Q&A from "When Men Batter Women"
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 10:34AM
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. in Abuse, Breakups, Divorce, Domestic Violence, Jealousy, Male Female Differences

Wise Readers,

Abusers:  Why are they so hard to leave?  How do they fool cops, courts, counselors, and YOU?  Should we be telling abused women to Get Out Now?  Don’t women abuse men, too?  And what do Love Science readers who have liberated themselves from abuse say? 

Read on!


—Factors That Make It Hard To Leave/Avoid An Abuser—

From Anon:  I Escaped Early, But It’s Easy To See How Others Are Stuck

Thank you for this column, Duana. I was once in a (psychologically) abusive relationship and it felt like a rabbit hole. Luckily, I had never been in that kind of relationship before. The downside of that was that it took several instances of bizarre and controlling behavior by my then-boyfriend for me to realize this wasn’t a “bad day” situation. By the time I came to that realization, things were pretty far along and I could really see how women without the financial means to escape could find themselves between a rock and a hard place. I was fortunate in more ways than one—the unplanned pregnancy that resulted from this relationship was ectopic. I was thus spared the agonizing decision of whether to go forward with what may have been my only chance at motherhood, but with an abusive “father” in the picture in some form or fashion. I know that for many women in an abusive relationship, the chips of fortune fall differently and the relationship likely feels like a prison sentence. Your guidance, and the guidance of others whom I hope will post comments here, will serve as a vital lifeline for escaping that prison and finding freedom.


Duana’s response:

Dear Anon,

Very, very well-said. Thank you for sharing your story. I am relieved that you were able to escape. A couple elements of your story really stand out to me as emblematic of what abused women go through.

First, abused women are often accused of not having had their eyes open early enough in a relationship. As you experienced, though, there can be many reasons a woman is in pretty deep before she’s aware she’s being abused.

A good upbringing/lack of experience with abuse: 
In your case, you didn’t have enough experience with abusive behavior to know what you were looking at until it was quite late in his game. I am going to write an article soon about how to spot signs of an abuser early-on.

Too much experience with abuse:
Ironically, it appears that women who were raised in abusive families are especially likely to become abused later on. Part of that is that Cobras, in particular, often seek out women who have been abused. It’s not clear why that is; perhaps Cobras know they can sell their own tragic stories better to a woman who already has felt the pain, maybe they know they can manipulate a woman better if she’s already been taught that men hit women, or it might be both or yet something else. 

The other side of too much experience is this, though. Women who were abused as girls often think of the experience as normal. As Jacobson found in an 8-year exploration of severely violent men and the wives these men were abusing, the women who came from backgrounds of abuse did not like the abuse—they were miserable and wanted it to end. But these women tended to think abuse, while horrible, was just the way things are.

That’s one reason I wrote so plainly about Denise’s rights not to be abused, and her husband’s many options aside from abusing her. As it happens, there are many abused women who have never heard that message before. Hearing it for the first time often proves to be significant in their eventual liberation.

 —A third reason women can be in too deep and not know it is this: Cobras, especially, often turn the charm way, way up during a very brief courtship. Then, having gotten you where they want you—dependent—the abuse begins. Cobras often *intentionally* wait until it’s too late (so they hope) before showing their true colors.

For instance, JLo starred in a movie about a horribly frightening man who married her on a bet. Only after the wedding did his Cobra nature emerge. Lest anyone think that’s pure Hollywood, Jacobson’s research (and book) reports in great detail about a relationship that went that way—right down to the bet in a bar that started it off.

Yet another way women get into deep abuse unwittingly is by giving a man another chance after he’s become abusive. Martha and Don are also discussed in great detail in Jacobson’s work. Don began hitting Martha during the courtship, but —and this is crucial— *they both believed he would stop after the wedding*.

Key there is that they both believed that. This is typical of Pit Bulls. Pits are not willfully horrible men, usually (unlike Cobras, who are actually sociopaths). A man who believes his own stuff is very persuasive. And once women are in love, it’s even easier for them to believe what their lover says.


Anon, another point you brought up is so important: The role that money plays in abuse.

Whereas Cobras are often actually dependent, economically, on the women they abuse, Pit Bulls very frequently try to limit a woman’s economic freedom (like all her other freedoms) down to nothing.

And there are a lot, lot more Pits in the world than Cobras.

What Cobras are doing is using a woman to get immediate, in-front-of-me-now wants met. He wants dinner? Bring it now. He wants you to shut up about his sexual affairs? Do it now. Etc. The woman with a Cobra could be anyone. He does not care about a specific woman—she’s replaceable as soon as he gets over his rage.

But Pit Bulls are deeply, deeply (if sickly, sickly) attached to their specific partner. Pits are doing something called “mate guarding”—they are protecting their sole sexual access (and hence, paternity assurance) to a specific woman by making sure she has no other options. That’s why they often cut off their wife’s money, social ties, curtail her work outside the home, and keep her under surveillance as if she were literally a prisoner. During Jacobson’s research, for instance, one Pit was actually locking his wife in the house every day when he went to work.

Unsurprisingly, Pits are also the ones most likely to financially abuse their mates by making it impossible —or trying, anyway— for the woman to have enough resources to leave. Pits will intentionally impoverish a woman both before and after the relationship if they can.

And this explains a lot of why women stay much longer than non-abused women and men can fathom. It’s also why women need free help from an abuse specialist as they plan their escape. The specialists are very accustomed to seeing financial control as a means of basic enslavement. And they know ways around it.


Anon, a third point you made is salient to so many abused women’s experiences: The presence of, or desire for, children.

A core aspect of The Dream for many women (abused and not) is that they want children, and they want a good father for their children. This is a valid dream in and of itself, and when I talk about giving up the dream in the article, I am not meaning to imply that there’s anything wrong with the dream.

It’s just that the dream will never come true with an abuser.

