February 5, 2003
Dear Dr. Irene,
My dad was a professional wrestler and was gone from
most of my childhood – always on the road. He was a BIG guy with
tattoos, and I always felt intimidated by him. My mother was always
there and loved me unconditionally. We traveled a lot. I was in a
different school every 6 months to a year. I was always the “new kid”
and was bullied and picked on. Looking back now, my seeds of
codependency were already planted: a father with Narcissistic traits,
a mother who was codependent - and me, with low self esteem.
As I got older I got more assertive and channeled my
energy into Meditation, the Gym, and studying martial arts. This
helped greatly. But through it all, I was taught that as a man,
I should ‘control’ my emotions – never display anger, etc.
I know that's destructive because it
disconnected you from your feelings, but there's also a positive here.
You learned self-discipline, an excellent requisite skill.
Then, I went to a military college (received lots of
abuse the first year, and dished it out the next three years) and I
got a degree in Psychology. Well, gee whiz!
Through those four years I first became a master at
taking abuse while standing at attention, and then a master at
dishing it out. After school I joined the military as an officer
and then came Desert Storm, but that’s another story in itself.
One brawny guy!
I married my first wife and it lasted about 8 months
(six of those I was in the Gulf War). When I met her she had little
money and lived with her mother. While in the Gulf, she cheated. I
called home from the war and a man answered the phone. Then friends
and family told me about what had gone on. Finally she filed for
divorce. I was angry at being cheated on and the fact that I still
wanted the relationship to work (looking back, I think I was very
controlling). I felt the huge pain of being cheated on while at war -
and still wanted her back! Her refusal to see me and filing for
divorce hurt. Of course, I lost everything in the divorce: my
step-son whom I loved so much and haven’t seen again, my house, all my
money, etc. I came out of the military and then went to work for
local government. Ouchhh...
My second marriage was around three years later. I had
just gotten a DUI. Yea, my attempt to escape the little voice, the
feelings of low self esteem, guilt over the war, a failed marriage
etc. And she was living with her mother too! Another one! Why didn’t
I see a pattern? We got married - and I found out she was cheating on
me with her boss - found letters and confronted her.
I kicked her out of the house, told her to go to
counseling (surly I didn’t have a problem! Hehehe!), and to get a
life. I told her I could not make her happy, only she could do that
(too bad I didn’t follow my own advice). Six months later we started
dating, and she came back home.
Although she came back, I started feeling this void in
my life – I couldn’t put a finger on it. Her presence felt
overbearing. Not mean or verbally abusive, but I just did not like to
be in the house. She wasn't really doing anything wrong, but I got
bored around her because she would always have this ‘HoneyDo List’ and
I felt like I was working harder at home than I was at work. So, I
started spending a lot of time on activities out of the house while
she stayed home after work and gained weight.
I suggested we go to the gym together. She went a few
times then quit. We made love maybe 6 times in the last 3 years of
the marriage. We were roommates that just happened to sleep in the
same bed. I felt stagnated and that I was not ‘growing’. I wanted
out, and we filed for a friendly divorce. Of course, I gave her
everything (house, furniture, cars, etc.) out of guilt because I felt
to blame for giving up. But in all honesty, I wanted out at any cost
to restart my life and control my own destiny. Looking back, I don't
think I ever forgave her cheating.
One year after our divorce, I began drinking socially.
I had quit in the past, but after getting my life back together, I
began to trust myself more and could enjoy 3-4 beers on a weekend (oh,
oh!). I generally liked being on my own, but eventually became board
and got involved with many outside activities. (Hmmmm).
I went to a bar with a friend and a waitress sat down
with me and started talking. She gave me her number and asked me to
call her. I did. And I picked her up from her mother’s house
(AGAIN??! WHY DID I NOT SEE ALL THIS?)
