Gentle Men & Abusive Women: A Lethal Pairing Nobody Wants to Talk About

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Dr. Jed Diamond shares his personal story, and his hard-earned insights, about being an abused man in a relationship.

When most of us think of the word “gentle” we often picture a caring and supportive woman and when we think of “abusive” we picture an angry, out of control man. But as the classic Gershwin’s song reminds us, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Men can be abused by women, and some of these men don’t survive the encounter. I was one of the lucky ones. I got out in time, but I almost lost my life in the process.

I met Rita at Harbin Hot Springs, a retreat and spa in northern California, where people often go to relax in the hot tubs, but also are on the lookout for other kinds of “hot” connections. I had recently ended a long-time marriage and I was definitely ready for some relaxation and I was open to meeting someone new.

It was certainly lust at first sight for me and the relationship developed quickly from there. We mated, dated, and things went hot and heavy. After a weekend with her I was exhausted. At times I was sure I was in love. At other times I was sure I was insane. She was exciting, stimulating in ways I had never imagined, and I craved contact with her.

I should have gotten a wakeup call when she told me about her experience in Mexico. She had gone down with her boyfriend for a week in the sun. Coming home after a night of drinking a truck load of Mexican guys ran through a puddle and splashed them as they were walking on the edge of the road. Rita became enraged, screamed some obscenities, gave them the finger.

Her description of what followed was chilling:

“The guys turned around and drove toward us at high speed. We tried to get out of the way, but I wasn’t fast enough. They plowed into me and drove away. I was pinned against the door of a parked car, which was the only reason I didn’t die. I was in the hospital for a month before I could return with my boyfriend to the States.”

The way she told the story reminded me of guys comparing war wounds or badges of “honor” in gang fights. She seemed proud of her exploits.

Rather than run the other way, I was intrigued. A year later, we decided to get married. It never occurred to me that I was “hooked” on her like an addict is hooked on heroin. I hadn’t read Stanton Peele’s book, Love and Addiction. I might have seen the danger if I had, but probably not. “Many of us are addicts, only we don’t know it,” says Peele. “We turn to each other out of the same needs that drive some people to drink and others to heroin. Interpersonal addiction, “love addiction,” is just about the most common yet least recognized form of addiction we know.”

Nice Gentle Men Can Be Eaten Alive By Angry Hurtful Women

As I got to know Rita better I realized that she had come from an abusive background. Her father first idolized her when she was a child, then totally rejected her when she moved into puberty and began to develop a woman’s body. Her mother was angry, jealous, and critical of everything she did.

I tried to be a good guy, a good listener, a sensitive partner. She seemed to thrive with my loving attention, but she would also go into “her moods” as I came to recognize them and when she did I became increasingly fearful. She would turn all her hurt, pain and rage on to me.

One time when we were driving, we got into a verbal disagreement, which escalated with her screaming at me and me trying to calm her down so I could drive. In a fury she reached across and grabbed my glasses off my face and threw them out her window. Later she was effusive with her apologies, kind, giving, and extremely imaginative in our love-making, with promises that it would never happen again. And of course, it didn’t happen again…until it did.

“Like all abusive relationships, things alternated between heaven and hell.”

Like many men in these kinds of relationships, I sank deeper into despair, and became more and more cut off from friends. I was ashamed to tell anyone that my wife was abusing me. I already felt like a poor excuse for a man since I couldn’t seem to stand up for myself. The thought of telling others that I was a hopeless wimp, which was how I saw myself, made me feel even more demeaned. I became increasingly depressed and at one point asked that the gun she kept for protection be removed from the house because I was afraid I might use it. She did what I asked and eventually got rid of the gun for good.

Get Out, Get Help, or Die

We decided to take a trip across country in a futile attempt to “have more fun and rekindle the joy in our marriage.” We bought a camper van and we fought all across the country. I felt if I didn’t stand and fight I would die and if I kept fighting it would kill me. I started noticing physical symptoms including difficulty urinating and pains in my joints. I was sure my body was breaking down. I knew I needed help, but I felt like a prisoner who had lost the will to escape.

Like all abusive relationships, things alternated between heaven and hell. There were times that we were higher than high. We were sure things had changed and we were finally on the road to recovery. At other times things got ugly. After one of our fights we got ready for bed. Rita was still livid at something I had said and looked at me with such hatred it chilled my soul. She took a knife out of the drawer and smiled at me. “Pleasant dreams,” she said. I never closed my eyes the whole night.

She was driving one day as we rolled through the Rockies. The views were spectacular, but once again we had one of our fights. She demanded that I apologize. By this time I was always apologizing, no matter what I did. I knew it was better to give in than face her destructive anger. To preserve any shred of self-worth, I would try to hold out a little bit before I gave in.

This time things were different. The first time she demanded that I apologize I said, “no.” My goal was to hang on for three rounds before I gave in. That was the best I thought I could do. She swerved the van close to the edge. We were high in the mountains with a long drop off that would surely kill us. “Apologize,” she screamed at me. Once again I said, “no.” She swerved even closer to the edge.

