The Secret to Stopping a Violent Spouse


battered woman in bathrobe looking up at her abuserThe on/off cycle of love from an abuser can mess with your mind. Which is real, the over-the-top words of affection or the underhanded, life-threatening acts of violence?
If your mate still loves you, both. And he or she can control one of them, not the other.
No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Think about this. No one who loves you will assault you intentionally. Assume Love and try to explain the violence. Only one explanation fits: he or she hurts you in spite of choosing not to. Your mate is incapable of protecting you.
Either you are living with someone incapable of protecting you from his or her violence or you are living with someone who no longer loves you. Either is a very dangerous place to be.
This means the apologies and the love that follow mean nothing at all about the abuse. The only thing that will stop the abuse is stopping whatever causes the abusive behavior. That out-of-control rage comes from something that screws with your mate’s executive functions in the brain: alcohol, drugs, addiction, mental illness, a brain tumor.
Choosing to face and fix any of those takes a lot more than love. It is much easier to apologize or to find a way to blame you for what happened. The more you overlook, the harder it will become.
New research by psychologists at Ohio State University, reported by Sophia Dembling of Psych Central, pinpoints a critical moment in protecting yourself and your marriage.
If you did not physically separate sooner, this moment holds the secret to stopping the violence.
Your or a neighbor calls the police. They take your abuser into custody. Here is what the researchers found is quite likely to happen to you when your mate phones you from jail. I will use “he” because they studied only male abusers, but I doubt the pattern is limited to men.
First, an angry conversation about what happened or did not happen. You stay strong.
Next, a second angry conversation about it. You stay strong again. You know what happened. He cannot convince you otherwise. You know you are in danger.
That is what the researchers call phase one. He’s angry. You are strong.
Phase two is the critical one. He minimizes the abuse, hoping to convince you it was not nearly as serious as what you have done, what he is facing in prison. He may tell you how much he misses you and the kids or even that he is so depressed by what happened that he will kill himself.
He wants your sympathy. As soon as he gets it, you head off into phase three, which is a very dangerous place for both of you. In phase three, you side with him against every possible source of help to get him well and make you safe.
He wants your sympathy. He knows every one of your buttons to push to get it, too, because he knows you well. He wants your sympathy because jail is scary for anyone but overwhelming to anyone with an addiction that demands to be fed constantly.
No matter what words he chooses, you will know they are the lies born of an addiction or mental illness. You will know this because his loving side would care deeply about the harm done to you. If it were accidental, he would care about it even more than you do. You would have plenty of his sympathy. He would offer to bear your pain if he could.
If he seeks your sympathy, there is nothing you can do to help him now, especially not allowing him to ignore his out-of-control behavior and its consequences. If he threatens suicide, report it to the warden, so they can take away any means of killing himself.
The most loving act you can do right now is leave him to deal with the consequences of his behavior in a place that prevents him from doing any further harm to the person he loves. It will surely require a lot of courage to deal with his problem. Sympathy will only get in the way.
The secret to stopping a violent spouse is to keep your sympathy for yourself and your marriage until he deals with his problem.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • My wife has been hitting, biting, scratching, pulling my hair for 18 months now. We have been together for 2 1/2 years now. Recently she bashed my head with a book as I was just waking up which gave me concussion. Last week she came at me with a large kitchen knife and then while fending off a swing ftom a broom handle she split my hand open. I called the police and they arrested her. I do love her with all my heart but I’m sick of being abused. She needs help. I’m sure she only does it because she knows I won’t hit back. What can I do to help her as well as our now defunct marraige.

  • She does need help, Steve, right away. When people harm those they love, they put the relationship in an awful downward spiral.
    If you Assume Love and look for an explanation, there are only two. The first is that you are not loved; you were chosen to be her punching bag. If the evidence fits this one, it’s time to put yourself first and get to safety. The second is that the abuser lacks control and cannot act in accordance with his or her intentions.
    It might be because she simply never learned those skills growing up. It might be that she’s under the influence of addictive drugs or alcohol. Or it might be, as in the case of an acquaintance of mine’s husband, that there is a tumor growing in the brain, pressing on the part needed for self-control.
    But what happens next is even worse than the physical harm. The abuser, if it’s someone who actually still loves their partner, feels shame for causing the sort of harm and fear any loving partner would want to protect their mate from. The easy way out of the shame is to blame the abused partner for triggering these actions.
    The abused partner now feels resentment for the attacks, for the misplaced blame, and for the constant anxiety of living in a dangerous home. So the abuser gets even less love and feels even more out of control.
    And only the partner with the ability to control his or her actions can take action to prevent any more abuse, shame, and resentment.
    There is a program for couples like you two. It’s in the Baltimore, Maryland area. It’s a boot camp, and couples with any physical abuse may only attend in person. (There is a telephone option for verbal abuse.) It includes training for both partners, because you need to learn to discharge the resentment to move forward with her if she learns to control her actions. If she’s not addicted to anything and has no other signs of a brain tumor, it’s a very good place to start.
    The boot camp is run by Dr. Steven Stosney. His website is Even if you believe it’s too late for your marriage, I urge you to check it out, because you’ve gone 18 months without figuring out a solution on your own. You need the skills he teaches, even if it’s just to move on with your life unafraid of falling in love again. But if you can get her to join you, it could preserve your marriage, your life, and her freedom.