I have personally encountered many women who tried to get pregnant repeatedly with a man who was currently abusing them; one left after the man had caused her to lose a full-term baby through his beatings to her stomach. Jacobson’s research found many women whose husbands had punched them in the stomach intentionally to dislodge pregnancies—eight or more pregnancies were lost this way by one woman.

I also have met women—and the research confirms that this is quite common—where the woman did not want to get pregnant, but the husband raped her without condoms specifically so she would get pregnant and would thereby be totally dependent on him.

This is where clinging to The Dream becomes a guaranteed nightmare. Research shows that many women believe that when a man becomes a father, he will become a better partner and person.

The reality never goes that way. Not in the research, not according to those who have spent their lives helping abused women and abusive men, and not in my own observation.

Abusive men usually become even more abusive, verbally and physically and economically, after children. Anything that makes it harder for a woman to leave essentially gives even more control to an abuser, because abusers are by definition all about control through fear. Children become a huge tool in that control.

To wit, abuse specialist Lundy Bancroft gives details about a Pit Bull who intentionally fed the baby spoiled milk to make the child sick when the wife went out of the house for a few hours.

And abusers with children use those children to control their wives even after the wives leave. They may, for instance, intentionally perpetrate sexual abuse on children just to get back at the partner who has left. No wonder women need to plan and time their exit so carefully.

So even though losing the pregnancy was probably a very sad thing for you to lose, it may have been a huge component in your ability to get yourself free quickly rather than slowly.

I wish more abused women knew that…ahead of time.


Anon’s response: 

Thank you, Duana, for your thoughtful responses. Ironically, I ended the relationship so quickly upon realizing he was a psychologically abusive person that it was only after it ended that I learned of the ectopic pregnancy (which I learned of and lost all in one day). After that, the guy discovered I had been pregnant and actually thought this seemed like a valid subject with which to verbally abuse me further.

So yes, I am very confident that not having him in the picture going forward, whether with or without a child, was the best possible outcome, however sad I may have been about the loss of a child independent of his involvement. I also suspect that I was far from the first person he had impregnated and believe he uses that as a way to exert control over people, though I have little beyond my own gut feeling to support that.



—How Abusers Fool Cops, Courts, Counselors, & YOU—

From Patti:  I got away from a Cobra

Wow, I wish I had read this article many years ago. Took me a long time to get the courage to get up and leave my ex husband. A cobra for sure! The first sign of abuse began just six months into our relationship. I still remember like it was yesterday the first time he laid his hands on me. When the police arrived at his door he ran to me and hugged me and whispered how sorry he was and promised to never hit me again. He later told me that he knew to hit me on the head so that the cops would not see any evidence of abuse. I was shocked, he actually knew where to hit me. And the reason he hit me was because I went to a happy hour with co-workers. I knew he was jealous and didn’t want to go but he promised me he was okay with it. After an hour he started paging me, (back in the day) and when I called him back he told me to get home asap! My friends told me not to go because he was very angry. He then paged me and when I called him back he was super sweet and apologized and said he missed me.

I will never forget what happened when I arrived at his front door. As he opened the door he grabbed me from my hair and yanked me into his apartment. (Just like a cobra taking his victim into a hell hole.)   All I could do was scream and eventually a neighbor called the police. I was so stupid for telling the police we were just arguing, while my head was throbbing from a few blows.

As I sit here thinking about that and all the verbal abuse that took place, all the pain and fear has just come back to remind me of the past. BUT, I thank God that I finally put my pride and fear aside and said NO MORE and moved out. Two years later I am at a much better place in my life. Back in school, working, single mother and in church and most importantly at peace and stress free from the cobra who I was finally able to free myself from. Thanks Dr. Welch for this article and for your advice and inspiration. You are truly amazing and I know God put you in my path to see me through such a difficult time in my life. Patti.


Duana’s response: 

Patti, your words speak volumes more than anything I could say. When you recognized your ex as a Cobra, it sounds like you recognized yourself as well—as the future hero of your own life. You escaped! You are amazing. I hope you are patting yourself on the back many, many times. I am so relieved for you and your child that you are out and safe.

Your story really brings out some vital points about abusers. They are fantastic at manipulating not only unsuspecting women like yourself, but also experts who really should know better.

Every resource I consulted acknowledged that abusers excel at the following:

Having a prior history of abusing others:

Your ex’s statement to you that he had hit your head because the police would not see that injury indicates he had a history of violence and abuse against women. Although Cobras are especially likely to have a history of abuse against many people, Pits are also likely to have abused women in the past.

Convincing the police there was no abuse, or that *they* were the abused party; actually, Pits are great at this, too.

To quote from abuse specialist Mr. Lundy Bancroft, “Over the 15 years I have worked with abusive men, I have seen my clients become increasingly shrewd at getting the police and the courts to work on their behalf. Abused women are arrested much more commonly than when I began, as abusers have learned to use their own injuries from a fight to support claims of victimization. I find that the more violent an abusive man is, the more likely he is to come out of a fight with some injuries of his own, as his terrified partner kicks, swings her arms, and scratches in her efforts to get away from him.”

Both Pits and Cobras are also experts at manipulating parole officers, judges and often the people who run mandatory anger management/abuser rehabilitation programs. They also snow counselors in couples therapy.

(By the way, couples therapy is universally acknowledged by the researchers to be A VERY BAD PLAN for dealing with an abusive man. Counselors are trained to maintain neutrality, which by its nature shifts half the blame to the abused woman. DO NOT GO TO COUPLES COUNSELING to deal with abuse.)

Abusers also try to bully their wives into saying the abuser didn’t do it, dropping charges, testifying in his favor, etc. Puh. Leeeze.

No wonder most women have to have help from an abuse specialist to navigate a system that often—and shamefully—is much more supportive of the abusers than the abused.

And no wonder women routinely get snowed by abusers. If they can convince experts, they can manipulate almost anyone.

Patti, again, kudos to you for getting yourself free. I notice you felt so free, you used your name. Welcome to the free world. I hope your story inspires many.



