Your woman has a short fuse and an aggressive nature, and when she loses her temper, she attacks you physically. Of course the stereotype is that women are the “weaker sex,” therefore it’s women and children who are the main victims of domestic abuse. Yet here you are having a problem that a “real man” isn’t supposed to have. So then what?
While there is progress being made in publicly recognizing that men are also victims of domestic abuse, for many men this issue continues to feel shrouded in moral confusion and embarrassment. The purpose of this post is to sort out some of the confusion and give you some useful food for thought about what might be going on in your particular situation.
“It’s Never Okay To Hit A Woman”
Let’s start by clarifying where the moral lines should be drawn. Generally speaking, women are designed by God to be physically weaker than men. Sure there are a lot of traumatized women out there who are trying to pretend this isn’t true, but hating men doesn’t do anything to change where your body builds its muscles (see Help for Men: Understanding the Growing Hostility Towards Straight White Males).
Now when it comes to physically assaulting someone, upper body strength is the kind of strength that really counts. Assaulting someone is primarily an arm activity, so those beefy biceps that men can so easily cultivate really come in handy when it comes to physically restraining their targets and dishing out some crippling blows. In most situations, women simply can’t come up with the same grip strength as men, hence the frequent request in many homes for the man to open a tight jar lid. Because women are far more verbal than men, learning how to punch effectively simply isn’t a topic that comes up in most female circles. But men are not designed to hash out all of their conflicts using large amounts of words. Men naturally default to more physical forms of communication, and in doing so, they tend to have much better instincts on how to handle physical altercations.
If we pair an average woman with an average man and remove trauma from the equation, we will have a situation in which the man finds it rather easy to physically dominate his woman, while the woman finds it impossible to physically dominate her man. This major difference in physical ability is by God’s purposeful design. There’s nothing bad about being different. A great difference in ability doesn’t have to result in abuse. When used properly, differences can be extremely beneficial to both partners.
Now the theory that “it’s never okay to hit a woman” was originally a response to observing that females are naturally and significantly weaker than males. This age old moral principle was supposed to make boys aware of a natural difference between themselves and girls, and to help them cultivate an extra level of restraint where girls were concerned. Boys who are playing together might shove each other around roughly without anyone being offended or hurt. But the same kind of shove that makes your male peer laugh can make a girl feel upset and cry. Such different responses are naturally confusing for boys, and they need adults to help them understand why girls act like such delicate daisies. At the same time, girls need help understanding why boys are so “violent” (as defined by a girl, that is, and it doesn’t take much physical play for a girl to feel that things are getting out of hand).
Now as is the case with many moral mottos that get passed down from generation to generation, the context of the principle “it’s never okay to hit a woman” has been stripped away and the original meaning has been lost. Originally, this moral motto was just another way of saying “Your greater ability doesn’t give you a free pass to abuse people.” This same principle can be applied to any kind of advantage: physical, financial, political, etc. Just because you’re naturally better at something than someone else doesn’t mean you aren’t morally obligated to respect their rights as your fellow human being. Now be honest: is this really a new idea for you? Likely not. You probably already agree with the idea that someone with greater power shouldn’t use that power to stomp all over someone who has less power than them. But here we have to be careful, because whenever power is being told to stay in check, it’s assumed that the folks on the weak side of the scale are behaving themselves.
It’s obviously not right for a policeman to start bludgeoning a citizen who is just walking along down a street, minding his own business. But what if that citizen starts picking up rocks and chucking them at the policeman’s head? Is the policeman supposed to just stand there and refuse to use any of the powerful tools that he is armed with? Does being more powerful mean you don’t have any basic rights as a human being?
Today many men are being taught that the fact that they are naturally stronger than women means they are morally obligated to act as if they have no power at all when dealing with the opposite sex. Instead of being seen as an admirable quality that has many positive applications, the physical superiority of men has been turned into a shameful flaw that men are being taught to hide. Well, no, this is complete rubbish. God is a brilliant Creator who gave each of the genders many fine qualities. The physical superiority of men is just as fabulous as the verbal superiority of women. The protective instinct of men is as fantastic as the nurturing instinct of women. Our natural traits only become problems when we use them inappropriately. But simply being stronger is not a flaw, nor is it something that you are morally obligated to hide whenever you’re interacting with a woman.
