T O P I C R E V I E W
Member # 48260
posted 02-25-2013 01:41 AM
I've been dating this new guy for almost two months now. I'm 21, and he is 26. However, my best friend has been friends with him and his family for over two years now so she knows a lot about his past and childhood. I guess his father used to severely physically abuse his mother (and it is unsure whether him and his brother were ever hit, since they have never said they were). I guess his mother finally left their father somewhere between the age that my boyfriend was 6-10. His father is now in prison for almost killing another woman because of abuse. My boyfriend hasn't brought any of this up yet to me yet since we haven't been dating that long, and I think he doesn't like to talk about it. I know this only because my best friend has known his family for awhile. Tonight I became worried though. He told me that the other night when we were at a bar this girl we are friends with hit him very hard in the chest, and then again which hit him in the jaw. He said it scared him because he almost reflexively punched her. He also began to tell me that sometimes it scares him because he will almost accidentally hit someone if they do certain things (annoy him or hurt him, etc). For example, one time he was driving a drunk friend who was a girl home. While they were driving on the freeway she kept moving the shifter from reverse, to drive, and it almost got them in a car accident. He said he came very close to hitting her, as a reflexive action, because it's almost like he can't control it. Should I be worried at all? He has never shown any signs of abuse or "red flags" whatsoever. It is just now he's saying that he has these impulsive or subconscious reactions (even though he says he has never hit anyone) and it worries me since he has been around domestic violence in the past. Could it be "in his genes", or increase his chances of being physically abusive since his father was? I'm not sure what to do, or how to help him. Especially since he doesn't know that I know about his past. Thank you! [ 02-25-2013, 02:03 AM: Message edited by: littlemissheart ]
Member # 79774
posted 02-25-2013 05:25 AM
Firstly, there's no evidence to suggest that violent or abusive behaviour is in any way genetic, so that's not something you or your boyfriend need to be concerned about at all. What there is some evidence for is that men who grew up around a man being abusive or violent to their mother (or a mother-figure) are more likely to be abusive themselves than men who didn't grow up with that. BUT it is very important to consider each person as an individual and to know that that is a general trend and absolutely not a predictor of any one person's behaviour. Far more people who grow up in abusive environments are Not abusive than are. It might be helpful to remember, too, that some men who are very anti-violence experienced their mother being abused. If this guy hasn't displayed any indications that he might be violent or abusive, then that's just what it is: there are no indications that he's violent or abusive. That's good, obviously! I think it's good for you to know, and, if it comes up in conversation with this guy again, good for him to know, too: he DID control what he did. There is a world of difference between nearly hitting someone and actually hitting someone. A person who is abusive just doesn't care enough to stop themself, and someone with anger-management issues doesn't have the skills to stop themself. This guy didn't hit anyone. We can all feel some pretty dodgy things at times - what matters is what we do and don't do about it. People who grew up around a parent (or parent-figure) who was abusive or violent can often be concerned that they might be abusive themself. That's a fairly common effect. An abusive environment is pretty dysfunctional, and it can affect a person's learning about how to have healthy relationships and relate healthily to other people. On the current evidence, it seems like the only person being hurt or distressed by this guy's reactions is him (because he's keeping his reactions as feelings, not acts). Growing up in an abusive environment can really do a number on someone, and it sounds like this guy might benefit from getting some knowledgeable/professional support around his history and/or how he sees himself now, and perhaps with how to deal with his feelings and responses better. I do agree with you that you're in a fairly delicate situation with him as you haven't been seeing him very long and he hasn't chosen to talk about it (yet). It's important to respect his privacy. I'd suggest that you might help him by reassuring him when he mentions things that he didn't Do anything, and that's what really matters. That's the difference between a violent/abusive person and a non-violent/abusive person, really. I'd emphasise that he clearly Can control it. You could also suggest that, as he seems distressed or worried, it might help him to talk to someone professional/trained about it and learn how he can Feel easier and more in control of hard feelings that he has sometimes. In terms of his history, perhaps playing it by ear is best. Personally, I probably wouldn't ask him questions (unless he starts opening up anyway) or push him, but there might be times when it's ok to say "I heard that your father was violent sometimes", and see how he responds. If he's receptive, it might be worth saying that sometimes people who saw that as kids worry about their own tendencies when they don't need to, and that there's no shame in being affected by something that someone else did. If he hasn't had any help or support before, he may not know those things.
Member # 48260
posted 02-25-2013 02:22 PM
That is extremely helpful advice. Thank you so much! I will be sure to be encouraging and emphasize that he isn't a violent person since he can control it and that he hasn't done anything which is what matters. I can tell his is worried, like you said, that he may be like his abusive father.
Also, would it be too invasive if we date for about 6 or 8 months and he still hasn't mentioned his biological father, to ask him if he still speaks with his dad? His brother had made an off hand comment/joke the other day about their father being in prison, but I pretended that I didn't hear it since my boyfriend became extremely uncomfortable at the mention of his dad. I don't want to push him into telling me since it is obviously a traumatic and uncomfortable experience for him to talk about. But I just wonder if I should ask him about his father later on down the road of dating if he never brings it up himself?
Member # 79774
posted 02-25-2013 06:51 PM
Generally, I think it's ok to ask about most things if we haven't already been asked not to, if we're asking because we care for the person and not out of prurient curiosity, and if we communicate that we're not demanding an answer or wanting to pry. He might be too concerned about what you'd think to dare to bring up his father, or he might just really not want to talk about it. There's no way to know without asking.
One thing that might help is to communicate to him perhaps in a different context that you don't think people should be judged by what their family members are like or have done. That would give him your general position, but without touching on what might be a very private or difficult topic to him. Often, trust builds up as a two-way thing, so if he's open to talking about it, you might find that the two of you each gradually and naturally share more personal things as and if you keep seeing each other.