  • The loving side is what I saw, who I married & who I lived with for 14 years (until 2 years ago):
    “No matter what words he chooses, you will know they are the lies born of an addiction or mental illness. You will know this because his loving side would care deeply about the harm done to you. If it were accidental, he would care about it even more than you do. You would have plenty of his sympathy. He would offer to bear your pain if he could.”
    He hasn’t hit me (yet) but has made sure to tell me I ‘should be afriad’, & one ‘accidental’ knocking me over that made HIM so angry at me he walked home (over 18 miles)?? He does blame me for everything, in every case, and uses sideways sympathy-getting that I often don’t notice until I’ve already fallen for it.
    The day Steve commented about having his wife arrested was the same day I told my dearly loved hubby to go & stay somewhere else: I couldn’t take the rage/spite/vindictiveness anymore! Within hours, he threw away over 21 years’ sobriety, drove 2 hours to our campsite in the woods & intended to shoot himself… he eventually called to blame me & tell me what he’d done, so I sent the police to confiscate the gun & leave him to sleep it off… but I didn’t make him move out, instead spending weeks trying to be patient & make sure he’d be ok, trying hard to stuff my fear, hurt and anger.
    That was 5 weeks ago & I just asked him 2 days ago to make a bed in our basement until/unless he puts more energy into repairs than I’m seeing now (none).
    He may decide he doesn’t want our marriage, that “we” aren’t worth the self-honesty & necessary repairs it will take. I have spent many years loving him & want to help if I can — even if he decides controlling himself is too hard & would rather find someone more compliant: that begins with telling him where the bedding is rather than getting it for him.
    We made decide separate floors aren’t far enough… but I’m hoping he’ll decide that we both deserve better, put the “sword” down & come back into the marriage with love & leave the rage behind! is a great-looking site, Patty. I’ve bookmarked it so I can look at it more in-depth. 😉

  • I am so very, very sorry to first see this comment so long after you posted it, Teresa, and so sorry that you and your husband are dealing with his addiction and depression again after so many years of sobriety.
    I have a friend who got to that cabin in the woods and pulled the trigger many years ago. She awoke again eight hours later, no longer able to see. Today, despite many setbacks on the road to recovery, she is the most upbeat, energetic person, at peace with the world and in love with life, her husband, and her guide dog. Her story is one you and your husband really ought to read, and I would encourage you two to write to her through her blog for encouragement with all the trials you two are facing:
    Out of the Whirlpool is also the title of her life story. The book is available through

  • My boyfriend -with whom I´ve been living with from 18 months started hitting me every time y made something “wrong”.. like answering him in a sarcastic tone, or seeing him badly, or even saying something against him, even if he´s wrong… It started a few monts ago, and it keeps worsening. He says it´s what I deserve, because when we started – he being the most sweet , comprehensive, patient and tolerant man I´ve ever met- I used to insult and pour all my resentment from my badly shaped relationship with my abusive mother in him. I treated him badly, ignored him when he begged and more than one I made him cry… I was a shit, too inmature to see what I was doing, that I was hurting him… deeply. He changed for me, and now because of my behavior he sees that´s my turn to pay for all that I´ve done… I have nowhere to go, I had to run away from home because my mother hated me and kept me locked 24/7 since I was 13, only allowed to study then, and she usually abused me verbally, acting like a loving mother in front of everyone in my family. She even prohibited my dates with him, we only dated one day at year for 3 years, and hired a psychiatrist because she said that I was mentally sick – she found me normal, depressed but nothing else..- I had to lie to go out with him. She even hited me badly when she found out we had sex! saying that I wasn’t mentally ready – I was 19 then- and later she called everyone in my family and told them what happened, saying that I seek that…
    He supported me like an angel then. Kept encouraging me and helping me… and I still love him… Sometimes, more often than anything he cares for me, my health and well-being, he loves to see me laughing, and is warm and caring but… When I misbehave- and I accept that I do speak wrongly and see him badly when I´m angry. I know I´ve even keeps talking like that even when he ask me to stop- he hits me all around my body, specially my ribs and head. The last time I had so many bumps in my head that I was not able to rest my head in a pillow without crying in pain. He said that I looked for that… I want that loving man back… nor blemished or stained with his friends and family – who, even if I tell, will never believe me. He wasn’t like this before, even his mother and father said it when I hinted it… I. I just want to be happy, I´ve never been…

