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Dear Emuna: Abusive Husband?
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Abusive Husband?

I love my husband but his frequent outbursts and threats are stressing me out.

by

Dear Emuna,

I love my husband and we have a great relationship, but sometimes he gets very mad at me and curses me out. He'll even sometimes try to put his hands on me, but we always make up and everything is great again. This stresses me out a lot because it happens too often. My stress starts interfering with my job. I cry all day sometimes; that's how deeply it bothers me. But I love him and I’m willing to work things out. I’m a little dramatic myself though but I have been trying to not respond or continue arguing. But he still gets mad.... Please advise.

– Hurt and Stressed

Dear Hurt,

Since you describe a complicated situation outside my realm of expertise, I consulted with my friend Shirley Lebovics, LCSW, who has years of experience dealing with situations such as yours.  This is her response:

As you mention, you are in a very stressful relationship, which is understandably taking a heavy toll on you emotionally. Even though there are undoubtedly some very wonderful things about your husband that attracted you to him, and that reinforce your love for him, your marriage is comprised of disrespectful treatment, i.e. cursing, yelling and the threat or use of physical aggression. Behavior like this demands some professional attention, particularly because, typically, situations like this get worse unless some significant help is applied. It is best if you see someone alone, so that you can be forthcoming with regarding the details of your home life. Try and get a referral to someone who is specially trained in dealing with these kinds of difficulties, perhaps from your local rabbi or Shalom Task force hotline. It will offer you some much needed support and attention and guide you in responding to your husband and taking care of yourself.  

You may also want to avail yourself of either of these two books, which may capture your experience. The Shame Borne in Silence by Dr. Abraham Twerski and The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans. 

Hope this helps (thank you Shirley!) 

– Emuna 


Dear Emuna,

My problem is getting everyone to come to the table at the same time. It is such a big operation – preparing dinner and setting the table and then cleaning up afterwards – that’s not to mention the fighting/silliness of the meal itself. Oh, and getting everyone to come to the table when dinner is being served! I have to yell at them to come; they leave what they are doing a mess etc…and not to mention the fact that I can barely sit down for one minute because of all the serving and the demands during the meal!

I really would like us all to eat dinner together but it just seems so hard. The only time we eat all together is Shabbos; during the week I will prepare food and just give each child individually or two at a time.

Should I aim for us all to eat together or accept the situation the way it is now? My kids are little (ages 8, 6, 5 and 2). What do you think?

– Running Ragged

Dear Running Ragged,

I am not in your home facing your challenges but I am a strong believer in family dinnertime. It is an opportunity for the kids to decompress, for important bits of information/news to leak out and for the family to bond. Does that mean it will always be pleasant? Certainly not. Does that mean it will be effortless? A big no there as well.

You need to get a little tougher. What do you mean you have to yell at them to come? If this is their only chance to eat and you’re not waiting on them on demand, they’ll come.

You are constantly jumping up and down? Why? Put all the food on the table and that should be it. As I am fond of telling my family, “This is not a restaurant.” If a child really doesn’t like dinner, there is one option and one option only: cereal and milk. Just as this is not a restaurant, I am not a short-order cook and neither should you be. Your kids are certainly old enough to help set and clear the table. You can take that off your head and it is good education for them as well.

Structured appropriately you will find that not only can you get the benefits of everyone eating together, but in the end, it’s actually easier!

– Emuna 


Dear Emuna, 

How can we teach children to be grateful for what others do for them? How do we turn them from being takers into givers? 

– Yet Another Frazzled Mom 

Dear Frazzled Mom, 

You ask a question that I think every parent asks – and never stops asking!  The Torah is filled with lessons on gratitude – from the story of Cain and Abel that highlights Cain’s lack of appreciation to the constant building of altars to thank the Almighty to Moses’ inability to strike the Nile because it had hidden him as a child.   

If gratitude were easy, we wouldn’t need to be taught it over and over and over again.  On top of that, particularly with respect to parents, the relationship is so uneven.  Parents do so much, they love so much; the level of dependency and the amount “owed” threaten to overwhelm the child and they may turn away.   

It is certainly best not to expect or demand gratitude but to rather, as with everything else, model it on all occasions.  You don’t want them to be takers? Don’t let them hear you discussing how many times you had the Steinbergs over for dinner and how they haven’t had you once.  Or resentfully complaining about the beggars collecting tzedaka.  Or comparing the size of the gift you received to the one you gave.  Or (my personal weakness) talking about how many times you drove carpool compared to the other parents! 

