Battered Wives/Battered Husbands—What Is Behind It?
HOME violence is so common that many of us have seen its damage. Glancing at your neighbor or workmate, you may note effects common to many family fights—bruises and scratches only partially concealed by dark glasses, a high-necked sweater or heavy makeup. You wonder: ‘What kind of marriage must she (or he) have? Surely they were in love when they got married. So what happened?’
Yes, what is behind the battering? Who are guilty of beating their mates? Is it mainly husbands? What home climate gives rise to family violence? Are certain outside influences common? In practical ways, what can we do about it? Let us consider the matter.
What Kind of Man Beats His Wife?
Regarding home violence, certain stereotypes come to many a mind. Persons often picture a “blue-collar worker”—perhaps a truck driver, ditchdigger or garbage man—who stops off at the local bar, “tanks up” on beer and staggers home ready to fight. There are many like that, as we saw earlier in Connie’s and Gloria’s cases.
But if you think that family violence is confined mainly to such persons, you are mistaken. “Family violence,” states the column “Intelligence Report,” “cuts across race, class, and background. It is widespread and occurs as often among the upper middle class as among the lower.” (Parade, October 16, 1977, p. 18) Wife Beating: The Silent Crisis points out:
“Those who work with battered women report victims among the wives of physicians, lawyers, college professors, and even clergymen. In Dr. Gelles’s spouse-abuse study, the families with the most violence were those with the highest incomes.”—p. 7.
Why is it that family violence can and does cripple all types of families? There is an underlying reason that most sociologists overlook. Your being aware of it will help you to perceive the root of the matter, whether you are thinking about your own family or that of some close friend or relative.
The oldest record of family life, the Bible, shows that at first human marriage was perfect. When first married, Adam and Eve were sinless. Their thinking, actions and emotions were in proper balance. In that state they would not have suffered home violence, would they? Yet in time they disobeyed God, becoming imperfect. As to one effect of their disobedience, God looked ahead in time and told the woman: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Gen. 3:16) Yes, most women would have such a desire for a husband that they might even be willing to endure an overbearing, brutal man. Millenniums of history underscore that pitiful fact. Also, Jehovah God foresaw that many husbands, unbalanced by imperfection, would carry their headship to extremes, becoming wife-beating tyrants. So what is the common denominator in all cases of family violence? Human imperfection.
It is vital for us to recognize that all of us have descended from that first pair and have inherited an imperfect human nature. (Rom. 5:12) Hence, the evil seed for being violent at home exists within all of us—rich or poor, illiterate or highly educated. What, though, causes it to sprout and bloom? Frustration, alcohol, lack of communication, jealousy and feelings of rejection or insecurity are like nutrients in water causing the seed of violence to sprout. Before considering what can be done about these factors, let us look into how some of them give rise to violence in many families today.
Frustrated Man—Violent Man?
Focusing in on a common trigger for violence in the home, one doctor commented: “I think we have to see wife beating within the context of a society in which there is an enormous amount of frustration and tension. We are living in an extraordinary period where economic tensions and unemployment are very great. These kinds of pressures drift down into the family inevitably.”
Let’s convert that into everyday terms. We can picture a tense husband returning from work. He may have been tired when he left for work in the morning and may have faced traffic jams or noisy subways. On the job he was repeatedly hassled by customers or his boss. But he had to keep his frustration bottled up inside. When he finally gets home, he may immediately face crying children or his wife who has a justified grievance she has been waiting to tell him. What happens? Sometimes the frustration and tension explode into violence. For fear of losing his job, he couldn’t lash out at his boss, and he couldn’t hit the jamming traffic. But woe to his wife or children! “If a man is upset,” said one marital therapist, “he isn’t supposed to cry. It’s more manly to put his fist through the wall. Only sometimes the wall is his wife.”
If you are a husband, can you see yourself letting out frustration in that way? If you are a wife, can you imagine your husband reacting so violently? Does it take some major conflict before it happens?
Actually the spark that can set off the violence may of itself be quite minor: Supper is not ready on time, the wife declares that she wants to take a college course or she says she doesn’t feel like having sexual relations. Her tense and frustrated husband may think such factors are challenging his authority. He explodes in angry violence.
“He that is slow to anger,” says Proverbs 14:29, “is abundant in discernment, but one that is impatient is exalting foolishness.” Many men who have struck their wives, afterward, shamefully have seen the truthfulness of that proverb. Once a man lets loose his bottled-up frustrations by hitting his wife or child in anger, more problems usually follow. The first act of battering often leads to a second. It can be like a crack in a dam; it easily can grow until a torrent of savagery floods the marriage.
Two law students interviewed victims of wife abuse, as well as public officials dealing with the problem. The conclusion?
“Wife beating tends to be not just a single unfortunate outburst but a chronic trouble symptom. [95 percent] of the women they talked to got their first beating in their first year of marriage, and the assaults tended to come more frequently and with increasing violence as the years went by. Unchecked, they might have resulted eventually in death. . . . Generally, what caused the flare-up was some relatively minor annoyance—clearly just a catalyst for some deeper rage or old frustration.”
The first year of marriage is especially critical because of the new pressures that may build up. Besides the mates’ trying to adjust to one another, the husband now feels a heavier economic burden. And if the wife becomes pregnant, that increases the pressure on him as well as possibly stirring up resentment or jealousy over her thrill and preoccupation with something that means less attention for him.
