Ali: Welcome everybody- my name is Ali Hartman; I’m a social worker out of Long Island and more importantly a community member and tonight’s program is inspired by a lot of volunteer work that is done by a lot of women and hopefully some men in our community at Columbia Presbyterian at a program called DOVE- Domestic & Other Violence Emergencies. A few of us started volunteering in the past five years and we were thinking of the importance of the program. If you are a survivor of sexual assault or domestic abuse there are advocates on call rotation of once a month and they basically make sure that the survivor is taken care of from start and finish from the time that they go home hopefully to a safe place. A lot of us are in the mental health profession and we were brainstorming- this is such an important topic and an issue that reaches every community including our own and how can we start engaging our community in an open forum talking about the reallyty of domestic and dating violence in the Jewish community and amongst our peers. We have two very experienced and well educated speakers- Liana Goldmintz who is a graduate of NYU Silber School of Social work- primary coordinator for Mt Sinai SAVI Takanot program. Before that worked with SOVRI Help Line at Beth Israel Medical Center. Specifically for Jewish Orthodox members of the community who have been experiencing abuse. The other is Mr. Meir Rizel who is director of the Shalom Task Force ___- developed curriculum that has been presented at yeshivot and seminaries in New York Area. Shalom Task Force also has a popular program for engaged and newly married couples. Highly experienced and trained speakers.
Opening remarks from Rabbi Schwartz.
Rabbi Ezra Schwartz: Thank you Ali, Miriam for putting this program together. Ali is actually partly wrong- program not only inspired from volunteer work that she does but also the type of community that we have her. I don’t know how many of you saw the Purim videos about our shul but people speak of our shul as the “social shul.” A Good chunk of what we do in the shul is about relationships, young people who Baruch Hashem are getting together, meeting, very often these relationships are positive and wonderful but unfortunately there is an unseemly side, a negative side, sometimes people are in relationships where it’s not good. IT’s not good in terms of emotional violence, in terms of sometimes physical violence; it can be a very uncomfortable experience. We’re having this program tonight; it’s almost Shabbos HaGadol and Dr. Lamm has this very nice idea in his Hagadah- unclear why this shabbos is called Shabbos HaGadol and he notes that unlike all of the other miracles that took place where we went higher but also put the Mitzrim lower, the neis of Shabbos HaGadol of taking the sheep and tying it to bedpost, we elevated ourselves and didn’t have to put others down. Too often people are in relationships where someone is only Gadol because they’re putting the other person down. Too often people don’t have a sense of their own self worth in the absence of judging the other person who they’re with and they put it down. If what we accomplish with tonight’s program is just that people should be aware of some of the warning signs and can recognize it if they are in an abusive relationship. Moreover if what we gain is that people recognize the importance of speaking to others and discussing what is going on in a relationship. If you feel like you’re always being put down by your partner; your partner only makes him or herself feel good because you are always getting the short end of the stick- the physical dimension of course violates halakha. Phsyical abuse comes in many forms and hopefully we’ll be discussing that tonight. Obviously halakha is halakha but sometimes we have to reallyze that sometimes in the relationship one partner will pressure the other for physical benefits of a relationship and sometimes a person acquiesces and agrees to it not because the person wants it. If a relationship is consensual, that’s one thing- that can still be a violation of halakha but if a person is pressured into a relationship that’s something entirely different. My role here tonight is to tell you if you’re in this type of relationship or think you are, please speak it over with others, if you feel I could be helpful, please contact me. Don’t think that there is any issur of lashon harah involved- there isn’t- lashon harah is a red herring; it doesn’t exist in this context. Sometimes people have a feeling that I’m in a relationship and that itself is positive and any relationship is better than no relationship- that’s not true. No issur of lashion harah- certainly if it’s really abuse, no issur of mesirah. We mentioned this last year in a similar program that we’ve had in the shul- contact people and if need be, contact the authorities. It’s not a problem whatsoever and this is said by all the poskim- if someone is clearly abusing, there’s absolutely no issur of mesirah. There’s sometimes pikuach nefesh at state certainly it’s something that’ s important. My role is to introduce the program. We’re very happy that we have some very, very accomplished speakers tonight and I believe that my wife will be giving some closing remarks at the end of the program.
Liana: Thanks so much for coming to a program of this nature. What’s really heartening for me is that there is a forum to talk about this. In our community, because of certain values that we have about marriage, shalom bayis, relationships, dating, sometimes it can be hard to have any type of dialogue. My hope is from this program people will start feeling comfortable to talk to their friends/ rabbanim/ parents about what’s going on. The more you talk about it, the less taboo it is going to be. Very quickly- Meir and I are going to be splitting up the program and what we’re going to be doing is the first half of the program is talking about the negative parts of what might come up in a relationship. What abuse might look like. Meir will talk a bit about the other side.
