When a verbal fight ends in violence

Q. My husband and I had a physical confrontation a while back, as a result of an argument. But it was not my husband who raised his hand to me. I raised my hand to him. I am not proud of what I did so I want to end it before it becomes a pattern in our lives.

I am 41, work part time and have three teenagers. My husband is the main breadwinner in our family and that works for us.

Unfortunately, at this stage in our marriage, my spouse and I have a conflicted relationship. But between episodes of conflict we often experience gratifying closeness.

I tend to view this problem in terms of different personalities, which affects how we prefer to deal with escalating conflict.

For instance, when we experience an intense, anger-fueled conflict, my spouse wants to solve it as soon as possible, while I need time to think things through and try to understand the dynamic so it will not happen again. But when I distance myself from him so that I can make sense of it all, he becomes more and more angry. Which, in turn, makes me more angry. Soon all of it becomes more fuel for the fire.

At the same time as I need quiet space to process what has happened, my spouse needs to talk it through, which does not happen in a good way because he is not finished being angry. Sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom to avoid more verbal escalation. But this time I did not get there soon enough and I could no longer bear his accusations – and I hit him.

Suddenly, everything stopped. And the silence hung deep and heavy in the air.

A. I appreciate that you are accepting responsibility for your inappropriate behaviour towards your husband, and I am glad you want to learn different ways of being together.

An important aspect of people in conflict is their tendency to be “other-oriented” vs. “self-oriented.” This means they are embroiled in blaming others for perceived problems and have little or no insight into their own behaviour.

Here are some suggestions for you and your spouse.

Safety first

First, when the anger is high I suggest you distance yourselves from one another until both of you have calmed down. You may need more time alone than your spouse, since you prefer to figure out the conflict dynamics. In that case, it is best to agree on a time line that works for you and lets him know, so that the distance is not drawn out into weeks and months.

Change the focus

Second, when the anger has cooled for both of you, I suggest each of you become “self-focused” and aware of your own responses to what is going on. This step is not easy, because we readily lie to ourselves in order to protect our fragile self. But once you get the hang of this, it deepens the level of awareness and understanding of the conflict.

Accept your part and the tension

Third, once you and your spouse have more insight into your own responses, you will get a clearer picture of your part in the argument. For instance, your individual need for more time and space to understand the dynamics of what is happening may be threatening to your spouse because of his need to solve the problem now. And so, both of you need to accept your own part and the tension for now.

Integrate your faith

Fourth, as you go through the above process, integrate your faith in God in ways that guide and comfort you, as well as give you hope for a healthier marriage.

The above suggestions are just the beginning of helping you and your spouse to work towards a healthier relationship. I also recommend that both of you connect with a therapist so you can stay on track and be accountable for your behaviour. At the same time, you may want to make sure your spouse’s ongoing accusations is not or does not become emotional abuse. Should he decide not to join you in counseling, go on your own. It will be well worth your time and effort.


  • Arlene Van Hove

    Arlene Van Hove is a therapist, a mother of four adult children and a grandmother to an ever-increasing brood of delightful grandchildren. She also belongs to the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, a subsidiary of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which raises funds for grandmothers who are raising the next generation in countries devastated by the Aids epidemic.As a writer Arlene hopes to provide a comforting voice for all those who struggle with the complexity of life. At the same time, she believes one of the roles of a columnist is to unflinchingly challenge 'the map when it no longer fits the ground.' And while she has less advice for others as she herself is aging, she hopes her columns will encourage her readers to develop questions and answers for themselves that continue to be worth asking and answering in the 21st Century. She is a member of the Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.

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