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Abused Men: Five Painful Issues They Face

Male victims of intimate partner violence struggle on many levels.

Key points

  • Being a male victim of abuse is often experienced as shameful.
  • There are many obstacles to getting help, and these men are often isolated and feel helpless.
  • Many are fearful of losing their relationships with their children.

Dear Dr. G.,

I am writing this letter to you feeling both embarrassed and ashamed. My 41-year-old son came to visit me and my wife over the Thanksgiving weekend. I was very excited about this visit because I rarely get to see my son, his wife, and his young daughter. My son went to college on the West Coast and remained there after college. My wife and I love the East Coast and plan on living here for the rest of our lives. We see our son and his family approximately every six months and this was a very nerve-wracking experience.

My son had a number of bruises on his wrists as if someone had grabbed him. In addition, it looked as if a bruise on his face was in the midst of healing. When my wife and I asked my son about this, he changed the topic. His wife is very controlling and I overheard the two of them fighting at night. Actually, I mostly heard his wife scolding him. My son seemed very quiet in response. My wife and I have discussed this and my wife suggested that perhaps my son is being abused both physically and emotionally by his wife.

I am baffled. How could this possibly be? My son is a tall and strong young man. I raised him to be respectful of women and to protect himself. How on earth could he allow any abuse to happen?

I guess we aren't really 100 percent sure that my son is being abused but we still need to know where to go from here. We only have one child who we love very much.

An Embarrassed and Confused Father

Dear Father,

Thank you for reaching out to me. I know that this situation is difficult for you on many levels. Of course, it is devastating to see your son hurt (likely) in his intimate relationship where he should feel the most physically and emotionally safe. Sadly, males like females, experience intimate partner abuse but men are less likely to talk about this for many reasons, especially because they are embarrassed that they are victims in a society where men are supposed to be strong. We tend to think that strength and being a victim do not co-exist but that is not always the case. There are strong individuals who are hurt in their relationships while there are more passive types of individuals who experience absolutely no abuse in their intimate relationships.

You are not 100 percent sure that your son is being hurt. You don't need to be 100 percent sure. My suggestion is that you and your wife reach out to your son and speak to him in both a loving and accepting manner. Tell him what you suspect without judgment. My guess is that it will be extremely difficult for him but that he will feel relieved you are giving him an opportunity to speak. After he explains what is truly going on, I suggest that you find out if he is getting any type of mental health support. Perhaps, you can help him find good care. A good therapist will help him navigate his way through and perhaps out of this relationship. Please stay in touch with your son. Consider going out to the West Coast to visit him to check on his emotional and physical health.

Also, research done by Bates (2020) looked closely at the lives of 161 men, ages 20 to 82, and found that abused men experienced some consistent issues. It is important that you be familiar with the results of this study. There were five important findings:

  1. Men who experience intimate partner violence are very likely to also experience both mental health and or physical health issues resulting from the abuse. This includes depression, isolation, self-esteem difficulties, and scars, as well as possible chronic physical health issues.
  2. Many of the men in this study described being fearful that they would never be able to trust any partner in an intimate relationship. They feared being alone for the rest of their lives if and when they left their current relationships.
  3. Many men fear losing their relationships with their children if they leave the abusive relationship. In fact, Bate's research found this to be true in many cases. After leaving the relationship, many had the unfortunate experience of being cut off from their children.
  4. Many of the men in this study, had negative experiences when confiding in friends and family. They experienced being told to act more like a man and were further shamed and humiliated. Hence, it is crucial to be respectful when a male confides in you about his experiences.
  5. There were many obstacles to getting services. Sadly, when reaching out to law enforcement some of the men were not believed as men are often seen as the abusers rather than the victims. This was not, however, always the case.


Bates,E.A.(2020) "No one would ever believe me": An exploration of the impact of intimate partner violence victimization on men. Psychology of Men & Masculinities.Vol.21(4) 497-507.

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