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A meaningful valentine: If you have anger problems, get help

January 20, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Way too many women across the Tri-State area picked up a paper on the morning of Dec. 20 and thought, "That could have been me."

A young mother was dead, allegedly at the hands of an enraged former boyfriend, and so was a Smithsburg police officer who was called to investigate. A community was left to mourn for both.

Because relationships are private business, there can't be any solid numbers on how many women out there live every day in fear. Some become matters of court record, but many more do not.

Too many women are embarrassed that they've gotten into a situation that is beyond their control. Too many blame themselves. Too many don't have the financial means. Too many are just plain scared.

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But abuse is like cancer, in the sense that just about everyone knows someone who is battling the affliction. That, and the all-too-frequent headlines, should give you the clear idea that these are not isolated cases.

For this to change, three groups have to get involved: Men, women and the justice system. That shouldn't be too tall an order.

Abuse is a problem, in part, because the law has been understandably squeamish about getting involved in personal relationships. Part of this phenomenon is laudable, part of it is obscene.

Although it's fading, there is still the unwritten understanding of a right to privacy in this country. That's fine. What's sinister is the ugly remnants of society that date back to a time when women were regarded as a man's property. Girl had to be a "goode wife" or she got an attitude adjustment.

We are loathe to admit it, but some Neanderthals do still walk the earth. The woman is "mine." The back of this dinosaur needs to be broken once and for all.

Too many women are dead to continue our habit of judicial and legislative timidity. Restraining orders are paper tigers in the face of rage.

In light of the most recent tragedy, there has been an emotional plea to the legislature to get serious with the death penalty.

The problem with that, is that by the time the death penalty comes into play, it's too late. Instead, the legislature should seriously consider matching abuse laws to drunken driving laws: Take the abuser's license.

The two offenses are markedly similar: The man is doing something he might never do in his normal state of mind, he is wrestling with something that he can't control and death is too frequently the result.

This law might also put judges in a better situation. I don't know this for a fact, but I can guess that a judge who issues a restraining order - only to see the happy couple back together two weeks later - would feel as if he'd been played for a fool.

This brings us to the woman's role. Abused women that I've talked to struggle to explain why they often go back to the abuser. But the pull is very real.

Often, the man is a "good guy" at heart who can't control his rage. The man they love is in there, even when the monsters are taking over. He can change. He needs my help.

The rest of us need to be understanding as to why a woman would feel this way. It's very human, and in a sense, even heroic.

But for the cycle to end, a major shift must take place, to an attitude of "one strike and you're out." Yes, you may have seen your daddy or your pappy act this way, but it's no longer acceptable. You hit, you're gone.

Women who go back, who allow men to believe that they can act out and get away with it, are only prolonging the cycle for future generations of women. Verbal, emotional, financial and physical abuse may have once been an unpleasant fact of life. But so was child labor. Things change.

And most of all, we men ourselves have to realize that.

Anger is a part of life. The desire for money is a part of life too, but most of us do not channel this into holding up a liquor store.

If you're a man who has trouble with anger, don't wait for her to take the first step - you take the first step. As the women realize, you're a quality individual much of the time. As addicts realize, you're dealing with something that you can't manage on your own.

If you struggle to control your anger or it's led to trouble in your relationship, what better valentine could you give your wife or girlfriend than to tell her you're not comfortable with the way you act on occasion and you've decided to get help?

It's not shameful: quite the opposite. An angry man asserting his dominance is not a big man. A big man is one who can step forward and seek self-improvement.

Do it for her. And mostly, do it for yourself. The prisons are filled with plenty of men - probably good men, for the most part - who allowed rage to take the wheel.

Now, in their calmer moments, they have a lifetime to sit and reflect how a moment of rage has eliminated the people they loved, crippled their children's future and, of course, destroyed their own lives as well.

You can't make a woman love you. But you can make her hate you. If one relationship has already been destroyed, move on. Let her go. There will be other chances, and with the proper help and resolve there is the very real chance for a far happier ending for everyone involved.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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