—What About Friends/Community Pillars Who Turn Out To Be Abusers?—

From Carmen: A Close Family Friend (Minister) Was An Abuser: 

Thank you once again for your intelligent, direct, well-researched answer to the problem of Abuse. In an earlier article about Saving Marriage for the Children, you mentioned three *A’s* as deal-breakers…get out, get out, get out. …and Abuse was the first deal-breaker listed. Your article is focused on information about abusers that will help women trapped in this situation to escape safely… and that is the most important information an abused woman can have.

I am fortunate that, as far as I know, there have never been any instances of physical abuse in mine or my husband’s family. But some thoughts came to my mind about the social image of the Abuser. My parents absolutely adored one of the associate pastors at their large church…he led the weekly Bible study for their group. He played the guitar, and his lovely wife sang at some of those meetings. He was open & honest about his background…trailer trash. He was Real…seemed to be, anyway. Great sense of humor.  He visited my dad in the hospital when he was recovering from a heart attack, & when Daddy told him about a bunch of nurses running into the room when his monitor indicated crisis, this pastor chuckled, thanked the Lord that he was OK, then said….well, were any of them good-lookin’? My Daddy loved him, and he loved my Daddy. He preached Daddy’s funeral 6 months later. The church let him go within several months. Evidently, they had worked & worked with him, to no avail…he was a wife-beater. His beautiful wife & daughter had endured their own private hell.

I was reminded of an excellent program I attended in which the woman speaking was addressing the problem of sexual abuse within a family…she said that when she spoke at Rotary or Lions’ Club meetings, she looked out at her audience and knew there was a good possibility that a number of those men were abusers themselves. How much more difficult for a woman to leave, when her husband is a Pillar of the community. Tragic.

You’ve had some pretty serious questions to deal with lately, Dr. Duana.


Duana’s response: 

Carmen, thank you for a moving and compassionate letter at a moment when I needed it. I’ve privately received flack about this topic (more on that later), and women who are actually abused receive it all the time.

If we who are not being abused lack compassion for those who are in its midst, abusers get what they want:

a partner who is isolated from those who could tell her she deserves better and a woman who has not got the friends to stand by her during the typically very long process of liberation.

Many abused women are married to men who are *in* the system—men who are on the police force, or who are judges, or pastors. Do most of these professionals abuse women? No. But many abusers find positions of power to be an excellent vantage point from which to utterly control others. Which is, after all, the point of abuse.

You make another necessary point. For abuse to end on a large scale, the single most important thing that has to happen is that we *must* not make excuses for our friends, our cousins, our brothers, our sons. Abusers do not respond to counseling, abuse treatment programs, etc.; what stops them is criminal sanctions (spending time in jail) and social sanctions (having the whole world turn against them and having things finally quit going their way).

When women say they have been abused, they usually have a storyline ten miles long in support of it. But the abuser’s familiars don’t want to hear it—they usually say “Oh, no, you’re much too nice a man to have done that. She’s a lying bitch.” They never even get her side of the story.

This failure to close ranks against an abuser is considered to be the single-biggest societal thing perpetuating the abuse. Being silent or being complacent equate permissiveness from an abuser’s perspective.

Thank you for becoming part of the solution by seeing an abuser for what he was, even if he was charming and in a position of power and trust.



—But Women Abuse Men, Too—Right???—


Dear Carmen,

I also want to thank you for your words of compassion towards the abused for another reason. One of the first things many people think when they hear about men who abuse women is this: “Well, women abuse men, too.”

Many people wrote me publicly and privately on that issue as I prepared this article. I researched a response, and here it is:


Wise Readers,

I can easily understand how you could wonder whether this article should acknowledge both sexes as batterers and abusers. In fact, I used to think that women were probably as abusive as men. Or, if not as abusive, then at least in the same ballpark. Or if not in the same ballpark, someplace in the same city.

But the answer to that is as succinct as my response to Denise about whether abuse ends on its own: No. 
Here’s why.

Abuse Is Distinct From Violence:

“Countless clients of mine claim self-defense as an excuse, but then they admit that they were not frightened or injured by their partners nor was the woman able to successfully control their movements or keep them from saying whatever they wanted. It’s payback, not self-defense. Among the two thousand clients I have had, I can think of only one who genuinely had a problem with serious violence on his wife’s part that was not a reaction to violence, and even he was not especially afraid of her.” —Mr. Lundy Bancroft, abuse specialist and author of “Why Does He Do That: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men”

Whereas women sometimes behave violently, they rarely behave abusively. That is because there is a huge distinction between violence and abuse.

Abuse is violence with a purpose, and that purpose is to keep another human under the abuser’s control through creation of fear and intimidation. Although some women do some very wrong things, their behavior very rarely meets this standard, because the systematic and wholehearted attempt to control another person with fear is rarely encountered in female behavior.

For instance, hitting back (a common female maneuver) is violent, but it is intended self-protectively and not to create terror on an on-going basis. Being critical and even contemptuous happens a lot from women in unhappy but non-violent relationships—but the research-established purpose of women’s carping is to complain and lobby for better treatment, not to use fear and terror to control and harm another being.

On the other hand, verbally degrading a person with “You stupid, stupid slut—nobody will want you once I’m done with you”; saying “I’ll probably use this gun on you one day;” following someone everywhere with the threat of physical and verbal assault looming should even a mile on that odometer prove unaccounted-for; and slapping the person who merely asked if you could lower the TV volume; doling out only the exact amount of cash needed to buy food and pay bills—all are acts that are intended to establish utter control through the terror and hopelessness these acts inspire. These acts are almost solely perpetrated by men.


Attitudes, Attitudes:

Abuses (sexual, financial, physical and verbal) are not committed by most men. But most abusive acts are committed by men, not women.

A major reason for this is that abusers have a very reliable attitude towards women—one women very rarely share about men.

Both kinds of abusive men –Cobras and Pits—tend to think women should have no voice—that men are set above women, men are the ultimate deciders, and men are or should be shamed by taking female perspectives into account. Many of these men believe a woman has no right to object to what men do, and no right to control her own life (including a belief that *his* woman has no right to determine whether or not he is even in her life at all).

