My husband hit me

He never hit me, but I could no longer take his abuse

I didn’t cry when he died. I should have cried, but I didn’t. I felt a lot of emotions when I heard that he was gone—sadness, shock—but I never cried.

He was my college boyfriend. I was living in an annex with five of my sorority sisters, and he lived with his fraternity brothers in an apartment across the street. They could see into our apartment clearly, and we’d often take advantage of that fact. Dancing around in our pajamas, turning the lights on and off, even yelling to them across the parking lot. Before I met him, I heard about him from one of my roommates, Greer, who had declared that he liked her. She seemed to like him, too.


But he wanted me. He didn’t want my roommate who wanted him, the one who was skinnier and had straighter hair. He wanted me, even though I was fresh off a semester abroad and still saying ridiculous things like: “Last call at 1 a.m.? In Spain, they don’t even think about going out until midnight.”

He wanted me. I think, maybe, that’s why I couldn’t see what was happening for so long. I also think about why he picked me instead of her. Did he know that I was a mess of insecurities, that I wasn’t nearly as strong as I pretended to be? When I think back to that time, I think he could tell. It was written on my face, seeping out of my pores.

Things were great at first—he’d take me out to dinner, he was my date for the (seemingly millions of) sorority events I had to attend, he was the first one to say “I love you.” His best friend began dating my best friend. He took me home to meet his parents, and I took him home to meet mine. We talked about marriage even though I was only a junior in college.


I opened myself up to him. I told him things I’d never told anyone before. I let him see me for who I really was—a sensitive girl who was overly worried about her weight (even though I was average sized, perfectly average). A girl who felt she wasn’t smart enough to truly belong at the Ivy League school we attended, a girl who very badly wanted a boyfriend.

It was little things. Little things that, as I look back, amount to a very big problem, but it’s hard to see it that way when you’re in it. Especially when you really don’t want to.

“Are you going to eat that?”


“This is your fault.”

“My ex nailed that class. Are you really having that much trouble?”

It’s easier to dismiss a little thing as, well, a little thing, than to realize there’s actually a problem. Especially when you are desperate to have a boyfriend, to have someone to love you. I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to break up with him. No matter what he said or did.


There were subtle digs, always said under his breath so that our friends didn’t hear them, coupled with threats. They were so subtle that I couldn’t tell the intent much of the time—was I just being sensitive, as I often was, or were they actually meant to be negative? Were they meant to hurt? Undermine? Often, it was hard to tell, and I was the only one who’d heard them, so I’d dismiss it as unimportant.

And the jealousy. I couldn’t even share notes with a male classmate without engendering his rage. If I spoke to another guy on campus, he’d scream and yell, threaten to break up with me. Threaten to leave me. And I didn’t want to lose my first serious boyfriend, the boy I’d lost my virginity to. I imparted more weight to it than it should have had, gave it more power than it deserved. I was terrified that he would break up with me, which I think he knew. Of course he knew.

My roommates became accustomed to the fighting, the yelling. They knew that when my loud music came on, it meant you were to pretend you didn’t hear what was going on. And then, after he left, if the music stayed on, it meant that I didn’t want to talk about it.


He never hit me, never even lifted a hand. And I wasn’t ever scared that he would. I don’t think I even knew anything was wrong—that this wasn’t just like what all other normal relationships were like, ups and downs—until the night it happened in front of a friend.

It was after some sorority event, and a bunch of us went for pizza to soak up some of the alcohol. (“Are you going to eat that?”) I bumped into a friend of mine from campus and we chatted for a bit. He was known for being a huge flirt and he was no different with me. Was I flattered? Yes. Did I flirt back? Probably. He was handsome and one of the more popular guys in his fraternity. And he was a total sweetheart, to boot.

My friends and I piled back into the car to go home, and my boyfriend began screaming at me. He didn’t even try to hide it, like he usually did. We sat in the backseat like that for a while, with him yelling, and me, trying to calm him down, always trying to calm him down. I didn’t even think much of it until I caught a glimpse of Greer looking at me in the rearview mirror. There was something in her eyes that I couldn’t register at the time, but it made me embarrassed. Her date for the evening, our very good friend Mike, turned around and told my boyfriend, in no uncertain terms, that he was not to speak to me that way. He then looked at me and asked me if I was OK. I laughed. Of course I was OK. I was with my boyfriend.


We got back to the apartment and once in the privacy of my bedroom, the yelling began again. Mike opened the door without knocking and again asked if I was OK. Apparently, everyone in the living room could hear what was going on in my bedroom. And the apartment, at the time, was filled with people—my sorority sisters, his fraternity brothers, our friends. Greer came into my room, too, the sisterhood’s proxy, and it was then that I realized that the look in her eyes was fear. She was scared for me.

And just like that, the spell was lifted. Seeing my relationship through Greer’s eyes, I knew that things were all wrong. A relationship shouldn’t be like this; I shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t allow a boyfriend to scream at me, manipulate me, and make me feel less than. I had to get out. Get out before the screaming got louder, before the screaming turned into hitting, before I was any more invested. So, I did. And I never looked back. Not even when he sent me a letter, goading me to get back in touch with him, referencing my “heavy-set” frame, and telling me that I lied when I said I loved him, because if I was able to walk away, well then, wasn’t that a lie?

I wish I could say that every other relationship I had after that time in my life was a better one, that I looked for a different type of person. But I didn’t. Not at first, anyway. The change was slow—for a long time, I still gravitated to the guys who didn’t treat me well, the ones I had to make excuses for. I needed to grow up. I needed to learn who I truly was.

By the time I met my husband, I didn’t know what I should be looking for anymore. And I wish I could say that I chose him, that I was smart enough to know he was a good person, that he was good for me. But I didn’t. I kept looking for the catch—he couldn’t possibly be what he said he was. A nice guy. Those didn’t exist, did they?


Doug was the sort of man my mother wanted me to marry. He was nice to me. He was kind, he was thoughtful, he listened to every word I said. And he made me laugh. There were no subtle digs. There was no jealousy. There was no yelling. In less than three months, I was totally, completely in love, and in a healthy relationship. A week after the three month mark, we got engaged.

I’m now happily married to Doug, worlds away from the person I was back in college. Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone who went to my alma mater, and we’ll talk about mutual friends, where we lived on campus. Inevitably, with the mention of the annex, his name comes up. “Did you know the guys who lived across the street?” There’s always a gasp, always the look of concern. They ask how I’m doing. It’s difficult to answer. I’m not sad. I wasn’t sad. The whole thing was surreal. I didn’t quite know how to feel. I still don’t really know.

I should have cried when I learned that he died. This was a person that I shared a year of my life with, that I shared a bed with. But I didn’t. And when I think of him now, as a married woman with a kind and supportive husband and two wonderful children, I don’t feel sad. I only feel pity.

My boyfriend’s lovely until he shouts at me

While I love my boyfriend deeply, he is quite a sharp person. He sometimes snaps at me and loses his patience with me over silly things. I get so upset when he behaves this way, and feel so bad about myself, but when I mention it to him, it’s clear that he doesn’t realise how hurtful he has been and just thinks that I’m over-sensitive and need to toughen up. He always reassures me that he loves me, and apologises, but it happens over and over again.

I can’t seem to resolve this issue. All his friends joke that he’s the nicest guy in the world apart from being “thick and stubborn”. I know this is my problem, as I am extremely sensitive and have been depressed in the past because of a bullying incident at work, but I don’t know how to handle my boyfriend’s moods. I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around him.

He has so many good qualities that I admire, but his moods are clouding my judgement of him and I can feel myself beginning to resent him when he gives out to me. He tells me to stand up for myself more – but when I do this with him, I end up in tears.

My boyfriend’s family life was, and is, very different to mine. His dad regularly hit him when he was growing up, and they still clash. When he’s with his father, or in a family situation, he is at his rudest, swears a lot and is generally bad-humoured. With me, however, when he is not in bad form he is so tender and loving. I’m so confused. I don’t know who my boyfriend is or whether we should stay together.

ATHE first thing you need to face is that there is something of a culture clash between you and your boyfriend when it comes to social interaction.