Let them see you expressing gratitude – to your parents for all they have given you, to your friends for inviting you over or helping you out or just being a friend, to the mail carrier for delivering the mail, to the waiter for bringing the food, to the child whose chore it is to clear the table.  The more we demonstrate our own appreciation for the giving of others, the more our children will learn gratitude.  And of course, the more we express a sense of entitlement, and resentment when our expectations are not met, the more they will learn that as well.   

In addition, we need to give without complaint.  We need to show joy and pleasure in giving.  If our children see giving as a positive experience, they will want a piece of it. If they see it as an uncomfortable, demanding and draining experience, they will shy away.  It is up to us.   

Finally, I think that everyone who embraces the idea of giving will testify that in the end it turns out to be a very selfish act – you actually get more than you give!  If you open your home and your heart to others, not only will your children not suffer, but they will experience an expanded world of caring.  The praise, the attention, the gratitude (!) they get in return from the recipients of their family’s kindness is perhaps the greatest lesson of all. 

– Emuna

Published: October 31, 2010


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Visitor Comments: 20

(18) Anonymous, July 12, 2012 3:33 PM

As a general comment, I just want to say that it is horrifying to see the number of women who write in who are being abused, and who are not even aware of it, framing their dilemma in terms of making a marriage work, shalom bayit, honoring parents, etc. Nobody deserves to be abused at any age, regardless of the nature of the relationship with the abuser. The way I see it is that when a spouse/parent/other is abusive they are not fulfilling their role and thus forgo any "right" they have to a commitment or respect. This is the stance of the halacha, (ie for people who really know the halacha indepth and not superficially). I have discussed this issue with several frum, frum rabbis and this is what they told me. If anyone, including a rabbi, tells you otherwise, please do not listen to them. If you are told that it will hurt your children's shidduchim to be divorced, living in an abusive home will hurt their ability to form a loving relationship much more.

(17) Anonymous, July 12, 2012 3:21 PM

I grew up in a highly abusive, toxic home.

To all women who stay with an abusive man for their sake of their children: please leave. It was so bad that as I child I used to fantasize about my mother leaving my father, or just that everyone should die. I know that it is hard to think about leaving and being a single mother, logistically and emotionally, and especially if you've already been emotionally battered, but you have to do it for your own sake and the sake of your children. However hard it is, it will get better in the long run. What you describe is a cycle of abuse, and the fact that your husband is sometimes nice make it even worse, not better, as it makes it harder for you to leave. You and your children deserve to be loved and cherished, not living with at the best underlying tension, even if it is subconsciously, waiting for the next eruption and at the worst emotional abuse and the threat of violence. Oh, and by the way, for the sake of my sanity I do not have contact with anyone in my family, not even the other victims. So if you have kids you need to think ahead. If you don't have kids, don't have them with this person, and find someone who will treat you right. The fact that you say you love an abusive person just shows what a poor indicator love is for choosing a spouse. Get out now, it will only get worse.

(16) Melissa, January 17, 2011 3:04 AM

suggestion for family dinnertime

I'm a mom of 2 kids, turning 3 and 5 and try to have family dinnertime whenever possible. I know it's a challenge, but I find the best thing I can do is make them WANT to come to the table. I try different things like telling stories at the table, showing school projects, talking about the parsha, and giving them a choice of what's for dinner when possible. I'm sure other parents have more suggestions on how to make dinnertime fun for kids...

(15) Kimberly Naranjo, November 12, 2010 11:57 PM

Some advice for you from someone who has been there. The best way to shut this behavior down is to turn the problem back on him. "Seems like you have had a bad day." Or, "Seems like something is bothering you." Always turn the problem back to him, not on you. Do not allow yourself to engage in his problem. Stay calm and positive. Most likely this will probably anger him even more, and that's when you know you have to call for professional help. Most likely he will not go for counceling, but you can. Abusive people do not change easily, so make plan B for yourself and your children.

(14) Rivkah, November 4, 2010 3:37 AM

Hurt and stressed....

My sister I have been where you are. What you are living is called the cycle of abuse. It started for me as verbal and anger at objects, doors walls etc and then on to me. Each time he would apologize and be the worlds best hubbie. Then it would happen again...the time between incidents would get closer and closer and more violent. I understand the stress, crying and feelings of isolation. I felt wore down, worthless, forgotten. I defended him and his actions to others(I love him..he did this and this for me)I lost my selfconfidence (maybe I did provoke or deserve this). I could sometimes feel when he was building up to fighting and I would provoke and argue to get it over with to get to the princess treatment afterwards. You don't deserve to be treated like this no matter what you have said or done. There is no justification ever. Get yourself to a safe place and get your husband the help he needs. This is going to take a lot of courage and emunah. With Hashem's help you can make it! I will be praying for you and your husband.

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