Getting Help with an Abusive Wife or Girlfriend

An article by special request.

I was asked for a follow-up from a recent article with actionable steps for a man who is being either battered or emotionally abused by his wife.  I will do my best here to offer sound information, but I want to start with some serious caveats:

I am not a lawyer, I cannot give legal advice. My information is based on advice given in Men’s networks, and based on conversations I have had with others.  And my second step will be to get real legal guidance. Nor am I a psychologist,which is why much of the steps below are about getting mental health-care.

My information is regional, I live in Ontario, Canada, as was the man requesting the advice.  Your region may have different laws, resources, and procedures. It definitely will work best in North America regardless.

I am no expert, my field of expertise if getting peak performance out of men in non-abusive relationships.  Take everything I suggest with a grain of salt.

This is a report, it is up to you to use it.  It does not constitute coaching or professional advice from me.  Just a recounting of what I have heard works, mixed with some common sense.

The fact of the matter is that there is not enough information out there, and I have always believed that if I search for a resource and cannot find one, then it is my job to create it.  If you have more information that might help, PLEASE add it in the comments here.


STEP 0: Remove Yourself From Harm

If this has become physical, you may not have many places to turn, but the first thing that you are going to have to do is get away from the abusive situation, and if you have kids, remove them from it, too.  Go to a hotel, stay with family, or whatever else you must do to be safe.  Don’t be home when she will be.

Women who batter or abuse their husbands are far more likely to use weapons than men who abuse their wives.  This is one of the reasons why we have so many more hospitalization reports of women battered by Men: men often only use their fists, a woman is likely to reach for a piece of metal when she goes to far, and a lot of men end up in the morgue rather than the ER.  Women also are more likely to use proxy violence, that is, they are more likely to get another man to hurt you seriously if she wants you hurt.  Know who is safe and who is not, based on their relationship with her, with you, and their outlook.

Once you have been physically assaulted, you cannot afford to stay in harm’s way.  Also, do not hit back, except if you are at risk of serious injury.  Just get away by whatever means you can.  Do not confound the facts by turning this into a mutual combat situation.

If you have no commitment and no children, leave her, and if you, can get a peace bond or restraining order.  You owe an abusive girlfriend with whom you share no responsibilities absolutely nothing.  You might love her, but loving her is not a good reason to risk winding up murdered by her.

STEP 1: Record Everything

Write down the time and nature of events.  If you can record at least voice if not video when she begins acting abusive.  When it comes to He Said / She Said arguments, sadly, people usually favor the word of a woman over a man in these situations.  Make sure you have clear, factual records of what was said and done.

Know that your recordings may not be admissible to authorities – you might even be charged for making them in some places, but your safety is on the line.  And even if they are not useful to the police or the court, they might be helpful for mental health care professionals.

STEP 2: Learn Your Legal Facts

If you are being abused and need help, the first step is to know what the score is, legally.  Women can usually get the advice they need from a womens’ shelter, but that advice is woefully inadequate for Men.  There are no shelters that accept or aid battered men in Canada and only around 81 that will accept male residents at all in the United States, most of which will not help men over the age of sixteen.  That means you will need to talk to a lawyer.

Which, unless you have a friend or relative who is a lawyer, can be damned expensive.  If you don’t have legal insurance through a company like Legal Shield or Prepaid Legal, the odds are good that it will save you a fortune down the road.

Here are the things you need to know right off the bat:

Does your region have a Mandatory Arrest / Charge Policy? This policy was meant to try and make sure abused women don’t protect husbands who hit them. It means that an arrest must be made in any Domestic Violence call.  In some places, like my home province of Ontario not only does someone have to be arrested, but the police have no discretion whether or not to lay charges of Battery.  If the police get called, someone is going to jail, and will be up in front of a Judge ASAP.  It could wind up being you.

The pity of these laws is that they have made many court justices so inundated with minor, spurious, or excessive charges that these charges are often met with either an excessive penalty, or a slap on the wrist depending on the individual justice and his philosophy.  The odds are good that even if you have no previous record of violence that you will be slapped with a Peace Bond (or a Restraining Order in the U.S.), not be allowed to return to your home for a lengthy period, and have court-mandated anger-management training.  If you are unlucky you just might get much, much more.

You need to know this so that you can know what will happen if you are forced to call the police in your own self defense.

Does your region have a Primary / Predominant Aggressor Policy?  In some cases the police not only don’t have the right to exercise their own judgment on whether or not to arrest and charge someone, they don’t get to choose who to arrest either.  Based on outright fraudulent studies of Domestic Violence, these policies mean that unless one party is severely injured, police must arrest the person who meets more of the following criteria:

  • Is physically bigger.
  • Appears to be the least upset.
  • Appears to be physically stronger.
  • Is the less communicative.

In other words, if you live in a Primary Aggressor region, like Ontario, the odds are high that it will be the Man who is arrested and charged unless there is clear evidence that he was not the aggressing party – such as if he is bleeding or injured and she is not.

