Her verbal assaults lead to his physical violence

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

March 24, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL

"I'm afraid I've lost Trevor for good," says Jill, 33, a petite brunette. "I need him terribly, but he is too ashamed of what he did to come near me," she adds.

The other night, she explains, they were arguing over whether Trevor had been too chummy with a female graduate student at a party for the school's provost. "He started to walk away from me, but as usual I followed him into the other room," Jill recalls. Then, for the first time since they met, he turned around and gave her a shove and a smack across the face that knocked her over.

No stranger to domestic violence Jill's father had abused her when she was small, and so did her first husband -- Jill had been enchanted by Trevor's quiet, gentle manner when they first met two years ago. Both divorced with children from their previous marriages Jill has twin 13-year-old daughters and Trevor has custody of his 16-year-old son, James they fell instantly in love and impulsively married within three months.

But almost as soon as they married, they both realized that this was not an episode of "The Brady Bunch." Jill's high-spirited daughters were, as she puts it, "all over James, trying to draw him out when all he really wanted to do was stay in his room and read."

Time and again, when Jill and Trevor wrestled with discipline issues, he'd never follow through with a plan. "We agreed that the kids would be responsible for tidying up the house, but when I get home from my job at the bank, the house is a mess!" says Jill angrily. "He thinks nothing of stepping over a mountain of books, papers, jackets and dirty dishes as if they weren't there."

Her husband's gentle style is now looking decidedly wishy-washy. "Some of our worst arguments center around Trevor's hourlong talks with Mary, his ex-wife. If he divorced her, why can't he get her out of his life?" Jill can't help worrying he's going to leave her and go back to Mary.

When she's upset, Jill lashes out, berating her husband and calling him names. "I can feel my insides tightening up," she says. "I'm the fiery one, and I learned a long time ago that words are my weapons," admits Jill. Inevitably, however, they'd end up in bed for a passionate round of lovemaking. "Sex smoothed things over, but it never took away the bad feelings," Jill acknowledges.

Now, Trevor has moved in with a friend, afraid of another confrontation, and Jill is wracked with guilt. "There must be something horribly wrong with me if Trevor, the soul of patience, could be driven to violence."

Trevor, 40, is distraught. "I still can't believe what happened," he says. "We were so much in love, we never thought about the stress of putting two families together with almost no preparation."

But while the sex was great, nothing else in their marriage was. "How can any man put up with a woman who constantly checks my comings and goings, then insults and patronizes me like a child?" says Trevor. Her humiliating assaults struck a nerve: Trevor's mother was verbally abusive and he lived in fear of her tirades.

Though he's ashamed of his actions and loves Jill, he thinks that separating, at least for now, is the only way to make sure his anger never again rages out of control. When history repeats itself

"Trevor's instinct to separate was correct," says Marilyn Jean Mason, a marriage counselor in St. Paul, Minn. "It will give them both time to examine their histories, establish personal boundaries and explore ways of relating to each other that don't exacerbate their abusive tendencies."

Abused children, or those who have witnessed abuse, often become involved in abusive relationships as adults unless they receive counseling. Trevor and Jill both had a history of abuse, which compounded their problems. Having gone from abused child to abused bride, Jill was scared of being the helpless victim. To protect herself, she bullied her husband. Trevor, scarred by the verbal taunts of his overbearing mother, was a powder keg waiting to explode.

One instance of abuse doesn't mean a relationship is over but it should be a powerful signal to both partners to seek professional help. Here's what they learned:

Remember that a string of epithets, degrading language and veiled threats also constitute abuse. Though not all yellers are potential hitters, verbal abuse must always be taken seriously.

Stop verbal violence by checking out your partner's intentions immediately instead of swallowing your hurt or trying to pretend it didn't happen. By setting limits on words and actions that are unacceptable, partners can often stop abuse before it starts.

Accept responsibility for your actions. Trevor immediately felt remorse, but it took Jill a longer time to own up to the fact that she was just as abusive. Once she understood this, she worked on other ways to express her anger.

Recognize your personal warning signs that an argument is escalating to the danger point. Jill feels a tightening in her chest and shortness of breath. Trevor instinctively feels like running away. They've agreed he can take a breather from an argument as long as he explains that he is just cooling off, not deserting her.

Keep in mind that the healing process can take time; it can be helped along but never rushed. Trevor and Jill slowly learned to tune in to one another and to trust themselves as well. After three months, Trevor moved back home. "We both feel lucky to have a second chance," says Jill.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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