Help me stop being abusive
January 13, 2020 1:51 AM   Subscribe

I am a female and there are surprisingly few resources targeting female abusers. I need to find places to get help that are safe for me to pursue.

I am an adult and I have a dependent so this situation is complex for getting help. My dependent has not witnessed any abuse. My dependent has been in the home during loud arguments (usually asleep) but that is the extent of what they have been exposed to. I find it terrifying to try to get any help because my actions are not impacting my child beyond what is normal for a long-term relationship where people have strong emotions during disagreements sometimes, and I do not want there to be any confusion in my records about that.

I pushed my partner tonight because they would not stay and discuss an issue, and there have been many years where they want to avoid dealing with issues and I was fed up, but it was still wrong. According to some websites I am reading this constitutes abuse.

There was one other incident about 4 years ago where my partner was not doing what I wanted him to (trying to find work, and I was not financially situated to provide for us) and I slapped him once. It scared me that I could do that, and it hasn't happened again.

But there are other things on the domestic violence websites that make me think that I need some help. I'm not a batterer exactly, but the resources for that are all targeting men anyway.

I believe that I have been verbally and emotionally abusive, and maybe it is just that this relationship is very bad for both of us (because my partner has been verbally and emotionally abusive also - although their tactics are primarily passive so I definitely come across as the worse of the two), but I also want to deal with my side of the issues.

Regardless of what my partner does, slapping them is not ok. Pushing them because they want to continue their avoidance is not okay. One time my partner refused to put time into finding work after months of being unemployed, and was instead escaping into his collection of widgets, and I got fed up one day and put some of the widgets in water, ruining them. That was not okay. It doesn't matter how dire the situation was, I had no right to ruin his things. I need some help, but I am too afraid of someone getting into my business as a parent to know where to turn.

Please share books, articles, search terms, or ways to describe what I am trying to work on that I could bring to a professional in a way that won't put my parenting relationship at risk. I have gone to great lengths to shield my child from all of this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Whether or not your child consciously knows what's going on--and I wouldn't be prepared to bet that they don't--this sort of thing permeates family dynamics regardless. It IS affecting them whether they know it or not. It IS already impacting your parent-child relationship.

It's true that most resources are directed at cis male abusers and/or their cis female victims. Those resources can still be of interest and help to you, because as many experts and advocates have pointed out, abuse is a mindset. It is a specific set of underlying beliefs: about yourself, about your partner, and about what the latter "owes" you and what you're allowed to do if he doesn't deliver. Please check out Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft (often recommended on the Green) for a detailed, very well-structured breakdown of all this. Yes, the title is deeply unfortunate because it's highly exclusionary, but it is the best, most accessible treatment of the subject of domestic abuse I have ever seen.

That you recognize what's going on and that it's not acceptable is a step in the right direction. I sense the road ahead will be very rough, but I wish you good luck.
posted by peakes at 4:04 AM on January 13 [8 favorites]

You might want to look at “anger management” as a term.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:12 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]

The situation is complex for getting help, you’re afraid of someone getting into your business as a parent, you don’t want to put your parenting relationship at risk... this is all rather vague. Do you mean you’re afraid that CPS might take your kid away? That you’ll have admitted facts that threaten custody in the event of divorce? That someone will be intolerably judgy?

I suggest reframing the situation a bit. Your current behaviors and relationship dynamics, while familiar, are not as stable and (miserably) safe as they might seem. You are actively moving towards ugly consequences right now. You have more to gain and less to lose by seeking help than you think.
posted by jon1270 at 4:15 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

The resources you have found are likely to still be useful to you. If they’re books, go ahead and read them - some of the information will transfer. If they’re hotlines or local organizations, contact them. You will not be the first time they have heard of a woman abusing her partner, or of a complex situation where both partners have some abusive behavior, or of someone who is concerned about CPS getting called, and they will be able to refer you to appropriate resources.

It can be really easy to let yourself put off doing the scary thing until you find *exactly* the right resource. Brains are really good at that move. Don’t fall into that trap. You need to start working on this now for your own sake, your partner’s, and your child’s. (Your child doesn’t have to witness slapping to be affected. Your child is learning from both of you every day what a relationship should look like, and I guarantee they are not learning what you would want them to.)
posted by Stacey at 4:17 AM on January 13 [21 favorites]

Another thought: I work in a position where people are sometimes scared to contact me because doing so could trigger a bunch of actions along the lines of required-reporting, and they don’t want to kick off something they can’t stop.

