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 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.
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.
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.