The reason I bring this up is because we’re going to be talking about relationships on a spectrum- relationships aren’t just healthy or unhealthy but just like any behavior that you have, can fall into a bunch of different parts of the spectrum. Just want to introduce myself and what I do- I’m program coordinator for SAVI (Sexual Assault and Violence Program) and specifically run the Takanot program for Orthodox survivors. There are specific things that come up in the Orthodox community that are unique to the Orthodox community. What abuse looks like and what it might look like in the Orthodox community. Relationships and relationship abuse are part of a larger discussion about relationships- what they look like when they go well and what they look like when not. Imagine a spectrum. There are a lot of behaviors that fall in between.
If you think about a healthy relationship you usually think of someone you can trust 100% all the time- someone where you have a balance of power, someone who is supportive of you. When people think of abuse, they think of something very concrete as well. What comes into people’s minds when they hear the word abuse?
Jeremy: Black Eye
What you guys kind of cover are the three areas that might define abuse. The first thing that comes to people’s mind is physical abuse- it’s not always the case that abuse is just physical. Abuse can be about control- abuse being about people doing deliberate things to use their power to control someone else.
Definition: Use of physical, verbal or emotional abuse by a person to harm, threaten, intimidate or control another person in a relationship regardless of whether the relationship is continuing or has concluded.
20% of young adults who were polled have experienced some type of relationship abuse- committed relationship or not, boyfriend, girlfriend- no reason to think statistics are different for our community.
People also think we come from upper-middle-class backgrounds, have a lot of education, that doesn’t mean anything. Just because you have means and are educated doesn’t mean you’re immune to it or are not capable of perpetrating it. Before we go into what abuse looks like, there are a couple of general guidelines that are important.
- Not limited to a one-time incident, it occurs as a cycle of abuse over a duration of time, it is a calculated and deliberate pattern of behaviors used to control someone else
- Not limited to one type of abuse (not just physical)
- Abusive relationships generally escalate in severity over time, becoming more and more severe and dangerous
- Not gender specific
Not just one bad argument. There is a cycle. There’s a cycle where there is tension building; you feel that things are not going so well but I know if something happens over the next few days that’s really bad, everything will unleash. Whatever it is it happens and then there’s phase – honeymoon phase after things are trying to get mended in a certain sense. But then it comes back into a circle. You know you’re in an abusive relationship when you feel like this happens over and over and over again. That’s not to say that one particular incident happens that it’s excusable. If it’s something that obviously is of harm to a person- no one has a right to physically hurt someone or put someone down in a way that makes them feel bad. But when we are talking about abuse and a cycle it’s something that happens continually.
Abuse isn’t just physical. If you take a look at your handout- The Power and Control Wheel- what you’re going to see are on the spokes of the wheel are different tactics that people use to gain power and control over someone else- Exclusion, Using Physical Violence, Using Harmful Language, Using Social Standing, Using Technology, Using Intimidation, Minimizing, Denying or Blaming, Using Threats, Sexual Coercion, Harassment or Assault. Very often people feel that if I only have one of these or not any of these but I feel really bad about this relationship, then I must be okay. Not necessarily true- a relationship should always feel comfortable and you shouldn’t feel manipulated to be doing something that you don’t want to be doing.
Do any of these examples come out at you as something you can relate to? Let’s talk about verbal and emotional abuse- on this wheel it’s called ‘Harmful Language.’ Let’s talk about humiliating someone. Very often sitting at a Shabbos table, whether I’m with regular people or whether I’m with people that I know or don’t know, you’ll see someone humiliating someone else and everyone laughs and they think it’s funny. There’s this joker who says ‘You’re always like this etc.’ Humiliating someone even if it is a joke- that’s not okay and that is a tactic that is often used to put someone down. I have a couple of quotes here that were powerful to me-
“He would never directly insult me- it was always more about not letting me feel good about myself.”
“If I would start singing in the car, he would start yelling at me- Don’t Sing. And that was who I was- I loved singing- he wouldn’t let me do it, so I stopped.” That might seem benign in a certain sense but that’s a way that someone can use their power to make someone feel very bad about themselves.
Minimizing and Blaming- part of the dynamics of the abusive relationship is this person creates this world where the other person who is being abused feels that there is no other way. This is the only way for them to exist/ to live because of the situation this other person has put them in. Very often what ends up happening is to make the person feel trapped emotionally they will end up being blamed- what it might look like would be for example that you are in a car accident and you call your partner and when you tell him, he doesn’t say “are you okay? How are you?’ they say, “Well, was it your fault?” Well that’s something that makes someone feel – I am worth nothing. It’s this general pattern of what this person is trying to do. Making their partner feel like they are worth nothing and have nothing but the relationship.