That attitude of not just male superiority, but deserved female degredation, is mirrored with such extreme rarity by women, scientists haven’t been able to find women who feel this way about men. It’s hard to find women who feel wholly justified in subjugating men based on the contrary belief that women should be the only ones heard, and that allowing a man any input is contrary to femaleness. Indeed, longitudinal research shows that women in all kinds of marriages—even the abused women— tend to take men’s voice very much into account (“accepting influence”, it’s called in the literature). The only men who accept their wife’s influence are the happy husbands.

But unhappy husbands, and particularly abusive men, really see not only a lack of need to take women’s perspective into account—they see women’s input as an affront to their masculinity.


Sexual Jealousy:

There is no society where the top threat to male life is female aggression. However, everywhere in the world, women are most likely to be killed by a man they know: their intimate partner. In fact, women are more likely to be killed by their husbands or boyfriends than by all other types of perpetrators combined.

The top reason women are murdered around the world is that a Pit Bull-style man gradually escalates violence against his wife or former wife until finally, he kills her. These killings are motivated by sexual jealousy that, although usually baseless, feels very real to the perpetrator.

Although women get jealous of their boyfriends and husbands, too (and in fact, cheating on women is a common form of degradation abusers employ), data globally concur that women’s jealousy rarely results in attempts to gain total control of their mate’s activities, or to create such fear that a man lives in terror of his own safety.

(See David Buss’ books for why women and men react so differently to jealousy, or ask me about it later in this thread.)


Fear For Safety; Restriction Of Freedoms:

In my 15 years as a professor and my two years as Love Scientist, I have never once—not once—been approached by a man who feared for his safety and restricted his freedoms due to acts of abuse a female partner had threatened and committed, nor to verbal abuse she employed as reminders of the bodily harm she could inflict if she so chose.

Nor have I heard from any men whose movements are being controlled by a woman holding the purse-strings so tightly he cannot purchase a tank of gas, let alone a ticket out of hell.

I’ve watched and I hope helped as many women safely left abusive men, and I’ve helped men leave abusive men, too.

It’s not that men who are battered just can’t bring themselves to discuss it; it’s that (and research backs it up) men are rarely abused.

Men have written and consulted me about other troubles that strike hard at male pride, including: having a too-small penis, being sexually cheated on, being poor, having to live with his mother, feeling unmasculine because his wife was the bread-winner, and feeling ashamed that his wife was mean-spirited in front of his friends.

But never have I had a man come to me and say, as one woman said of her husband years ago: “I ran away after my husband strangled my dogs in front of me, and told me I was next.”


Indeed I have to say the power of the situation is the unfortunate reality abused women face. Dr. Welch and I discussed how the key component of abuse is constituted in the concept of manipulation. Although Dr. Welch and I have different semantics about abuse she is right “Abuse is violence with a purpose: to control another person through fear and intimidation.” I would add manipulate to the definition i.e. to control/manipulate another person through fear and intimidation. Men who always say well my wife is abusive to me because…one time she shoved back. are wrong. In the first place 

if you are doing something that is causing your wife to shove back, it is in self-defense. They were not the provokers they were the victims so don’t think just cuz once or twice your wife has slapped you that she is abusive.


Tom’s response:


Well, there you have it. Abundant and accepted evidence that men are the only monsters. And I say that without irony.

The definition given here for “abuse” is sharp-edged and useful. It is appropriate to describe the situation where a monstrous man controls a woman. I accept it.

I have experienced being *misused* at the hands of a female spouse, but I have never claimed, nor felt like, I was abused by my spouse. I have been afraid of the consequences of things my spouse has said and done, but never afraid of my spouse’s physical threat. There will have to be a different, and less monstrous, article to discuss the dysfunctional female spouse and her impact on her partner. Less urgent topic, I am sure many will say.

My personal opinion as a man is that men know already that other men are the monsters in our world. Explains why most of us don’t want to be incarcerated. Explains why many of us arm ourselves for home protection. Explains why many of us feel that it is noble to serve in the military or law enforcement.

Most of this article made me feel nauseous. But not because I fear something inside myself as a man. Because I feel the revulsion with which so many women view the men in their surroundings and the realization that we are all viewed as suspects, or at the very least as defective by nature. We are NOT defective by nature. We have a purpose in nature that can become perverted by cruelty of thought.

As I said, men realize that other men comprise the monsters in this world. Most of us even deal with a “weaker form” of that dominance trend every day, in our workaday world. Believe me when I say that I have been manipulated as thoroughly, and felt as insecure for my ongoing income and family’s welfare, at the hands of individuals who lead a typical business entity. It doesn’t take a large stretch to see that the physical violence of men against other men works on the same principles, only magnified. Man is wolf to man, I’ve heard it said. Meaning, strong and rapacious is wolf to weak, well-meaning, and unarmed.

Learning to recognize a threat, learning to defend, learning to *fight back* and resolving to be free are the only answers for women and men alike. This is not a solely women-vs.-men problem.


Duana’s response: 

Tom, I have felt downtrodden the entire time I’ve prepared for this article. One reason is that I genuinely like men and I know this article makes men sound like monsters. I offer, again, that while most of the monsters are men, the vast majority of the men are not monsters.

Among those men who are indeed monsters, most of them don’t know it. The Pit Bulls, especially, believe that they are only responding to real threats of sexual infidelity or abandonment, and preventing those threats from materializing.

While they’ve made sure the infidelity part won’t occur, the irony is that the sheer volume of emotional abuse Pits dish out (much, much more constant than Cobras) ensures that they will be left just as they feared they would. Research has shown that women find the emotional abuse the most awful aspect to contend with. And so, it’s the Pits’ emotional abuse combined with constant vigilance that ultimately drives away the one person they had hoped to retain forever. Women leave Pits a lot more readily than they leave Cobras, even though the Pits are more dangerous for years following what they interpret as unjustified abandonment. Women just cannot take the psychological strain; The Dream dies, and the women leave.

