Sanctuary for the Abused
Thursday, March 22, 2007
For years I avoided writing this piece, reluctant to rehash painful experiences. But I want to prepare those who are taking that most important step in their lives for something that can literally ruin their happiness.
Everyone checks up on hashkafah, yichus, education and wealth – but the most crucial detail is often overlooked: a hot temper. Men (or women) hide it well when dating, for obvious reasons.
It manifested itself after our engagement, but I was too embarrassed to break it off. Big mistake.
My father, a”h, a kind, gentle man, never raised his voice to my mother. My husband would yell at me over any triviality, often in public. My parents kept telling me to be nicer, more giving, to avoid instigating his wrath. But there is no perfection good enough for such a person.
If his income was limited, it was I who couldn’t manage.
If the children misbehaved, it was I who didn’t raise them properly.
If the house wasn’t perfectly neat and clean, it was I who wasn’t doing my job well.
His short fuse was always lit, ready to blow at any moment.
I stayed in the marriage – because I wanted a better life for my children. There still is a stigma on children of divorce. Don’t think that it was always bad. Such a personality makes for extreme highs with the extreme lows.
What attracted me to him? He was outgoing, aggressive, a real alpha male. Some passive, wimpy guy was not for me! I needed a real man. Well, real men don’t bully their wives and children. Be careful what you wish for! This kind of person believes he is the center of the universe. Everyone but him is crazy, selfish, lazy, stupid, or careless.
I even tried marriage counseling and was told that he would never change, that I would be better off divorcing.
I hung in there, figuring I’d marry off my kids and then decide. Once it was just the two of us, I noticed a new behavior. His outbursts became fewer. He was the focus of my attention, and that was what he always wanted! Like a toddler throwing tantrums because he thinks he’s being ignored – is what I lived with for all those years. He was actually jealous of the time and attention I gave our children!
Who would be out there for me? Single men who were too selfish to have a family? Divorced men who were as bad as what I had at home? No one gets rid of a good thing. Would I want to deal with stepchildren? And how much would my husband demand for a Get?
When he is in a kind mood, all I want to do is love him. But when his temper flares, all I dream about is a violent miserable death for him. His personality type has high blood pressure and other medical issues. During one of his medical crises, I was at the hospital observing other people saying Tehillim for their loved ones. I didn’t. Silently I acquiesced to Hashem’s will. If I was to be a widow, I’d accept it. If He chose to let my husband live, I would accept that too. My husband lived, and I stayed.
If anyone reading this feels that no one else has ever experienced the kind of tzoros s/he suffers, think again. I learned of widows who suffered many years with alcoholics, womanizers, gamblers and wife beaters, all of which at least I never had to deal with. And what really surprised me is that their children did not learn to imitate their fathers. A bad example often teaches children how not to behave. Divorce isn’t always the answer.
I am happy and proud that my sons do not follow in their father’s ways (which made them cringe). My daughters carefully checked out their suitors. Unfortunately, one son-in-law hid his temper until after the chasunah. I can only offer my daughter the comfort in knowing that it is her husband’s feelings of inferiority and helplessness that triggers his temper, making him strike out at the nearest and safest target.
Levity and humor, I learned, tend to shorten the outbursts. When my husband would rant about how stupid I was, I would say, “Nebach you have to live with a fool like me, but how smart could you be if you married me?” When he’d accuse me of being terrible at something, I’d offer to “place an ad in the personals…maybe you’ll find someone better!” That would stop him in his tracks and even make him smile.
We are senior citizens now. I hear widows speak of feeling relieved when their husbands died. Most would never risk remarrying, though some feel that verbal abuse would be better than being alone.
The best middah a person could have is kindness and a soft-spoken nature. There is something to be said for a lack of machismo. Men who have that soft quality inevitably give their wives many years of happiness. I know; I have seen what my parents had.
Unfortunately, most of us discover too late what we have fallen into. When I ask myself if I’d have been better off marrying someone else, the answer is yes. But if it was my destiny to be attracted to such a person in order for my children and grandchildren – the light of my life – to be born, then let my years of unhappiness be a kaporah for my aveiros.
There is still time for you young ones to learn from my experience. Serious misgivings about your Chossen or Kallah may be a warning signal. Speak to your parents or Rav. A broken shidduch is better than a broken family, or a lifetime of regrets.
As Rebbetzin Jungreis says, “Life is a test.” But that doesn’t mean you have to voluntarily register for an impossibly difficult course when other options may be available to you.- A proud Bubby
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To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.