We have a lot of domestic violence cases but mostly we have a lot of sexual assault and sexual abuse cases. We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls and cases about people concerned about what happens on dates. What we’ve been hearing is that sometimes people will be on dates and there will be- could be a first, fifth date or in a committed relationship- and it’s very clear what the other wants in terms of shomer negiah. They’ve had a conversation about it and the person knows what their limits are and we’ve been hearing about cases where a person will say, I know we had this conversation but we’re kind of in the moment and it feels right so come on, let’s just do whatever. The person feels compelled to do it. Or is in a different situation where you’re in the car and someone reaches over and accidentally brushes you and it feels uncomfortable to you but you feel like this person is a really great guy so why would I do anything- that feels shameful they figure I’m totally misinterpreting what is going on here. It can be really hard to talk to someone about it- to even process and talk to yourself about it. Very often what we hear happening is that if in a committed relationship- whether you are keeping halakha in terms of negiah or not, if you’ve had a conversation about it and then the person decides that they are not going to respect that, that’s not okay. There’s nothing okay about being coerced into doing something that’s not okay with you whether or not you have done it before. Sometimes in terms of Threats & Coercion we’ll see that people will say to their partner, well if you don’t do this I’m going to tell people about what we did before. That can be really scary because it wasn’t necessarily something you wanted to do before and it can feel like I’m going to be outed if I don’t do this now. You see someone using their power to get something out of the other person.
There’s a lot of overlap in the tactics that are used to manipulate a relationship, to gain power and control over another person- Isolation & Exclusion. Again, in an abusive relationship the abuser wants the person who is being abused to have nothing because they want them to have no options in terms of getting out of the relationship. Might look like a friend who starts dating someone and they don’t answer your phone calls to hang out- their boyfriend/ girlfriend calls them and their face changes and they say “I have to go” really quickly. Sometimes there’s a lot of jealousy about where the other person is spending their time. “I miss you so much- I can’t believe you’re hanging out with someone else- I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.” And you might want to be doing something else but they feel compelled to be pulled back into the relationship.
I’ve haerd a lot of stories about how gender roles, specifically in the Jewish community, is used to perpetuate controlling behaviors. For example, generally a lot of people will have this notion of the woman cooks for Shabbos. I’ve heard stories of women who didn’t have time to cook for Shabbos, ended up going to their local take-out place, the husband comes home and says “Where’s my Friday night chicken?” Difference between saying, “I noticed that you didn’t cook Shabbos this week- what happened?” vs “How come it’s not here? Why would you not make it for me? Why would you think that I would be okay with it?” Making a lot of assumptions. Using a gender role to perpetuate abuse.
Economic Abuse in the Jewish community- an allowance for Shabbat where in the relationship one of the partners has all the control of the money (seen this with males and females) and they dole out money based on how good their partner has been to them. So when their partner has done something bad they punish them by not giving them money to go on the train or cook for Shabbos. That’s an example more based in a marriage because usually dating relationships don’t involve shared money. But the idea of “if you are bad, I won’t give you this privilege” is very prevalent in an abusive relationship.
Relationships are on a spectrum and not every behavior that might seem not-okay is considered abuse. The question may become: Where do I go with this? How do I assess what I might want in a future relationship, what I want from a current relationship? It can be very important sometimes to take some time and check in with yourself, your partner and your friends. What are your values? What do you want out of a relationship? What do you expect? If you’re in a relationship at the moment asking yourself questions to assess where you are in terms of all the things I just spoke about. How does the person make me feel- how does the conversation go if we talk about issues that matter? Are things I say respected by the other person? Or do I say that I feel like every time I bring something up the other person is putting me down right away- there’s no room for my opinions?
In terms of halakhic observance, are you being told what to do by your partner? Are your opinions dismissed or devalued? Is it a discussion? Or does it sound something like, “My way or the highway?” (No room for other opinions) I’ve heard stories of a couple discussing how the girl is dressed and the girl saying that she wants to work on tznius and instead of the guy asking about it, he says “Yeah, I noticed- you really should be working on that. I don’t think I can be going out with you otherwise.” That’s not the way to respond- you’re using your words to make someone feel bad.
What does it look like when we disagree? When we don’t see eye to eye, what does it look like? What does it look like when my partner is angry? Is it scary to me? Is it something I feel like I can’t handle? Is it a display of emotion- we get over it and it’s not such a big deal?
The last question is: How does your partner treat their family? In our community, sometimes can go really quickly. When dating goes really quickly, you’re very often in the honeymoon stage where everyone is on their best behavior and it can be hard to see how a person really reacts because things are going really quickly. With a person’s family, you can see how they handle frustration, arguments, when something doesn’t go well- good way to gauge this person’s temperament, how they handle themselves.
- Afraid to bring a certain topic up with your partner or disagree with your partner because of what might happen
- Feeling like you are walking on eggshells
- Feel like you an’t do anything right for your partner
- Two extreme sides to personality- so kind/ so cruel
- Unreallystic expectations about what a relationship entails
- Rush into marriage (Expecting you to have certain feelings/ trying to convince you that you have certain feelings)
- Contradictions in religious observance to serve one’s needs (what can I get from being more religious, what can I get from being less religious)
Do you feel like you constantly have to please your partner at all times because if not, there will be a huge blowup? Feel like you can never please your partner? Sometimes in terms of halakhic observance someone flip-flops – show themselves as being halakhic in this way because it benefits them but in private they are not really like that. The situation really mostly comes down to how can I manipulate the situation to get what I want or need out of this situation.
