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The Battered Husband

Barbara Bensoussan

Hear the term “domestic violence” and you immediately conjure up an image of a terrified woman cowering in fear. But in reality, men are the victims as often as they’re the perpetrators. They’re just too ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

When Chaim got married 15 years ago, he never anticipated that his wedded bliss would degenerate into a nightmare. “For the first few years everything was more or less okay, although my wife Naomi never wanted to participate in any family gatherings on my side of the family,” he says. “My siblings tried to welcome her, but she never seemed interested. My sister thinks Naomi was intimidated by us. The result was, I was prevented from participating much in family events.” Chaim wanted to make his marriage work even when his wife was difficult, especially because they had children right away. The first few arrived in rapid succession, and the third had some developmental issues. Chaim was learning in kollel, and money became very tight. “Maybe it was the stress of lots of kids so fast, plus Naomi working so hard, and us never having enough money that made everything start to unravel,” he speculates. “She was also a perfectionist who always wanted our Shabbos meals to be fancy and the house just so.” After several years of this stress, Naomi started becoming extremely demanding. By then Chaim had dropped afternoon seder and begun working in a local grocery store to make ends meet. Since Chaim had a break between morning seder and going to work, Naomi used to leave him a long list of things she wanted done: shopping, housework, paperwork for their daughter’s special programs, forms for government assistance programs (because of their low income). “If I didn’t manage to do everything she wanted me to, oy vey!” Chaim relates. “She’d start screaming so loud our neighbors used to hear, which was a terrible chillul Hashem. Or she’d punish me by saying I wasn’t allowed to touch the supper she’d made, and if I tried to take a pot to make myself something, she’d scream that I wasn’t allowed to touch her pots. Very often I’d go to bed hungry to avoid making more of a scene in front of the kids.” Chaim was increasingly miserable as the years went on, but he felt responsible for his six children. How could I leave my kids with a crazy woman? he thought. How would the children find shidduchim if their parents divorced? But Naomi’s mental health only seemed to deteriorate. Naomi’s sleeping habits became very erratic; she’d be up all night obsessing about her terrible life, lack of money, and stress. She expected Chaim to keep her company all night long. “When my eyes began closing of their own accord, she’d pour water on me to wake me up, then laugh at my reaction,” Chaim says. “One night she threw my tallis bag clear across the living room. “She stopped caring who saw her behavior. Once she came into the store where I worked and began throwing cans of food at me. Someone called Hatzolah, but she ran away, and when one of the men approached her and tried to convince her to come with him, she refused.”  

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