The reason for the article is not to degrade men, but to support women who are living with a terrifying reality. I thank you and all the others who have written in, for supporting that goal.


Carmen’s response: 

Duana, do I have permission to respond to Tom? Thank you, Tom, thank you for your incredible insight!! You acknowledge & recognize your gender’s ability to contol & manipulate his mate…but you also point to the other side of this tragedy…that women can destroy and emasculate men psychologically. A woman with Borderline Personality Disorder can strip any man of his self-esteem, one little piece at a time…and very subtly. My family has WAY too much experience with this destructive behavior. Although Dr. Duana’s column addresses physical abuse, we need to remember there are many forms of abuse in a relationship. Again, Thank You for your insights.


Duana’s response:

Carmen, while your post is valid for BPD, I have to point out an area of difference. Most mentally ill people do not behave in ways that actually meet the criteria of abuse, as thoroughly detailed above. That is, even if the person behaves irrationally, selfishly, etc., they typically do not terrify their mate in a planned, systematic way. Frankly, they’re often not self-controlled or rational enough to carry it off; the major exception to that is people with APD (antisocial personality disorder)—which has long been debated as a failure of values rather than sanity.

And mentally ill abusers continue to abuse their mate even after the treatment of the illness (where treatable).

The reason I wanted to speak to that is that abusers are only rarely found to be mentally ill. Indeed, they often plan their abuses well in advance. To wit, it’s long been assumed that alcohol and drug abuse/addiction cause the abuse of a mate. Those things are often associated. However, Neil Jacobson found that men often drink *for the purpose of having an excuse*—they drink, then commit abuses planned from before the first sip. And then, of course, there’s the fact that a lot of drinkers and druggers don’t abuse anyone—just a substance.

So while you are of course right that women can be horrid to live with, the point still stands that they almost never meet criteria for abusiveness. And abusers are not usually crazy. And crazy people are not usually abusive.


—Should We Use The Word “Monsters” To Describe Abusers?—

Duana’s response (again) to Tom: 

Abuse is a choice. The majority of men do not choose to be abusive.

The majority of abusive men tend to try to back away from both of those statements.

Although abusers often indicate that their *partner’s* behavior “made me do it”, the reality is that other men with similar partners and similar histories and similar rates of drug and alcohol use and similar life stresses are not abusing their mates. Abuse is a choice.

Also, one way abusers rationalize their behavior is through normalizing it—the old “everyone does it” trick. But not everyone does it. Not by a long shot. Abuse is an aberration.

One correction you and I both might (or might not) think of making is eliminating the word “monsters” when discussing abusers. Abusers are human beings, however much I dislike their monstrous behavior.

And monster-izing them makes them seem somehow as if they don’t walk among us as perfectly normal-seeming people. Yet most abusers do indeed seem normal—charming, even. Calling them monsters just might make it easier for them to hide, when what’s needed is to understand that they are right there in the open in need of our collective NO.

Just a thought.

Tom’s response:

Had to do a little research to supplement the original thoughts ;-)

Definition of MONSTER
1a : an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure b : one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character 
2: a threatening force 
3a : an animal of strange or terrifying shape b : one unusually large for its kind 
4: something monstrous; especially : a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty 
5: one that is highly successful (“a monster hit record”)

These ways of using the term “monster” actually are pretty appropriate to the topic at hand. Duana has proposed that calling an abuser a “monster” might imply that they are easily recognizable, or consistently horrible, when in reality an abuser is seldom either. Your point is well taken.

My use of the word would be more like 1b, 2, 3a, 4 and maybe even 5.

Just as I accept Duana’s more precise definition of “abuser” to identify the specific problem of men who hurt women to control them, I want to speak of monsters as people who have the ability and intent to threaten, terrify and harm other people for their own aggrandizement. Nothing about that implies that they are going to be easily recognized in public, or that they will be consistently terrible. These monsters are shape-shifters. Just that they can summon it up *at all* is terrible enough, and to use it for selfish ends makes it unethical.

I don’t know if Martin Luther originated the term, but I believe he spoke often about being “simultaneously saint and sinner”, and I think that describes the human condition. It may be just me, but I no longer expect to be able to recognize a saint by sight, and I remain on guard for monsters even when their outer form is fair indeed.

My plea is that we do like Jessica said … that we choose not to allow another person to ever, ever treat us this way because we recognize our own true value. If we fall prey to someone (whether innocently or just mistakenly), we still always retain our rights and do not deserve the abuse perpetrated upon us. Then we choose the time and method of our liberation. Just as the good Doctor said ;-)

Duana’s response:

Tom, beautifully and truly well-said. You’ve made a clear and compelling case to keep the word “monster”, and I can’t think of anything to add for once ;).

Tom’s response:

I’m speechless at that ;-)


—Why Blaming Abused Women For Staying Too Long May Endanger Their Lives—

From Anonymous: 

Indeed I have to say the power of the situation is the unfortunate reality abused women face. Dr. Welch and I discussed how the key component of abuse is constituted in the concept of manipulation. Although Dr. Welch and I have different semantics about abuse she is right “Abuse is violence with a purpose: to control another person through fear and intimidation.” I would add manipulate to the definition i.e. to control/manipulate another person through fear and intimidation. Men who always say well my wife is abusive to me because…one time she shoved back. are wrong. In the first place if you are doing something that is causing your wife to shove back, it is in self-defense. They were not the provokers they were the victims so don’t think just cuz once or twice your wife has slapped you that she is abusive.

Duana’s response:


I don’t know who you are, but I can tell from your use of the phrase “power of the situation” that you have been a student of mine. May I say I am thrilled that you remember that? :)

Also, I think all the scientists whose work I’ve read would agree with you that manipulation is key to abuse. It’s a method or class of methods of establishing and maintaining control.

Your mention of that brings me to something I really want to cover here: the prevalence of blaming women for staying in abusive relationships.

