Tough Love

Tough Love.

Camille was at her wit’s end, looking exhausted and depressed, when she was referred to me. Her left eyelid was badly lacerated. The swelling on the left side of her face with slight hematoma indicated she was still in recovery. Her arms and wrists bore discernible blue-black marks. And she walked with a limp. Recently, she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Her two young daughters were in elementary school, and her husband was unaware that she had an appointment with me. He had declined to enter into therapy together with her in the past. Camille was teary throughout our initial interview session.

Despite all the intermittent battering for the last 15 years, with the worst abusive episodes in the last 3 years, since Craig’s business venture went sour, she had remained faithful to him, and still loved him. Although there were signs of his violent behaviour when they were courting each other, she said she was too much in love to pay any serious attention to them. “Anyway, he was always very apologetic after each abusive bout. His tantrums were controlled then,” she said. He had thrown all sorts of household items around the home: glassware, plates and pans, a table fan and coffee tables, but never directly at her. The last straw that brought her into counselling was when in a fit of rage, Craig hurled a dining table chair in her direction when her two girls were near her. It missed them by inches!

Like most women who had been conditioned to tolerate repeated spousal abuse, Camille’s ability to decide and empower herself was markedly diminished. In the following sessions, we patiently unpacked her cognitive distortions and presumptions about her marital relationship with Craig, before enabling her to make clear decisions to save herself and her daughters.

After a few weeks, while still undergoing chemotherapy, Craig suddenly pushed her hard one morning. She lost her balance, hit her head against a piece of furniture as she fell, and was unconscious for a few minutes. When she regained consciousness, Craig walked out of the house, leaving her alone. She called me, and I instructed her to see her family doctor immediately, and have him write out a detailed clinical report of her injuries and how they were sustained. We scheduled an appointment instantly after she got the medical report. Camille was now ready to make some ‘tough love’ decisions, which she had previously avoided. A police report was lodged that afternoon, and we began looking for temporary accommodation for her and her daughters as soon as they were able to slip out of their home, for their own safety.

Camille and her girls stayed away from home for nearly a month, despite Craig’s urgent and constant pleadings and promises to reform. Before Camille moved back home, and despite Craig’s objections, they met at a lawyer’s office to work through some safe conditions for her and her children to move back home. It took two sessions with their respective lawyers before agreement was reached. Craig consented to receive oversight from their church pastor, and psychological therapy for managing his anger. If he became abusive again, a police report would be lodged, and separation proceedings would commence.