He only hit her twice. That was one of the arguments of actor Dennis Waterman when he tried to explain himself after spontaneously admitting the domestic abuse that he evoked on his then wife Rula Lenska. However, physical abuse is never about the numbers and is never an isolated incident: it is the outcome of an unhealthy relationship between two people who fail to assess their relationship correctly and have personal issues which, for various reasons, fail to address.

The couple during their eleven-year marriage

The couple during their eleven-year marriage

Another interesting remark of the actor was that “The problem with strong, intelligent women is that they can argue, well. And if there is a time where you can’t get a word in … and I … I lashed out. I couldn’t end the argument.” He also claimed that “If a woman is a bit of a power freak and determined to put you down, and if you’re not bright enough to do it with words, it can happen.”

That clearly demonstrates Waterman’s incapacity to resolve conflict using intellectually powerful arguments (in contrast to physically mighty fists). It also goes on to prove that human weakness doesn’t lie only in their stature, but in their lack of ability to maintain compose when under pressure and preserve their values. However, if the person has drinking or other issues (as both people involved in this marriage have more or less confessed), it is more likely that they will loose control of their actions.

However, despite his acceptance of the events, Waterman remains oblivious of the true extent of his role. By claiming that “She certainly wasn’t a beaten wife, she was hit and that’s different”, he refuses to acknowledge his role as perpetrator. By maintaining that “it’s not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her” he undermines good men’s emotional investment in relationships and feelings of protection that they develop towards their partners (who, for them, are not just punching bags). He also attempts (intentionally or subconsciously) to justify his own actions, not only to the public, but to himself.

Victims of abuse are often in no position to defend themselves or walk away, due to social, financial or emotional reasons. An abusive situation may be the outcome of personal issues, it creates though more complications, due to the unhealthy environment that it creates for everyone involved. The situation is even more complex in societies where the social being is interwoven with private life and social respect and acceptance is strongly connected to family unity. However, private happiness does promote social harmony and development. Furthermore, just like their victims, perpetrators of violence need to seek help. It is the only way to bring dignity, respect and happiness into their lives and assist them in building a better future for themselves, accepting the impact of their action and breaking the circle of violence. Shaming should not be the only way to treat perpetrators, especially in societies that pride themselves of their reformative institutions.

Respect for a partner demonstrates respect for the relationship and encourages the reciprocation of that attitude. It creates a virtuous circle that brings meaning and quality to the relationship. On the contrary, abuse is an indicator of low self-esteem and the fear of ineptitude, which leads to an effort to keep the other person near by force. An abuser is an unhappy person who is in such emotional need to maintain control her life and the people that bring meaning to it. The problem is that respect can actually bring true happiness, but it is a lifestyle choice that includes risk and acceptance of the partner’s freedom of thought and individuality. Abuse, however, is a much more certain bet: it only brings shame to both parties and misery.

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