You need to understand this so that, again you will know exactly what is going to happen if the police are called, and be ready to handle the impact that these policies will have.

What are the divorce policies of your region? You may not want a divorce, but it might not be a matter of choice.  It is very possible that, if your wife or girlfriend is abusing you, that you won’t have a choice but to divorce her in order to get away from her.  Knowing what will happen in your region in a divorce, especially how child custody is handled will be critical.

What are the policies regarding recorded evidence?  Many of the people who offer advice for battered men will tell you to record everything (see step 3), but knowing whether those recordings will be admissible evidence in court is pretty critical to understanding how to use it and whom to present it to.

How can you get your spouse to receive psychiatric help?  Abusive spouses are usually dealing with significant emotional stress or trauma and lack the skills to process. Hitting or psychologically torturing one’s family is a symptom of mental illness, and you should definitely see it as such.  Knowing under what conditions you can get her help, or get her to a hospital for self-destructive or irrational behavior is critical knowledge.

Who are mandated reporters?  If you need to speak to someone about your spouse’s violent behaviour, know  who is required by law to get the state involved, so that you aren’t surprised when Social Services or the police show up to handle the problem for you.

Does your lawyer recommend seeking help?  This is the sick and sad fact of being a battered man:  you need to know if asking an official for help will land you in prison, unemployed, and with a criminal record.  You need to know how you can get help in a way that will not get you in danger.

Find out about the procedures for getting a restraining order or peace bond.  You may have to get this woman out of your life ASAP, know what you need to do, and whether your lawyer would be willing to advise it.

STEP 3: Liaise with the Authorities as Advised

Check to see if your local police or social services programs have a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer.  Assuming your lawyer tells you this is a safe person to talk to, set up a time to talk with them and tell them what is going on.  If possible have your lawyer on the line or record the call so that you can share it with them.

  • Say that you are not sure how to proceed.
  • Tell them that your wife has become aggressive and hostile.
  • Tell them the facts of events – within the scope your lawyer advises.
  • Ask them to keep a note on hand regarding your situation, in case your spouse or a neighbour makes a call.
  • Tell them that you intend to pursue psychiatric care or mediation.
  • Let them know about any real danger you fear that you or your children may be facing.
  • Let them know that you have a record or recordings of the behavior (as long as the lawyer advises it.)
  • Ask the liaison officer how to proceed.

Be aware that this call could lead to them going out and arresting your wife or girlfriend.  This may be somethign you will want your lawyer to opine on.

STEP 4: Get Psychological Help for Yourself

See a counselor stat and make sure that your kids see the same, if possible.  This may not seem like as important a step as the legal advice and protection, but it is.  You need to think clearly, be on top of your game, and in control to take care of yourself.  Talking to a therapist, a grief counselor, or a Men’s group can really help.  Find out what is available in your area (try the Men’s Health Network).

Processing this sort of trauma quickly gives you the best chance to avoid the development of PTSD, anxiety, or depression, which is epidemic among battered men.  A good therapist can also help you make sense out of what is going on and approach it from a healthy mindset.

STEP 5: Enlist Help

Find people who care that can help you get through this.  If her family is trustworthy, enlist them for help and advice.  If you have friends who can help you as you are making adjustments, ask them for what support they can offer.  If you have a religious community that you think will assist you, ask.

Right now, anyone who will listen and support you is worth their weight in gold.  Keep them close.

Know that with some people. like your own family, seeking help when you are being abused may spell the end of your relationship with your spouse on some levels.  She may never be able to earn the trust of your family again.  Make this call carefully.

STEP 6: Get Her Help

Assuming that you didn’t have to eject out of the relationship entirely, that she has not become a direct danger to you, and that the law has not had to get involved, then we’ll assume your goal is to help this relationship recover, or you are afraid of what she’ll do if you leave.

If you are staying because you are afraid she might harm herself, call the local mental health-care facility or ambulance, and let them know that she has made threats.  She needs to be taken into care, watched, and receive emergency interventions.  You are not capable of helping someone in this sort of self-destructive state, and trying puts you at risk of real psychological harm – not to mention moral and possibly legal culpability if you stayed and tried to manage it.

If you are staying to make it work she still needs help.  She is going to need psychological intervention to get to the bottom of why she has become abusive, and she is going to need to learn new skills to manage her anger and self-destructive feelings.  Make her seeking help a condition if you are going to stay.  If she won’t go to therapy, you can’t stay with her.

STEP 7: Get Mediation as Necessary

For difficult conversations in the future, where conflict is high, you may want to make sure that you have a neutral, agenda-free third party to help you work out major disagreements.  Professional mediators, couples counselors, even some pastoral services can help you work through issues where tempers might run high.  From here on in, you both need to make adjustments to make sure that the abuse never happens again.

And if it does, you tried your best, but you simply cannot afford to stay.


I hope that this is a valuable report to someone down the line.  It is emotionally exhausting to have to do the research and to write things like this.  I hope one day we live in a world where articles like this one are a curious artifact.