We’ve spoken a lot about abuse and what abuse might look like in terms of examples and dwhat the dynamics are.
Why Individuals Have Difficult Leaving an Abusive Relationship
- Fear of harm to victim and loved ones- and sometimes abuser (threats of suicide)
- Love for abuser, hope for change, self-blame, fear of unknown, guilt
- Possible loss of income, loss of life style, social status (loss of perception of perfection/ shalom bayit, status as a “married” or fear of having to be single again)
- Afraid to tell family and friends- judgment, shame
- Fear that nobody will believe or understand
If your friend is in an abusive relationship, abuser is probably using a lot of tactics to create fear. Person probably doesn’t have a lot of friends because abuser has isolated them, also not a lot of money and are worried about what might happen if they end the relationship. Relationships can hold a lot of value to a person aside from the actual value of the relationship. In a marriage, there’s a monetary and social status component. Very often in our community the perception that a relationship is perfect is the highest thing that you could achieve. The thought of losing that perception can be so overwhelming and scary and fearful to a person. As a person who is engaged and planning a wedding, the fear of having to go through dating again. What will it mean if I don’t have this relationship? Aside from all of the other things that a relationship has, there are other components attached to it. In an abusive relationship, it’s very likely that the abused person loves the abuser. Just because it’s abusive doesn’t mean there is no love or no connection. There is also a lot of shame associated with it because the abuser sometimes uses tactics of shame.
“If only you hadn’t burned the chicken, I wouldn’t have had to berate you/ beat you.” So the person thinks I am in a bad relationship but half of it is my fault. They really do feel like part of it is theirs and they are too ashamed to admit it.
The last piece that I want to talk about is what to do if you know of a friend who is in a situation like this.
-Listen carefully, find a private place to talk and create a supportive environment for your friend
- Use open ended questions, avoid asking questions that answer with “yes” or “no”
-Encourage your friend to open up gently, but be understanding if the person is not ready to speak about it
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk now, but I want you to know that I’m here when you do want to talk”
-Be specific about instances that have you worried and say why you are worried
-Be understanding, not judgmental, never blame the victim for the abuser’s behavior
Your role is to be supportive, not telling them what to do. Ask them questions about the relationship and take their lead. See where they are going with it. See where they feel comfortable going. For them to talk to you is hugely brave. Be prepared for a person not to want to go down a certain road. When they are ready to go down that road, tell them you’ll be there to listen and support them. If they are open to asking your opinion, then be specific about what part of the relationship feels wrong to you. “I’m really happy that you guys are dating but this thing specifically makes me concerned- what do you think about it?” Let them express how they feel about it. Let that be the opener. The most important thing is not to be judgemental and not to blame because the person is already judging themselves. Very likely they feel like it is their fault and to perpetuate that will make them feel like it’s their fault; there’s nothing that I can do about it.
Try to listen more than talk. Their time to use you as a support system. The more that you give them a feeling that you’re supportive, the more they will want to come out to you. The more space that you give them to be themselves, have a space to talk about their feelings- they will want to come back to you more quickly. If it is a situation that you can’t handle on your own, don’t be afraid to go to experts meaning SAVI, Shalom Task Force, a Rav. There are a lot of people who know about and are trained in these issues. I am going to end my piece here and I give the floor over to Meir.
Meir: I just need to set things up- give me a moment, please. Good evening, everybody. To reintroduce myself briefly I’m director of men’s education for Shalom task Force and also deputy director of program for engaged and married couples at Shalom Task Force. At this point we have serviced nearly 600 couples. Have to thank Rabbi Erich Goldman for his high level of involvement and his lending his expertise to us. I want to thank in abstentia my wife considering that at this point it’s approximately T-144 hours till the first Seder which we are hosting for the first time this year, if it wasn’t for her allowance and pushing me to be her, I would not be here. We actually co-lecture a lot and get to model a lot of positive marital behaviors that way. This is just another. Liana dealt with more prominently the unhealthy/ abusive/ dysfunctional side of relationships. I try to steer clear of that- I deal with the healthy relationship side.
I have to thank many of you here- as a man in the field of Domestic Violence I’m very accustomed to being the one man in the room. Thank you to men here in the room so I’m not lonely. Back to the rest of the presentation, I’m going to start off with a bit of a timely example- I’m much more accustomed to doing workshop style with a give-and-take so if you want to ask questions, please raise your hand.
I recently heard someone talking about the great disservice that those who make Haggadot do to the community. If I were to ask someone what a domestic abuser looks like, how would you describe him or her?
Guy: An 80 year old Holocaust survivor who doesn’t want to give his wife a get
If you look at the pictures of the four sons by the Haggadah, you have the Chacham who looks all sweet, nice, bland and genteel. Then you have the Rasha whose got the fight in his face and Tam and She’iano Yodea Lishol look nice. Really the picture should be the same for all four. Really hard dto deterimen what a domestic abuser looks like. Someone can be very involved in shul and then come home and be completely different.