I am very used to people whose first question is “I need to understand what you’re required to act on / how to ensure that for now this stays between us / what would trigger (x).” It’s a reasonable fear and a very common question. I could do the response in my sleep at this point.

In my case the answer is basically “couch our conversation in hypotheticals and don’t give identifying details, and then I will tell you what would happen if this were a non-hypothetical, and then you can decide if you are ready to take the next step of giving me the details that would trigger the thing.”

The specific answer may not be the same for you. But the question is definitely something that any reputable organization working in this area will have grappled with before, will have answers for, and will not be surprised at you for asking. It’s okay to flat out say “before I go into details, I’d like to understand what the outcomes might be and what your required reporting rules are like, please tell me about that.” You won’t be the first person to ask, maybe not even the first person that day, and if some reassurance about that will help you get the help you need, that’s a good outcome for everyone.
posted by Stacey at 4:30 AM on January 13 [39 favorites]

I have no clue where you are located but here is the information for resources in Charlotte, NC. Using terms from their page may help you find what you need. Also they are a very supportive and inclusive department that if you called they might know of resources in your area.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:31 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Just a thought: you may want to see a psychiatrist and check for OCD issues. This sounds familiar to me -- the inability to stop when things are clearly out of control; the worry that an argument, if not properly concluded, will cause bad things to happen; the immediate remorse and shame after doing something that is so out of control and "crazy;" the feeling that you don't WANT to do this thing but you aren't capable of stopping.

See a good prescribing psychiatrist. There are some great medications out there that help calm those feelings and, combined with talk therapy, can really turn things around. There is hope -- I have for sure been here and spent a lot of time thinking that I could fix this issue on my own or with only talk therapy, Emotions Anonymous, or workbooks. Medication and an OCD diagnosis have changed my life (well, thus far).
posted by mrfuga0 at 5:52 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Why don't you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline? Your call will be anonymous and they regularly get calls from abusive partners who are looking for help changing their behavior. They also have access to a national database of resources, so they can connect you to resources in your area as well if you are ready to take that step. Their website is also helpful: Good on you for recognizing that you want to change and asking for help.
posted by aka burlap at 6:11 AM on January 13 [9 favorites]

I was you and my partner was your partner a year or so ago. I behaved in similar ways that you describe, sans getting physical, where I have traditionally been a very rational person (still-hot headed with certain people, but not one to speak or act until those feelings passed). I don't even know who that person was. I was demanding due to his inaction, which I perceived to be intentional, and he became passive and neglectful because I demanded it. Our power struggles were mythical and maybe on the level of psychological warfare. It made us both super crazy.

The only solution was to leave, cut contact, and then get therapy because nothing could break the cycle of mutual abuse in our relationship, even when we tried to be just friends.

If you leave this situation and you find yourself repeating those behaviors with everyone, perhaps you should seek therapy, but I'd suggest the former first.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:15 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]

You are right to think about seeking therapy, but I think you should also consult a lawyer and start your groundwork for leaving. Just because your care provider doesn't report anything adverse doesn't mean your partner won't try this angle if interests begin to diverge.
posted by BibiRose at 6:16 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]

"Sounds like HE with his unwillingness to act like an adult is the real issue, and not you"

Pushing back on this as hard as I can. He is unquestionably A problem, but he is not THE problem.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:27 AM on January 13 [30 favorites]

We just saw a post on MeFi about how some drugs reduce certain kinds of empathy, which would be a big problem if you're raising a child. However, IF you have a plan in place to change your life circumstances within a short period of time, anti-anxiety meds could make everything feel way less urgent/important/horrible and basically make your partner's behavior matter less.
posted by amtho at 6:37 AM on January 13

[One deleted. Reminder: Ask Metafilter isn't for arguing with other commenters; please just offer the OP your own productive advice, which may differ from other suggestions.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:42 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

My parents had this dynamic. My father's passive/avoidant ways eventually impacted me, so I understand my mother's frustration. But I always wished my mother would have done some work in the area of anger management, because it was only a matter of time before we kids would set her off in the same ways, and then she'd submerge our widgets.
posted by xo at 6:49 AM on January 13 [13 favorites]

Your partner may also need some form of therapy - for undiagnosed PTSD possibly, which may have exacerbated the behaviors you describe.
That advice should probably come from someone other than you though, if you can arrange that.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 6:53 AM on January 13

You made a start by posting here. Find a therapist, one with experience with family violence. You don't have to say when you are looking that you have been violent, people can assume what they want. Tell the therapist the truth when you meet. Call the Family Violence Shelter in your area, ask for help finding resources for family violence.

