, but in this case he was defending himself and she clumsily broke her fall.
  6. Martha outweighs George by 50 pounds. 

Where is Martha’s sense of personal responsibility for what happened that night?  

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Before you accuse me of “blaming the victim,” consider the impossibility of that accusation.  

I can’t “blame the victim” in this case because there is no victim.  There are simply two people in a sick and twisted marriage who are addicted to their unhappiness and the pleasure they experience when they hurt one another.  And that leads me to my very simple advice for you:

Stay Out of It.

Some people choose a life of trauma repetition, and they do so for various reasons.  In my view, both George and Martha have chosen this way of living and there is nothing you can do about it.  Let me give you an example I observed a few years ago:

I had a co-worker who kept going back to the same two men over and over and over again.  These men were truly sleazy and neither would commit to her in the way she wanted.  

She bounced between them both like a pathetic and needy ping-pong ball, complaining bitterly about her “victimhood” at the hands of these two men and the myriad of married bosses she blew in hopes of finding love or at the least, a promotion.

Not coincidentally?  She had a tortured relationship with her father, who by all accounts was an exceptionally mean asshole who denigrated her whenever possible.  Strangely, when he died she lionized him, making him into the wonderful and loving father he never was.

In other words, she needed to continue experiencing the same terrible treatment she endured at the hands of her father, even long after his death.  That doesn’t make her a victim, that makes her someone in need of good cognitive talk therapy to help her understand and change her patterns.

Specific Advice:

  • Sit down with your sister, show her this blog, and tell her you need to take a break from her drama.
  • Be her loving sister in every other way but leave her marital strife off the conversation table for a while.
  • Encourage Martha to see a therapist to explore why she keeps jumping in and out of this poisoned pool of a marriage.  That therapist should also take a look at the number of drinks George and Martha are putting down, because nothing adds fuel to the fire of a fight like liquor.
  • See if you can get me an invite to their next dinner party, would you please?

Please share and leave a comment!

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Tamsen

    Wow, that truly is a shit fest. I agree with what you said though, for whatever reason, they’re in it together and “Martha” is hardly the poor abused victim. At least not from the sound of it.

  2. Keith Stone

    Suprisingly common shitshow these days… we can only hope things work out for the best. Marriage is tough without all of these factors involved. Also worth pointing out… not everyone can just leave a bad relationship. This economy sucks a lot of those options away. So, many are trapped… and dream of greener grasses.

    Thanks for sharing Robin,

    KS

  3. Floridian

    Excellent advice.

Comments are closed.