Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Respond To Column on Family Life, Abuse

April 3, 2000

There were many letters in reply to my column on farmers and verbal abuse. I thought I would share portions of just two of them with you.

I stayed for many years in an emotionally abusive marriage. I received much counseling and survived many scary incidents. This is until I began to see the same behavior in my eldest son as his father. He was verbally as cruel, disrespectful, but most of all growing up exactly as I hoped he wouldn't. It was then I realized I had to stop "the cycle" by getting a divorce.

I did not want to break up my family, but I believe I had to show my son that people don't treat people that way and that women aren't going to just sit around and take it. I have found you can't change someone else's behavior no matter how hard you try to make it work. They have to see it and change it themselves.

My point being, since some of us are unable to remain in a bad situation. Most of us already know the best, most ideal upbringing is in a loving two-parent, biological family, which, at the present time isn't possible.

We need help making successful stepfamilies, or as I prefer, "blended families." It is my belief that more and more this is (no matter how unfortunate) becoming predominant. We need to be educated and have support groups or classes on how to correct a wrong by picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off and focusing on making better choices as to not make the same mistakes again.

We have to get back to the "basics" and believe in families and marriages. I have found that by having a very strong, loving, relationship, even though it's not biological, we are able to set an example of morals, values, religious beliefs and what healthy commitment and family life is. So, if you could please help those of us trying to conquer this difficult fear, give us resources and advice on how to succeed. We already know that it is not ideal. - A North Dakota reader

Here are parts of a letter I received from two women in Indiana.

A man will be abusive because of his personality and upbringing, not because how he chooses to make his living. We’ve both have had experience with verbally abusive men, and they weren't farmers...

First of all, you gave the impression that the woman is solely responsible for the relationship. You never suggested that the man receive counseling for his problem. He's the one who needs to have an "attitude adjustment," not the woman. What makes you feel she should do all the work?

You justify the man's actions by saying it's the "driven way he relates to his work that brings out these qualities." You also say that his verbal abuse isn't personal. It's very personal. This type of man and his actions will take away any shred of self-esteem that woman may have had when she entered the relationship. This makes the woman even more dependent on him and the result is that he has total control.

It may already be too late for her to summon all her confidence and self-esteem to stand her ground. You say her goal is to "respect" her husband. Why can't he just give respect to her because she is his wife and helpmate?

In our opinion, you should have told the woman that she doesn't deserve this type of treatment. You only went so far as to advise her to say, "I am not willing to discuss it with you further until you are willing to talk to me with respect." What you don't understand is that this man will not allow her to get a word in during his tirade and by the time she can speak, he has gone onto something else and won't take the time to listen to her. He will also twist everything she says and will turn it back to her and make it her fault.

You tell this woman to not get angry, but you also don't want to shut her down. Take it from someone who has been there. That's impossible to do. Any animal will fight back when cornered and that's exactly how this woman feels. She's trying to be helpful and is shot down by her husband at every turn.

We do not agree that these men are "good" men and just have a little trouble communicating. You are making it seem like any woman in this type of relationship must be the one to compromise, "to be patient, flexible and clever." Whew! When will she have time to take care of herself, the children or the house if she is so busy making sure this man feels good about himself? And this comes at the expense of her own feelings and self-worth.

We feel that you owe this woman and all the other women who live with abusive men a better solution. Try telling them they are worthy of respect, kindness and patience. Encourage them to issue an ultimatum to their husband to get counseling - on his own and with her. He needs someone from the outside to recognize his terrible behavior and to put an end to it. He needs to understand that he is not defined by his work, but rather by the relationships he creates, or in this case, destroys.