Although the data show that most women actually do leave their abuser when the time is right for them, I’ve had a bit of feedback (privately, from men and women in about equal numbers) that maybe I should have told Denise to leave Right This Minute.

The thought seems to be that women who aren’t leaving as soon as we all think they should are participating in their own abuse by allowing it to occur.

I cannot tell you how dispiriting it is to read such things. When well-meaning, intelligent people fail to understand that only the abused woman can take in the totality of her situation and make the safest choice of departure time—well, that tells me something of the lack of emotional support abused women get in the world.

Even another abused woman cannot know the right timing for someone else. Each woman’s situation is unique, and it’s empirically established that the women who get out safely are the ones who choose their own timing rather than being browbeaten into accepting someone else’s timeframe.

Women who get out alive do it smart—and smart means they use everything they know about the abuser, including how violent he’s going to be to them and their kids and their pets, to construct a safe plan. It also means that they establish some level of cash, if at all possible, to exit without being utterly impoverished or thrown into just as much desperation as they’ve just left.

As one prominent writer and scientist on the subject put it, the abuser tells women what to think and when to do something—so a supporter needs to help her think for herself and do what the abused woman knows for herself, when she is ready.

But my real frustration is with myself. How many times have I told a woman to move on *now* when she wasn’t ready in any sense? Too, too many. I probably alienated a lot of women I could have helped, and now I cannot even tell them individually that I’m sorry.

Women Who Have Turned To Me In The Past: If I told you you had to leave right that minute…if I reduced my support when you talked to me but you didn’t act at the time…if I did not understand or try to understand the finer points of your situation and the importance of your own resourcefulness in finding your safe exit—I am sorry.

I hope you find a world that is more understanding and compassionate as you move forward with your lives.


Joan’s response:

A couple years ago, my job required me to write on this very topic for an online course. I am by no means an expert, but I did do a ton of research ….And it kept me down and depressed for about a month. 

I learned many things, but 2 things in particular stuck with me: 
1. In most households where a partner is abused, the children are abused, too
Even if the children are not abused physically, they suffer deep trauma by witnessing a parent being hit, attacked, etc. “Will Mommy be able to take care of me?” Every man, woman, and child has the right to safety, and to live in a place where they feel no threats. 

Verbal abuse may accompany physical abuse, or it is entirely lethal on its own. Again, the abuse affects not only its direct victim, but also the children. In extreme cases, a child may begin mimicking the abusive parent’s behavior against the other parent. For example, a young boy may begin calling Mommy a bitch because Daddy does it. The boy mimics his father as a role model and believes that how Daddy acts is how men are supposed to behave. 

In situations of verbal abuse, the children will begin to internalize the criticism of a parent as criticism of themselves. This is because a child’s self-image is formed by the image he carries of both parents. Basically the child sees himself as part Mommy and part Daddy. If Mommy is a “stupid bitch” and Daddy is a “worthless asshole,” then the child internalizes that a part of him is, too. As researcher M. Gary Neuman put it, “Any barb of criticism about the other parent goes right to the child’s heart.“ 

Through the years, the pounding of verbal abuse anywhere in the household eats away at the child’s esteem. We may think that children become accustomed to it, or that they are not affected by it, but actually they are worn down by it. A child’s low self-image may manifest later in life in any number of ways from depression, to violence, promiscuity, drugs, and crime. 

2. Abused women need our love and support, not our judgment
It’s easy to say to the abused person (from the safety of our own homes): You. Should. Just. Leave. 
And then if they don’t, to berate them, blame them, become exasperated with them, or completely abandon them. We need to understand that people who are abused need to leave, but they need to leave on their own terms and timetable, not ours. No one knows the situation better than they do, and it may take time to put together a plan that will stick. Not every situation is the same, and leaving recklessly can get the abused person killed. Statistics confirm again and again that the most dangerous time period is the immediate 24-48 hours after the abused person leaves

One of my favorite websites was put together by the State of New York, Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. It speaks to the issue of Safety Planning and Risk Assessment. Risk Assessment is when you decide if taking a specific action will make things better or worse. Leaving only makes sense to a woman when it reduces the risks to her and her children.
As one survivor of domestic violence said on the Website: “Don’t doubt yourself!!! If it makes sense to you, it could make you safe.” This underscores exactly what Duana wrote, i.e., that women should leave their abusers, they should get help from a hotline or specialist in making a safety plan and assessing their risks, but they should trust their own intuition for the timetable.

Granted, as their friends, this can be hard for us to watch. 

However, the NY office has studied this much more than I have. And if they have confidence in the victim’s ability to make the right move at the right time …and they actually encourage her to trust her own gut … then so do I. 

As the NY Website puts it: “Every situation is different. Only YOU can decide what’s best for you.”


—In Their Words:  Women Who Escaped Abuse—

From Erica: I Escaped Abuse And You Can, Too.

Dear Denise,
While reading your letter to Dr. Welch I cried; I cried because I understand what you’re going through, because it brought back horrible memories, and because I want you to realize your worth.

It took me several years to leave my abusive fiance. I had “the dream”. I wanted to love him enough to fix him, I thought I could change him. I thought the alcohol was to blame. It seems mighty strange to me now that I would be so blind. 

I’m not much of a writer, but I’d like to share my experience: He was my high school sweetheart. He made me stop talking to all my male friends and most of my girlfriends pretty quick into our relationship. He had to know where I was at all times. After about a year of that he started hitting me. He would bite my back until I bled, drag me by my hair, choke me, and hit me for things like changing the radio station. I started distancing myself from my family because I didn’t want them to see my bruises. I went to work with a busted lip pretty often.

Here is what I want you to know, it didn’t start that way; it wasn’t “that bad” in the beginning. I did leave him a couple of times, but I managed to take him back after he got down on his knees, cried, and pleaded. I know how crazy this sounds! I never thought that I’d be one of “those weak abused women”. Then when I was 21 I had a child with him. During my pregnancy he cheated on me and slapped me a few times, but he didn’t do anything as bad as he had before. Eventually, after our son was born, he stopped hitting altogether. However, his verbal abuse increased tremendously!