You see what happens when he’s at home with his family: he’s loud, rough and vulgar. It’s not clear how far his whole family is like this, but they at least tolerate it. And as you’ve said, your family life is very different.

Your boyfriend has the capacity to behave in this rough manner. What’s not clear is the extent to which he carries this behaviour over into your relationship. You’re not telling me that he curses and swears and shouts at you, although perhaps he does. What you are telling me is that he can be impatient and snap at you, or criticise you. That’s very different from being rough and vulgar.

More important, however, there’s a real possibility that your primary problem is not the manner in which your boyfriend sometimes deals with you. Perhaps what’s really distressing you is the fact that he’s capable in the first place of having a difference of opinion with you, or an argument. Do you understand the difference? People who have been bullied tend to have difficulties with rows, or with anger, or with impatience. They fear confrontation.

Look at what you’ve told me. You feel terrible about yourself when your boyfriend is annoyed with you. Why would you feel terrible about yourself? If he’s right in what he says, then you could acknowledge that, and change. If he’s not, you should do as he says, and fight back.

What you call your boyfriend’s moods may merelybe his capacity to be angry with you. And your sense of walking on eggshells probably has as much to do with your fear of confrontation as any real awfulness on your boyfriend’s part.

The reason I’m trying to tease all this out is because you’ll never be happy if you can’t handle dissent. No couple stays ‘loved up’ forever. That means they have to handle their differences. You’ll have to learn to deal withdifferences of opinion, or bad humour, or impatience in the man you love – no matter who that man may be. If you don’t, you’ll end up beinga doormat. You have to learn to be angry – constructively, but clearly.

Your boyfriend doesn’t sound like someone who has any wish to put you down. Quite the contrary, he tells you to stand up for yourself when you feel he’s being hard on you. He’s not a bully. And he’s also capable of great tenderness. And he loves you. I would therefore suggest you try to lay down a few ground rules with him.

If he does use bad language when he’s annoyed with you, ask him not to. Tell him it’s enough for him to say his piece. You’ll hear him. He doesn’t have to use a sledge-hammer to kill a fly. But be clear that you have no wish to shut him up. You’d just like to soften the manner in which he speaks to you when he’s annoyed. Acknowledge that you do, indeed, have to learn how to have differences. Just ask him to try and couch his criticism, or annoyance, or anger, in less strident terms. Tell him that you’d like the two of you to learn how to have differences in a way that they can be quickly, and fairly, resolved.

Think of this another way. Your boyfriend learned harshness as the only language of dissent. It’s not just that he doesn’t realise how hurtful he can be to you, he doesn’t realise how hurt he’s been himself. Look at him. Think of his tenderness. His roughness belittles his own kindness of heart, doesn’t it? You love him. Be brave enough, therefore, to be robust. Teach him to trust that you will listen carefully, and respond appropriately, without him having to shout his mouth off, or you dissolving into tears.

Well, try anyway. Of course it might not work out. But I can tell you, for sure, that you need to learn how to have rows. And this man loves you, and is not a bully, so he’s worth some effort, isn’t he? And more important, aren’t you worth some effort? Wouldn’t it be a lot better than just running away? Your choice, of course. Just think about it.

The Best Way to React When Someone Is Shouting at You in Anger

Yelling is a topic relevant to every person on this planet because everyone has raised their voice in anger during their lifetime. Some people yell on a regular basis, but we are all guilty of yelling at some point in life. There are ways to react to a yeller that will help diffuse them, rather than continue to escalate the situation.

Yelling is not healthy for relationships and its results do not yield long term positive results. A person may acquiesce to a yeller at the moment to get them to stop yelling, but once things get back to normal, they typically revert back, because the yelling hasn’t changed their mindset long term. For example, a Mom who yells at her kids to pick up their toys may actually result in the kids picking up their toys in that moment. However, it won’t change their mindset that they should pick up their toys consistently. Kids will learn to pick up if they have been conditioned with a reward or punishment system and they recognize the importance and value of picking up their toys.

Yelling is damaging to relationships. It is not a constructive way to deal with a difficult situation, yet every person engages in yelling. Some more than others. You should be aware of your own yelling, understand why some people are constant yellers, and also know how to deal with a yeller.

When someone is constantly yelling at you in life, they are displaying emotional tyranny over you. Their goal is to gain an upper hand in the situation and the yelling is their means of gaining control over you. It is a form of intimidation. The yelling may work temporarily. However, the long term sustainability of the results from yelling is not good, because it is a way of bullying someone into getting them to do what the yeller wants done. Yelling is not healthy for relationships, in fact it breaks down healthy communications and the closeness of relationships.

Why Do People Yell?

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain

When someone is angry and they are yelling, there are a variety of reasons that they are yelling. Most reasons why they are yelling are not good reasons for yelling, so it’s important that the recipient react correctly, which is more about not being reactive. It is important to understand why someone is yelling, because most often yelling is indicative of issues in that person’s core psyche that have nothing to do with the recipient of the yelling. Their yelling is a reflection of their emotional instability, even though their yelling is intended to show strength and dominance in the situation. Below are some of the reasons a person yells when angry:

Poor coping skills

Many people yell because it is their go-to coping mechanism in difficult situations. But this coping mechanism does not have good long term results. If a person is a yeller because it is how they have learned to cope in life, they need to get some help in finding better ways in regulating their emotions. They may be using emotional outburst as their way of coping in life and this is not healthy for them or the recipients of their outbursts.

Loss of control

A person may be a yeller because they feel a loss of control over the situation. They may be overwhelmed by the thoughts, feelings, and emotions and are experiencing a loss of control over all of these things at once. It is a big jumble of confusion to them, so they yell to try to get control over what they are experiencing. They lack proper coping skills to regain feeling of control over the situation and their surroundings, so they resort to yelling in order to feel that they are in control. They may get that feeling of control, but it is most often temporary, because most problems are not solved through yelling. A person may appear compliment to the yeller, simply to calm that person down, but in reality nothing has been solved for the long term.

Feeling threatened

Bullies are often people who have a very sensitive core emotional psyche and they are trying to protect that core. Anytime they think this core is being threatened they react. Yelling is one tool that they proactively use anytime they feel threatened.

Aggressive tendencies

Some people are simply aggressive individuals. They may yell and the aggression may escalate to a physical altercation. You rarely see a physical fight that doesn’t begin with raised voices, shouting, or yelling. If someone is yelling at you and you don’t know this person well, you should be on your guard that the yelling can lead to a physical confrontation.


It is important to avoid reacting in an aggressive manner to someone who is an aggressive yeller, because it is like pouring fuel onto the fire of their anger and things can become physical. It is likely to become physical if they have these tendencies and you mirror their yelling.

Learned behavior

Some people become yellers because they grew up in a household where their parents yelled on a regular basis. They learned that when conflicts arise, so do voices. They haven’t learned proper coping behaviors when they are faced with conflict and difficult situations. Yelling has always been their go-to reaction to situations in which they find any sort of turmoil.

Feeling neglected

Some people raise their voices and yell in anger because they feel the other person is not listening to them. They may have even repeated their message several times and finally they resort to yelling in anger because the other person had not responded to their other tone of voice. This is often the case of yelling while parenting. Parents feel their kids aren’t listening, so rather than continually repeating themselves, they yell at their kids. The problem is that this actually scares children. Yelling in anger is also very damaging to children and research shows that it can be just as harmful as physical abuse.

If you want to know how to calm your children when they are yelling, read this: The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out

Reactions to Avoid with a Yeller

The worst possible reaction to a yeller is to mirror their behavior. Things do not go well if you yell at someone who is yelling at you. The situation escalates when both people engage in yelling. There are other reactions that can escalate the situation which should also be avoided and include: baiting the yeller, challenging what they are saying, acting defensive, and criticizing the person during the confrontation.


There are better ways to deal with a yeller. Below are the steps you should use to handle and hopefully diffuse a yeller.

1. Stay calm and don’t feed into their anger. Remember that when a person is yelling, it is not you that has the problem, it is them. They have poor coping skills or another reason for yelling that has nothing to do with you personally. If you react they will react to your reaction and things will continue to escalate. Remain calm, even if you are seething on the inside. It is not worth feeding into their yelling, as the situation will just get worse and things are rarely resolved when two parties are yelling at one another. Problems are more likely to be solved when calm tones are being used. Be a part of the solution and not the problem by remaining calm and using a calm tone of voice.