I’m pretty involved with working with victims of sexual molestation and violence. A victim who is prominent asked me for help years back and since then it was in the news. The role of the bystander and community in responding to accusations of violence or things of that nature- this person/ perpetrator happened to be in the field of Chinuch and I spoke to a long-time student of his and the student said it can’t be true. I know him for years, for decades; he’s helped me out in so many ways. It’s just not possible. All those people are lying- they’re making it up. At which point, to be slightly graphic I asksed this individual- did this rebbe ever share with you the details of his intimate life with his wife? He looked at me with a blank stare- “Uh, I guess not.” So I asked him- Why is it that he would then share this piece of his life with you? And of course he had no answer.
I’m going to share a clip with you guys that I have to warn you in advance that it’s disturbing, not as disturbing as it can be but I think it’s very telling.
“Tea Party” Generic End 7-14-2006 name of clip. (Has kids pretending to have a tea party and fighting with harsh words- girl spilled the tea and brother yells at her that she can’t do anything right so shut up, suggestion is kids learn domestic violence from their parents)
I’ll relate it to the discussion in that I got a call last week about a highly volatile marital couple. This couple’s in really bad shape – but are not likely to seek out counseling or therapy. The person calling was trying to figure out what might they do to get that couple into therapy which they desperately need. In talking to this person, ultimately what they really concluded is this couple has children. Maybe we can frame it as something to benefit the kids in the family and that might make this couple more apt to get the help for the family and then ultimately work as the couple proper.
Why is that? Any thoughts? It’s a little bit more removed when it’s not us and it’s the kids. We get less defensive, more inclined to go for the help. As this relates to the field of domestic violence, one of the common reasons that people stay in those relationships is for the kids. That’s a very common thing. I was involved in a case where the woman has ten kids, the youngest will be married in 12 years and her plan is to sacrifice herself for 12 years because of the shanda factor, the way it will be bad for the children’s shidduchim.
Heatherington and McCallam at Stanford did a study where the primary cause of difficulty in children of divorced homes is continued marital hostility and not divorce itself. So the best case scenario is for a couple to divorce and co-parent in a menschlich way and those kids have shown that they do well.
Relating it back to a domestic abuse couple, having this piece of information- you shouldn’t go after them and say this is bad for your kids- Heatherington and McCallam, this study- it’s something to ease into and talk to the person who is the victim of abuse. Not forcing their hand because that mimics the abuser. Instead, couch it in terms of I am concerned about … I’m here for you. An essential point is also to say that there are no strings attached because as helpers it’s very common to really get emotionally involved and say “How can you stay in this relationship? It’s horrible- don’t you see what it’s doing to your family?” Not uncommon for someone who is a friend to say if you are not going to leave him, I just can’t deal with this anymore. And if you want me to continue to deal with you, I’m going to leave. This is what happens sometimes with those who don’t deal with this on an everyday basis.
As a man who works with a domestic violence organization, there is certain flak that I get. There’s a guy in shul who is a fan of making domestic violence jokes- if your kids are set up with his, just call me and we’ll talk about it. I wanted to ask him if he has anything good on molestation. As men, we also have the right to advocate for rights of all victims- not just female, not just male and to stand up to someone who might make those jokes. For those of you who work with teenagers, fantastic website ThatsNotCool.com which deals with issues of violence in a dating prism.
Liana focused on power/ control wheel. There is its partner- the Respect/ Equality Wheel. I’m just going to use three terms- Equality, Respect and Dignity. As a starting point for a healthy relationship, when there is equality, respect and dignity the other stuff just doesn’t fit. I’ll shift into the healthy relationship side now.
To share a personal story, I work in this field; my wife is also a clinician. I like to think our marriage is on the quality/ respect side of things. My 6-year-old son around a month ago said to my wife, “Mommy, why does everyone say that the Abba’s the boss in the family?” Not that she’s the sole boss but we have two bosses in our home and we work together. To show how difficult it is to go against the cultural mores and standards. A little while later my 4-year-old daughter came to me and said, “Abba, mommy and I are the pretty ones and you and Sruli are the smart ones.” I kind of cringed because that’s really not the value that we are teaching in our home- we can do what we can in the home front but once they are out there in the big world…
I want to talk about my role as Deputy Director of Shalom Workshop- it was originally designed for engaged couples; we’ve expanded it to working for newly married couples and veteran married couples. Approximately 600 couples have participated and I just want to share that there was a leading marriage therapist in the greater New York area that noticed a strange phenomenon in her practice. Over a period of 6-8 months she had a handful of couples come in to deal with relatively small issues- were there for 2 or 3 sessions. This therapist thought- this is really strange. It’s atypical for couples to come in so soon. She discovered all those cuples participated in the Shalom Workshop. By the way, the workshop is not just for troubled couples but all couples.
