Q. I'm the proud mother of one child who will be 8 months old in a week and I want to know: Why are some men so controlling? So possessive? So abusive?

My boyfriend and I have been together for close to three years. In that time he has emotionally and physically hurt me. I attempted to leave him twice and I always ended up back with him.

Now I'm scared he may get violent with our daughter around.

She may not know why or what we are arguing about or why her mommy is crying, but she does feel bad when I'm sad. I don't want her growing up thinking it's okay for a man to hurt her the way her father hurts me. But I want us to be together as a family.

Should I suggest counseling?

A. You and your boyfriend need counseling, but let's look at the big picture first.

It's all very well to want to be together as a family, but are you sure you want to be together as a dysfunctional family? Do you want your little girl to grow up thinking that violence is a normal way to resolve problems?

At this point, she is not only seeing her daddy hurt you; she's seeing you let him hurt you and that's bad. The way you handle this relationship will decide how well you handle the next one and it will also teach your child how to handle her future relationships.

You are not alone, however. Almost 4 million American women were abused by their husbands or boyfriends last year.

One major study found that half of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also abused their children frequently. Child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in families where domestic violence is present.

Your child is at risk emotionally as well as physically. Her neural pathways are developing now and the sights and sounds of abuse can affect them. There is also a wealth of diverse and well-documented evidence to show that violence at home can seriously affect older children. They are often depressed, afraid or withdrawn or have a low self-esteem or poor social skills or they may blame themselves and feel powerless or become impulsive or aggressive. Boys who grow up in a violent household are three times more likely to abuse their own wives.

The intensity and the frequency of abuse may change, but never the sequence. First there's the honeymoon when all is glorious, then the buildup of tension and finally the abuse itself, only to be followed by the honeymoon, the tension and more abuse -- on and on and on.

Victims of domestic violence have only two options. They must either break the cycle or move out.

To break it, you and your boyfriend need a support group, so he can learn to communicate; to set his own limits; to trust himself and others; to understand why he reacts with violence and above all to make other choices as soon as he experiences signs of anger.

You need a support group, too -- to learn why you are afraid to leave; what stands in your way, and what you must do before you leave home. You not only will need a place to live, a job, money and legal aid, you will also need a secret refuge to go to as soon as you leave, for abused women are particularly vulnerable to further abuse.

One way or another, a support group can get you through it.

You can find good ones from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233 or Parents Anonymous, 909-621-6184 and get excellent information on abuse from the Family Violence Prevention Fund at 415-252-8900 or from its Web site [www.fvpf.org]. The local branch of the American Bar Association will tell you where to get free legal help. Washington-Maryland residents also can call the Family Tree's Parent Stressline at 800-243-7337 for guidance, and the House of Ruth in Maryland, at 888-880-7884, and the Family Law Hotline, at 800-845-8550, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For more information, read "When Violence Begins at Home" (Hunter House, $19.95), by K. J. Wilson. It should strengthen your resolve.

Questions may be sent to margukelly@aol.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.