2. Take a mental step back to assess the situation. Before taking any action in the situation, pause mentally to assess things. This will allow you to figure out whether it is worth waiting out the yeller or to leave the situation. If you are being yelled at by a casual acquaintance and you don’t care if you offend them by walking away from them, then by all means walk away. You don’t have to subject yourself to someone’s abuse and mistreatment if they are not important to your life. If it’s your boss yelling at you and you know that walking away while your boss is yelling mid sentence may cost you your job, maybe you need to think about waiting it out and address the yelling with the boss later if it is a constant occurrence and it is now disruptive to your ability to work effectively.

3. Do not agree with the yeller to diffuse them, as it encourages future yelling. If you agree with the yeller to diffuse them and subsequently agree to do something or say something that they are asking, you are condoning their yelling. By being agreeable to someone who is yelling at you, it only encourages them to yell at you to get their way in the future. Avoid this type of diffusing method, it will come back to bite you again in the future and you will find yourself subject to their yelling more often.

4. Calmly address the yelling. In most instances when someone is yelling at you, your emotions are evoked and you feel the need to react. Reacting with yelling, criticism, or other negative responses will escalate the situation, you need to do everything in your power to reel in your thoughts and feelings so you can address the real problem, which is their yelling. Let the person know that you will not accept being yelled at, regardless of the situation or problem. Say this politely and calmly, and you are more likely to have a positive reaction, such as an apology or at least make them aware that they are in fact yelling. Some people don’t even realize they are yelling. Then your next step is to ask for a break away from this person.


5. Ask for a break from this person. After you have calmly addressed the yelling, the next step is to request that you take a break from this person to think. You may also need the time to calm down yourself, as their yelling has caused your adrenaline to rise sky high and you don’t know how much longer you can hold it all inside. When you are asking for a break from the person, it should be more of a statement than a question, especially if it’s not your boss. If it’s a spouse, friend, or someone else, it is completely acceptable to state that you need a break and time (a few minutes, a day, or whatever YOU need) to think things through in order to respond appropriately and calmly.

6. When you feel your emotions have calmed down, and you know how to address whatever it was they were yelling about, you can now go back to talk to the person. Give yourself time to process the situation, what was said, and how you want to respond. For some situations, for example an in-law relationship, this can take a few days as emotions can take longer to de-escalate. If it’s a boss and you know you can’t sit on the issue for long because there are deadlines or your job at stake, then use some calming techniques such as deep breathing or visualization methods to process the situation more quickly, so you can get back to them sooner than later. Here’re 3 Deep Breathing Exercises recommendations for you.

Moving Forward on Better Terms

Because you have taken the time to let the person know that the yelling is not acceptable and you took time away from the person immediately following the yelling, the person is less likely to yell at you now. If they want to move forward with the subject, they will need to remain calm in order to discuss the topic with you. Not only are you standing up for yourself and showing this person you will not be emotionally abused, you are also helping them to see that their behavior is not acceptable. If more people did this when someone yelled at them, we all would be more conditioned to avoid yelling in the first place.

If the yelling is something that has been habitual and your new course of actions have not changed their behavior, it is perhaps time to ask them for a sit down to discuss their yelling. When you have the sit down let the person know how the yelling affects you. For example, you feel deeply sad after a yelling episode and don’t want to be around them for a while. Also let them know how it affects your relationship. For example, that it creates an emotional chasm between you and them. If they respond with “that’s just who I am” let them know that its not acceptable.

Some people also don’t know how to change their behavior. Professional help (such as therapy, counseling, or anger management classes) are available for people who have issues with yelling. They need to recognize that the problem is affecting their relationship and change is needed in order to heal the relationship.


Yelling causes damage, so don’t allow them to continue to damage you or your relationship by tolerating their yelling.

My Spouse Hit Me. Now What?

Has your spouse ever hit you in anger? If so, at first you probably didn’t know what to do. You were stunned. As you began to realize what had just happened, you may have struck back. Or you may have collapsed in tears. Or you may have tried to run away, afraid of what would happen next. I can’t begin to know what you actually did, because the range of reactions for spouses that I’ve counseled is so broad that it defies any simple classification.

But it’s very unlikely that you did what I recommend doing—call the police and separate immediately. If there is a visible injury, take photos and go to a hospital for verification. Make sure that the photos and hospital verification are included in the police report. When you are called to testify against your spouse, don’t omit a single detail in your testimony. That’s how seriously I take physical violence in marriage.

Domestic violence is so dangerous that police recognize it as one of the most likely places for them to be accosted and even killed when they when they are called for help. If it’s dangerous for police who are trained for such encounters and armed, imagine how dangerous it is for spouse who is vulnerable and unarmed. My experience counseling victims and perpetrators of domestic violence is that it’s far more dangerous than they think it is.

Many people think that an angry moment, where a spouse loses control and hits their spouse in the heat of an argument, is a common experience in marriage. When it happens for the first times, they think that it’s something that they should be able to forgive and then move on. But it’s much too dangerous to ignore.

Help from Law Enforcement

Since the 1980s, the police and the courts have been much more diligent in arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence. And it has had a very impressive effect: It brought protection to victims of domestic violence as never before and, as a result, there has been a steady decline in instances of domestic violence. The public has finally come to recognize how dangerous it is, and realize that it should be considered a crime, punishable by time in prison. No longer is it seen to be a private matter between a husband and wife.

As I’ve witnessed in case after case, bringing law enforcement into the problem of domestic violence is an essential step in protecting victims and saving marriages. Yes, saving marriages. When a perpetrator of domestic violence faces the choice of time in prison or becoming a safe domestic partner, becoming a safe domestic partner becomes a compelling choice. I’ve tried to help hundreds of violent spouses, and the most success I’ve had in helping them learn to control their temper is when they have already spent time in prison for their violent acts and await even more time if it ever happens again. Without prison time as a threat, there’s much less motivation to change.

The risk of permanent injury or death is so great for a victim of domestic violence that at the very first sign of violence, they should call the police, separate immediately, take photos of the injury, and go to a hospital for verification. Permanent injury or their very life may be at stake if they don’t follow my advice.

Most people who have repeatedly been victims of physical violence can understand the wisdom of taking my advice when it first happens. But for those who experience it for the first time wonder why they should take such a drastic step. They regarded as a terrible mistake that will never happen again.

I recommend a police report and separation at the first sign of physical violence because it’s always dangerous whenever it happens, even when it’s the very first time. And it almost always escalates. That first slap across the face should be a warning that you’re not safe. Unless that warning is heeded with the response I’ve recommended, your abuser will conclude that he or she will be able to get away with it in the future.

You’ll notice that I said “he or she.” Are men at as much risk as women?

My experience as a psychologist who has witnessed hundreds of cases of domestic violence has convinced me that both men and women are equally responsible. But I’ve found that men are far less likely to report their injuries to police, even when sent to a hospital. As a result, people usually have the impression that domestic violence is a problem for men to overcome and they ignore the risk that men have living with a violent woman. I have counseled many couples where it was the wife who seriously injured the husband during a fight. One wife I counseled crushed her husband’s skull with a rock, leaving him permanently brain damaged. So it’s certainly not only the wife who is at risk in a violent relationship.

Resistance to Separate

My advice to separate when in a physically violent relationship is not usually heeded. And there are many reasons that an abused spouse gives as to why they stay.

Some victims of physical violence consider themselves to blame for the abuse—they feel that they deserved to be punished for what they did or said. If they were to avoid upsetting their spouse, or if they had been a better spouse, they would not be at risk. But that argument ignores the fact that nothing done in marriage, even having an affair, deserves a physical attack from a spouse. Those who do not believe that to be true are almost certain to be perpetrators or victims of domestic violence even for the smallest offense.

Some are as violent with their partners as their partners are with them. They don’t want to separate because they hope to eventually even the score. These relationships are particularly dangerous to both partners, inviting permanent injury or even death. Cases of murder-suicide often involve this type of couple.

