Acceptable Spousal Abuse?

by Helaine
(Etobicoke, Toronto, Canada)

Dear Therapist,

I know what society will say about verbal and physical abuse . Everyone says abuse is wrong no matter what, and to leave a marriage that has abuse or relationship that shows signs of abuse.

However, My sisters husband firmly believes that a person deserves punishment and no trust if they betray, she agrees too based on their history. She was unfaithful to him many years ago and he will become so angry with her for betraying him, he will curse and strike her sometimes. She will sometimes tell me since we are very close but I dont tell her to leave him because she feels that is fair for the pain she caused to him for the affair. It is only a different kind of pain she says. Also I do not want to cause her any more trouble in the marriage by telling her to leave, and I am scared she will not talk to me anymore because she loves him very much and I dont want her to see me as a threat to them. Plus, they seem really happy during family events and to love each other.

I am wondering,

Is it true that in other cultures it is acceptable to hit or "control" the female if she is disrespectful to the man or family, and in extreme cases the husband can even murder his wife or daughter if they become pregnant or unfaithful?

It can seem that the person who got betrayed is the victim, not the unfaithful person who may be "abused" after.

As a therapist, do you feel that a person is justified or at right to act in a way that most people would call "abusive" if their loved one was disrespectful and disgraced the family?

Thank you for your time,


Ben's Answer:

This is my opinion: Abuse is never justified. I don't care what culture a person is from. In some cultures they mutilate women's genitals so that they can't feel any pleasure when having sex. In that culture it is "acceptable" and very few people question it. Those that do question the societal norm are putting themselves in great danger or may be driven out of their community. Does that make it right?

A man who beats his wife whenever he feels like it, and justifies it by saying that she hurt him years ago by cheating on him, is nothing more than a child who can't control his own anger. He blames her for his abusive actions. So she hurt his feelings by betraying him in the past. He says the hurt continues - no matter how devoted she is now. But his retaliatory abuse goes on and on. This is the definition of insanity.

Anyone can convince herself that living in a state of insanity is acceptable and normal, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing.

There is no major culture or religion in the world that does not value forgiveness. If you can't forgive your own life partner then you shouldn't be with them -- and that goes BOTH ways.

If you're afraid of damaging your relationship with your sister then I'd suggest you gently question her choices about accepting this abuse; If it makes her uncomfortable or upset, you just need to know when to stop pushing and let her live her life the way she chooses. But you don't have to agree with her. If she knows where you stand, then it may eventually give her the confidence to leave him or stand up to him. If you don't at least challenge her, out of love and concern, then you are simply condoning more abuse. She needs to see that someone she loves and trusts is seeing the insanity for what it is.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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