In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our May 2010 issue, we turned to WebMD's mental health expert, Patricia Farrell, PhD, to discuss at what point being hit in a relationship counts as abuse.
Q. During an argument last night, my husband hit me for the first time. When it's just one time, is that physical abuse?
A. It certainly is. Any time one person hits another person, it's considered assault, which is physical abuse.
You may think this is the first time you've been abused, but often other types of abuse precede physically striking out. Think back on your history with your husband. Does he frequently criticize you? Call you names? Prevent you from seeing friends or family? Has he humiliated you in public? Blocked your exit from a room? Denied that his actions are serious -- or implied that you're just being "oversensitive"? All of these actions are emotionally (and verbally) abusive --and each of them can be a precursor to physical abuse.
In addition, according to a number of studies, once a man has been violent, there's a chance he'll become violent again -- maybe even more violent. That's why I highly recommend couples therapy (for you and your husband) and individual therapy (for you). But if you at any time feel unsafe, you should leave immediately and notify the authorities.
You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help finding support groups, counseling, and other resources in your area: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).