Some are so emotionally attached to or financially dependent on a violent spouse that they would rather risk the consequences than leave the relationship. They can’t imagine living without the abusive spouse and are willing to subject themselves to violence to stay together. It’s for this reason that many cities have now imposed mandatory penalties for physical abuse, even when the victim refuses to testify against the abuser.

Some don’t think that anyone would believe them. Their spouses have such a good reputation that even mentioning it to closest friends might invite scorn and derision on them. They might also feel that a police report and separation might injure that reputation to such an extent that it could never be restored. Even though they have been physically hurt, they don’t want to hurt their spouses. By protecting them, they don’t realize that the ultimate destruction of their spouses’ reputation would occur when they become permanently disabled or even killed during a single angry outburst. They are enabling their spouses to destroy their reputation for good.

Whatever the reasons spouses give for remaining in a violent relationship, they do not justify the risks that are taken.

When I first counsel a physically abused spouse, they are not usually separated at the time. So my first goal is to motivate them to separate at all costs. Whatever their reasons to stay, I explain that an angry outburst is a moment of temporary insanity. Their spouse becomes clinically paranoid, thinking that they are out to get them, and they need to be punished. They’re so irrational in that moment that the punishment can be almost anything ranging from verbal to physical violence. And it can turn from verbal to physical in a flash.

If I can motivate that spouse to separate and live with a friend or relative, they’re in a much better position to see their danger for what it is. They can reflect objectively on the red flags that have been present in their relationship for quite some time. They can see how they have tried to ignore them, hoping that they would somehow go away. Over time, I’ve been able to help them to create a plan for either a safe return or a divorce.

What is a Safe Return?

As those who work for women’s shelters throughout America realize, trying to keep these women from returning to their abusers before it’s safe to do so is very frustrating. One client that I had referred to a shelter, climbed out her bedroom window at night to meet her abusive boyfriend at a motel where the physical abuse continued. Another that I had sent away in secret for her safety (at my expense), returned to be with her violent husband who greeted her with such a serious beating that it could have killed her. In each of these cases, the woman thought that the man had learned his lesson and would no longer hurt her. And in each case, it was obvious that it would not be a safe return.

My advice to separate immediately after a physical attack, take photos of the injury, go to a hospital for verification, and report it to the police is not designed to end the marriage. Its purpose is to keep the abused spouse safe while the perpetrator has an opportunity to completely overcome his or her angry outbursts. I have seen remarkable and permanent recoveries for those with a violent past when they are treated in effective anger management programs. These programs focus not only on physical abuse, but also on the overarching problem of trying to control another person with abuse. If demands and disrespect are not eliminated along with angry outbursts, I consider the recovery to be temporary at best.

In many cases the violent spouse is not willing to be treated by a professional anger management therapist. So for those marriages, I have recommended a divorce. It’s only when the violent spouse is willing to enroll in such a program that I have encouraged these victims to give their abusive spouses a chance to redeem themselves.

The process of learning how to avoid angry outbursts can take a year or more before safety can be reasonably assured. At first, while the abusive spouse is learning how to avoid angry outbursts, separation is usually mandatory with little or no contact. Then, when the program of anger management seems successful with no instances of demands, disrespect or anger, I recommend a gradual increase in contact. With careful planning, safety can be restored, and the marriage can be saved. But I consider any sign of abuse and control (demands, disrespect, or anger) thereafter on the part of the recovering spouse to be evidence that the marriage is still unsafe, and that separation should be continued until abuse and control is completely eliminated.

For further information on this topic, read chapters 8 and 9, (Angry Outbursts, parts 1 and 2) in my book, Love Busters. I have also written on this topic in the Q&A column, Domestic Violence.

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers’ questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2010 issue, we turned to WebMD’s mental health expert, Patricia Farrell, PhD, to discuss at what point being hit in a relationship counts as abuse.

Q. During an argument last night, my husband hit me for the first time. When it’s just one time, is that physical abuse?

A. It certainly is. Any time one person hits another person, it’s considered assault, which is physical abuse.

You may think this is the first time you’ve been abused, but often other types of abuse precede physically striking out. Think back on your history with your husband. Does he frequently criticize you? Call you names? Prevent you from seeing friends or family? Has he humiliated you in public? Blocked your exit from a room? Denied that his actions are serious — or implied that you’re just being “oversensitive”? All of these actions are emotionally (and verbally) abusive –and each of them can be a precursor to physical abuse.

In addition, according to a number of studies, once a man has been violent, there’s a chance he’ll become violent again — maybe even more violent. That’s why I highly recommend couples therapy (for you and your husband) and individual therapy (for you). But if you at any time feel unsafe, you should leave immediately and notify the authorities.

You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help finding support groups, counseling, and other resources in your area: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

What Happens If Your Boyfriend Slaps You

Last year

On Thanksgiving, I was at the Austin Jail helping someone get out so they could make it back in time to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family. Sitting outside the jail, I saw a young mother crying with her son next to her. When I went down to see the judge, I told the judge how odd it was that there was a woman crying outside the jail with her son. The judge told me,

“Oh yeah, I just read that lady’s husband his legal rights in court. She and her husband were staying at a hotel and arguing in the lobby over whether she could go back to her country to visit her family, but he wouldn’t let her, so he slapped her. And the hotel clerk called the cops. When the cops came, they arrested him for Assault Family Violence. The girl pleaded with the cops to let him go. The cops told her “Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I can’t let your husband go, we were called here on a domestic dispute call, and the hotel clerk confirmed that your husband did indeed slap you. He committed a crime against you and the State, so we have to take him in.”

Why did the husband get arrested even though the wife clearly doesn’t want to press charges?

Because the crime isn’t against the wife, the crime is against the State. Once the husband hit her, they had no choice but to arrest him.

What was the wife doing outside the jail? She was there to sign a statement that she did not want to press charges against her husband, hoping that would get her husband out. Unfortunately, the State believes in cycle of violence—that in most controlling relationships, the girl will forgive the guy for almost anything and doesn’t want the guy to get in trouble, because if the guy’s in jail, they can’t stay together and the guy will blame her for getting him locked up after he gets out.

What’s the only way to get the State to drop the charge?

Set it for trial. This will force the State’s hand—either to dismiss the case or have a trial where their most important witness doesn’t want to testify against her husband. With an uncooperative witness, they have no case. And believe me, the State has plenty of trials every year where they have no case. Normally, the State will dismiss the case the day before trial or the day of trial. They will confirm again that the witness will not be testifying for them, and they will dismiss the case. This is what happens most of the time, and unfortunately is the only way the State’s lawyers dish out justice.

Why is it called Assault Family Violence?

Anything that causes pain to another person is considered an assault. And because the couple was married, that made it assault family violence. “Family” is defined very broadly in the family code to include boyfriend/girlfriend, ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend, lovers, ex-lovers, or anyone in the same household—even roommates.

Why I Feared My Husband Yelling at Me This Morning

We marry our moms, not our dads

Sep 26, 2019 · 6 min read Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I backed our Subaru Legacy slowly out of our two-car garage this morning, but apparently not slowly enough. “Shit!” I cussed, right in front of my teen daughter in the passenger seat, when I realized I had misjudged the small amount of room I had between our big SUV on the left and the garage door’s frame on the right.

The right rearview mirror’s cover popped off and went sailing to the ground. The turn signal’s light dangled by its colorfully-covered wires. The first thing I thought of was my husband David’s reaction.

“Don’t yell at me,” I talk-to-texted him, with our daughter in the passenger’s seat.

I explained that the rear-view mirror damage wasn’t bad and that I’d fix it. I dropped our daughter off at school then immediately took the dogs on a walk. I was giving him time to cool down from any misguided freakout rant. I put physical space between us — since David is home more often now after his layoff — and I didn’t have the buffer zone of an 8-to-5 workday to distract him.

Instead, David kissed me and left for the gym.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe he didn’t get my text message yet.”

I saw him drive away. Then I took a sharp intake of breath when the garage door opened once more.

“He must’ve just read the text,” I mused. “Now he’s coming back to fuss at me.”

