Wednesday 26 November 2014

Dear Mary: I'm afraid that my son will turn out like his violent dad

Mary O'Conor

Published 15/07/2013 | 05:00

Old woman having problems with her relationship
Children who witness abuse are given the message that it is ok

I would like your advice. I am in my 50s and have four children – three girls and a boy. They are wonderful and I love them dearly and know that they love me too.

I also love my husband and we have been married for almost 30 years, most of it very happily. Indeed, when I read the miserable lives of some of the people who write to you I really count my blessings.

There is only one major problem. When my husband gets drunk he hits me. It was worse when we were younger.

He would go out to the golf club with his friends and drink too much, come home and, if I said anything at all that he didn't like, he would punch me – usually in the stomach so that I wouldn't have any noticeable bruises. It never got so violent that I would have to report him to the police.

The next morning, he would be a different man and beg my forgiveness and promise that it would never happen again, and buy me bunches of flowers.

And it wouldn't happen again – sometimes for a few months. But then it would and the tension would build up in me knowing that there was no escaping it.

But he was so good to me, and with me so much, that I never wanted to leave him.

And I could forgive him and, in the weeks after an outburst, he was really wonderful.

But the children saw it happen. I knew they did, and did all I could to excuse him and say that he was in trouble at work and that he didn't mean it, and things like that.

This finished when two of our daughters informed us that they were moving out, and the three girls confronted my husband and told him exactly what they thought of him in very explicit terms.

He was devastated. I really think he thought that they did not know – or that it was excusable in some way.

It didn't help that my third daughter decided that that was the time to tell us that she was definitely not going to move out, but was going to beat him up if he ever touched me again.

I almost burst out laughing at the look on his face!

The main reason I am writing now is that my son has met a lovely girl and just told me that they are moving in together.

I am happy for him – but feel that I should talk to him and say that what my husband did to me is inexcusable in a relationship and he should know that and never even think of hitting his girlfriend. But how do I even start to say that to him?

Naturally, I have never told any of my friends about my experiences, so I would really value your advice.

Mary replies:

For reasons of your own, you have chosen to stay in an abusive relationship, and that is your choice. Many readers would disagree with you, and say that you should have left him years ago, but you did what you felt was right for you.

However, we have to look at the effect all of this has had on your children. By witnessing what they did, they were given the message that it is all right for a man to hit a woman.

They also learned that she will say nothing about it and so he can continue his criminal behaviour and get away with it. Luckily, your daughters have challenged this and, by speaking out, have let your husband know that it is not acceptable.

Regarding your son, your instincts are absolutely right. You will have to tell him that you need to speak with him at length about a serious and painful issue, and then explain to him why you chose to do nothing about your husband's behaviour.

You will be trying to get across the message that it is never acceptable, under any circumstances, for a man to physically abuse a woman but, in a way, you are telling your son to "do as I say, not as I do" and this is where it will be difficult.

A reader wrote to me recently about domestic violence and recommended a book How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser by Don Hennessy, Director of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency. While I have not yet read it, you may find it helpful.

You will have to be prepared for some harsh questioning from your son as you try to excuse the inexcusable because I feel sure he'll find it very hard to understand why you put up with the abuse for so long.

As his sisters did not include him in their confrontation with their father, this is something that he may also want to discuss with you as your family is currently rather fragmented.

If you were all agreeable, it may be beneficial for you to have family therapy – the Family Therapy Association of Ireland at 01-2722105 or www.familytherapyireland. com can advise you regarding somebody in your area.

However, for the moment, your son is the person whom you want to spend some time with in order to safeguard his blossoming relationship.

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