When father hurts mother

18 December 2005

Hurting the mother of his children, either physically or by constantly shouting or swearing at her, regularly putting her down or trying to control where she goes and who she sees, is something very few men do. If you find yourself behaving in any of these ways, you should get help. This article is a good place to start.

Your violence: what it means

First, physical or verbal abuse damages your children’s mother: she can be physically injured and emotionally scarred. You know that, because you see it.  This is what you are doing to the mother of the children you love.

What you may not realise is that your children, too, are being badly affected, even if they do not actually see the violence, and even if you believe they have no idea about what is going on. Research has shown the terrible impact on children of violence going on in the same house. Children often do see it – but even if they don’t they hear terrifying sounds, and sense their parents’ anger and upset. They get torn up emotionally. In fact, they often end up as stressed out and screwed up as soldiers who have witnessed terrible scenes on the battlefield, or as people who have been in awful car crashes. Research shows this clearly!

Often your children and your partner may behave as if ‘everything is normal’ quite soon after you have shouted at them or hit one of them.  This may lead you within to think that everything is fine.  It isn’t – they are scared and they are trying to make you feel OK so you aren’t nasty again.

And if your children don’t show their distress in obvious ways, don’t be fooled. Sometimes children hide their upset quite well for at time, although if you look carefully you may see they don’t sleep well or eat well (or that they eat too much), or they don’t talk or learn as well as other children. Yes, your violence to their mother can cause that.

A lot of the time your children will be scared or angry or on edge or watchful. They may become naughty or hyperactive, fight a lot between themselves, or be very quiet and ‘good’ or be bullied or bully other children or fail to make friends. When they’re older they are likely to get into trouble with the law, be expelled from school, find it hard to keep jobs and (if they’re girls) have babies before they’re ready, and get involved with boyfriends who hurt and hit them, as you did their mother. If they’re boys, they’re very likely to end up hitting their own partners. Maybe that’s what’s happened to you.

Your violent behaviour can also stop their mother looking after your children properly. Even if she’s not so beaten up that she can still get them their tea and get them to school, she can be too depressed or upset to cope with them well, or at all. She may also be violent towards them or abusive in other ways – passing the rage and hostility on to the children you both love, like a terrible game of pass the parcel.

Your violent or abusive behaviour is also hurting you. You feel devastated by what you are doing, deeply ashamed and increasingly lonely and isolated.

You need to change

No one can change this situation, except you. And of course you want to change!  This is not how you hoped things would be within your family!  So how do you go about changing?  A first step is to explore your own expectations and beliefs (and this short article can help you do that). The second step is to get professional help, and we have some suggestions at the end of this piece.

What are the expectations and beliefs you need to examine? The first is your expectations of your partner: what is the ‘gap’ between what you expect your partner to do and what she actually does do, which leads to your feelings of resentment and your attacks against her? The second is your belief that she is always responsible for what goes wrong and that your attacks on her are justified.

Changing these expectations and beliefs can lead you to becoming non-violent and non-abusive and, possibly for the first time in your life, achieving a sense of intimacy and togetherness with your partner and your children. Lots of men who are violent really want this closeness. In fact, many are violent because they think this is a way to keep their partners from leaving them. Don’t fool yourself: it’s the best way in the world to drive them away. In every hundred non-violent relationships, 3 or 4 couples will split up every year. But where a partner is violent, 30 out of every 100 couples break up in a year.

Consider whether your behaviour is linked to any of the expectations and beliefs listed below.


If your partner became pregnant unexpectedly, you may feel resentful because you believe it was her responsibility to use effective contraception. You might also believe that she became pregnant to force you to make a commitment to her when you don’t want to.

Other resentments may be linked to your perception that you now take second place in her life after the foetus or to the fact that she no longer wishes to go out, have sex, earn money or look after your needs in the same way as before.

It is perfectly OK to have these feelings – what is NOT OK is to hurt your partner because of them.

After the birth
You may feel resentful because you expect your partner to return quickly to her pre-pregnancy figure or to feel like having sex within a short period of time.
You may also resent having to look after her if she is suffering from postnatal depression or is physically unwell after the birth.

You may feel angry with your partner because you’re now expected to give up some or all of your social life or leisure time or to work longer hours to bring in more money.

You may feel you aren’t getting a chance to get close to your baby.

It is perfectly OK to have these feelings – what is NOT OK is to hurt your partner because of them.

Contact issues
If you are separated or divorced, your resentments may be linked to expecting your ex-partner to agree to the contact you want with the children.

You might also believe it’s unacceptable that you have to pay maintenance when you believe that she’s either earning enough herself or that she now has extra income from a new partner.

It is perfectly OK to have these feelings – what is NOT OK is to hurt your partner because of them.

Domestic violence and the abuse of children
There’s good evidence that men who are violent or abusive to their partners are much more likely to behave in similar ways towards their children. You may think of your behaviour as simply being ‘discipline’ or ‘just a smack’ but it’s now known that physical punishment is very damaging to children.

What’s more, if they’ve witnessed your behaviour towards your partner, any act of aggression towards them may really terrorise them, because it could remind them of what you’re capable of doing.

Bringing up boys
Many men who behave abusively to women routinely put them down through jokes or by calling them names. If you use this as a way of bonding with your son or sons, you are making it harder for a boy to develop intimate relationships with girls and women because he’s learnt to view them with contempt.

Your father
When you become a father, you may experience flashbacks of your own father and remember his violence towards your mother. Even if you haven’t been violent towards your partner, you may start to fear that this will happen. But it isn’t inevitable, especially if you get professional help.

Your partner’s violence or abusiveness
You may see your partner being violent or abusive towards you. This is not good – but it is not your problem, and it is no reason for you to hurt her.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

You cannot change her behaviour: the only behaviour you can change is your own. Stop focusing on other people: the person you need to focus on now, is yourself.  If her behaviour doesn’t change when yours does – AND YOU MAY WELL FIND THAT IT DOES – then you will need to leave.

REMEMBER: If you decide to change, you’ll need professional help. It’s not possible to end your violent behaviour permanently using self-help techniques. However, recognising WHY you feel as you do, is a first step. The next thing to do is seek help . . .


  • Respect – the National Association for Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes and Associated Support Services – holds a full list of UK programmes which can be attended by men who want to stop using violence, and also holds a list of counselors and other professionals trained in this field.
    Tel: 0845 122 8609  or email info@respect.uk.net http://www.respect.uk.net
  • The BBC’s ‘Hitting Home’ website on Domestic Abuse is very useful – and this LINK will take you straight to the page which provides information and support for men who use violence
  • The Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DViP) is a London based project that supports men who want to stop using violence, and their partners. PO Box 2838 London W6 9ZE email: info@dvip.org; fax: (44) (0) 20 8741 4383 http://www.dvip.org/men.html
  • AHIMSA provides counselling, support and advice to men who use violence or who are concerned about violent behaviour – and anyone affected by that violence. can be contacted on Tel: 01752 213535 or mail@ahimsa.org.uk www.ahimsa.org.uk
  • ‘Hidden Hurt’: is a UK based abuse information and support site – http://www.hiddenhurt.co.uk
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