“Forgot my headphones,” David said.

“Be careful,” I said.

Later, by the time he made it to the gym, my husband texted me the funny “Body Shops” segment of comedian Sebastian Maniscalco’s Stay Hungry stand-up special that the situation reminded him of:

“Me too! LOL…” I texted back, breathing a big load of anxiety out of me.

David said he thought about Sebastian — and for the first time, he changed his natural reaction.

Sebastian is hilarious. In the routine, he talks about suppressing his desire to yell — like when his wife damaged their car.

Whereas his wife grew up with a mom who remained calm after accidents — noting, “What’s most important is that nobody was hurt…” — Sebastian’s Chicago-area upbringing was a lot different.

His Italian dad yelled at Sebastian for the slightest infraction — such as getting a flat tire on his bike after the young boy didn’t see a nail. Therefore, Sebastian carried screaming into his adulthood and marriage as an acceptable response.

But his wife corrected him effectively after getting a bad dressing-down by her husband.

“I don’t know what this is,” Sebastian’s wife told him after he yelled at her, “but you better fix it.”

Why was I so afraid of being yelled at?

David has yelled at me before. Not as badly as my ex-husband, who would yell at me in front of crowds in the streets of Chicago or the subway system at Atlanta’s airport — it didn’t matter. He took his anger out where he saw fit and apologized 25 years later through Facebook Messenger.

“I’m sorry for everything,” he wrote. I never answered my ex-husband’s message.

My current husband, on the other hand, hollered at me once through my cellphone after a women’s church breakfast I attended ran long. He was at risk of missing his tee-time because he was waiting for me to relieve him at home as a babysitter when our kids were little. I rarely went anywhere, so David arguing at me due to a potential late golf game wasn’t warranted.

And the fact that his voice traveled through my flip phone and echoed through the minivan — loud enough for my friends to hear him yelling at me — made it all the worse.

“You shouldn’t let anyone talk to you like that,” my good girlfriend at the time told me. I hugged her and cried.

As real or perceived arguments go, I knew it would concern so much more than a mere rearview mirror’s cap being popped off. Instead, I feared mounting unexpressed emotions that David has carried since being laid off last week.

Anger is such a socially-valid emotion for men— not hurt, not fear — that I was scared David would use the minor car issue to release his rage. Yet and still, I perceived that my reticence wasn’t about my husband at all. It reminded me of growing up with a yelling mom.

Why we marry our moms, not just our dads

Conventional wisdom claims that women tend to marry men like their dads. However, I’m starting to believe the research my sister read: that we actually tend to marry men more like our moms.

Indeed, Mommy was a funny, spicy, and nurturing lady. I remember how she used to wake us up in the morning by entertaining us with the latest 1970s hit on the radio.

“My name is Squirrel, best shaker in the world…Shake it well…”

But Mommy would also allow her frustrations with Daddy’s drinking and philandering to get the best of her mood every two to three months, like a cycle of bad weather. I could almost time when her niceness and calm were about to give way to a hurricane of emotions. Her rants usually began with the same sing-songy crying confession.

“I’m tired!”

The rant would begin. The litany would last. The screaming would subside. Mommy often yelled at Daddy, one time beating his back with her fists, each blow punctuating her rhetorical question.

“Why! Didn’t! You! Call! Me!”

He hunched over and didn’t hit her in return. Once, Daddy exploded and choked Mommy. My sister called 911. Daddy ripped the phone off the kitchen wall and left.

Mommy yelled at us kids, too. Oddly, she got that loud behavior from her own dad, not her mom. I was misguided into thinking her treatment was normal, and apparently — although I hated hearing her yelling — I took portions of that lifestyle and made it my own.

Ironically, I was the one who emulated Mommy initially. I would yell at David during our first years together. He spoke of how he hated when his dad yelled at his mom.

“Why are you yelling at me?” he asked one day.

It was a question that made me stop on a dime and examine my own behavior. Now I rarely yell at him. Conversely, David adopted a sort of grouchy mood more akin to his dad than his mom — not supremely loud, but frustrating all the same. It found him scowling at a gate agent after we missed a connecting flight.

“Perhaps you two could enjoy a romantic evening at a hotel in town,” the airline worker offered, typing away at her computer to find us accommodations.

I looked at my miffed husband and back at her and laughed.

David, however, saw himself in the hilarious Sebastian — and combined with my pleading text message — decided not to yell at me. After all, when David drove home from happy hour one night and a deer darted in front of his SUV, he entered our garage with a huge hole in the front grill that nearly revealed the engine.

My first words to him when he called me were, “Are you okay? I’m coming where you are!”

I felt no desire to yell at him for not swerving to avoid a leaping deer. I was fully prepared to launch my counter-argument if he would’ve yelled at me. Thankfully, he didn’t. He saw a better way to express his knee-jerk reaction of rage by shooting some hoops at the gym and chilling.

“Daddy didn’t yell at you did he?”

“Nope,” I told my daughter proudly when I picked her up from school. “Thank God.”

Husband yells before he listens


I have to believe that there is more to your husband than this behavior or you wouldn’t be describing him as a “great guy.” From what you shared, he sounds like a man who has you walking on eggshells lest you set him off. He is making you responsible for his immature behavior. But the fact is, you don’t have control of his temper. He does. Apologies are worth the paper they’re written on if they don’t lead to change. It makes sense to me that you are feeling disrespected and resentful. After 100 conversations about the same thing, it’s hard to be up for conversation #101.

The only behavior you can change is your own. If you yell back, cry, defend yourself, or challenge him, it will only keep the argument going. Here’s what you can do to try to break the pattern between you:

During one of your talks, explain how much you hate the fights. Explain that you understand that you have a share in it and that you want to change that. Then tell him that when he yells or gets mad, you will just say something like “I understand that you are upset but I can’t hear when someone yells at me. Let’s take a time out until you get back in control.” Tell him you will then stop talking and will wait patiently or go to another part of the house until he calms down.

When you try this, it’s important that you say and do it calmly and kindly. No sighs. No eye-rolling. No angry looks. It’s just a simple statement of fact. As soon as he calms down, let him know you are pleased and see if you can talk through the problem of the moment rationally. If he gets angry again, just repeat your lines.

A few tips from PairedLife’s website: “Don’t get angry in response. It is not wise to get angry in response to your husband’s anger. If you weather his verbal onslaught and remain relaxed and calm, he will likely be embarrassed about his behavior, reflect on it to correct it, and respect you even more. Think of a time when you were insufferable, but in turn, someone dealt with your emotionally charged state peacefully and professionally. Also, know when to walk away. You need to make difficult decisions if they are called for. If all else fails and your husband is making your life too miserable, the bad outweighs the good, he’s not the man you married, or you just aren’t happy, then you have a difficult choice to make. Reassess the situation and think about whether you stay in the relationship (considering emotional attachment, kids, property, and so forth) or do you make a choice to let bygones be bygones and move on in search for a better quality of life. Remember, an abusive relationship does not serve anyone’s interests. When there’s a lot of anger in the house, everyone suffers: you, your husband, your kids, even your pets.”

Hopefully, this system will help you find a more respectful and loving way to deal with stress and disagreements.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Husband yells before he listens

The following is an exclusive excerpt of Goodbye, Sweet Girl: A Story of Domestic Violence and Survival, a new memoir by Kelly Sundberg (available June 5). Here, Kelly describes how she found herself committing to Caleb — a man she thought was “funny, warm, and supportive” at first. But after the birth of their son, Reed, Caleb revealed a violent and dangerous dark side that, in addition to a lingering depression, was difficult for Kelly to grapple with — until a perceptive therapist helped her understand what was really going on in her own home.


The day the test came back with two blue stripes, I put on my jeans and The Flicks T-shirt — the one with Alfred Hitchcock on the back — and drove to work. The Flicks was an indie movie house, and I worked there with artsy types who had lines of poetry tattooed on their forearms, dyed hair, and Converse sneakers. We wanted to make art. Children were not a part of our collective plan.

That morning I strode through the kitchen — past the assistant manager who was making curried sweet potato soup over the large gas range — stood before the espresso machine, turned the machine on to make a latte, and stopped.

