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My Husband Humiliates Me in Public

QUESTION: My hubby is very hot-tempered. When he's angry, he shouts at me in front of our housekeeper or his family. This makes me feel very small, as if I don't have value or I don't exist. During the Christmas season, he got a bit irritated with me and shouted at me in front of his brother. I was so humiliated! We've talked about his temper problem (I think he is trying to control it) but when he erupts ... he really EXPLODES! I told him I felt extremely humiliated and I cried.

Please help me.

ANSWER: The test of any relationship lies in rewarding vulnerability instead of punishing it. Your husband must establish respect for your feelings if the intimacy you now share is to remain intact. Failure to respond to your needs will encourage guardedness, while respectful behavior will promote honesty. Trust will either be strengthened at this point in your marriage or it will begin to splinter. Yet it is also possible that the role you take in the marriage may contribute to his disrespect.

Your husband's disrespectful behavior is damaging to the ongoing intimacy in your marriage. Where did he learn this kind of relating? Explore together the family patterns that are the blueprints for husband-wife relationships. Did his father take out frustration on his mother -- or vice versa? If so, was this tolerated by the other spouse? Do you take responsibility for decision-making and running the household together with your husband, or do you take a more passive, childlike role, making you vulnerable to disrespect? Your experience of the housekeepers may suggest that you are agreeing to let him "run" things when it reduces your stress, but he may be carrying more of the stressful decision-making in the family than is fair. This could result in resentment resulting from over-responsibility in the marriage. But it is still no excuse for his denigrating behavior toward you!

Ask your husband if there is anything that is bothering him about the division of responsibility in the family. He is fortunate to be married to a woman who requires respect as a part of a healthy marriage. He gets credit for choosing a woman who would inevitably require change in his "explosive" behavior toward her. Now it is time for him to meet this challenge by changing the way he is dealing with frustration in your relationship.

Ask him to consider any resentments he may be holding toward you that he is not expressing directly. Be open to accepting his appropriate expressions of anger, but not verbal put-downs. Marriage is created on duality. Be willing to reflect on your part as well as your husband's contributions to distress in your marriage. Refer to books such as "Intimate Partners" by Maggie Scarf for exercises and discussion to help you develop the kind of intimate relationship you desire.

If your husband continues to express his frustration in ways that humiliate you, establish your boundaries by withdrawing from the situation. Make it clear that you love him, but that you will not stay in a situation with him when he "explodes" on you. It may be that you will have to follow through on walking away from his verbal abuse several times before he gets the message and is motivated to change, including getting professional help if needed. Be willing to go to couples' counseling if you do not experience progress in addressing this problem on your own.

You are experiencing the pain of your husband's behavior. However, disrespectful behavior toward you cannot leave him with positive feelings about himself, either. He is not only eroding the intimacy between you, but his own self-esteem as well.

Continue to be the voice for change in your marriage. Like the miners who carried delicate canaries into the coal mines to signal the danger of thinning oxygen, your voice is the canary for the viability of your relationship.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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