The rules for how to manage conflict well change depending on what the situation is. When it comes to intimate relationships (girlfriend/boyfriend, husband/wife), both partners need to try to keep the power balanced equally between them as much as possible. Power comes in many forms: financial, emotional, material, physical, etc. A healthy couple needs to try to strike a good balance in all of these areas. This is often done by focusing on sharing resources and meeting needs.
Now in real life, each partner contributes different kinds of resources to the team. Often there is only one person earning a wage, or one person making significantly more money than the other. Fine. Regardless of who is supplying a resource, that resource needs to be shared equally to keep the relationship healthy (see Marriage & Money: Basic Guidelines).
Because men and women are not clones of each other, they have some significant differences in their basic needs. Generally speaking, a non-traumatized man will need sex much more often than a non-traumatized woman. At the same time, a woman will need a lot more verbal affirmation than a man. Recognizing and respecting differences in core needs is vital. Until differences are acknowledged, partners won’t be as effective in helping each other.
Now where there is a lack of identity, it’s natural for men and women to view each other’s differences negatively. Women are often taught to view men’s greater need for sex as a flaw and a hassle when they should be respecting this core need and taking pride in satisfying this physical need for their men. At the same time, men are often taught to view women’s need for verbal connection to be an annoyance when they should be respecting this core need and taking pride in helping their women feel emotionally nurtured. Like it or not, there are certain strong core needs that we all have which only our intimate partners can satisfy for us. But when our partners don’t also have a particular need, it takes effort for them to see it as valid and find the motivation to satisfy it. Because both partners have needs which the other person doesn’t naturally identify with, both partners have to work at respecting their natural differences. It’s seeing your partner do things for you that you know don’t come easily to them that makes you feel deeply loved, and vice versa. At the end of the day, these built in differences that we’re taught to feel so threatened by are the very things that help us feel secure in our intimate relationships.
Now when it comes to physical power, the rule of trying to keep power equally balanced still applies. Since women are naturally weaker and more easily injured by physical force, men need to make an effort to handle their wives more gently than they would their male buddies. But what happens when your woman tries to use her physical power against you? Once she adds an element of physical force into a situation, the healthy way to for you to respond is to match her level of force. You don’t just stand there like her punching doll and let her do whatever she wants. If you behave this way, you are letting the balance of power swing too far in her favor. Anytime power swings too far out of balance for too long, the relationship becomes abusive.
To manage physical force in relationships correctly, you need to stop treating it like a standalone issue. In relationships, physical force is inseparably linked to the concept of respecting each other’s bodies. But what exactly does that mean?
Respecting Each Other’s Bodies
Like your laptop, your wife has multiple components to her being. Suppose you are very careful not to let anything damage or scratch your laptop’s screen, yet you regularly beat on its keyboard with a hammer. Does that qualify as “treating it well”? No. To treat the machine well overall, you must treat each of its components well. The same is true when you’re dealing with other human beings.
To treat another human well, you must treat their individual components of mind, body and soul with proper respect. But what does this look like? Well, often this comes down to trying to stay in alignment with each element’s desires. For example, all human bodies have two priorities: staying safe, and feeling good. Once you understand this, it becomes much easier to understand what it means to treat your wife’s body well. Her body wants to feel safe, and that means avoiding injury. So clearly you should not be handling her in a way that causes her physical harm. Her body also wants to feel good, so you should respect this need by not handling her in a way that causes her discomfort.
Now anytime you’re dealing with a relationship, there are two humans involved and that means there are two bodies involved. Both bodies need to be treated with equal respect at the same time to keep a relationship healthy. Here is where things can get tricky, because there are things that you can comfortably do to your own body which would upset your wife’s body, and vice versa. It is not reasonable to for either partner to say “My body is fine with this so yours should be as well.” Bodies have different sensitivities, and no body has the right to declare themselves to be the golden standard.
Respecting both bodies is a vital principle when it comes to deciding what healthy sexual practices are. Using a form of sexual interaction that is comfortable for one person but physically distressing to another is abusive, not healthy. Sexual interactions must always be adjusted to ensure that both bodies are comfortable with what is happening. Being comfortable is different than experiencing some movie style orgasm. It is not reasonable to say “You can’t touch me unless you make me feel ecstatic.” But it is reasonable to say, “I need you to stop touching me like that because it hurts.”
