The idea that a man could be abused seems unimaginable to many. Yet it is a reality. Abuse of men is socially minimized because people do not know enough about the cycle of abuse. But domestic violence against men, and abusive relationships of all types, occurs across all ethnic, racial, religious and socio-economic levels.
The statistics of men abused by their wives is difficult to determine, but the Bureau of Justice Statistic Crime Data Brief on “Intimate Partner Violence” (2003), found approximately 15% of domestic violence cases involve men as the victims. This statistic may be even higher because the abuse of men usually goes unreported. Oregoncounseling.org reports that 30-40% of domestic violence cases involve men being abused by women. The reality is that men report abuse less than women; even when they do report incidents, there is little support and scarce resources to help them.
Abused men also react differently and are treated differently by society than abused women. The impact of abuse towards husbands is less apparent and less likely to come to society’s attention. Sadly, for men who do report being abused, the people around them are usually surprised, and instead of dealing with the abuse, they may just minimize it or not believe them at all. Comments such as “you’re tough, a woman can’t hurt you” or “take it like a man” or “what did you do to upset her?” all lay blame on the man for the abuse and even suggest he should be able to “take the abuse” without complaining.
Abuse against men has some similarities and differences from how it manifests towards women. For both, physical abuse includes pushing, slapping, hitting, throwing objects, striking with an object or using a weapon. Men are also quicker to resort to physical abuse in a relationship and are capable of more brutal physical assaults than woman.
Emotional abuse however, has very different effects on men and women. Calling a man a ‘coward’ or a ‘failure’ for example, is more psychologically humiliating than for a woman. Emotional abuse is an area where women are often more brutal than men and in most cases men are more affected by emotional torment than physical attacks. For a man, being mocked and humiliated in front of other men by his wife can be more devastating than being punched. Men may tolerate physical abuse from their wife because they feel they live up to the code of “never hitting a woman.” However, being humiliated by a woman is extremely devastating and can have far more severe consequences.
Emotional abuse includes verbal attacks such as yelling, blaming, ridiculing, name-calling, intimidation, controlling behaviors, isolation from family or friends, shaming, and threats of physical violence. Emotional abuse often escalates to the point of physical abuse and in some cases, even death.
Men in abusive relationships say they feel they “walk on eggshells” around their wife in order to “keep the peace” and try to prevent her from having an angry reaction. There are underlying psychological problems, primarily personality disorders, in which women are characteristically abusive and violent towards their husbands. According to Batteredmen.com, Borderline Personality Disorder is a diagnosis that is found primarily in women; 50% of abuse cases against men are associated with women who have Borderline Personality disorder. The disorder is also associated with suicidal behavior, severe mood swings, lying, sexual problems and drug abuse.
Consider this case and see if you can find the early warning signs of abuse:
Adam met Aliya nine years ago when they were working together at the hospital. She was an incredibly smart nurse who was outgoing and got along with all the staff. Adam was an accomplished cardiologist who worked long hours and loved his profession. Adam was intrigued by Aliya and her quick wit; they had wonderful conversations and found they had a lot in common. Adam courted Aliya for six months and she repeatedly insisted that he needed to be a man and propose to her already. He loved her and so he asked her to marry him. As they began making plans for the wedding, Aliya got highly emotional and her short temper became more apparent. Adam wanted her to be happy and have the wedding of her dreams so he tried to defuse arguments by agreeing to her demands. He got used to expecting her mood swings when things didn’t work out the way she wanted, so he would try to avoid arguments with her.
Many times Adam felt he had to hide what he was really feeling so as not to upset Aliya. She usually blamed him for the way she reacted and told him she loved him so much that he made her act crazy some times. Because he knew she was insecure, he forgave her and constantly reassured her that he loved her. One night when he came home from the hospital, he found Aliya in the kitchen angry. She started yelling at him for forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning on his way home. She called him an idiot and an awful husband and said she could never rely on him to do anything for her. He began to apologize, but Aliya cut him off and continued to yell at him. She picked up a plate off the counter and threw it at him. He was shocked at her explosion and repeatedly tried to calm her down. She got angrier and slapped him for trying to control how she was feeling. Adam emotionally shut down and decided to walk away from the argument as she continued to yell obscenities at him. Adam felt like he couldn’t do anything right to make her happy.
He tried to talk to her family and friends about her behavior but everyone told him he just needed to be more understanding and patient. He tried to get her to go to counseling with him for their problems and she refused. She continued to blame him for being unhappy in the marriage and insisted he was the one who needed to change. Over the years, she would increasingly get frustrated with him and assume he was doing things to frustrate her on purpose. She would throw things at him, vases and knives, slap him, punch him, and shove him back. Adam began working longer at the hospital so that he didn’t have to go home and deal with her. He felt stuck in his marriage because he still felt sympathy towards Aliya since she had no one in her life that truly seemed to care for her. Furthermore, he made a commitment to her when he married her that he was going to be her protector no matter what.
Why Do Men Stay?
Men stay in abusive relationships for many reasons. They may feel that there is no way out, often ignoring the initial symptoms of an emotionally abusive spouse which may have quickly turned into a physically abusive relationship. Further men may be emotionally or financially dependent on their wives.. The idea of leaving the relationship may bring up feelings of anxiety or depression due to a fear of being alone or facing the stigma of separation. Instead of dealing with the feelings of being alone he will tell himself he just needs to be a better husband, assuming the blame in the relationship for not doing his part, and feeling that he deserves the abuse.
Men may carry forward unrealistic beliefs that they can and should do something to make the marriage bearable. Abused men with children may be afraid to leave because of threats from wives to abduct the children or not allowing fathers to see them. A man may also fear leaving the children alone with an abusive mother as she may harm them too. The legal system cannot guarantee joint custody and so, in a weaker position, fathers could lose access to their children. Additionally, men may fear a bias in the legal system, which sides with the wife who might accuse him of abusing her – and the judge might believe her.
There is also a paternal reputation at stake as fathers may worry their wives will tell his children that he is a bad person or that he does not love them. Often there is a worry of being stigmatized or labeled as “spineless,” or “wimps,” for being overly dependent on the woman. Abused men are usually too afraid to share or admit to others they are being abused because they fear it is a sign of losing their manhood.
Many men will simply stay in abusive relationships and “retreat” from the abuser by staying busy at work and coming home late. In order for a man to leave an abusive relationship, he needs to begin developing emotional independence. A man who stays in an abusive relationship feels like he “can’t be alone” as men depend on women to take care of them physically, emotionally and sexually. Learning independence and being comfortable alone will help a man grow emotionally. This growth will also help him stop the cycle of abuse by recognizing the patterns of abusive women.. Change is difficult, but when a man is ready to acknowledge the abuse and take action, he will be able to make a decision that is best for him and his family insha’Allah. Being alone and raising children alone can be a scary prospect, but once a man finds inner strength to do things differently in the relationship, he will be able to regain his self-worth and self- respect.
Help for men who are victims of domestic abuse is not as prevalent as it is for women. There are virtually no shelters, programs or advocacy groups for men. One resource is the book, Abused Men: The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence by Phillip Cook. Abused men can also get support through private counseling services or they can contact The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women at www.dahmw.org.