Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Ask Ellie: Woman's cry for help points to abusive relationship

A reader asks: “What if the letter writer is overreacting to her boyfriend simply being mad or upset?"
Advice columnist Ellie Tesher.

Dear Readers: Following are different responses regarding a woman’s fear of her boyfriend’s behaviour toward her (Dec. 16):

She wrote: “I’m terrified that if I say anything wrong, he’ll get mad. I shake and beg him to stop and I cry. I’m afraid of him and I don’t know how to leave him. We’ve been together for two years and I’m scared.”

A male reader writes in response:

“The writer doesn’t describe any behavior or attitude or any physical, mental or emotional harm being caused by the boyfriend (no justification for crying and shaking).

“You instantly trash her boyfriend and tell the writer she needs help to get out of the relationship.

“What if the writer’s overreacting to her boyfriend simply being mad or upset?

“There were no reports of abuse or violence from the writer and yet you told her to get help and leave the boyfriend.

“People are allowed to be mad or angry… it seems like she has the issues, not her boyfriend.”

So, there it is. The problem is with the frightened woman reaching out for help and who speaks of not knowing how to leave him due to being scared.

I’ve been responding to letter-writers long enough to know that they don’t write about fear of their partner unless there are reasons. The very brevity of her statement is a clue — no long-winded background, just a nervous cry for help.

This isn’t someone who can easily make an appointment with a counsellor, or discuss going together with her boyfriend.

This isn’t about my attitude towards men vs. women. Any man who’s afraid of his partner, whatever gender, would get the same response from me if fear were expressed.

Here’s what the Government of Canada website says about spousal or partner abuse, even when there’s no physical abuse:

“Emotional abuse can include threats and intimidation, demeaning and degrading verbal and body language, control and isolation, subordination and humiliation. Victims may suffer serious loss of self-esteem and experience feelings of shame, anxiety, hopelessness, depression and terror.

Don’t talk to me about “it seems like she has the issues…”

Dear Ellie: I’m a semi-retired man, 62, married for six years, together for 10. My wife struggles with the effects of having been molested and abused by various family members including her father.

She’s been permanently estranged from her family for years.

The difficulty of living with this is more than I can bear some days and I don’t know what to do. We’ve both tried counselling but to no avail.

I’ve been accused of being a “pervert” by my wife which is not true. Our sex life used to be okay but the last three-plus years have seen no intimacy happening. We’re more like roommates than lovers.

I won’t cheat on a wife who’s wonderful in so many ways but this is hanging over us. What to do?

Frustrated Husband

Sexual abuse by a parent and other relatives conveys the harshest reality: Isolation, i.e., living with no hope of being saved.

It’s a miracle that, without ongoing psychotherapy, she was a true partner in lovemaking. But haunting images don’t just disappear… not without her working to bury them.

Tell her what you admire/respect/enjoy about her. Suggest getting marital counselling help together, this time focusing on the potential 20-plus years ahead as a couple.

She can’t change the long-ago past though, with help, she can surmount it. Tell her she can have a happier, loving present and future with you.

Dear Ellie: I love my husband of 17 years, but I’m having trouble with recent changes in him. He used to be easy-going. Since the pandemic, he’s easily impatient with me, the dog, and everything else.

We both worked from home as independent entrepreneurs in different fields, and have stayed there.

Before, we also went to the gym, often at different times, we each had lunch/dinner meetings with colleagues sometimes.

The pandemic’s pushed us to constant togetherness… and I’m over it!

We’re now in our 50s. How do we change back to the happy couple we were?

Too Much Togetherness

At this writing during Omicron spread, we’re all advised to follow restrictions to avoid this very transmissible variant of COVID-19. Stay safe:

Try space-making tactics: Do fitness from home at different times, read in separate areas or rooms, go for separate walks (but also walk together when there’s something important in the relationship to discuss).

Ellie’s tip of the day

Partner abuse of any kind is frightening, no matter the gender or other people’s perceptions.

Send relationship questions to [email protected].