Why did I leave him? Because I refused to have my son grow up watching his mother be abused. When my son turned 1 my heart and mind just changed. The only way I can explain my long overdue change is to say that I fell in love with my son and began to love myself again. I pledged to him that I would be the best person I could be for him, I would be the best mom and role model, I would teach him how to respect people, care, and have compassion.
I’m a survivor!

PS:  My son’s father is incredibly funny and can be really charming. He is very manipulative. When I was 19 he hit me in my apartment parking lot causing me to fall and then he kept pushing me down so I couldn’t get up for a couple of minutes. A nearby neighbor called the cops and he was arrested. To this day he says that I should have gone to court to defend him and make sure that he didn’t get a Family Violence charge. His rationale: he had done much worse than that, so he shouldn’t have gone to jail over that incident. He is a real piece of work!

Dr. Welch,
Thank you for all your research. I continue to learn from you!


Duana’s response: 

Erica, your story is so powerful and emblematic of so many aspects of life before and during abuse—the honeymoon before the slow descent into hell; The Dream; the hopes that somehow things will eventually return to the goodness that was; and finally, the “last-straw incident” or the epiphany where you realize this must end and you are going to end it by leaving.

I love these words of yours the most: “The only way I can explain my long overdue change is to say that I fell in love with my son and began to love myself again. I pledged to him that I would be the best person I could be for him, I would be the best mom and role model, I would teach him how to respect people, care, and have compassion.
I’m a survivor!”

Yes you certainly are. You’ve changed at least two lives already—yours and your son’s—and you’ve probably changed the storyline for your descendants from this point forward. I hope your story inspires others towards liberation and release, too.

Thank you again for sharing your story.

My respect for you is immense.


From Jessica:  I Left, & Nobody Will Ever Treat Me Badly Again

Absolutely love this article. Unfortunately its hits uncomfortably close to home for me as well. My ex was definitely a cobra, and it was very hard to give him up, but eventually the time came when I had to, and I did. I have been successful in moving forward and finding a new happiness without him. It was not easy, but it was possible. You have to want to do it for yourself. I am absolutely amazed at how much my perspective has changed, and I will never ever let anyone treat me so terrible ever again. Good Luck, and Best Wishes!

Duana’s response:  Why Cobras Are Especially Hard To Give Up: 

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for telling what happened to you; I am relieved you escaped, and grateful that you are telling others so they can be inspired through you.

It sounds like you might have some guilt about “letting” a Cobra have his way with you. I would like to present some information that might help you and others to understand why it could have been very tough, emotionally, for you to make the decision to leave—other than The Dream and Fear.

Every abuse specialist and scientist in this field acknowledges the reality of traumatic bonding—a process where an intimate partner can become more attached if they experience both pleasure and pain rather than only pleasure. Much like Stockholm syndrome, where hostages become enamored of their captors, traumatic bonding results in a very deep attachment on the part of the abused to the abuser.

Cobras in particular are amazingly adept at creating the traumatic bond. For one thing, they tend to be more violent than Pits—there’s more trauma to bond over. For another, Pits stink at creating the bond because Pits excel at creating such a stifling atmosphere of emotional abuse coupled with constant vigilance and demands for attention that their partners get plain worn-out. Cobras may strike with tremendous ferocity, but they don’t strike every damn minute the way a Pit will.

The upshot is that women seem to leave Pits more readily than Cobras. During Jacobson’s 8-year research that followed couples where the abuser was a Cobra, few women left the Cobra, whereas Pits were left at a rate of 38% in the first couple of years alone.

The irony, of course, is that Cobras can readily do without you. Women are all alike, interchangeable service providers/slaves in a Cobra’s eyes. But Pits really, really are focused just on you you you you you (albeit still on having a service provider/slave—just a really specific one). But since women hate the constant emotional abuse and vigilance even more than the physical violence, and Pits are the more constant in their vigilance and verbal abuse, women leave Pits sooner.

Again, thank you so much for your inspiring words. Kudos to you for reclaiming your own life.

Tom’s response: 

I wanted to call out what Jessica said for special appreciation.

“It was not easy, but it was possible.

You have to want to do it for yourself.

I am absolutely amazed at how much my perspective has changed, and I will never ever let anyone treat me so terrible ever again.”

Thank you for saying this. You did so well by marshaling your strength and valuing yourself enough to resist being subjugated.

This is exactly how you and I and all of us have to fight monsters.


From Amy:  My Ex Did 8 Years In Prison—Now He’s Out Again

Dear Duana,
I love this article. I was in a very abusive marriage for 7 years. He was an alcoholic and started using drugs. I was alienated from friends, family and any type of social gathering. I always thought that “if only I could show him how much I love him, then he will stop.” It never did, the violence and verbal abuse just got worse.

I was so degraded that it has taken years to get any self-esteem back that he stole away. I lived in fear for several years always wondering what I did or what I could do to make the situation better. I carried the guilt of being a bad wife, mother and lover around with me for a very long time. It wasn’t until I started working at a warehouse that a couple of friends started telling me that I didn’t deserve it and I could do better. They told me this over and over and deep down I knew it was true.

So one day he came home after a 3 day drug binge and I stood at the door and told him that it was over and he needed to leave. It was the hardest thing to do to stand there and be that brave to someone that beat me down both physically and mentally for years.

Then the stalking came. He was ok at first and kinda left me alone. He started showing up at my school, my house, and where I was working. He threw a tire through the bedroom window, hung out in my attic, turned all the breakers off in the breaker panel. He drove his truck through the front yard and other stuff.

One day he called and said he was on his way, I said come on. I called the cops, they got there before he did. While waiting he called and started arguing and the cops heard him say that he was going to kill me. Well he finally gets to our street, leaves his truck running, goes to the corner store and calls. He wants to know why the cops are at the house, I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said ok well come get me I am around the corner. I went outside told the detective where he was and they went and arrested him. While they were putting him in the car he says ” That’s alright because when I get out I’m still going to kill the B&*^#!”

