DEAR CAROLYN: My fiancée becomes abusive with me and has not been able to control her anger. She says she has the right to hit me in the face. She has hit me so hard the metal nose tabs on my glasses broke off. I grab her wrists to prevent her from hitting me over and over. She tells me I should not be doing that.
I want her to go seek counseling with me but she refuses; she thinks there is nothing wrong with her being abusive with me. I want the abuse to stop.
She said I needed to go to a counselor, so I did, and her abusive behavior has continued.
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DEAR B.: You don’t go to couple’s counseling with your abuser, you break up with your abuser. Immediately.
She has no right to hit you – you know this – but you might not recognize how dangerous it is to hold her wrists. She could go to the police and accuse you of abuse. While the only appropriate way for authorities to investigate an abuse charge is with an open mind, your explanation that she’s the one who hit you could easily fall on ears predisposed to hear that man equals abuser and woman equals victim.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline mentions the risk of false allegations in its guide for abused men (http://bit.ly/AbusedMen), and warns explicitly: “If you do retaliate, you’ll almost certainly be the one who is arrested and/or removed from your home.”
So she’s actually right that you “should not be doing that,” but not for the reason she likely intends. The most responsible way to stop her from “hitting me over and over” is to leave – in the moment and for good.
Staying in an effort to stop the abuse or save the relationship or defend yourself is staying too long.
Expect her to push hard for you to stay – guilt-tripping, apologizing, making threats, because that’s what abusers do – and resolve beforehand not to give in. The hot line staff can help you with a plan to protect yourself as you leave, so do call, 1-800-799-SAFE; abusers are typically at their most dangerous as their victims head for the door.
Please take care of yourself – and continue the solo counseling. “Leave” is both a simple imperative and a complex process, or surely you’d have done it by now.
DEAR CAROLYN: I am almost 60. I have been living with my significant other for five years. We love each other dearly and have a great relationship. We have discussed marriage – he asked me and I said yes.
My problem is, I cannot for the life of me picture any way of getting married that feels right: city hall, a justice of the peace, eloping, a destination wedding, a backyard wedding with our closest friends, a bigger church wedding with more people, a Las Vegas wedding with Elvis officiating … none of these feels right.
If I really wanted to get married, wouldn’t at least one of these types of weddings appeal to me?
Deep down, I think what may not “feel right” is that most likely, two of our kids (one of his and one of mine) will not be really thrilled with us getting married. I think they’re just having a hard time dealing with the fact that we have moved on from our former spouses – our living together is tolerable to them, but marriage would be permanent.
Do I let that put a damper on the whole thing?
To Wed or Not To Wed
DEAR WED: Nothing that’s framed by “I think … most likely … I think” deserves such profound influence on your choices
Talk to your child (and suggest your partner do the same): “I know you’re not thrilled with (partner’s name). You are important to me, and your opinion is important. If you have concrete objections, then I’d like to hear them. Take time to think, if you’d like.”
Then you follow up in a week or so if there hasn’t been a response.
You’re not looking to cede control to this child, quite the contrary; by bringing it out in the open, whatever “it” is, you give yourself some say on an obstacle over which you’re currently giving your child total control.
Even if your child declines to specify any objection, then you can take comfort in knowing that instead of being defensive, in denial or dismissive of family concerns, you did what you could to resolve any unanswered questions.
Then you see whether you’ve come to your senses on the glory of an Elvis wedding.
You might find yourself exactly as ambivalent as before, but at least then you’ll know to look for the next theory in line. Sometimes the aha moment isn’t where we think it is; instead it’s just waiting for us to plod our way to the truth.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.