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Fears of Abuse
Dear Emuna

Fears of Abuse

Is my friend in an abusive marriage?


Dear Emuna,

I’m concerned about a girlfriend of mine. Her husband is very controlling. She can’t make a move without getting his permission. And she always seems very nervous about it. She does all the work around the house and, if he is sleeping, she has to take her small children out of the house so that it doesn’t bother him. He never performs the same courtesy for her. I’m worried that she might be in an abusive situation. What should I do?

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned Friend,

Assuming that you are in fact the friend and “friend” isn’t code for you, the situation is a little complicated. You don’t know for sure that it is an abusive relationship. Although it may not be the way that you and your husband function or the way that you think is best, it may work for them. They may be happy with the situation or at least function productively. So tread slowly and carefully.

There are some specific red flags for abusive relationships (get yourself a copy of “A Diamond for Your Daughter” and read chapter 6) such as demeaning or disrespectful comments, attitudes or opinions, rudeness, arrogance and a sense of entitlement, blaming others for problems, refusing to take responsibility, always has to be in charge and be right, argumentative, hostile, hypersensitive and overly reactive – to name a few. Do you see these behaviors in your friend’s husband? Even if they exist, you may not see them because abusers are very talented at hiding it. They are often the people you would least suspect – community leaders, doctors, lawyers, the “nicest guy”…

Perhaps you could leave a copy of the book lying around when she comes over, perhaps you could discuss what you read or mention another situation of domestic violence that you heard about. Make yourself a safe, non-judgmental ear. In the end, it will be up to her to act if there is in fact abuse. You should continue to be sensitive to her conversation and to watch for any unexplained bruises, broken bones etc. or any unusual cover-up clothing (turtlenecks in the summer). If you have reason to believe that your suspicions are, God forbid, correct, you should contact an expert immediately. The situation is too dangerous for you to deal with on your own. A life could literally be at stake.

Try contacting the completely confidential hotline at Shalom Task Force: 718-337-3700 or 888-883-3323. I hope and pray that you are wrong.

Over-Demanding Father

Dear Emuna,

My father is very demanding – not just emotionally but materially as well. He is 75 years old and in good health and he wants me to provide for his every physical desire – new clothes, a trip to Europe, dinner in fancy restaurants. He claims that I owe to him for the time, effort and resources he invested in raising me and that, to quote him, “It’s payback time.” I’m happy to be generous to him and grateful to have the resources to do so. But his demands never end and they are taking significant time away from my family responsibilities. Whatever I do is never enough and he’s always on to the next thing. What should I do?

Dutiful Son

Dear Dutiful Son,

It sounds like you are. It sounds like you are appreciative and respective and giving, everything a parent wants their child to be and for which most of us say, “What more could I ask for?” But your father does not seem to be like “most of us.” He seems to want more and more and more.

You certainly owe him a debt of gratitude but you do not need to satisfy his every whim. It’s not even clear whether that would be good for him. You want to be generous and thoughtful but you don’t need to be a shmatte or on-call 24/7.

The biggest problem here seems to be that it is taking you away from your family. Your family, your wife and your children, are your priority. They come first. If your father, God forbid, needed food, clothing or shelter, you would run to assist him but you do not need to run to send him on an all-expenses paid trip to Europe. You can, maybe it would even be a nice gesture, but you are not obligated. It is destructive to your relationship for your father to play the payback card and it will ultimately destroy it. It is kinder to say no. If you say yes all the time, you will end up resenting him and the relationship will be damaged.

If you set healthy boundaries, then your relationship will stay on an even keel and you will be able to enjoy each other more. So don’t be afraid to put your foot down; the irony is that you will have a better relationship and greater closeness because of it.

Vying for Attention

Dear Emuna,

I am the youngest girl in my family and the only one still at home. I am finishing up 11th grade. I have one married sister who lives in the same city and has four yummy children. I know I sound selfish but they are ALWAYS at my house. I love them dearly but I feel that I never get time with just my parents or peace and quiet in my own home. I try to tell my parents but they are such doting grandparents they can’t begin to understand what I’m talking about. I don’t want to resent them but I’m beginning to. Any advice?

