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updated: 2/17/2012 8:03 AM

There's no excuse for spousal abuse

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A man hits his wife. "It was the booze," he claims. Or perhaps the pot, cocaine or crack. And the court agrees it was the drug, not the person, who was really to blame.

That is also the popular perception of one of the causes of most spouse abuse. Yet, a study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago concludes that in 75 percent of reported cases, the husband had not been using alcohol or drugs.

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Abuse, we also "know," is primarily a problem for poor, inner-city families. The poverty -- economic and social -- in which they must live leads almost inevitably to frustration, despair and violence between men and women.

The same study, however, points out that spousal abuse seems to occur in all socio-economic, ethnic and racial groups. When a man hits his wife, then, it is not a matter of intoxication or deprivation. What it is, most students of marital relationships now agree, is a matter of power.

Throughout time men have been taught that, to truly be a man, they must be in charge -- particularly in their relationships with women. Ironically, however, most men are actually very insecure in their male-female relationships. Some suggest this is due to many men's failure to adequately work through their childhood relationships with their mothers. Others theorize men feel inadequate compared to women in mastering the interpersonal skills necessary for a healthy marriage.

For whatever reason, behind their bravado and machismo many men feel a bit threatened by the woman in their lives. And when feeling threatened, husbands tend to fall back on either of those time-honored responses: flight or fight. Some men run away from the women in their lives by literally leaving, or by figuratively leaving and withdrawing emotionally.

Other men, fortunately a minority, resort to violence to assert their power over the women in their lives. They threaten to, or actually do, hit or otherwise abuse their spouses because they are afraid that they will be overpowered by them in a nonphysical war between the sexes.

That such abuse is the result of men's feelings of inadequacy is only a reason, not an excuse. There is no excuse for violence in our marriages.

Physical violence is a violation of our basic humanness. It is an affront to our dignity, destroys our trust and creates barriers in our relationships that are impossible to tear down. If abuse -- real or threatened -- is a part of your marriage, there are two things you need to do, and do quickly. First, stop it. Second, get help. Find a qualified marital therapist who will help find other ways to sort out the power issues that are part of not just yours, but all marriages.

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