Dr. Shalom (John?) Gottman cites something called the delay effect which is for the population at large and it refers to the amount of time that the average couple waits before going to therapy. That period of time is 6 years. Average time that the average couple waits before going to help. Anyone know what happens at year 7? There’s this joked-about phenomenon called the 7-year-Itch which is actually statistically based which is that at the seven-year-marker there’s a spike in dissatisfaction. The acrimony, animosity, deep-rooted hostility is so deep seated so they go for therapy to say they did and kind of clear their conscience and then get divorced.
As a community, friends, clinicians, rabbanim to de-stigmatize the idea of going for help. I think that is what was born out of the Shalom Workshop. Until I’ve been married, I’ve never been married so it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. At this point in time, the divorce rate in frum community has become so commonplace it is almost a norm. If that can be a norm, then going for help before it’s needed –just ideas and tips- should also become a norm.
Moving on there’s a handout that you guys received about what to look for in a spouse- it’s pretty straightforward so I don’t want to spend time reading it with you. Equality, respect and dignity piece essentially is there- underlying principles. As far as a healthy marriage relationship: does a healthy marriage relationship include conflict? Yes. To what level? What would you say is the average- what arguments do they have over and over again?
Dr. Gottman basically is that he has empirical data, longitudinal data (studied over decades) 70% of the conflict is perpetual. 70% of the arguments/ disagreements that they have will be there for the life of their marriage and that is in healthy couples. He saw couples at Year 1 marker and they had certain conflict in his therapy room and you’d look at them ten years later, clothing changed, couple wrinkles and are having the same exact argument. What that really points to is that within the dating serious relationships or marriage relationship there can be temperamental differences, one is quick to do things and the other is slower. Your house will get cleaned for Pesach but the other might find the stand for the Ping-Pong table outside and bring it back in and as long as you’re cool with that, it’s fine.
Shift from idea of conflict resolution- people talk about good communicators and good conflict resolution- to managing the conflict. There is a very telling. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is Dr. Gottman’s primer. Leading marriage therapist Dr. Dan Wyle and I’m changing the name. “Pinny married Aliza and Aliza gets loud at the shul Kiddush and Pinny, who is shy, hates that. But if Pinny had married Shira, they’d have gotten into a fight before they even got to the shul Kiddush. Shira hates to be kept waiting and Pinny is always late so they’d fight. If Pinny had married Gila they wouldn’t even have gone to the shul Kiddush because they would still be upset because Pinny doesn’t help with the housework which makes her feel abandoned while he feels dominated.”
So it’s about working through and managing those perpetual conflicts.
As far as predictors of divorce, this is what Dr. Gottman has determined within his work-
1) Harsh Start-Up: Have you ever been in a situation where someone’s turned to you and said angrily/ loudly “What’s wrong with you?” to which you respond by saying “What is wrong with me? Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity for true introspection” and take a pause and think what is wrong with me. Do you think that will happen? Probably not. Harsh Start-Up is when a spouse/ partner/ date has a legitimate concern and they feel very strongly about it and start out this way.
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
1) Criticism- couples where criticism plays a real primary role. Antidote to criticism is complain, don’t blame. That gets into “I” language stuff.
2) Defensiveness- the way that manifests with a couple is that one of the individuals can theoretically have a real gripe and instead of taking responsibility sounds whiny which feeds into the cycle and the person who complained feels totally invalidated. So taking even partial responsibility is helpful. When working with a couple in the therapy room, find your 5%- if it seems that one spouse is totally wrong and the other is totally right, chances are you’re not really looking at the situation clearly and realistically. What is the 5%- what is my role in this problem dynamic?
3) Contempt- that’s the couple at the six-year mark where the hostility is built in and the antidote to that is to build a culture of appreciation. (Exercise for this called building fondness and admiration. Have the couple sit down, whole list of nice words and they should each select three to use as a characteristic to describe their spouse. Then relate an incident in which they first saw that and that brings the couple back. Another part of the failed couple is the bad memories. What was it that first drew you to each other- working with a couple that has real hostility in need of a lot of work or beyond repair a very common response is I think someone introduced us but they lose sight of what it was.) I’ll share a personal story with permission (his wife is in the audience)- on our first date, 8+ years ago before we broke up and then got back together and married we had a nice time and ended up in a pool hall. I was really hungry but I also wanted to shoot pool. The pool meant more to me than going out to eat. But when I’m hungry, I can get a little cranky so I was getting a little cranky and she said to me- let’s just finish the game and get something to eat it. And I said- but we’re shooting pool; I can’t just leave in the middle of the game. What happens next? This tough chick takes her cue and shoots for the eight-ball. After my initial shock I tried to continue the game and she missed but I had rachmanus and we got something to eat. But the idea is- looking back to the stories that resonate with you- what is it about your spouse that drew you to each other?