In my state, your actions would not result in your child being removed. You'd be required to get counseling and you'd have a caseworker with some resources. Make an anonymous call to Child Protective Services and ask about the resources. You can say they're for a friend. They will be happy to assist you.

See if Parents Anonymous has an office near you. Go to your state's website, your city's; they should have lists of resources. Make getting help your most important task.

Your actions are impacting your child despite any efforts. Consider a separation from your partner to get some perspective. If you drink or use recreational drugs, take a break or at least cut way back; it's hard to make meaningful progress while using. Make a point of spending 1 on 1 time with your child, take walks, going shopping, go to movies, but don't use your child as a substitute therapist. Go to the library, get books on good parenting. Good luck
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I think it's great that you've recognized this problem in yourself and have made the leap to seeking help. It takes great courage to change oneself. That you want to change, are seeking to change yourself, speaks volumes about the person you know you have the potential to become once you've done the work.
I think the person suggesting looking into OCD is on to something. Likewise, perhaps look at an anxiety disorder. One of my sisters (we all have a history of being abused) had general anxiety disorder/c-ptsd/PTSD and she behaves in ways you describe, but more over the top. She told me the other day that she told her partner in a moment of anger that she wished he would get hit by a bus. It's hard to hear this. I know my sister to be a traumatized person who is sweet and kind to most people at large, goes out of her way to give canvassers water bottles even if they are annoying, makes beautiful elaborate dinners for the people she cares about... But, yeah. She has all these other underlying issues and her partner also sounds very similar to yours.
I agree that you should consider, strongly, getting out of that relationship. Consider this: even if you get help and change yourself and take accountability, will your partner? If you change and get help, and your partner doesn't, where does that leave you? And now you have a history together of abuse; I think this is impossible to come back from. I've lost close friends because in a moment of anger or frustration they said something awful to me; I've tried to forgive but always found that I could never see them quite the same, even if they deserve compassion, it isn't my job (I'm not Jesus! Are you Jesus? Is your partner Jesus?) to necessarily provide that compassion.

Consider as well people who go to prison for murder or violent behavior and go on to grow and find loving relationships and partners. Now, you're no murderer. Does this give you hope? You can move on from this and commit yourself to never doing it again. This TED talk of a man who murdered someone else and went on to join the MIT lab and find love is inspiring. So while you're taking accountability, be compassionate with yourself, as well.

You can't expect your partner to forgive you, or your child, should they grow up angry at you for any tangential exposure to this atmosphere. But you can work towards becoming forgivable.

So: therapy, lawyer/ split up w partner, anger management, maybe medication, books on abuse, that TED talk, perhaps mediation, self compassion.
posted by erattacorrige at 6:57 AM on January 13 [6 favorites]

As someone who was a child and "asleep" for many of my parents screaming fights (including faking sleep when/if they looked in to see if I was awake), I would bet you that your dependent has witnessed your very loud fights. I suffered a lot early in school because normal to me was to fly off screaming in a rage and maybe throw stuff, thinking it's fine if the thrown thing doesn't hit anyone.

Don't think your dependent is unaware of this. Don't let yourself off the hook pretending that your dependent is not learning that this is "normal."
posted by nobeagle at 8:13 AM on January 13 [35 favorites]

What you have described would not trigger mandatory reporting that I can tell. I think it would very much worth be your time to seek personal therapy. For your own reassurance, as per Stacey above you should ask up front about the situation your hypothetical friend is in and whether that would be an issue. I would be extremely surprised if it was.

And good on you for pursuing this. Emotional abuse (and occasional physical abuse) were major reasons I had to divorce a woman I loved very dearly. It’s a tragedy for everyone involved.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:15 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

You need to separate ASAP. Neither you or your partner should be growing, learning, or changing at the expense of your small, helpless child. Emotional and verbal abuse are terrifying to children and getting your child out of there is your first priority. Then you can learn not to be abusive.