I didn’t know if I could drink coffee. Coffee might be poison now. I listened to the whirring of the espresso grinder, the machine grinding the beans into fragments, and peered at my reflection in the brushed steel. I’m not ready, I mouthed.

We had only been together for five months, and had only seen each other a few times a week.

A couple of weeks earlier, while we were sitting on my couch talking, my boyfriend Caleb’s face suddenly started to flush. He looked down and brushed his hand over his head, which I knew meant he was feeling nervous or insecure. He looked up quickly and blurted out, “Kelly, I want to marry you.”

I sat stunned. It wasn’t a proposal as much as a declaration. We had only been together for five months, and because Caleb lived in the woods, we had only seen each other a few times a week. Twice, he had panicked and disappeared for a week or longer. The first time, I wrote his absence off to jitters. The second time, I called and left a message on his cell phone: “If you are interested in a relationship with me, you will call me today, and you will continue to call me on a regular basis. If not, then this is goodbye.”

The author. Allison Leonard

He called almost immediately, and then showed up at my apartment that evening, his face and posture apologetic. He wasn’t willing to lose me, he said. He knew that now.

Our relationship hadn’t been idyllic or blissful, but in the moment after he had declared he wanted to marry me, all I could remember were the blissful parts. I looked into his wide blue eyes and remembered lying on that beige couch while he played his guitar and sang “Pale Blue Eyes.”

I knew it wasn’t responsible. We barely knew each other. He wanted four kids. He wanted to move back home to West Virginia. These were not things I wanted. But I wanted him.

“Okay,” I blurted back, “but I’m not having four kids. I don’t even know if I want kids.”

He leaned back. “What about two kids?”

I could handle that. It was all theoretical, after all. “Okay,” I said. “Two kids.”

Only two weeks after the proposal, the test came back with two blue stripes. I went to work in the morning but left crying an hour later. I curled up in my bed and wept the entire day. Caleb was out fishing with a friend, but he came as soon as he got my message. He crawled into bed with me, his eyes crushed and vulnerable.

“Let’s have an abortion,” I whispered. “Let’s get married,” he said.

“Let’s have an abortion,” I whispered, pulling my knees into my chest.

“Let’s get married,” he said, smoothing his hand over his head.

“I’m not ready,” I said. “For any of this.”

He looked at me for a long time and then said, “Kelly, I think that if you have an abortion, our relationship won’t survive that. We’ll have to break up. I don’t want that to happen, do you?”

I didn’t want to break up. I felt so connected to him.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll keep the baby.”

“And we can get married? I don’t want my child to be raised without married parents.”

I nodded, but felt no joy. Only fear.


That fall, we moved to Boise. It was a clean little house on a tidy street in an orderly neighborhood with a large fenced yard and a garden. It was the kind of house where a family could be happy.

But we were in a different part of town from our friends, and I grew lonely. I rode my bike through residential neighborhoods to a nearby river trail where I continued the three miles to campus. That bike ride along the calm Boise River was the highlight of my days. While I was on that bike, I felt a freedom that I didn’t feel at home. The heaviness lifted, and sunlight glittered on the water.

By then, the heaviness had become a part of my body. Even sunlight felt heavy. Our son Reed continued to be a joy, but beyond that, I felt so little. As the summer turned to autumn, the sunlight grew heavier and heavier. I could feel its weight on my skin. I did everything that I could to find more energy. I knew that exercise was important, so I would put Reed in the jogging stroller and jog or walk around our neighborhood. I always asked if Caleb wanted to go with me, and he almost always said no. The distance between us was growing, and I was lonelier in that marriage than I had ever been before.

Sometimes I cried when he said no, and he would yell at me, “Quit crying. You want me to do everything with you. You don’t respect my writing time.”

Sometimes I would lie in bed and cry for no reason at all, and he would stand in the door and scream at me, “Quit crying. What are you crying about?” I would only cry more, then, and say, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I just don’t know.”

By then we were arguing more, and I was beginning to feel afraid of him. He would back me into corners while he yelled at me, and I felt so helpless. Once he pushed me against the wall and pinned me. I panicked, lashing out and hitting him in the face.

The wire on his glasses broke, and the lens fell out. He pulled back, the lens in his hand, and I stared in horror. What had I done? I begged him to forgive me, and he did, scooping me into his arms and telling me that it was okay, that he understood.

Reed, who is now 12 years old. Courtesy of Kelly Sundberg

I was so grateful for his forgiveness. He taped his lens back into his glasses, then offered to go for a walk with me. We walked the stroller to the river and took Reed out. Reed toddled to the banks and threw rocks into the water, while Caleb held on to the back of his shirt to keep him from jumping in. As I watched the way that Caleb protected Reed, again, the heaviness lifted, replaced with tenderness. Caleb held my hand on the way home, and when we got home, he put Reed to bed, made me dinner, and then tucked my head into his chest. The loneliness abated. Neither of us was perfect but we shared an intimacy. We were all that we had.

October came, and the light continued to have this quality of intensity and dimness at the same time. I was no longer trying to be happy; I was only trying to be not-depressed.

I took Reed for long walks, and felt myself teetering on a razor’s edge. On one side of that edge was beauty, and on the other side of that edge was despair.

As Reed and I walked alongside the river, I could see into the yards of fancy homes. I wondered what their families were like. Did they, too, feel that something was missing? I finally went to the student health center and told the doctor that I had been feeling depressed. She gave me a depression screening, and after I finished answering the questions, she left the room and then came back. “We cannot let you go on like this,” she said. “Do you think about suicide?”

“Yes,” I answered, “but I would never do it. I only fantasize about it.”

“How often do you fantasize about it?” she asked.

“Every day,” I said.

“How often do you fantasize about ?” she asked. “Every day,” I said.

I left her office with a prescription for Prozac. I wasn’t particularly interested in saving myself, but I hoped that I had finally found the way to save my marriage.

I continued to see my therapist and continued to tell her about how unhappy I was in my marriage. The Prozac had only achieved a manageable state of numbness for me. I wanted her to teach me how to be happy. Occasionally I would bring Caleb in to see her with me, and he would always talk about how critical I was of him, and how frustrated he felt living with me. After one session she gave us an activity: We were to take a week off from criticism. No matter what, we could not criticize each other. The first couple of days were wonderful. I enjoyed not criticizing him. I enjoyed letting things slide.

Soon, though, he was criticizing me. “That’s criticism,” I would say. “Oh wow, you’re right,” he would say, and then we would both laugh. It had become a game for us, but at the end of the week, we both realized that I was not the one in the marriage who was prone to criticism. We went back in to my therapist’s office and sat side by side on the couch. “What did you realize this week?” she asked.

Caleb didn’t pause. “I realized that I am actually very critical of Kelly,” he said, “and that I am too hard on her.” I was so proud of him for being honest with her. I reached over and squeezed his hand.

Kelly’s memoir, Goodbye, Sweet Girl, debuts on June 5. HarpersCollins Publishers

She seemed surprised. “Wow,” she said. “I hadn’t expected that. How did that make you feel, Kelly?”

I paused, and then said, “I was surprised, too, but I feel better now. I think that we’re better now.”

Caleb and I went home that day and congratulated ourselves. We had done what needed to be done. We had gotten therapy. I had started taking medication. We were working on not arguing so much. We were going to be okay. I knew it.

The following week, we fought again, and again I went to see my therapist. She was obviously disappointed to hear that we were still struggling. “When things get that tense,” she said, “you need to go somewhere. You need to exit the situation.”

“But I can’t,” I said. “He won’t let me.”

“What do you mean, he won’t let you?”

“I mean, he will get in front of me, or back me into the corner. Once he even held me to the wall. I panicked and hit him in the face, so that he would let me leave.” She sat back, her face concerned. “Kelly, that is domestic violence. What he is doing to you is domestic violence.”

“Hitting someone to escape is not the same thing as hitting someone to control them,” she said.

I was confused. “But he has never hit me,” I said. “I’m the one who hit him.”

“Yes,” she said, “but hitting someone to escape is not the same thing as hitting someone to control them, and when he is pinning you to the wall or backing you into a corner, then that is physical intimidation, and that is a method of control.It is part of a pattern of violence.”

