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Ask Dr. DombeckAsk Dr. Dombeck:
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

Abusive Wife

Tue, Nov 14th 2000

Dr., I need help assessing my wife's behavior and mental state. We have been married for 18 years and have three young daughters. We're university educated, "respectable", upper(?) middle class, but the way we fight contradicts all this. I take long to get angry and my phlegmatic temperament frustrates her. She is a definite Type A personality with a sensitive ego. She has a huge store of grievances, mostly against my mother and not unfounded, and against the way I have at times reacted to her attacks. She forgets or forgives nothing. What I would like to ask, is what sort of behavior should I tolerate as normal from an upset woman. She sometimes carries on venting her feelings for one or even two whole nights (with serious consequences for my work performance). She becomes extremely unfair and even unbelievably foul-mouthed in what she says about her enemies. She has often attacked me physically, breaking my glasses, leaving embarrassing byte and scratch marks and she once shattered my two front teeth with the telephone. I don't know whether I should call a doctor, the police or an ambulance on such occasions. I don't want to wreck everything by taking such steps; she does have another side which I love, so I want to protect her and the children. I have tried to record patterns of emotional upheaval: there's no definite correlation with PMT - it's as if she is always overly tense and sensitive and converts hurt and depression and stress to aggression. I must admit to failings and poor conduct of my own, but over the years I've been growing weary of being treated as the enemy while trying to hang on to my private slogan: "JBLCS - just be loving, calm and strong". I can't make life pleasant and easy enough (we have financial problems too) and I can't give enough TLC for her, especially not in the face of such aggression. While fighting with me, she can be very sweet with the kids, as if she's not really upset; when we are at peace, she easily loses her temper with them and hurts them - so if I leave / divorce her, I can't leave the kids with her. She has been talking about a divorce for years. At present she is blaming me for the early onset of menopause (just discovered, at 47) and for having hypertension. I know hormonal disturbance and the news in itself are upsetting her, but her behavior seems to be disproportionate to the causes, abnormal and unacceptable. IS IT? Please advise me on handling the situation, Doctor. I am getting extremely worn out physically and emotionally and sometimes have to take care not to be seen crying at work (not very manly).

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