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Dear Patricia: The violence that mars our happy life together


QWE have been happily married for more than 12 years and have four lovely children. I always thought we had a solid marriage, as my partner is a very good husband and father.

We would hate to ever get to a situation where we would separate -- mainly as we value marriage and never want to hurt our children. I came from a broken home and my father is an alcoholic. My husband, for his part, is not close to his family. He just feels he has little in common with them. But he has a good job, as have all his siblings.

Last weekend, my husband lost his temper with me and physically assaulted me. I was shocked that he resorted to this behaviour, and was left bruised and emotionally shaken. I had three strands of thought after it happened -- ring the Gardai, contact a solicitor, ring Accord, the relationship counselling service. I did the last one and am waiting for an appointment. I obviously love my husband, but would not put up with that. It was very out of character for him as he is normally very relaxed, and is liked by everyone. I confided in a friend and she, too, was shocked, both by the marks left on my back and arms, and the fact that he did it.

I would describe him as a deep, non-emotional person. He never discusses how he feels, and I don't think he is able to. As far as I am aware, he was not abused as a child, nor had anything bad happen to him. I feel sick to think that he shows traits which remind me of my father. This remark really annoys him, and he says he is nothing like my father. He does like a drink, and when he goes out he really goes to town. He sees nothing wrong with his drinking, but it really bothers me, as it certainly reminds me of my father. I hate people when they are drunk, even though my husband would be described as a happy drunk.

We have talked about what happened and he doesn't know why he did it and is shocked about it. But this wasn't the first time he exploded and used his strength on me -- I recall about three or four incidents over a 15-year period. This was the first time he left marks.

I think he is weak to resort to physically hurting me just because he can't handle an argument. He has no memories of his parents ever fighting. I, on the other hand, grew up in a house full of hostility and loud rows. I obviously provoke him, but why couldn't he just walk away? What kind of person does that make him? Am I bad for him?

I know my demons as I've had counselling because of my background. I put a lot into my marriage as I want to be happy, and I want my children to be happy and secure. I'd hate them to come from a broken home.

Unless I do something, or lead the way, I think my husband would just leave it be. I have said it will be a long road back and that I want us to go to a professional to talk about our problems.

He doesn't see why this is necessary, but I am adamant. I refuse to push this under the carpet, but it is very hard when you are dealing with a non-emotive, stubborn person.

He is going to come with me, but I wonder if it will make any difference. Can you make some sense of all this? I don't want to make a big thing of it, but on the other hand, I don't want to trivialise it either.

ALET'S get one thing straight. Yes, you may well have provoked your husband during an argument with some comment or action or failure to respond. You did not, most emphatically, provoke him into physical aggression. You are not responsible for the fact that he physically assaulted you. How he responds to any provocation -- be it from you, or from life generally, or from some other specific person such as an erratic driver on the road -- is his responsibility, and his alone. Provocation is always there -- in some shape or form. How we respond is down to us. Your husband physically assaulted you. That is unacceptable. It is also in no way, shape, or form, your fault. You have no case to answer. Your husband has.

Yes, of course you are right. You need to see a professional "outsider". You need objective feedback. And yes, I think it is significant that your husband doesn't see why you should bother with counselling. He doesn't want to confront the truth, which is that he must change. That said, I don't think you're entirely facing the truth either. This isn't a question of background, or upbringing, or the fact that your husband saw no violence in his home while you did in yours. The point is, your husband decided to use physical force on you. He has been violent to you. And the whole truth is that this is not the first time. Look at what you've told me.

This is not your fault. The responsibility lies squarely with him.

Alcohol is also an issue which has to be clarified. Yes, I understand that you may be over-sensitive to the whole question of drinking. On the other hand, a happy drunk is still a drunk. And getting drunk on a regular basis is really not on. You also haven't clarified to what extent -- if any -- drinking plays a role in your husband's physical violence. Either way, the issue of alcohol has to be raised too. Maybe you have to ditch some of your fears. Maybe he has to drink less. Maybe it will be a bit of both. It needs to be sorted.

And you have to talk about emotional intimacy too. If you describe your husband as unemotional, and someone who never discusses his feelings, that probably means you feel lonely in your marriage. It may also mean that rows become the substitute for real communication -- which is something you will both have to work on.

You've shown great courage and wisdom. I hope you are proud of yourself.

Sunday Independent