She reached into her filing cabinet. “I am going to give you this flyer,” she said. “It is for the domestic violence shelter, and I want you to keep it for if you need it.” She pulled out a purple paper and handed it to me.

I stared at the paper. I had no idea what to think. I knew that I wasn’t being abused. He had never hit me, and I was strong. I was independent. I was not someone who would be abused. I tucked the paper into my bag and then rode my bike home.

Kelly and Caleb were married for 10 years, but eventually she was able to leave him. Since then, she’s earned a Ph.D. in creative nonfiction from Ohio University and is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the same university.

If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to

From the book: GOODBYE, SWEET GIRL by Kelly Sundberg. Copyright © 2018 by Kelly Sundberg. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Toddlers and the Hitting Stage


Hi, I attended your session at the Adlerian Conference in Myrtle Beach. It was really great!

I now have a 14-month-old son and recently bought your book Positive Discipline, The First Three Years as he began to really start to show his little personality and I realized wow, I need help! I finished it tonight but still have a question and really wanted your opinion about the issue of hitting. Our son, is a very happy toddler but lately when he gets angry he will hit me and my husband in the face. We have a dog who he just loves so we are always telling him to “pat her gently”. So when he hits us we typically say, in a kind and firm manner, “we touch mommy gently.” Sometimes I add, “mommy touches you gently.” I usually grab his hand to stop him from hitting me. He hasn’t hit any other kids or family members other than me and my husband. I just wanted your opinion about how to handle this. I was trying to relate this to the section in the book on biting. Do you have any helpful suggestions with this issue? Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated.

By the way, I recommend your book to the other moms in my playgroup and they are all enjoying it too!

Thanks so much and have a great day, Lauren


Hi Lauren,

You describe exactly what happened to me when I was taking care of my 18-month-old granddaughter when she went through her hitting stage—and you are doing exactly the right thing. Keep doing what you are doing and it will pass.

I’m including an excerpt from the book Positive Discipline A-Z on hitting. You see my story in the first booster thought. I think you’ll enjoy the format of this book that covers just about every behavior challenge you can think of.

Hitting and Spanking

“I have tried everything I can think of to get my child to stop hitting her little brother. Sometimes she hits me. This really makes me angry. Punishment doesn’t seem to work. I have spanked her and made her say she is sorry, but the next day she is hitting again.”

Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation

How are we ever going to teach our children it is not okay to hurt others when we keep hurting them? We are reminded of a cartoon depicting a mother spanking her child while saying, “I’ll teach you not to hit someone smaller than you.” When children hit, it could be that their feelings are hurt. (Children can feel hurt or frustrated just because they can’t get what they want – now!) You probably feel hurt and frustrated, too, because you want your child to treat others respectfully and may even worry that your child’s behavior is a reflection on you as a parent. Perhaps you are overreacting and treating your child disrespectfully out of shame and embarrassment, trying to prove to the other adults around that you won’t let your child get away with this behavior.

Most likely your child simply doesn’t have the words or skills to get her needs met and lashes out (hits) because she doesn’t know what else to do. Toddlers are short on both language and social skills, and when they play together they can easily become frustrated. When they lack the ability to express what’s wrong in words, hitting and other types of aggression sometimes result. It is developmentally normal for toddlers to hit. It is the parent’s job to supervise and handle toddlers kindly and firmly until they are ready to learn more effective ways to communicate. Kids will grow out of it if they get help (skills training) instead of a model of violence (hitting back).


  1. Take the child by the hand and say, “It is not okay to hit people. I’m sorry you are feeling hurt and upset. You can talk about it or you can hit this pillow, but people aren’t for hitting.”
  2. Help the child deal with the anger.
  3. With children under the age of four, try giving them a hug before removing them from the situation. This models a loving method while showing them that hitting is not okay. Hugging does not reinforce the misbehavior.
  4. You never really know at what age a child begins to understand language. For that reason, use words such as, “Hitting hurts people. Let’s find something else you can do,” even if you think your child can’t understand.
  5. Show children what they can do instead of telling them what not to do. If you have a child that has a pattern of hitting, supervise closely. Every time she starts to hit, gently catch her hand and say, “Touch nicely,” while showing her how to touch nicely.
  6. When your preschooler hits you, decide what you will do instead of trying to control your child. Let her know that every time she hits you, you will put her down and leave the room until she is ready to treat you respectfully. After you have told her this once, follow through without any words. Leave immediately.
  7. Later you might tell your child, “That really hurts” or “That hurts my feelings. If I have done something to hurt your feelings, I would like to know about it so I can apologize. When you are ready, an apology would help me feel better.” Do not demand or force an apology.

Planning Ahead to Prevent Future Problems

  1. When children are pre-verbal, take time for training without expecting that the training will “take hold” until they get older. (Lots of supervision is the main parenting tool for pre-verbal children – along with distraction and redirection.) Help her practice touching family members or animals softly. Show your child how to be gentle and say, “Pat, pat,” or “People are for hugging, not hitting.”(See Booster Thought 2 ) This does not eliminate the need for supervision until she is old enough to understand.
  2. Teach verbal children that feelings are different from actions. Feelings are never bad. They are just feelings. Tell your child that what he feels is okay, but it’s still not okay to hit others, even if he is angry. He can tell someone, “I’m angry because____and I wish ________.” Help children brainstorm ways to deal with feelings that are respectful to themselves and others. One possibility is to tell people what he doesn’t like. Another possibility is for him to leave the scene if he is being treated disrespectfully.
  3. Get your child involved in creating a Positive Time Out area. Teach her that sometimes we need time to calm down until we feel better before doing anything. Don’t send her to time out, but let her know that she can choose her special time-out area any time she thinks it will help her feel better. Sometimes, when she doesn’t want to use her special time out area, ask her if you can use it until you feel better – or create your own and model using it to feel better.
  4. Find ways to encourage your children with unconditional love and by teaching skills that help them feel capable and confident.
  5. Show that hitting is unacceptable by never hitting your child. If you make a mistake and hit your child, use the Three R’s of Recovery to apologize so your child knows hitting is not acceptable for you either.
  6. Look around and see if there are ways you are hurting your child without realizing it. Are you sending your child to his or her room frequently, scolding and criticizing regularly, singling out the child when a problem occurs? If so your child may be feeling really hurt and upset and the hitting is a way to strike back at the world. Be more encouraging and positive and stop the hurtful behaviors and see if you don’t notice a change in the hitting behavior.

Life Skills Children Can Learn

Children can learn that it is not okay to hurt others. Their feelings are not bad and they are not bad people, and they can get help to find actions that are respectful to themselves and to others. They can learn that what they do doesn’t define who they are. They are not a bad child because they hit, but the behavior is unacceptable.

Parenting Pointers

  1. Be aware of the discouraged belief behind the misbehavior. A child who hits usually is operating from the mistaken goal of revenge with the belief, “I don’t feel like I belong and am important and that hurts, so I want to hurt back.” Children will feel encouraged when you respect their feelings and help them act appropriately.
  2. Many people use the biblical admonition “spare the rod and spoil the child” as an excuse for spanking. Biblical scholars tell us the rod was never used to hit the sheep. The rod was a symbol of authority or leadership, and the staff or crook was used to gently prod and guide. Our children definitely need gentle guidance and prodding, but they do not need to be beaten, struck, or humiliated.
  3. Don’t hit your child to show an onlooker that you are a good parent and not going to allow your child to get away with something. Your relationship with your child is much too important for that.

Booster Thoughts

Grandma had the opportunity to take care of her 18-month-old granddaughter for a week while her parents were on vacation. Sage was developing the habit of hitting when she felt frustrated (or, it seemed, just for the fun of it). She would hit her grandma and the dog – sometimes for no apparent reason at all. Grandma watched closely for the hitting to start and would gently grab Sage’s hand and say, “Touch nicely,” while guiding her hand to gently stroke her grandma’s cheek or the dog. Soon Sage would start to hit, but would first look at her grandma who would say, “Touch nicely.” Sage would grin and touch nicely. Within a few days, Sage was touching nicely instead of hitting. (It is much more effective to show children what they can do instead of telling them what not to do.)

