I'm not quite sure if this is the right venue for my question but I hope ya'll tolerate it.

My wife grew up in a single family home most of her life with an abusive stepfather the rest of the time.. Nowadays she goes totally overboard compensating for her childhood to the point that it's negatively impacting both our relationship and how we are raising our son.

  • it's almost impossible to punish him, especially anything that takes a period of resolve to do (e.g. multi day loss of privilege)
  • her way or else (otherwise I'm abusive, neglectful, etc).
  • she spends a disproportionate amount of time doing "things" for other folks.. you know the proverb about teaching a man to fish? She just hands them a cooler packed full, already cooked with tartar sauce.

Anyways I've always known she had some issues in this regard but it seems to have been magnified by our (currently 6 year old) son.. Any insight would be much appreciated.

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    Tim, I get that you two have differing parenting styles, yours more disciplinarian and hers more permissive. Have you discussed any parenting methods that you do agree on? Have you discussed this with a professional? Is her generosity a parenting issue, and if it is, how (e.g. does it take too much parenting time away? Is she a SAHM, or is she working, etc.) The more details you provide, the better we can answer your question. Thanks. May 29, 2015 at 23:05
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    Hi! Just wanted to point out that parenting programmes recommend against multiday loss of privs as being ineffective. Removing a priv for 30 minutes is better. This is because of the way children perceive time. This doesn't answer your question, sorry!
    – DanBeale
    May 31, 2015 at 7:21
  • 1
    @user3143 If you want to discuss the merits or not of long-term punishment, please do it in chat or ask a new question. The comment debate is not productive for the OP, and the topic is way more complex than can be adequately covered in 600 characters.
    – Acire
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


As a parent who grew up in an abusive home-life situation, I can connect with your wife's perspective. Growing up, I never knew when the next blow was coming. I could say something "wrong", have an expression on my face that looked "disrespectful" and suddenly I was slammed up against a wall getting yelled at by a man who I didn't doubt was capable of beating me into unconsciousness.

The first time my husband did anything "violent" (ie, throwing an empty plastic hamper at a wall) I reacted inside as if someone had struck me. Kids who grow up in a situation where they were constantly threatened develop a knee-jerk reaction to any physical (or verbal) expression of anger. We also overreact to the idea of punishment, because punishment was never appropriate or deserved. It was used by our abuser to make himself (or herself) feel good, at our expense.

I've been through years of counseling, and also spent a couple of years working with other adults who grew up abused. Though I have never met your wife, based on my own experience and stories that I heard in the years coordinating an abuse recovery group, I can tell you that she has a deep well of anger. All abused kids develop it. (And it never totally goes away; the best you can do is acknowledge it and take measures to deal with it.) Whenever you want to punish your child (regardless of whether the punishment is appropriate or deserved) she is going to immediately flash back emotionally to her childhood. You suddenly become her father.

Let me be absolutely clear on this; you can't "fix" this yourself. She needs to be shown by someone who she does not associate with her family (current or past) how her upbringing has warped her sense of perspective. Do not point this out to her, by the way. It will make things worse, I guarantee it.

She needs to get into counseling. I don't know how opposed she will be to this. I was lucky, in that a man who I admired greatly and who was also a brilliant counselor, set me up to have a very positive attitude toward counseling.

Even with this, for me, it was a very long and steep climb. Trying to rewire a brain that is screaming at you "this is wrong! this is scary! this is dangerous!" is not fun and takes a great deal of strength and, most of all, trust. Her counselor will need to be able to gain her trust, and you need to gain her trust. This isn't any reflection on you, but simply having good intentions isn't enough when you are dealing with abuse survivors. People have triggers that make them feel "safe", and abusive survivors need them more than most people. You need to learn your wife's specific trust triggers. Once she is able to feel safe, she'll be able to deal better with situations which trigger her "alarms" but which aren't actually alarm type situations.

By the way, I don't know if this will make you feel any better but you are fortunate in that your wife went the "right" way in falling on the side of "no abuse, ever". Many kids that grow up with abusers become abusers themselves. She deserves to be given credit there.

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    I appreciate you sharing your experience and perspective. Understanding and handling triggers like this is absolutely a lifelong process for both partners in a relationship — difficult, but doable.
    – Acire
    Jun 2, 2015 at 16:09
  • my partner had similar issues and over-compensates. With the same criticism back if I'm remotely critical of the small people. Minor difference is that she knows that she does it, but sees it as a lesser evil, and that comes from counselling Nov 24, 2017 at 13:56

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