Now let’s apply this principle to your wife physically assaulting you. Where is her respect for your body in such a moment? The fact that you are male does not mean your body no longer cares about avoiding injury. It is never acceptable for one partner to physically assault another. Female assault is just as inappropriate as male assault. In either situation, bodies are being grossly disrespected.
Okay, but in real life, your wife’s slap doesn’t do the same degree of damage that yours would do to her. So doesn’t that make her actions less “bad”? No, it doesn’t. Whether you’re intentionally giving your spouse a paper cut or whacking her across the face, you are grossly disrespecting her body’s desire to stay safe. It is the disrespect that is the problem, not how that lack of respect is expressed. The same principle applies to how she treats your body. It is never okay for her to disrespect your body’s desire to be safe, and you’re not being a “sissy” to stand up for yourself in this area.
So what does standing up for yourself look like? To choose an appropriate response to physical aggression, you need to consider the context and your wife’s history with you. If you are dealing with a very violent woman who loses her ability to control herself when she’s upset, then you will likely need to use your physical strength to overpower and restrain her until she calms down. The purpose of using this kind of escalation is to stop the violence as soon as possible. This is often the same principle being used when police pull out their guns to force an uncooperative person to surrender. By rapidly escalating the threat of physical injury, the police are trying to prevent more injury from happening. If they do not quickly escalate like this, a violent offender might overpower them, at which point more injury to more people will occur. Think of it like dousing a fire before it can spread. Your goal is to limit how much damage is done.
When escalation is used correctly, the motivation is to protect both parties from harm. You grab your wife and lock her into a restraint she can’t get out of so that the threat of physical violence is extinguished before either you or her can be harmed any further. You don’t try to inflict injury on her while she is in a helpless position. Instead you are preventing her from being able to injure you. You’re teaching her that physical violence is not an acceptable or effective way to communicate. You are also demanding that both of your bodies be treated with respect (not just hers).
When escalation is used incorrectly, the motivation is to injure your target in a way that will have a lasting, negative psychological effect. Here is where you grab your wife and twist her arm painfully, then keep her in agony until she grovels before you. Your goal is to make her afraid to attack you again for fear of what you’ll do to her. You’re teaching her to expect abuse if she behaves in ways that you don’t like.
Now if you have a pattern of trying to inwardly justify not defending yourself from your wife’s assault, or of rewarding her abuse by groveling, then things get more complicated, and you might be dealing with some trauma issues which can’t be fixed by simply changing your physical response to her.
If you’re dealing with a woman who frequently assaults you or who has a pattern of assaulting other humans as well, then it’s likely she has unprocessed trauma which might make it impossible for her to shift into a functional dynamic with you. When dealing with someone who has a psychological need to assault others, often the only healthy option is to terminate the relationship. The abuser will then find someone new to abuse, and you will have the chance to try to seek out a healthy relationship partner.
While abusive relationships are often portrayed as situations that we accidentally stumble into, in real life, there is often a complex psychological strategy at work in both the victim and the abuser which result in both partners intentionally creating and preserving an abusive dynamic. When this is what’s going on, it is often impossible for either partner to switch to a healthy dynamic unless they first work on their personal trauma issues.
You are a good candidate for being able to easily switch from an abusive dynamic to a positive one if you can agree with the following statements:
- You do NOT have a personal history of submitting to physical assault (from males or females).
- You have a very strong PSYCHOLOGICAL and MORAL repulsion to being assaulted which you do NOT find yourself trying to suppress between assaults.
By “easily switch” I mean you will be able to feel very comfortable with being treated well by a functional partner. This is often not the case for victims of domestic abuse. While victims of abuse will often feel consciously distressed and repulsed by the positions they are in, subconsciously they often have a strong need to remain in the abusive dynamic. When this is the case, a victim of abuse who is suddenly moved away from his abuser and paired with a partner who treats him well will find himself feeling uncomfortable in the new, functional dynamic. In time, he will often sabotage the healthy relationship so that he can either go back to his original abuser or find someone else who will abuse him in a similar way as his original abuser. Yet while the victim unrolls a deliberate strategy to get back in line for more abuse, he will keep saying to his friends that he hates being abused. So what’s with the hypocrisy?