4) Stonewalling is the idea in which one individual (in 85% of couples it’s the male for physiological and cultural reasons) in which feel attacked and kind of tune-out. We retreat to our man-cave and we’re there but not present. The idea with stonewalling- the antidote is to do physiological self-soothing. When we’re in a conflict situation, we can get worked up. Importance of taking a time-out which is one method of doing physiological self-soothing. Common advice “Never go to bed angry”- I have to say that’s probably the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard because it basically invalidates the physiological really. Means we’ll try to talk this out and it’s likely related to a perpetual problem- who here is happy and cheery at 3AM? If you’re still trying to work this out then, you’re probably just going to make the fight worse. Let’s take a time out- not avoiding the problem but trying to make this work.
There’s another book by Rabbi Dr. Twersky – ‘The Shame Borne in Silence’ which was not published by Feldheim or Artscroll. Another book – ‘When Men Better Women’ by Dr. Gottman. Victims of abuse are male and female. Historically speaking, victims of battering are women. There’s a disturbing phenomenon in certain communities where couples are very often two-salary homes – disturbing pattern in which women in those communities have become more of the primary physical abuser as well. Additionally, when it comes to victims of emotional abuse, that’s really on both sides of the fence. Men in the room can stand up to perpetrators and for victims whether male or female and promote the idea of working on relationships and having great marriages.
Question: What’s the return rate in frum community of women who go back to their abusers?
Meir: Hard to say as far as real data within the frum community specifically. Even in secular audience if we’d ask who here is in an abusive relationship hands don’t really go up. Your question is what is the return rate of women who leave and then go back? Frequently this happens- it’s hard to say because as Liana mentioned, the data shows that 75% of women who are murdered by their significant others are murdered in that period of time after they leave. That in itself is really scary and part of the puzzle of this very complicated issue that will cause people to go back because on some level I’m alive.
Ali: On average, 7-time return rate. In frum community, 10-13 times because there is the family to work about, stigma that was spoken about tonight, pull of community and family that women and men feel very attached to, feel guilty about taking care of themselves vs. their spouse.
Liana: It takes a frum couple longer than a regular secular couple to even address the issue- whether with a partner, yourself or in therapy. There is a higher return rate but it is also happening later on in the relationship so at that point the abuse is already severe. Abuse usually escalates in severity as time goes on.
Jeremy: Within the Orthodox community, do we think there are things about individuals’ personalities that do not come to light until they are married and living together?
Liana: In my experience, at least in the clinical piece of work that we do, we get a lot of couples who are newly married who have had an abuse history or who have had issues early on in their relationship and because they’ve had a very short dating courtship piece, they’re still in their honeymoon stage when they’ve actually gotten to be married. Living with someone is very different than being in a relationship with someone- there will be a lot more conflict when that happens. Conflict is not necessarily a negative thing always, though.
Meir: Your question is in contradistinction to secular couples is there something that happens with frum couples?
Jeremy: Right, because courtship is shorter and also don’t engage in sexual activity/ living together?
Meir: Something we definitely have to be aware of and guard against- friends setting up friends- idea and thought that the person setting you up knows the individual or they try to research. Important to note within the domestic abuse realm, certain factors that distinguish domestic abusers from someone who has an anger issue is that this power and control issue occurs in the domestic sphere but when talking to Rav or boss they control it.
Ali: It’s no different than the general population. Really being in touch with what you’re hearing or listening to- things we just ignore a lot of the times – some of us are on the older end of what is considered approaching marriageable age. At the same time, really not being pressured to be in a relationship just because told you need to be married at a certain point.
Rachel: First question is – let’s say you know theoretically about a guy who was abusive to a friend of yours- thank God they break up. You hear two years later he’s dating someone who is not a friend of yours. What is your responsibility if you have any responsibility to tell them – we like to think people can change but then again, what would happen if abuse later?
Second question- power and control when it comes to halakhic decisions for your spouse and it’s very socially accepted to hear someone say he will make sure his wife covers X amount of hair. Sometimes in that domain it gets very complicated in terms of whose decision is what- what do you think is a way to work on that whether us trying to set up our friends/ trying to make that a little bit about your spouse’s jurisdiction?
Liana: I’ll take the second question first. When you talk about a couple making a decision, it’s about how you get to that decision. If you’re approached by someone who says this guy only wants a girl like that, hopefully that will be transmitted to the girl and she can decide to agree or disagree. If you’re talking about a girl already in a relationship and they have not spoken about it yet- let’s say keeping Chalav Yisrael in your house is part of it. Girl says my parents don’t keep it and I want to make sure they feel comfortable coming here- her point of view is she doesn’t want it. The other person’s point of view is that he really wants it. It’s about how that decision is come to be made. Whether there is respect between the two people. It sounds to me you’re asking more societally how we can do anything? I think that your question is well received in the dating world – my first impression, though is that it’s okay if it is used in terms of a screening process. Let’s make sure we are on the same page. But if it becomes something where I need this and I need that and they are starting to be in a relationship where this person keeps on saying that vs. what the couple wants together, then that is a separate situation.