He: There are times when it is necessary to spank my children to teach them important lessons. For example, I spank my two-year-old to teach her not to run into the street.

She: After you have spanked your two-year-old to teach her not to run in the street, will you let her play unsupervised by a busy street?

He: Well, no.

She: Why not? If the spanking teaches her not to run into the street, why can’t she play unsupervised by the street? How many times would you need to spank her before you would feel she has learned the lesson well enough?

He: Well, I wouldn’t let her play unsupervised near a busy street until she was six or seven years old.

She: I rest my case. Parents have the responsibility to supervise young children in dangerous situations until children are old enough to handle that situation. All the spanking in the world won’t teach a child until he or she is developmentally ready. Meanwhile you can gently teach. When you take your children to the park, invite them to look up the street and down the street to see if cars are coming and tell you when it is safe to cross the street. Still, still you won’t let them go to the park alone until they are six or seven.

Studies show that approximately 85 percent of all parents of children under twelve years old resort to spanking when frustrated, yet only 8 to 10 percent believe that it is dignified or effective. Sixty-five percent say that they would prefer to teach through positive methods to improve behavior, but they don’t know how. This book shows you how.

For more advice on hitting, watch this video from our friends at Sproutable.

to Learn More About the Sproutable Online Course for Parents of Young Children!

The first time I struck him was during an argument over money. He’d decided to pay off a loan without telling me and we’d gone overdrawn. I was worried and tried to discuss it with him, at which point he left the room. I felt we hadn’t talked it through properly and followed him. The next minute I was hitting him around the head.

I remember losing control and my limbs lashing out. Afterwards he was upset and I cried – I felt scared and ashamed of what I’d done. I apologised and thought it was a one-off, but in fact it was a pattern that carried on for the next 10 years.

I met my husband through mutual friends at Durham University. I was 19 and he was five years older, more worldly and mature. He was less serious, too, and made me laugh. We married five years later. He had a job in IT by then and I started work as a divorce lawyer. The early days of our marriage were steady, but as the stress of my job and responsibilities grew, I took it out on him.

After that first time, it happened again about 18 months later. I felt a surge of rage I couldn’t control. My anger would escalate during arguments over household chores or my husband coming to bed late. I remember feeling I was out of my body, watching myself and telling myself to stop, but I couldn’t. I would hit him hard; hitting to hurt.

One time I picked up a table and crashed it down so hard on the ground that it broke. I left bite marks in his arm a couple of times – it was similar to the way siblings fight, yet he never once struck back. He’d hold up his hands to shield himself, which made me feel even worse.

I know my husband felt emotionally hurt at times – it was upsetting for him to think the person he loved wanted to hurt him – but he never threatened to leave me. He felt there was more to me than this behaviour, and that we still had a strong marriage. I’m a petite woman, a little over eight stone (51kg), and my husband is a big man. Yet he said he didn’t feel emasculated, and that I never physically hurt him. While I exploded, he remained calm. I was thankful, but I was also frustrated that he wasn’t communicating fully with me. I was using violence to get a reaction. I was verbally aggressive, too. I’d make demeaning comments, sarcastic and personal attacks – all the things that erode love. I’d blame him, preach and criticise.

I couldn’t understand why I wanted to be aggressive to someone I loved. I lacked self-awareness. I now realise the anger I felt was to do with stress and low self-esteem. I was packing my life too tightly, working long hours as a lawyer, volunteering at the Citizens Advice bureau and doing soup runs for the homeless. I had what I felt was a privileged upbringing; my family was middle class and I went to private schools. I felt I had an obligation to repay this to society. I thought I should be superhuman and I felt my husband should be, too. To other people I seemed calm and accommodating, a kind of peacemaker. But inside I was pent up and deeply ashamed of myself.

Eventually I accepted something had to change. I’d heard about domestic violence groups, but only for men. I felt my behaviour carried an added stigma – women weren’t expected to be violent, especially high-powered working women who volunteered for charities. Then I found an anger management course on the internet. It was nerve-racking at first, and I knew I’d have to face up to aspects of my life I’d prefer to overlook. Yet the course was a turning point and, by the time it finished, I felt confident I could control myself. Then, two years later, I hit my husband again. I had become complacent, assumed that I’d changed. So when I slapped his face for the last time, I was forced to confront the situation. This time I told my family and friends what had been happening. That they didn’t criticise or judge was a huge help. Soon after I decided to go part-time as a lawyer and a mediator, and now I run a course to help people deal with anger and conflict.

My husband and I are still together, and I’m careful not to choose language that is aggressive. If I ever get angry and feel my heartbeat quicken, I leave the room, but that is rare. I wouldn’t claim our marriage is now perfect, but it’s pretty good. It’s a caring and gentle relationship, which feels like a big achievement for me.

As told to Jill Clark.

• Got an experience you’d like to share with other readers? Email [email protected]

Amanda Platell: A slap is not a marriage breaker

This week I stepped into the minefield of the domestic violence debate – and nearly had my leg blown off. As I discovered through a week of radio and television discussions and the numerous people who just stopped me on the street to comment, there is precious little real debate over this most sensitive of issues.

This week I stepped into the minefield of the domestic violence debate – and nearly had my leg blown off. As I discovered through a week of radio and television discussions and the numerous people who just stopped me on the street to comment, there is precious little real debate over this most sensitive of issues.

Even to countenance the question I raised in my London Evening Standard column on Tuesday – whether some violence was ultimately forgivable within a relationship – became an act of sisterly heresy, a betrayal of women everywhere, which I find most curious. Surely there is a difference between the man who gets drunk each night, or every week, or every month, comes home and uses his wife/partner and his children as a punchbag and the man who loses control very occasionally and hits his partner.

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Yes, I do understand why some women choose to stay with a partner who has hit them. It is horrible but it happens. And I do not mean by that a man who has beaten up a woman and left her in hospital. But I believe there is a huge difference.

If we are able to differentiate between different kinds of homicide, from manslaughter to premeditated murder, then why can we not draw a distinction between a man who ritually brutalises his partner and one who rarely hits out? And why is society’s condemnation the same in both cases?

Domestic violence is no more a black-and-white issue than it is a black-and-blue one. And yet we as a society still cling to the “one strike and you’re out” policy, as I discovered this week.

The trigger for my piece was the rather nasty episode – not the first – involving Leslie Ash and Lee Chapman. Ms Ash spent five days in hospital with a punctured lung and cracked rib after purportedly rough sex during which she fell out of bed. Mr Chapman sounds pretty unpleasant, but for the purposes of this argument I ask you to put aside any feelings of loathing you might have for him. This debate is not about him, nor about violent abusers; it is about domestic situations in which there is an occasional slap.

It emerged from discussions on Jeremy Vine’s Radio 2 show and on Woman’s Hour that the received wisdom is that one cannot and should not differentiate between types or degrees of domestic violence. I disagree. The research is based mostly on the extremes, where the violence is habitual. But at the other end of the scale, there are women who find the occasional lapse of control in their partner a price they can live with, if the rest of the relationship works. It is still an appalling thing to happen in a relationship – the red mark on a woman’s face may fade, but the black mark against his character does not.

I have a friend who is in such a relationship and has been for 21 years, during which she has happily raised three children. She calls it a 95 per cent marriage. If she can live with her partner hitting her in anger once every five years, then who are we to say she should have left? She hates him and he hates himself for doing it, but she can forgive him.

These women – who tell no one about the occasional shaming loss of control – never form a part of research into domestic violence. But again and again, and especially when I did ITV1’s This Morning and argued the toss with their agony aunt Denise Robertson, I felt as though some people believed that even raising this issue was a most heinous crime against all women. As though I were some terrible enabler, an apologist for brutal men, which I am not.

And the double standards applied to men and women are still breathtaking. A man slapping a woman is grounds for divorce, yet how many people seriously apply the same rule to women? And I ask you, how many women reading this have hit their partners and considered it to be an act of domestic violence?

If my column achieves nothing more than to have made one woman who feels pilloried by society for making her own 95 per cent deal with a less than perfect man feel OK about that deal, then the minefield was worth it.