This is it, I thought. Either I give in or she’s going to kill us. I had no doubt she could do it and in her state of mind, I had no doubt she would do it. Once again she demanded “God damn you, apologize.” At that moment something clicked in me. I knew I would not apologize. Doing so meant I would give away my very being. I would rather die with myself intact than live a life of shame and fear. When I said “no” the last time, there was no defiance, no anger, no fear, just a resolve to reclaim the small bit of self-hood I had left.

“I came to realize that women can be as abusive as men…”

She swerved toward the edge and came back on the road. She finally pulled over and broke into tears. The addictive spell had been broken. We returned home and our marriage ended shortly afterwards. I knew I was lucky to be alive and I vowed to do the work on myself so that this would never happen again. I finally reached out for help and began to talk about my abusive relationship and learn how to heal the wounds from my past that made me vulnerable to women like Rita.

I came to realize that women can be as abusive as men and that men’s self-esteem can be undermined to such a degree that we lose our sense of self and become addicted to the cycle of abuse and desire. We long for a better life, but we need help to find to help. Help to find that better life. The help starts when we begin to talk about what’s really going on. I’m still talking and would enjoy hearing from others who have had similar experiences or are touched by what I’ve shared.

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Dr. Jed Diamond talks about how to break free from abuse, trauma, and the stresses that overwhelm us in his new book, Stress Relief for Men.

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About Jed Diamond Ph.D

Jed Diamond, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the MenAlive, a health program that helps men live long and well. Though focused on men’s health, MenAlive is also for women who care about the health of the men in their lives. Jed is the author of 11 books including his latest: Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Gender and Men’s Health. His homepage is MenAlive.com.

Comments

  1. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I sympathize. I’m definitely what I’d call a b____ – magnet. I probably sound critical here much of the time, but I tend to fall for controlling women. Part of the problem is that this attribute often accompanies intellectuality, which is very attractive.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Its nice to know that my experiences resonate with so many people. I’m happy to report that Carlin and I have been happily married for 33 years now and my experiences (and hers) from the past are now part of the history, the lessons learned, and changes made. Its never too late for a joyful marriage.

  3. Jed i personally thank you for being brave enough to discuss a real issue that affects real men, and not just some faux / mens issue, constructed to shame men.

  4. David Jones says:

    Martina your comments are a perfect example of victim blaming and I am surprised that no one else has called this out. Your statement “It sounds to me like she felt disconnected from you, not validated and not heard” is like saying “well perhaps if you weren’t a bad lover/man and were able to be better than she would not have abused you” it is so similar to the countless number of excuses I have heard from men in the DV offenders class I have run. Imagine for a moment that the situation was reverse and a man said “If she would just prove to him she loved him more by being physically available he wouldn’t think that she was cheating and wouldn’t feel the need to be abusive” now imagine that this comment was made to a woman who just poured her heart out concerning her past abusive experience. Do we imagine that this statement would go unchallenged in a forum even remotely similar to this space? I think not, and frankly I am surprised I am the first one to point out the victim blaming here, especially since it is so quickly jumped on (as it should be) on so many other posts on this site.

    • David Jones,

      A strictly factual question for you, as you mention you run classes for men who are DV offenders:

      To your knowledge are there classes for women who are DV offenders? For example, does the organization you work for run them? Or are women offenders simply placed into classes with male DV offenders? How common is it for women to be identified as DV offenders and required to attend classes? Do you have any statistics or studies on the treatment of women DV offenders?

      (We know from DOJ and NIH surveys that about 25% of lesbian women have been victims of DV in a lesbian relationship, so even if we are talking about just 10% x 25% = 2.5% of the population, totally ignoring woman-on-man DV, 2.5% of all women would not be a small number of potential students.)

      Thanks in advance.

  5. Jed,

    You are a leader in your field.

    How do we take experiences like yours and similar experiences of other men and change policy so domestic violence prevention services will actually help abused men, instead of re-victimizing them?

    I’m thinking of the case two years ago when an Arizona State Senator was hounded from office by Arizona NOW, among others, after his girlfriend reacted violently because he danced with another woman at a party. There were photos of his facial wounds in the media, and still he was treated by the domestic violence prevention activists and their friends in the media as the perp.

  6. Adam Blanch says:

    Been there, got the scar to prove it. So many men I know have had similar experiences. The great thing about this piece is that you take responsibility for your ‘addiction’ and chose to do the work to sort it out. Erin Pizzey, who founded the first ever women’s refuge in London, wrote a very good book 30 years ago on the way abusees are addicted to their abusers, but she is vilified by feminists as ‘blaming the victim’, which is sad because the only way out of this cycle is for the person. who usually has serial abusive relationships, to take responsibility as you did.

  7. Jed, thank you! I just have been through hell, and feel currently like I am mortally wounded by my recent experience of abuse. I am desperate to share my story and find that there are no resources at all in South Africa for men such As myself. Any suggestions as to how I can share and get some guidance would be greatly appreciated – please help. Thanks

  8. This has me really got me thinking that my past relationships was not my fault and that I do think I got this love addiction

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