Meir: Want to add a few points there. When individuals are not engaged or dating and hear about someone else that he/ she wants this that is the point when choice is really made. At that point, I am electing to pursue this or not to pursue this. Something that separates abusers from others is that they don’t recognize the humanity of their spouse or of the other. If they live in Tucson, Arizona and it’s 105 degrees outside and his wife is pregnant and not feeling well and he’s saying you’d better wear your tights- that’s a problem. Have to recognize that we are humans and we will perhaps struggle with certain elements of religiosity. Before we lived that lifestyle, perhaps. The choices are made and then it’s really the recognition of humanity of the spouse- ability to be fallible. Who here went dating and said to someone I am looking for someone who is really needy? My ideal spouse is really needy and that’s what I’m looking for. But to reframe that, what about a spouse who is in need- can I as a spouse or look for a spouse who can be vulnerable in our relationship? Sue Johnson after Dr. Gottman is probably the leading marriage therapist- gets heavily into the idea of being vulnerable in a relationship.
Rebbetzin Schwartz: I’m going to punt on that first question a little bit. Will tell you a story from earlier this evening. I was teaching an AP Us History crash course tonight. When you’re at the Cold War and you need to be at Reagan, you need to talk about it and get to Eisenhower. So I mentioned to my students that I’m leaving right from there to here so she asked me, “Oh, what’s your expertise on the topic of spousal abuse/ marital abuse?” So I said nothing at all- I’m not there to offer expert abuse. Sounds like the kind of question whose job it is to offer expert abuse. My gut instinct is I wouldn’t have so much faith in the human capacity for change. Complicated- effective way of talking to the person. I think get involved but how to get involved is to turn to the experts which I am not.
There’s been a lot of psychological studies about the phenomenon of bullying at school. Two people in bullying relationship it’s commonly thought but actually there are three people- the bully, victim and the bystanders. The really important thing is what the bystanders do, don’t do, convey by their laughter, acceptance etc. To the extent that I have a role here, it is speaking to the broader culture of the community- neither the abusers or the victims per se but the broader culture of the community. Most of us would have heard a racist joke at Shabbos table we’d gape at them in horrified silence, so the sort of laugh that’s acceptable when people make domestic violence jokes is a problem.
I remember as a kid that we went to a seamstress who worked out of her home and had a boyfriend or husband who was a scary kind of character. I remember very clearly it made a very great impression on me as a kid that my mother asked us to leave and spoke to the seamstress. I think it made such a big impression on me because this was a woman from a different social status/ ethnic background. It would have been easy to write it off. Was also a while ago, awareness not as developed but my mother was not willing to be a bystander. My role is to encourage all of us to shape a community where we are not passive bystanders and to respond to it.
There’s one other thing I want to raise- I did a Motzei Shabbos gathering with young married women of the community to talk about issues in their lives. After that some unmarried women came to talk to me about it. One of the issues that came up to put out there is particularly related to is pressure in relationships around sexual activity before marriage and shomer negiah. Certainly are people in the contemporary Modern Orthodox community may find themselves in a differet place dealing with those issues/ halakhot than the place they were in before and because that might create a sense of guilt/ shame around their own behaviors they may therefore be more open to manipulation/ abuse. Requires acknowledging publicly or at least to the person you’re speaking with is I shifted enough to do X but then I was uncomfortable doing Y. Extra layer that comes in which is layer of single adults who are perhaps shifting their religious position and then layering on to that the problem of abuse in relationships. I think we need to learn to discuss this specifically with women in the communities.
Question: Everyone on the panel has gone to great pains to talk about men vs women but also women vs men but by my unofficial count, 18 cases given, 4 were gender-neutral, 1 was man on man and the other 13 was man abusing women. It just seems like they’re paying a lot of lip service to the idea that it’s equal yet not one case presented in the past two hours or so of a woman abusing a man.
Meir: If I had more time, I would have talked about a lot more. Case I was involved in with dating couple sexually involved where she faked a pregnancy to keep him in the relationship. One of the few instances in which a woman can sexually abuse a man.
Girl: And in a married relationship, woman can actually get pregnant.
Liana: Saying you’re on birth control but really you’re not.
Meir: Another case I worked on was when a man was not allowed to speak to his mother under their roof. (Even on the phone.) Another case- when I was talking about phenomenon in which abusers don’t allow for humanity of their spouses, classic thing that happens is when guy would forget general things, bone-tired and forgot the milk or something. His spouse would make that into World War 3- he would have to sit in a chair and be berated for two hours at a time about how can he do that? How can he do such a horrible thing? Doesn’t he love her? Classically speaking, certainly in the population at large we’ll hear about females as victims, especially in battering realm. Women as breadwinners unfortunately sometimes feel they have bought the right to beat their husbands. There are women using bats against their husbands. I was speaking to someone who was trained during feminist movement-leading-to-domestic violence ~ gut reaction when they hear woman beating husband with a bat is ‘he must have done something really bad to deserve that.’ I appreciate your bringing that up.
Ali: Want to thank everybody for coming- please fill out evaluations. If you want to pass those questions up to Miriam or myself we’ll relate them to Meir or Liana- they can contact you via email if you write your email on the index cards.