As a human, you have four elements to your being: body, soul, and your mind, which has two parts to it: conscious and subconscious. Your body does not like being physically assaulted. Period. The only time your body will actively seek out harm is when it is being coerced into doing so by your soul or your subconscious.
Your soul generally views the idea of you being abused as morally wrong. But in cases where your soul feels that you morally deserve to be harmed, it can actually push you into abusive situations.
Your subconscious is the most likely element in your being to seek out abusive situations. In most cases of humans actively seeking abuse, it is their subconsciouses that are pushing them. But why is this? Why is your mind far more likely than your soul to find pain attractive? A simple answer is that your mind has a much more complex view of pain than your soul does. Your soul generally views pain as a form of punishment for moral wrongdoings. When your soul is wrestling with intense guilt, it can see suffering as a way of easing that guilt and thus balance the scales of justice which are currently tipped against you. If your soul believes that God (who is the ultimate moral Judge) is very angry with you and planning to nail you with some terrifying form of Divine wrath, your soul might decide that voluntarily inflicting pain on yourself is your only chance of gaining Divine mercy. The point is that there are situations in which your soul can feel it is extremely urgent for you to put yourself in line for abuse. But these scenarios aren’t nearly as common as subconscious-driven abuse.
Your soul primarily associates pain with moral judgment (both human and Divine). Once you meet God, your soul often sees pain as an important tool for pleasing Him and communicating with Him (see Relating to God: The Trap of Symbolic Pain). But your subconscious has a much broader view of pain, meaning that it tends to link pain with a wide variety of subjects–not just that of morality.
Suppose that you have a strong mental association between the letters X and Y, so that whenever someone mentions Y, you automatically think of X.
Meanwhile, your friend Don has a strong mental association between the letters X, A, B and C. Because Don has a more complex mental link, there are three different letters that someone could mention which would all make him think of X.
This simply shape analogy illustrates how the complexity of mental associations determine how often a subject comes up for you. Since your soul has a far simpler view of physical pain than your subconscious does, your soul is less likely to make you seek out abuse. When your soul is the primary element pushing you to get in line for physical injury, you will usually find yourself thinking “I deserve this.” Instead of feeling morally distressed by what’s happening, you’ll be more likely to feel that you’re not being harmed enough. You’ll also probably have a pattern of trying to get your partner to attack you whenever your own mind starts reviewing memories of certain things that you’ve done in the past which you feel really bad about.
Now when victims of physical abuse are portrayed in films and movies, they are usually portraying cases in which the subconscious is the element craving abuse. The victim typically expresses moral and physical distress over what’s happening to them, yet they also refuse to leave the relationship. In the moment that they are being assaulted, they scream and cower and beg their attacker to stop. All of that is the body talking. The body hates being harmed. After they are assaulted, victim characters often tell friends how much they hate what’s being done to them and how they know they don’t deserve it. That’s the soul talking. The soul generally considers physical assault to be immoral. But then you’ll often see victim characters start to defend their abusers, or say really dumb things that are guaranteed to trigger another assault. That is the subconscious talking.
I use movies as examples at times because it helps people better understand what I’m talking about. Movies attempt to capture many kinds of trauma coping methods, yet the folks who write these scripts don’t really understand what they are portraying, so they throw in elements that are very unrealistic, such as a victim of longterm abuse feeling immediately comfortable in a new, healthy relationship. Movies really aren’t a good source of accurate human psychology, but they do play a role in helping us form stereotypes about psychological issues.
I recently saw a movie in which a female character was clearly expressing pedophilia, yet no one was calling it that. In dealing with her case, one cop character said to another, “If she was a man, we’d be using the word ‘pedophile.'” And it’s true. Pedophilia is one of many mental health issues that has been falsely associated with a single gender. Domestic abuse is another. In real life, trauma coping methods aren’t gender specific. Pedophilia is not a male issue, it affects both men and women. Seeking out an abusive spouse is not a female issue. In the world today, many men are actively seeking out female romantic partners who will regularly assault them in verbal, physical, sexual and even spiritual ways. What kind of abuse your mind is pushing you towards and what package you want your abuser to come in (male, female, young, old, short, tall, etc.) all depends on what kinds of mental associations you have formed.
