After Physical Abuse, Can My Marriage Heal?

June 16, 2016

7 min read


He is in counseling and working very hard on changing. Am I being a fool to stay and hope that he can change?

Dear Emuna,

Can a marriage heal after physical abuse? I have endured physical violence in my marriage for years and I finally called the police so my husband finally realizes he has to stop. He is in counseling and group therapy and working very hard on changing. Am I being a fool to stay and hope that he can change? I love him and don't want to dissolve our family. No one talks about this taboo subject even though the problem exists. How can I help heal our relationship as he works hard to behave differently?

Looking for Answers

Dear Looking,

I applaud your courage and can’t even begin to imagine what you have endured. While my initial response would be to scream “get out of there and don’t look back!” I recognize that every marriage and every situation is different. It’s too easy to judge and tell people what to do what one is NOT in their situation. So I certainly cannot tell you that you’re a fool or naïve to hope and I respect your love for him and your desire to keep your family intact. Is the price you are paying too high for that? Many would say yes but they are not wearing your shoes.

You don’t mention if he has been violent with the children. Despite my earlier words about not judging, I would say that is completely intolerable (I’m not using strong enough language!) and I don’t think you can risk them to give him a second chance (or is it third or fourth or fifth?).

Has the physical abuse been escalating? Is your life at risk? Hard to gauge, painful to discuss but certainly a question that must be faced. With so much at stake, and with the caveat that this is an online column with very limited information with you and no ongoing relationship, I took the liberty of consulting with a friend of mine who is an experienced therapist in private practice. This is her advice:

Physical abuse in a marriage is obviously an extremely serious concern and is not a simple matter. The key issue to examine is the degree of sincere motivation for change on the part of the abuser. Does he truly recognize the pathology and take responsibility for it without blaming others or blaming his circumstances for the behavior?  (i.e." If she wouldn't have forgotten to show up I wouldn't have hit her; if I wasn't so stressed at work I wouldn't have a short fuse", etc.)

Even if there is genuine acknowledgement and a strong desire to change, a highly specialized treatment program must be in place. Not every mental health clinician is trained in this area. Furthermore, a wife who has been a victim of spousal abuse should avail herself of specialized help to address issues related to trauma, self blame, and minimization and should look at treatment for children who have witnessed violence. For further advice and information and for others in similar situations you can contact Shirley Lebovics LCSW and set up a consultation:

Dear Emuna,

I am getting close to 60 and starting to worry about my financial future. I have a job I truly enjoy, but it doesn't pay much. I live month to month, barely. My parents are not able to help me. I fear that when I get older and unable to work, I will not be able to pay the bills. I'm a generally happy, grateful person with a full life, but after all the years of saying, "I'm not materialistic; money doesn't matter," I see now that money does matter to a certain extent. I've never thought much about getting old, but now when I look 5-10 years in the future, I'm filled with fear. Is there anything I can do?


Dear Fearful,

I think you can mount a two-pronged attack on your anxiety, one spiritual and one practical. In the spiritual realm, we all need to constantly remind ourselves that the amount of money we have is determined by the Almighty and He takes care of our needs. Every time we feel anxious, every time you feel anxious, we should turn to the Almighty for help. We should use each moment of anxiety as an opportunity to connect with God and to pray. “Please send me the money I need for rent.” “Please give me the patience I need to deal with this challenge.” “Please send me a job” – you get the picture. This should calm you down and enable you to focus your energies on the other area of effort, the practical one.

While it is definitely wonderful not being materialistic, we all need food and shelter. You need to make some provision for your future. This is the time to consult with a financial planner and figure out how to begin preparing for the future, how to create savings even if what you put away is small. If a meeting with a flesh-and-blood human being is beyond your financial ability, there are many online articles and resources for you to avail yourself of. It’s not materialistic to make practical arrangements. It’s the mature way to deal with your financial future. Since your needs are very few, I’m confident that with the right effort – and with some extra prayers you will be able to manage them – the physical ones and the emotional ones.

Dear Emuna,

I was unhappy with the advice you gave recently to a daughter-in-law dealing with a difficult mother-in-law. You suggested that it was her husband’s job to set the boundaries. But don’t you always say that the only person you can change is yourself? Isn’t it the daughter-in-law’s job to make some choices in the interests of her self-preservation?


Dear Confused,

I appreciate and value your feedback. I think there are two issues getting mixed together here (actually there are a lot of issues but we will focus on the two). It is true that the mother-in-law can’t be changed but if the woman’s husband understood his responsibility it would be better and healthier for him to set the boundaries.

Many men are genuinely torn and confused about their loyalties and need to be reminded that their wife and marriage come first. If he sets the boundaries with his mother, it is unlikely that the relationship will be permanently damaged. If the daughter-in-law tries to set the boundaries, it is possibly she will do great harm not just to her relationship with her mother-in-law but her relationship with her husband as well.

So far we have not talked about anyone changing their personality or character, only about the most effective strategy. In terms of character change, it is certainly possible that, in addition to the husband’s boundary setting or whether he sets them or not, the daughter-in-law can make her own choices – about patience, about understanding, about where to take a stand and where to let things go, about what she needs to do to preserve her marriage and what she needs to do to preserve her self-worth and self-respect. You are right about that but, as I said, I think there are two separate issues at stake. I hope I have clarified. Thanks again for writing.

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