The justification, minimization, and denial of the toxic dynamic's affects on your child are really disturbing. Please stop making excuses for staying in this dynamic.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:54 AM on January 13 [7 favorites]

Like this:

my actions are not impacting my child beyond what is normal for a long-term relationship where people have strong emotions during disagreements sometimes,

I'm sorry, but this is an incredible amount of minimization. There is no chance that your child has not been affected by the incredibly toxic atmosphere that permeates homes in which there is ongoing verbal/emotional abuse. That doesn't mean you should lose custody of your child. It does mean that you need to acknowledge that you are choosing your relationship over your child, and it is hurting your child.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:58 AM on January 13 [19 favorites]

I also lived this dynamic and, like Young Kullervo, eventually just had to leave and divorce. It's a power struggle and the only way it can be healthily resolved is if both parties do their part. You can only do your part.

I applaud you for holding yourself accountable and realizing that you need to make change.

The best way I found to get a handle on my volcanic anger at my then-spouse's passivity and avoidance was through the techniques in Steven Stosny's book Love Without Hurt. That book also moved the needle somewhat for my spouse. Strong recommend.

A lot of times in life, we don't know exactly where the limit is until we've gone past it. Then the challenge is to dial things back and try to mend what got broken. You are learning/have learned where your limits are, and that's important. The trick then is to not get there anymore. A lot of that is in your control, that book will help you.

I would also add that there is no way that you're shielding your child from this dynamic and the emotional weather in your household. If your partner is passive and disengaged, and you are carrying way more than your share, your child is learning and seeing this as a model for how relationships are. There is nothing you can do to make your partner active, engaged, or accountable, whether you are together or separate. The only thing you can do is to do your best, as ethically and responsibly as you can, and decide whether the terms of your relationship are something you're willing to accept.

Finally, your marriage isn't want you wanted and you're grieving. It sounds like you're past the denial stage into anger, and maybe now into bargaining. Accept that sadness is on the other side and acceptance is there eventually. That's not a statement about staying or going; you still get to choose which flavor of sadness and acceptance you want. But that's where you're heading.

Good luck.
posted by Sublimity at 11:54 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]

I work for a domestic violence advocacy agency in Oregon. We are mandatory NON reporters, which means that even if you disclose abuse - or drug abuse, or fraud, etc, because people have different trauma coping mechanisms and also are not always in control of their actions - to us, we cannot report it. This is so survivors can feel completely safe with us. I can't speak for other states, but at least in Oregon we have advocate privilege: everything between a client and an advocate is completely confidential.

I would heartily recommend calling the national hotline above and speaking with a DV advocate in your area. You want somebody who is trauma informed and has a background in DV, not just a general therapist, to talk to. You can then decide whether a batterer's intervention program is called for. One thing to remember is that domestic violence has nothing to do with anger, nothing to do with substances and nothing to do with whatever else well intentioned people will say it does: abuse is about power and control. You want to control your partner. You can't. I would also say that you might well need to separate permanently from your partner for both of you to heal. It would be a good idea to talk to an advocate to plan how to do that safely for both of you.

Your child is not asleep. They are absolutely being impacted. My parents would have said exactly what you did: my actions are not impacting my child beyond what is normal for a long-term relationship where people have strong emotions during disagreements sometimes, and it would have been a lie. I am in my 50s. I don't know that I will ever recover from growing up in a home where my parents were actively at war and my father was an abuser. His abuse was almost all emotional and psychological. The scars are still deep and still there. Every year we learn more and more about the trauma kids in homes with domestic abuse are suffering. The news is not good. For your child's sake, end this.
posted by mygothlaundry at 1:10 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]

If you are the mefi user I think you are, this question and the blaming answers you’re getting feel like blatant self harm and self-sabotage. You are gaslighting yourself, and enlisting metafilter to gaslight you via anonymity, into staying in a profoundly emotionally, verbally, and financially abusive relationship that is driving you out of your mind, and the only way you can keep justifying staying is by painting yourself as an abuser, or allowing your husband to successfully run a DARVO on you to make you feel like you are the offending party and owe it to him to stay. Please find an individual therapist, it makes me so sad to see you hurting yourself in this way.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:10 PM on January 13 [14 favorites]

I haven't cottoned on to which user your may be, but I second moonlight_on_vermont. if you are in an abusive relationship, and you've been pushed to the brink again and again by your abuser, then it may make more sense that you've lost control in your struggle against a crazymaking partner.
Not all retaliation is the same. I was sexually abused as a child, and once I punched the abuser in the stomach. He used this against me to justify more abuse of me. But, I was the powerless one, I lashed out in a primitive manner to defend myself. Are you powerless, or the more powerless partner? Has your partner coerced you before? Do you hate yourself for ideas that your partner planted in your head? Do you feel foggy, in an emotional tizzy, trying to grasp reality but just can't quite figure out what's going on? Then yeah, the DARVO mentioned above may be spot on.