Now it’s possible to get yourself into the especially miserable situation where both your subconscious and your soul are demanding that you seek out physical abuse. But far more often what happens is that your elements strongly disagree about what’s happening to you. While your subconscious pushes for you to remain in a relationship with an abusive woman, your soul keeps telling you that you ought to get out.
Your conscious is the part of you that creates your thoughts. What you think of as your thoughts are really translations of what your different elements are saying. When your subconscious and soul are arguing with each other and your conscious translates bits of their argument into verbal thoughts, the resulting mental script is you thinking a bunch of contradictory thoughts about your current situation. One minute you’re thinking about how morally wrong the whole situation is. The next minute you’re making up excuses to justify your wife’s treatment of you. She didn’t really mean it. She’ll come around. She’s just been under a lot of stress lately. When your subconscious is the one keeping you in an abusive relationship, it will generate endless excuses for why you ought to keep tolerating abuse.
So what does all of this mean? Suppose your mind is trying to keep you in an abusive relationship. Doesn’t that mean something is terribly wrong with you? Is your mind broken or something? Not at all. What happens in these cases is that your mind is actually trying to fix a much bigger problem than having your wife smack you around. Your mind also feels that the strategy its using has a very good chance of working, which is why it will try to sabotage your attempts to terminate the toxic relationship and move on. If you suspect that you’re dealing with a case of subconscious driven abuse, and you want to understand more about why your mind would try to lead you towards an abusive partner, read Why Do I Keep Falling In Love With Jerks? to learn about the issue of symbolic partners.
Domestic violence is not a gender specific issue. Both abusers and victims come in male and female packages. Because this is not a male issue, it says nothing negative about your masculinity that you are finding yourself in a situation where a woman is physically attacking you. If this is a new problem that’s coming up in your relationship early on, it could be a simple case of your woman testing boundaries as the two of you sort out how you’re going to deal with conflict. A good woman can make this kind of mistake if she has had poor role models. If this is the case, you might be able to resolve the issue quickly and permanently by using physical force to stop her in her tracks. And you certainly should use physical force if that’s what she’s using on you. Acting defenseless in the name of “respecting her gender” only teaches her that it’s appropriate for her to disrespect your body. Gender is never a justification for abuse.
If in the moment of assault, all of you is saying “This is garbage and I ought to be defending myself!” and the only reason you’re not is because you’ve been taught that “it’s wrong to hit a girl,” hopefully this post has helped you understand how to apply that principle better. It is entirely appropriate to get hands on with a woman who is getting hands on with you. It is entirely appropriate to escalate force for the purpose of neutralizing violence. There are many ways to restrain a woman without “mistreating” her, so throw out this nonsense that respect for the body is a one way street. Both bodies must be respected at the same time. Since she is doing wrong by hitting you, you need to use your superior strength to help her get back on the right track and see the error in what she’s doing. In healthy relationships, partners need to help each other recognize and correct negative behaviors.
If you’re feeling very conflicted about defending yourself and secretly terrified about the idea of the relationship coming to an end, then it’s time to seriously consider the possibility that you are seeking out abuse as a means of trying to resolve your own unprocessed trauma. Once again, you’re not a failure for using this kind of mental strategy. Your mind locks onto these ideas without asking you for permission, so to blame yourself for seeking out abuse is like blaming yourself for liking the color blue. Instead of treating a psychological instinct like a moral crime, you need to get more educated about what your mind is trying to do, and what steps you can take to help it choose a better method.
Gender doesn’t give anyone a free pass to abuse their fellow humans, nor does it mean someone is less deserving of compassion. Treating your own struggle with abuse as less valid simply because you are male is not reasonable. All humans are deserving of compassion. There is no difference in value between males and females. While they are very different in some ways, they are equally fabulous, and equally deserving of respect.
For more help for men, see For Men: Respecting Your Impotency.
For more about male-female differences, see Male-Female Communication: Male Compartmentalization & The Female Need for Words.
For more about how your subconscious views people, see Symbolic People: How Your Subconscious Assesses Strangers.
To learn more about physical aggression, see Freezing vs. Fighting: Two Strategic Responses to Assault.
For in-depth help with relationship dynamics, see my book What’s Wrong With My Relationships?.
Looking for advice? You can submit an anonymous request through the Ask a Question page.