  • Alexandra, it is time to put some effort into finding somewhere to go — a women’s shelter, a friend’s home, a shared apartment.
    He’s wrong. You do not deserve to be hit by someone you live with, someone you love. You did not deserve it as a child, and you do not deserve it now.
    He’s just run your relationship into a dead end. He hit his limit of frustration (and yes, you will need to earn his forgiveness and trust for what you contributed to this), and he ran out of options. He resorted to violence. If he does not learn the other options, he’s looking at a life of frequently getting fired from jobs, losing friends, breaking up with women he cares about (starting with you), and most likely jail time, because he is breaking the law each time he hurts you.
    He cannot have a loving relationship with you or anyone else if he convinces himself the only way to feel safe in a relationship is to keep his partner fearing his “punishments” for not doing what he wants. It’s not just that you (and any future partner) will resent the pain and eventually get angry enough to leave. It’s not possible. It’s not possible to stay in that fearful state and experience love. It’s not possible to compel someone else’s behavior and experience the genuine respect and love of a good woman, which is what he’s looking for. The emotion of love doesn’t work that way.
    He needs help — a course in compassion (like offers), an anger management class, therapy, counseling by a clergy member — anyone familiar with the tools for dealing with frustration, the ones that actually work. If alcohol or drugs fuel his loss of self-control (and injuring someone you love is a loss of self-control), he needs to learn how to limit his use of them.
    In the meantime, you need to put yourself out of reach of his out-of-control behavior, because each time it happens, his brain demands that he explain to himself how he’s hurting the woman he was just last year protecting, and those stories he must invent are ruining both your lives.
    If that is not enough reason to put yourself temporarily out of his reach, please consider this. Birth control does fail. And men trying to hang onto a woman they are driving away have been known to aim for getting her pregnant. While you could leave him if his behavior worsens, your child would always have an abusive father. And it sounds like you know even better that I do why you cannot bring a child into that situation.
    Call that psychiatrist you saw and ask where you can go to be safe and where each of you can go to learn better ways of coping in your area. And please take a look at the links and phone numbers here:

  • Sorry to come to this so late:
    I’ve been married for a year and a few months now. Before marrying her I saw some very violent rages, but nothing physical, just yelling.
    Things have changed drastically. She has hit me, she throws things, she tries to break furniture, she has tried to throw her cell phone out of the car window. She has zero remorse for her behavior, instead she says its my fault for not making her leave.
    The scariest part, however, is she asks me to hurt her. when she is mad she will tell me to kill her.
    When she is calm she refuses to talk about it saying , “Im being nice, isnt that what you want?”
    She has asked me many times why I havent killed her.
    This is the strangest thing I’ve ever been a part of.
    We met 7 years ago, dated for a year, I then moved and we stayed in touch for 5, then moved her here and got married.

  • Steve, the two of you need professional help, right now. I would start with a checkup by a physician to rule out physical causes, like a brain tumor. Then a psychologist or a psychiatrist. And if she won’t go, you go, and get some professional advice before this wears you down and you do something you’ll regret for the rest of your life.

