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Don't drop your guard around an abusive spouse

October 28, 2005|Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn: Do you ever think it's worth it to try to reason with an abusive spouse? Somehow I only just realized that what my husband does is abusive and it has been going on for the full four years we have been married. He is controlling and overbearing, watches my every move, goes through my purse when I'm not looking and accuses me of cheating. Is it worth it to say to him, "Hello. Do you know that what you are doing to me is abusive and it must stop?" Do you think counseling would help? My gut is telling me to get the heck out.

-- VA.

Of course it can be worth it. An abusive person is still human, and if he is the way he is because he was taught to be this way, and if he has never been made aware of the damage done to him that he's now inflicting on you, and if there is still love between you, and you're not afraid of him, then giving him a chance could be the compassionate thing to do.

It could also be dangerous, even lethal, which easily trumps compassion and a bunch of "ifs." That's why I'm never going to advise against anyone's gut in a situation like this, even with a partner who hasn't been violent. If your impulse is to "get the heck out," then trust it, please.

But act on it with care. The safest approach is to enlist ongoing, one-on-one help from an expert (call [800] 799-SAFE for advice and a local referral), and in the meantime to become an expert yourself, quickly; for that I recommend "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.

Even if your gut finds the book so reassuring that it reverses itself and tells you to go the "hello" route, I urge you to talk to an expert anyway. Make the call. By hearing the full version of your story, assessing your risk, helping you understand how you might have been vulnerable, discussing your options and talking you through whatever remedy you choose, this expert can help you anticipate things you might not see on your own. That improves your chances of a happy outcome.

Write to Tell Me About It, in care of Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, DC 20071, or e-mail tellme@washpost.com.

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