What set her corporate executive husband off this time, Jean recalled, was the traffic ticket. He got it in the middle of the day, returned to their fashionable home in the Washington suburbs and beat her up while her three children watched in terror.

"There was no argument," she said. "He just kicked in the door, kicked over the lamps and kicked me."

Jean, whose world was an affluent one of big homes, ocean-front property and private schools and ballet lessons for the children, is one of an estimated 2 million abused and battered women in this country.

In the Washington area, where increased incidents of domestic violence are taxing the resources of community crisis shelters, the woman who flees for her life in the middle of the night is more likely to be running from a $150,000 suburban dream home than an inner-city slum apartment

The alarming number of spouse abuse cases in suburbia has driven one disillusioned family crisis counselor to watching televison reruns of "The Brady Bunch" for relaxation.

"It's great," she sighed. "Mr. Brady never hits Mrs. Brady, and they have one problem a show and they always solve it."

Domestic violence experts report, however, that real family life in America seldom functions that smoothly. Current economic stresses have only increased tensions in the family and further strained the few facilities equipped to deal with abuse problems.

Washington area shelters, some of the 300 operating around the country, accommodated nearly 1,000 women last year and received at least twice that many telephone calls for assitance or information.

Shelter counselors say they have given emergency housing to the wives of doctors, lawyers and high government and embassy officials as well as to women of middle-income or impoverished families. The woman may leave home with the family's Lincoln Continental -- and nothing else. One shelter coordinator says she has never forgotten the sight of the rich McLean housewife who had welts on her body "the size of dinner plates."

This week the Senate is considering House-passed legislation that would provide some $65 million over the next three years to establish more community shelters and to improve training for police officers who regularly deal with family abuse situations.

Boistered by statistics that show one out of four couples can expect to experience a spouse abuse problem in the lifetime of a marriage, sponsors and supporters of the bill argue that the issue cuts across all social, economic and ethnic barriers.

"Whether you come from Montgomery County or the Eastern Shore or the city of Abltimore, it's just one large scream in the middle of the night for help," said Rep. Barbara Mikulski, the Baltimore Democrat and one of the legislation's sponsors.

Maryland has several spouse abuse shelters, including facilities in Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Baltimore, and the state legislature has appropriated $60,000 for 1981 to help set up or maintain shelters in 15 counties.

Virgina, said by one counselor to be "light years behind" Maryland in addressing the problem, has recently allocated three staff positions to help raise shelter funds from private and federal government sources.

"In Virginia, it's a very new thing," said Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), who used her position on the House Appropriations Committee to push through some form of shelter assistance initally sought by Del. Warren Stambaugh (D-Arlington).

Both Fairfax County and Arlington have shelters for abused spouses, although the tiny Arlingotn facility gives out its number only to police and social service agencies for fear of being "inundated" with calls from victims. Alexandria opened a special center yesterday.

"I've seen women who have been slapped, punched, kicked, who had a couple of ribs broken or a lip torn off," said Wendy Regis, coordinator of the Fairfax shelter in Reston. "It's going to take them a long time to stop shaking."

Regis doesn't share these brutal images readily, cautioning that a woman doesn't have to be beaten black and blue to gain admittance to the shelter.

"The woman I want to reach may never have been beaten," said Regis. "But she may have been choked or had a revolver held to her head or be living with a husband who keeps a knife under his pillow."

Echoing the observations of other shelter counselors, Regis says that about two-thirds of domestic violence incidents involve alcohol and that many women suffer abuse and beatings from their husbands for years before finally deciding to get help. The victims can range in age from 17 to 76, and most are apt to call for help on a Monday -- after a weekend of violence at home.

The reasons women put up with abuse and beatings are complex and probably connected to their own emotional and financial dependence on their husbands, the desire to keep the family together and declining self-esteem.

"You can't have dignity lying on the floor with blood coming out of your mouth -- and that's where most of these women have been," said Elizabeth Fischer, a former battered wife who is founder and executive director of the Assisi shelter in Prince George's County.

What often triggers a woman's decision to leave home is an incident involving her children.

"He finally beat me up bad enough in front of my children, and he scared my 7-year-old daughter and told her this is how it would be for her," said Donna Curtis, whose voice still wavers when she describes her nine-year marriage.

Now a member of a Montgomery County group known as Network of Abused Women, Curtis, 27, is one of the few women willing to discuss publicly her days as a battered wife. She and others in the group hope to focus attention on the problem and improve assistance for women who choose to leave home.

She and other Washington area wives said that moving out of the home takes courage, particularly for women used to a fairly affluent life style.

"You just feel so alone when it (a beating) happens," said Curtis. "It's not something you can tell your mother or your neighbors."

Montgomery and District of Columbia shelter residents also complained that police summoned to the scene of family battles sometimes tend to place blame for the assault on the wife.

"Police, if they come at all, usually walk the husband around the block and suggest he leave for the night," said Donna Lenhoff, of the Women's Legal Defense Fund. "There's no on-the-spot protection unless the man is holding a gun or the woman is black and blue."

It can take weeks for a woman to secure court action to stop a husband from assaulting her, and months to win a support or property settlement should the woman seek a formal separation or divorce, according to counselors.

In the meantime, women unaccustomed to getting by on their own are suddenly confronted with the need to find a new home, a job, legal advice, day care and other support services.

"Finding housing in this county (Montgomery) is absolutely the pits," said Judi Tucker, who left her advertising executive husband and is now going it alone on an $11,000-a-year salary as an office worker. She rents a house for her three children with another tenant.

That, the women complain, is one of the biggest ironies in the spouse abuse situation: it's usually the victim who has to leave home.

Audrey Durant receives $350 a month in child support from her husband and began work as a sales clerk recently when she found day care for her five children. She wants to keep the children in the same Montgomery County schools they have been attending, but is finding it tough.

"I was getting food stamps, but I made $9 too much so they cut me off," she said. "I had to give up my car because I couldn't make the payments, and that has made transportation almost impossible."

Jean, the woman who gave up two houses, the ocean-front and mountain property when she left her husband, says she and her children face eviction this Saturday because the lease is up and she has been unable to find other housing in Montgomery County.

"If your husband comes home and beats you, you've got the same problem as a truck driver's wife or a janitor's wife," she said. "I was not low income until I left home.

Judi Tucker concedes that her children "were accustomed to a certain kind of life" that is now lost to them while "mom" struggles to make an independent life.

"But once the kids are in bed, and you can sit down and relax and have peace of mind and not be tense or worried about your safety or the children's safety, it's worth it," she said.

Women interested in more information or assistance from area shelters may call these numbers: Fairfax County: 435-4940; Alexandria: 750-5746; Montgomery County: 279-1331; Prince George's County: 420-0700; the District of Columbia: 529-5991 or 842-0190.