  • I’ve been married for 2yrs & now I’m 8 months pregnant. I’m so much in love with my husband. Before marriage, we were friends for almost 1.5yrs. I felt that he is a perfect gentleman & that’s the impression everybody gets about him.
    2 weeks after marriage, he started shouting at me for silly mistakes or he would find something incomplete & would shout. Then he started physically abusing me for my mistakes. He might slap me or dig his nails deep into my hands or pinch me till d skin turns blue or pushes me hard, etc along with verbal abuse. He have even destroyed household items in rage. He used to compare me with his girlfriend whom he considers smart & perfect. I was so taken aback & started feeling that I’m not good enough. I used to think that it is all my mistake due to which he is getting so angry. He would later apologize for hurting me & I would forgive. He would be so loving after that.
    He used to fulfill even my smallest wishes as surprise & used to help me sometimes with the household works. He used to take me to my home, but would say that he can’t let his parents know about that or else they would make it an issue. In the beginning his parents didn’t have much control over him but later on I started to see a change. He started getting too close to his mother & once he even told her that he is unhappy with this marriage & doesn’t feel like he would be able to go on further with this. She started criticizing me in front of everyone & it really did upset me a lot when he was asking her to train me.
    He would threaten me by using the terms divorce, separation, etc when he is angry & later he would say that he said it in anger and won’t do such a thing ever as he loves me a lot. I got a job at my home town soon after marriage,but he & his parents said we have to stay together as we were recently married. Then I tried for jobs & almost got one, but he didn’t seem interested. He soon started complaining that I don’t have a job & that is making his life miserable. He changed his company & we moved to another place. There too I almost got a job in an institution, but he said no. He said that I should get a govt job & always would complain that I’m not serious about getting a job. He would always complain that I’m not good with household works even if I did my best. He always would find some fault in me & would either verbally or physically abuse me. His parents knew it, but were helpless. He have even attacked his mother & when he attacks me, she says that its because he was frustrated. I used to cry each & every time he abuses me & he would get more abusive then. Later I started talking back as I was getting depressed & frustrated.
    Recently he slapped me & destroyed a table fan and laptop for some silly reason. I understood that he is going out of control & when I got a chance, I came to my home. He made it a big issue & his parents supported him. He & his family is so good with lies & I don’t know what to do about him. He still wants to take revenge on me for escaping. Now he is threatening me saying he would take my baby from me if I didn’t go with him. What should I do..? I love him and am not thinking about divorce.
    He want luxurious life, he is good with lies, he is successful in his career, people find him charming, kids love him, everybody thinks that he is a great husband, he doesn’t have bank balance even though he gets good salary, he have several loans, he is adamant, he would go to any extend to win, he want to show off to everyone that he is successful, he always feels that he should be the one to make a decision, if someone points out his mistake then that person will become his enemy.
    Is he normal or is there something to be treated..?

  • Reshmi, I am a marriage educator, not a psychologist, so I cannot advise about your husband’s mental health. I can, however, tell you that a marriage with physical and verbal abuse is not a healthy marriage. There is only one thing in your control to make it healthy, and it’s not forgiving him or trying to do what he wants. It is to end his opportunities to abuse you until he takes steps to learn to control his frustration so he can treat you (and himself) with respect.
    If you’re in the US, I recommend the Boot Camps. If you are not, ask him to look for an anger management class or a psychologist. But make it his responsibility.
    In the meantime, do whatever you can to live apart from him, or get a family member to live with you. No one wants to hurt those they love. They do it because they have too little skill at managing their frustrations or cooperating. But when they do it, the human brain insists that they come up with an explanation. And this means telling himself he’s an awful person who would hurt the person he most wants to protect or telling himself you provoked his awful behavior. Neither is healthy for your marriage, and the second one leads to increasing violence. You and that child you will soon give birth to deserve to be safe in your home.

  • My husband gets angry too easily. I cannot say no to any of his ideas around the house, no matter the subject : meals, renovations, decoration, finances, etc. I cannot express disagreement or my own opinion. Anything would flare him up and he starts calling me names, he swears me and yells at me. He has slammed the table with the palm of his hands which is a red flag to me that he actually wants to hit me. Last night he pushed me in the shoulder and it still hurts today. We have talked about he seeking for anger management but he refuses. What can I do to avoid triggering his anger , while I can convince him of seeking professional help? If he doesn’t do anything to change I will leave him, we don’t have kids and I make my own money. But I want to give it a chance to the relationship and stay safe in the meantime.

  • Elizabeth, from all that I understand, you cannot avoid triggering his anger, and he’s crossed the line that should be a giant red flag to you that you need a safe place from which to encourage him to begin therapy. It’s not speedy therapy or easy for him, so you need a safe place for the duration.
    Two excellent sources of professional advice are Lundy Bancroft (please read this post: and Dr. Steven Stosny (, who runs in-person and telephone boot camps for couples like you two, but requires in-person attendance once that line between table-slamming and shoulder-pushing is crossed.
    You’re in danger, and so is your relationship. Our very human brains require that we explain our behavior to ourselves, and by far the most likely explanation he’ll give himself is that you provoked this completely off-limits behavior. And the explanation you’ll soon give yourself is that he’s flawed and you’re a better person, and then it’s not a marriage of equals or a marriage with room for love.
    There is therapy available that can spare him a lifetime of living alone (quite possibly in a jail cell). And you are the worst of all his choices to provide it. You must let him face the reality of life alone and make the difficult choice to accept therapy for a serious mental health issue. And you must provide for yourself the protection that a stronger, healthier man would provide for you.
    Please consider contacting a women’s shelter for tips on how to handle this crisis and then gather everyone who loves you to help you do what you need to do to protect yourself first and convince your husband he truly needs to get help.