This is still something you want to remove yourself and your child from. To quote my other sister who is now escaping a marriage like this, "I realized that staying in this relationship looked much harder than escaping it." So, maybe take that to the bank.
Not all anger is bad. Some anger is healing anger. Some anger is telling you it's time to escape. Some anger is warranted if someone is making an assault on your soul, your body, your mind.

Take care of yourself. Nobody else is going to do this for you, and certainly not your partner.
posted by erattacorrige at 5:33 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

I also don’t want to minimize what you’re saying about how terrifying it is to lose control of yourself, and needing help— I don’t want to gaslight you in the other direction of saying everything is fine. But being consistently abused and exploited by your partner is making it impossible for you to heal, is decimating your mental and emotional stability, for yourself and your child. Based on the timeline here (shoving after quite some time between the other incidents with the toys and the slap) it sounds like this relationship is pushing you into a relapse of issues you’ve already done work on and that must be so painful and frightening to go through. Any advice or tools about anger management here will be valuable to you in the long run, but I think it will be impossible to meaningfully implement them in a situation where you are actively being abused, where you are being taken advantage of and ground down to your worst coping mechanisms and triggers. Listen to errata about DARVO. Please do not demonize yourself as some terrible abuser or batterer who needs to be punished or shamed, because I truly believe that is not what’s going on here.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:55 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]

I think anger management may be the real issue here, or at least the source of help for your abusive tendencies. I'm guessing in general you'd consider yourself quick to get irritated or hot-tempered or easily stressed out. Maybe it would be helpful to focus on it as a broad anger control issue and less as a narrow partner-specific issue.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:30 PM on January 13

OK, I've been busy the past couple of days, so I haven't been able to compose my thoughts about this until now.

First of all, as someone who suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, I want to thank you for taking this so seriously. It's really easy to brush this off as no big deal and just a reaction to a bad situation. It says something about your character that you're willing to admit you need help before things get out of hand.

The people who are saying you should look into anger management counseling are correct. I don't want to minimize your partner's role in the toxic dynamic, but in life you're going to come across lazy, selfish, button-pushing, and passive-aggressive people, and you're going to have to have a healthy way of dealing with them. If this person was your co-worker instead of your partner, and you reacted like you did, you'd have much bigger problems. You can't assume he's going to own his role, so you need to find a way to channel your anger more constructively.

I'm generally not a DTMFA kind of person, but I do think in this case it would probably be healthy for you two to spend some time apart. Do you actually want to have a relationship with this person? Does he want to have a relationship with you? It's not clear that either of you do at this point. I'm not saying split up completely, but take a couple of weeks where you're not together. After those couple of weeks, get dinner together and talk about where you're at. Repeat a couple of times a month. After two or three months, if those chats make it seem to both of you that it's worth continuing, then it's time to figure out next steps. Those will probably involve some individual therapy for each of you (for him, especially, it sounds like there's some serious anxiety), and couples counseling as well.

One other thing that I noticed, and I might be stereotyping, but not working and "escaping into his collection of widgets" gives me an impression that this dude smokes a lot of ganja. If I'm right, or if either of you are drinking heavily or using anything else, that's something that'll have to stop before you can take those next steps. Everyone (especially avid users!) thinks marijuana is harmless, but anything can end up harming a relationship if you prioritize it over the other person. Think of it like food addiction rather than heroin dependence. If he's not willing to quit, or if he's not willing to seek help for anxiety or whatever his issues are, the relationship is probably not salvageable.

Regardless of what happens with the relationship, though, anger management classes will help you go wherever you're going. You'll have a bigger, more robust toolkit for handling problems, and a clearer understanding of how to get what you want/need without overstepping any boundaries.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:16 PM on January 14

Before you seek counseling, see a lawyer. In some states, psychologists are privileged in a divorce, while MFT's records are able to be subpoena-ed. It sounds like your spouse has not been providing adequate support to keep a roof over your head; I might expect a divorce to be financially painful as well, should things head that way. Make sure your work on yourself is safe from being used against you.
posted by sweltering at 3:27 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

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