Often alcohol comes into the picture. One survey concluded: “In 60 percent of the cases, alcohol consumption by the assailant was always present at the time of the attack.” The director of a Washington, D.C., crisis center says that up to 80 percent of the wife-batterings are alcohol related.
But is alcohol actually the cause? Perhaps the answer is No; but many times it is Yes. Regarding the link between drinking and wife-beating, psychologist Dr. Lenore Walker observes: “It may be used as an excuse but there doesn’t appear to be a direct cause and effect.” However, the Bible perceptively says: “Wine is a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1) Have you not observed that alcohol tends to lower inhibitions, so that a person becomes boisterous or less controlled? Thus when a husband who is frustrated or who feels anger toward his wife gets to drinking, it may be easier for him to become violent. After studying the problem, Dr. Richard J. Gelles reported:
“The drinker can use the period when he is drunk as a ‘time out’ when he is not responsible for his actions. Also alcohol can serve as an excuse . . . nothing is wrong in the family, it’s ‘demon rum’ that’s the blame.”
Is there a lesson here regarding the use of alcoholic beverages?
Communication or Fists?
As you can appreciate, mates who resort to physical abuse often have a severe weakness with regard to communication. They find it hard to express their feelings, including such powerful ones as jealousy, loneliness, insecurity and fear. “Although we live in a highly verbal society,” says sociologist Sherod Miller, “few of us have learned how to talk to one another about sensitive issues.”
This is especially a problem for men. “A major cause of domestic violence,” comments Jan Peterson of the National Congress of Neighborhood Women, “is the inability of men to communicate with women, except through physical means.”
If a man can learn, though, to express his feelings in controlled words—not in angry outbursts and profanity—the fruitage in his family will be so much better than if he resorts to violence. Ancient King Solomon said: “From the fruitage of his mouth a man will eat good, but the very soul of those dealing treacherously is violence.”—Prov. 13:2.
Even though it is generally thought that women are more inclined and better able to express their feelings in words, the evidence is that many wives contribute to the communication problem. Family counselor Paul Shaner observes that sometimes a battered wife may “be playing power games” by giving her husband “the silent treatment.” Some wives, he explains, claim that their silence stems from fear that they’ll say the wrong thing, “but the man sees it as a power tactic.” Shaner concludes: “These two people haven’t talked, haven’t really communicated, in a very long time.” We who are married do well to ask ourselves, Is the communication normal in our marriage?
It is not unusual to speak of husbands who beat their wives, but do you think many husbands are battered by their wives? Do many wives give in to violence, measurably adding to the problem of home violence? Yes!
“The most unreported crime is not wife beating,” says sociologist Suzanne Steinmetz. “It’s husband beating. . . . When it comes to using minor amounts of physical force, slapping, hitting, pushing, there just appears to be no real differences between men and women. One of the reasons you have the battered-wife phenomenon is not that men are more aggressive, they just seem to be physically stronger and are able to do more damage.”
Less is heard about husband-battering because how many husbands are inclined to walk into a police station (or even telephone one) and tell a burly sergeant, “My wife is beating me up”? Yet many wives are doing just that! The husband may be smaller, older, frail or even sick. And even if he is strong enough to defend himself, he might not do so out of a sense of chivalry or because of fear that if he would really let go he would seriously injure his wife.
Some wives who loudly decry their husband’s violence ignore their own guilt. For example, a wife learns that her husband put money in the bank in his name rather than in a joint account. In the resulting argument she slaps him. Maybe weeks later she seems to be the wrongdoer, such as by swearing at him or refusing to have sexual relations, and in anger he hits her. True, she may be the one whose body shows bruises. But have they not both been guilty of violence? Recall the case of Connie presented on page 6. A wife’s violence may be like a spark that sets off an explosion.
How is a wife going to respond if her husband, who is stronger, abuses her? The tragedy is that in many cases it is by grabbing and using whatever weapon is handy—a pot, a vase, a knife or an ice-pick. Consider what happened with 5-foot 2-inch, 110-pound Roxanne Gay. According to newspapers in 1977, she had repeatedly called the police about her husband’s brutally beating her. He was Blenda Gay, the 6-foot 5-inch, 265-pound defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Finally, during a quarrel this small wife grabbed a knife and stabbed him in the neck. The police found him dead in a pool of blood.
What Can Be Done?
We have examined a number of things behind the problem of battered wives and battered husbands. The root of the difficulty is human imperfection, which means that we are all susceptible to becoming violent. The many frustrations we face in modern life make this a distinct possibility. Lack of control of one’s emotions, such as jealousy or resentment, also inclines one to explosions of violence. Often home violence occurs under the influence of alcohol. And we have seen that both men and women are guilty of spouse abuse.
Though such insight into causes of home violence is important, we need more. The prevalence of the problem necessitates that we positively try to prevent or solve the problem. What about these questions: How should we act when we get angry? Is our view of alcohol, money or our job involved? If violence already reigns in our home, is divorce the best answer? Can the Bible help persons to make real changes in their personality and reactions? The following articles deal with such questions.
[Blurb on page 10]
“In murders involving husbands and wives, the wife was the victim in 52% of the incidents and the husband in the remaining 48.”—FBI crime statistics.
[Blurb on page 11]
“Some wives do provoke their husbands. Although this is certainly not always the case, I feel that it is usually the case. I have seen a number of couples in which the woman had hit the husband repeatedly before he finally hit back.”—Dr. Marguerite Fogel.