  • My husband is 67. He seems to be getting worse! His name calling is so inappropriate! Two days ago he broke his glasses and then threw them against the closet door. He the. Smashed them. I told him I will not be spoken to in this manner and he then started screaming and calling me a bitch! It’s getting out of hand! Something is wrong!

  • I agree. It sounds like something is definitely wrong. And if it’s not happened in the past, it’s quite likely a medical cause. Get yourself to safety and encourage him to get to a doctor. If it’s medical, he’d feel horrible knowing he hurt you once he’s back to his old self. Protecting you and him is in your hands when something’s wrong like this. And you may save his life.
    Call a couple of strong friends or an abuse hotline. Get yourself to safety and ask for help getting your husband to a doctor for a checkup.

  • Hi.. I have been in a relationship with my fiancé for 8 years! He is a loving person and keeps me really happy.. He even sacrifices his happiness for mine! I know that he loves me! But he has a bad temper! We used to argue a lot but everything becomes normal after not even 1 hour! Recently, he slapped me over a simple argument! He regret it later and told me that he was not in his senses (he does not drink nor is on drugs). Im worried because i will be getting married next year.. I know he loves me but what he did was not right! What can i do?

  • If he loves you but cannot protect you from his anger, he’s out of control of his actions. He intends one thing and does another. This is something he needs to fix — and you need to protect both of you from until he does. You are not in any way responsible for his lack of basic, human control of his behavior, but he’s in no position to protect your relationship, so you are the only one who *can* protect it.
    Human beings have an innate need to tell themselves stories about why they do things, especially things that don’t match their conscious intention. As soon as his story becomes that you must have deserved hitting (or a torrent of abusive language that takes advantage of his intimate knowledge of your personal insecurities) — and that story is a common one in such a situation — your relationship is doomed. Once *your* story becomes that you forgive or can handle his lack of consistency between what he says he feels for you and how he acts, you become the superior one in a relationship that lasts only when both are equals.
    Fortunately, there is a psychologist who has great success with people who lack such self-control, and with the people who love them. His website is I have no financial or personal connection to Dr. Stosny, but I’ve heard him speak and read some of what he’s written, and I believe his approach works much better than anger management courses.
    These are learnable skills for anyone who doesn’t have a damaged brain. In your shoes, I would make learning them a condition of remaining together and postpone the wedding until you’ve seen him use his new skills to act as he says he intends (lovingly) while he’s upset.
    If you’re not willing to walk away if he refuses to make an effort to learn, then please don’t commit to marriage or children with him.

  • My partner fights me every day since our child was born. Her behaviour is sickening. She is violent towards me, rage takes hold of her and she can’t stop. She screams ‘Kill Me, Kill Me!
    The arguments always starts from the same thing. A previous encounter of mine which was just a fling (not when we were together, well before) it chips away at her mind and she wants to know sexual details, how it made me feel, why I did it. She explodes and starts hitting, punching, scratching.
    During the day she will send me a message and ask what we should have for dinner. Then a split second later start talking about this previous relation. Followed by I hate you, I don’t love you, why don’t you leave. get out of my life. Hours later after I ignore her its as if nothing has happened.
    Example, I went to work, at 2pm she decided to lose it. Sending me over 100 messages about my previous relations, the sheer abuse of the messages is obscene. While she was at the mall and sending these messages she was actually buying me new clothes. Expensive clothes.
    When she is calm she does not want to talk about what she did, it can sometimes prompt her to fire up and argument again. about the same thing, chanting this girls name like she’s possessed.
    We went to see a professional and they proscribed her Lexipro, I was told these do not kick in for a number of weeks. today we have had another outbreak and I am unable to control her or reason with her.
    We have a 2 month old child and we need to make this work. She is irrational and I need to know what to do.

  • Please consult a psychologist or psychiatrist if your wife is screaming, “Kill Me, Kill Me!” This is a serious matter that requires a good deal of specialized training, James.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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