Baby of the Family

Dear Baby,

Believe it or not, I understand and appreciate your dilemma. It is not selfish to want some privacy in your own home. It is not selfish to want some private time with your parents. Young children (especially grandchildren!) are wonderful but they definitely are the stars of the show and it is hard for anyone else to get attention or to carry on an adult conversation.

Your desires are completely reasonable and I think your parents would understand if you present it to them the way you did to me. My guess is that you just allow the frustration to build and build until you finally explode in angry resentment which leaves your parents shocked and unhappy. But if you can find some quiet time (when the grandkids aren’t over!) to tell your parents how much your relationship with them (your parents) means to you and how much you miss having time with each other, I think they will find it hard to resist. It’s all in the timing and the tone of voice.

April 22, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 8

(7) Jaya, May 2, 2014 9:07 AM

Abusive relationship

Excellent question and equally excellent answer .yes , a users can be socially very charming , but superficially so .their real character keeps peeping out all the time .

(6) Anonymous, May 1, 2014 6:21 PM

Book by Lisa Twerski

Please be aware of an EXCELLENT book by the frum community's expert on domestic abuse, Lisa Twerski. Her book, "I'm so Confused, Am I Being Abused" is a superlative description of healthy vs abusive relationships and gives a number of resources .And DO try to have the "friend" call Shalom Task Force.

Diane Polonsky, July 15, 2014 6:22 PM

Lisa Twersky's book review

It is a good book. I showed it to Debbie Summers who is now working with JFS on Pico, we both agree it is a good book and touches on serious reality issues that a woman will have to face up too.

(5) Jennifer, May 1, 2014 3:01 PM

Abusive Marriage

I wholeheartedly agree with your advice regarding the woman who wanted to help her friend in an abusive marriage. I was in an severely psychologically abusive relationship/marriage for over 20 years. It's very hard for the abused to see that she's a victim, until they come to their own realization about it. By then the victim's psyche is so damaged and her sense of self-worth so low (or non-existent) that it can take years to get out and find a more healthy, loving relationship. All the clues you suggested are absolutely on-point & should be taken very seriously. What I can suggest to this writer, whether it's her own situation or not, is what you said: tread lightly. If it's a friend, she doesn't want to be too judgmental; she can end up isolating that friend who will one day desperately need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to hear her. And maybe, someone to hide her and her children if she is truly in danger. If it's her own situation, PLEASE KNOW THERE ARE OTHERS LIKE YOU. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I cannot say this loud enough. There is help, life and LIGHT at the end of this very dark and dangerous tunnel, through which, as you meander through it, has twists and turns everyplace you look. An abused woman needs to think about whether she wants this man as a role model for her children. If she stays, they could end up in the same cycle if they don't get help (marriage and individual counseling). If he's not willing, then maybe it isn't worth saving. But the children ARE. Victims should know that it's not their fault, and that if one trusts in G-d, who only gives us what we can handle, who has a reason for dealing a particular hand, the reasons will be revealed when the time is right. I was terrified of my ex-husband. I suffer from PTSD due to the years of torture. Make no mistake. Abuse is slow and insidious. It creeps up like a cancer. And by then, it's almost too late. Be there for your friend, and be ready to help her when/if she is ever ready.

(4) Bobby5000, April 29, 2014 7:45 PM

controlling husband

Ideally she would want to see if her friend could talk to learn more about what is happening. It may be physical abuse or emotional abuse. If the later, given their children, you want to see if this marriage can be made better before it is resolved.

A good Rabbi or psychologist might be able to talk to him. He may feel under substantial pressure or have difficulty dealing with a wife. He needs to be taught that there is a presumption of rough equality in a marriage. He needs to learn how to listen to her concerns and perhaps voice some of his own.

He may feel frustrated in a small community or overwhelmed. He needs to acknowledge his own and his wife's concerns and start on constructive ways of dealing with them.

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