Well I pressed charges on him and he did 8 yrs. He was charged with terrorist threats, aggravated assault with bodily injury, and stalking. I could not sleep for 6 months after, and I constantly looked over my shoulders for about a yr.

Well he was released this month and as of right now I have not heard from him. I am hoping that he will leave the state. He went ahead and did the whole sentence so he would not be on parole. I am able to have a restraining order for a yr after his release. This experience was horrible for me and I had to relive it quite frequently while he was in prison. It took me a long time to get back to a relatively normal mindset and life. Like I said for the whole time while I was being abused I thought it was my fault and I thought that things would get better if only I loved him more because he too had a horrible childhood. Your article was great and even made me shed a tear, Thank you.


Duana’s response:

Dear, Brave Amy—
Your letter tore at my heart, and I hope that this time, the monstrous behavior you left is over. I think it probably is, but listen to your intuition about it. You are still and always will be the expert on your ex and his potential for violence.

I’m not too worried for you, though, because the best predictor of the future is the past, and in your past, you prevailed against this man. You gave up The Dream and pressed charges against an abuser who must have been terrifying to take to court.

Researchers and abuse specialists would applaud your decision to press charges for at least two reasons:

There is every reason to treat abusers exactly the same way, crime-wise, that we would treat a stranger who broke into your home and beat and terrorized you.

No, actually, there’s *more* reason to criminalize the act with abusers. They are many times more likely to actually kill the woman than a stranger would be. Thanks to your persistence and tenacity and intelligence and will, you are now safe—and you kept other women safe, too, the entire time your ex was imprisoned.

Abusers rarely stop physical violence altogether until there is a very serious consequence, usually one which involves losing their freedom via doing jail time. Counseling, men’s groups, anger management, etc. are *useless* per much good science. Such programs (especially couples counseling, which tries to be neutral and therefore conveys that the woman is somehow to blame) often give the abuser the sense that he’s gotten away with abusing, and that nothing will really be done to stop him.

In effect, anything short of criminalizing abusive behavior *empowers* the abuser to keep abusing.

As an aside, a restraining order can be a good or bad thing, depending on the abuser. Your ex sounds like the kind unlikely to obey one, but maybe prison has taught him to move on to a new target or to keep his criminal values and behaviors to himself lest he land in prison again.

White-collar abusers often obey restraining orders—or when they break the restraining order once and get police attention as a consequence, the white-collar abuser usually reins in his monstrous behavior and obeys the order. Again, though, it’s a piece of paper, and only you can predict whether that piece of paper will help or hurt to get you where you need to be: Safe.

Amy, thank you for sharing your journey out of the abuse. You’re heroic. I wish total safety, peace and healing for you and your children.



—How Can Abusive Relationships Be Prevented Altogether, Before We’re In Too Deep?—

From Kim: 

I’ve mostly had good luck with men, but twice I got away from men who I learned later were abusers. Both of them seemed nice until I left. After the breakup, the first guy threatened and stalked me to where I got a restraining order and then that only made him stalk me more, so I got his boss to say he would fire the guy, and then the guy left me alone. The second guy didn’t threaten me, but I learned he had been jailed for beating his ex, and he hits the woman he married after we broke up. I know it because I’m friends with the new wife. I feel like I don’t know how to avoid harm, and got lucky these two times not to get in deeper. I would like you to write about that.

Duana’s response: 

I’m so glad you got away unscathed if a bit scared from the men who, as you later learned, would have been abusive to you—given the time.

But how does one reliably detect and predict that behavior? How did you keep yourself out of harm’s way? Was that an accident—or did you pay attention, even unconsciously, to signals that these men sent?

Most abusers don’t think of themselves as abusive. More often, they consider themselves to have been the abused party, the person whose violent words and actions were mandated by various characteristics of their partner.

Research clearly shows otherwise—yet occasionally, there *is* a man who has been the abused. Since both groups—abusers and abused—cry out “Not My Fault!”—what are you to do?

I’m learning about the answer to these questions right now, and will publish in the next new Love Science. Thank you for a question whose answers will help you and many, many others.




If this article intrigued, captivated, elevated or explicated you or your understanding of relationships, please click “share article” below to distribute to your favorite social media websites. 


Do you have a question for Duana?  Email her at Duana@LoveScienceMedia.com


Related Love Science article: 

When Men Batter Women: How Abuse Ends



Recommended Reading:

This article is based on the only research to actively observe violent men and their partners in arguments, and to see how the women coped and left over a period of nearly a decade. 

The research was done by Neil Jacobson (now deceased) and John Gottman.  Their book is called “When Men Batter Women”.  I strongly recommend it for any woman who is thinking of leaving a violent man.     


Jacobson and Gottman, in turn, recommend the book “Getting Free: You Can End Abuse and Take Back Your Life (New Leaf)”, by Ginny NiCarthy, for any woman who is thinking about leaving an abusive partner.    


I also highly recommend “Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”, by Lundy Bancroft.  It gives a thorough and fact-based look at the motivations and thinking processes of violent men.  It also gives valuable resource lists and suggestions for getting out safely.  The only caution I would give about this book is this: Mr. Bancroft acknowledges that abusers rarely, in his experience, stop abusing, but he does not emphasize just how rare it is.  In reality, Jacobson and Gottman found that abusers virtually never cease all forms of abuse, nor do most of them ever permanently relinquish physical abuse.


For those interested in a more academic look at why and how jealousy motivates men’s abuse and murder of women, I recommend two books by evolutionary psychologist David Buss:  “The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill” and “The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is Necessary in Love and Sex”. 



To live with an abuser is to live with abuse until you safely leave.  I wish every abused woman the emotional strength, the community support, and the right plan to do that. 

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and Love Science Media, 2011.

Article originally appeared on http://www.LoveScienceMedia.com (http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/).
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