By Esther Mann, LCSW
I was married to Dov for less than two years. Everyone thought I landed the catch of the century. He was good-looking, smart, from a good family—everyone thought I was the luckiest woman in the world. What no one knew—except for his family, I’m sure—was that Dov had terrible anger-management issues and was capable of abusive behavior.
His behavior toward me changed dramatically as soon as we were married. He was suddenly very impatient and controlling. If I did anything wrong, even something silly, like forgetting to bring salt to the table, he would rage at me. Everything had to be perfect. And even if it was perfect, he’d still find something to complain about.
I was confused about what to do. Everyone thought we were the perfect couple; I just couldn’t imagine what people’s reactions would be if they heard that we were divorcing. I didn’t even want to tell my parents how awful he was because I didn’t want to upset them. They had been so excited about the shidduch that I didn’t want to burst their bubble.
One day, Dov just snapped. It wasn’t over anything serious. He was just angry with me for some silly reason and I finally answered him back and told him to cut it out and get a grip. The next thing I knew he pushed me against the wall, was in my face, and grabbed my arm so tightly that it left a mark. His eyes were bulging and for a minute I thought that he was going to hurt me seriously.
At that moment I knew I would leave him. I knew in my heart that his rages would just keep escalating and someday I would find myself hurt. It didn’t matter anymore who would be upset, disappointed, or surprised. I knew I had to get out and get far away from him.
All of that is just background. Here’s my real question. Dov still somehow has this amazing reputation. I choose not to go around talking about him. I decided that people would think what they wanted to think. I just wanted to start my own life and move forward.
But I’ve recently gotten two separate calls from women who were to be set up with him and they wanted to know if there was anything they should know about Dov before going out with him. I was caught off guard and wasn’t certain how I should handle such a call. I wound up not being particularly honest with either of these women and I didn’t share the fact that he was verbally abusive and, at the end, physically abusive. I just kind of said that we brought out the worst in one another and left it at that. As I’m writing this, it sounds as though I’m protecting him, which, for the life of me, I can’t understand why I would do—unless I think that telling people how awful he was would reflect badly on me as well, for marrying such a man.
I’ve been feeling very guilty and regretting that I kept this information secret from these two women. I’ve spoken to various people who told me I did the right thing, but I’m not so sure.
Right now people are setting me up and, honestly, if someone knows something specific, something that’s a deal-breaker, about a person I’m going to be set up with, I would want to know about it beforehand. Which leads me to think that if another woman can save me from making another horrible mistake in the future, shouldn’t I take the same responsibility and save another woman from my former fate?
What would you advise I do if I get more calls in the future asking me specific questions about Dov? Should I be honest with the callers about why I left Dov and share with them the fact that he has a very serious anger-management issue, or do you think it is somehow wrong to tell others the truth about him?
A Keeper of Secrets
I’m quite certain that somewhere in your question is a halachic aspect that I cannot address. So let me first be clear that if you are looking for some kind of insight in that regard, I’m the wrong person to talk to.
With that said, I will address this from a practical perspective, which I can do with confidence. It begins with my belief that we are all our brother’s keepers and it is incumbent upon all of us to care about and protect each other. And when opportunities arise that put us in a position to affect another person’s life in a meaningful way, it is important that we rise to the occasion.
Furthermore, there are times when women feel as though they are getting the short end of the stick and therefore need additional care and protection. Though I don’t want to make this a feminist issue, and I am far from a feminist, in issues of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, some people might say that it’s a man’s world.
This entire preamble leads to the answer I feel compelled to give you. I absolutely feel that not only is it the right thing to do to share your experience with women who are asking you specifically about Dov’s personality, but it is your duty to share what you know. It sounds as though Dov is charming enough to trick another innocent young woman into marriage easily enough. If this woman were your sister, your daughter, or your best friend, wouldn’t you want her to get a heads-up regarding Dov’s issues and then decide for herself whether to take a risk on dating him? I would imagine so.
Now, in order for you to respond in a way that doesn’t reek of “scorned ex-wife” or “woman out for revenge,” or even someone bent on destroying Dov’s reputation, there is a gentle way you can respond to the previous callers or to future callers who may inquire about Dov. It would go something like this: “When Dov and I were married, he had terrible anger issues that resulted in abuse. I don’t know whether or not he’s gone for help and whether today he is a changed man.”
Keep it simple and to the point. You don’t have to go into any specific details—it’s really not necessary. But with such a response, anyone interested in being responsible will hear your message and act on it, if she so chooses. At that point, you know you’ve done your duty and the rest is up to them. Should you hear someday that Dov remarried and the second marriage ended in divorce, you’ll have no regrets because you will know in your heart that you did all you could do to warn the next innocent victim (assuming he hasn’t gone for help and subsequently changed).
There is a theme here that applies to various situations we sometimes find ourselves in. Occasionally, we hold information that is relevant and potentially hurtful to another human being. It’s a difficult spot to be in. We don’t ask to be put in that position. And it’s all too easy to take the path of least resistance and decide not to get involved for one reason or another. Frankly, most people would probably take a pass when it comes to getting involved in other people’s business. But from a humanistic perspective, that doesn’t make it right. If we have the power to protect even one person from harm, but we give up that power and allow that person to fall into harm’s way as a result, it’s an unnecessary waste of human potential.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.