Our dates went well and I found myself really falling
for this girl. We had so much in common – both had been in the
Military, she had two previous marriages, she had a son and I wanted
one. We liked the same things (going to bike rallies, dancing, fixing
my house). We fell in love quickly. We spent romantic evenings
together, sitting in the tub and talking. We did a lot of
talking. Through our courtship there were many times that she would
break down in tears talking about a rape, two husbands that beat on
her, her father's and her sister's death, etc. (Hmmm, red flag! – Why
did I not see it?) I sympathized with her. She got a job working for
an attorney. She’s very intelligent and has a very powerful
personality. She was having some trouble with her mom. I, the
codependent one, suggested she move in - and she did. At time passed,
she drank more and more. Then came the profanity, the verbal abuse,
the complete disrespect, the shoving, the slapping, the yelling, etc.
I can go on and on. And I sat there and took it. My little voice
said “GET OUT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP NOW!” But I did not.
I took on the roll of the fixer. Sober, she was the
sweetest thing in the world. I gave her my Corvette, while I drove
her beat-up Mazda. I was forbidden to call my house “My House.” It was
“Our Home”. She told me where the furniture needed to be, etc. All
of this came about because I loved her and wanted to give her what she
wanted. Guys are so often like this... A
wonderful trait - when tempered by sense of Self and boundaries.
When she was drunk, I knew I would get her
rage. Example: At Wal-Mart she blew-up because I would not buy her
teeth-whitener. At home that night she flew into a rage about the
teeth-whitener and slapped me. Now I am 5’10, 200 lbs and pretty
fit. She is 5’ and about 100 lbs.
The next weekend, drunk again, she said she needed
space, and went to a bar. She did not come home until 4:30 in the
morning. The next morning I asked where she had been. She said she
got disoriented coming home from the bar, pulled up to the wrong
house, and fell asleep in the car. (Come-on!) This is just one
example. Most of this mis-behavior was displayed in front of her son.
I told her I was going to stay with my sister; I was no
longer going to put-up with this behavior. I stayed the weekend and
when I got home on Sunday I said, “We need to talk.” She immediately
replied, “I have done nothing wrong!”
Then it was MY time to blow-up. (I know, I know,
WRONG!) Blow-up I did. I yelled, screamed, cried. I told her it was
over. She pleaded, cried, and grabbing on to me saying, “Please don’t
go, I love you.” I said “If you quit drinking and we both go to
counseling, then I might reconsider.” She said that she would - and
We had one counseling session, but the next appointment
was a month away. Things were going great and she was doing her
part. I asked her to marry me. (I know, I know, you codependent guy,
you!) I loved her deeply, but I made sure the wedding was over a year
and a half away to give us time to work our our problems.
As time passed, the wedding date kept getting
moved-up. Big plans for a wedding and honeymoon... And a big pit
began to form in my stomach. I began to resent her. I had put up with
her crap for so long and here she was driving MY CAR, IN MY HOUSE,
INVADING MY LIFE!
I began to get ‘snippy.’ I was not the catering guy I
had been. Anger began to well. I had Anxiety about our approaching
wedding when we had not worked things out! I did not want anther
divorce. I had suffered too much loss in the past. I began to think
of her as a vampire: sucking me dry, my identity, my life blood
She became curt and aloof. Sex and intimacy began to
dwindle. Then, she brought a dog home (the straw that broke the
camels back). (Of course, had she brought home a
cat, everything would have been fine!) I tried to persuade her
to give the dog back. He was pooping in the house, etc. She was
immovable. She refused to talk about it and refused to do anything
about the dog that was crapping in the house, keeping me up all hours
of the night, etc.
I blew-up again, and this time I because quite verbally
abusive. She just sat there watching T.V. ignoring me. I went to
stay with my sister again for the weekend (my sister and brother-in
law now tired of our fights and tired with her). After I allowed
myself to cool-off, I told her that we could try it again, but things
would be different. The engagement was off until we got these
problems worked-out. She refused to live together unless I gave her
ring back and kept the marriage date we had.
I told her it was over. I could not put-up with this
behavior from myself or from her. I felt drained. I felt total loss
of everything. I felt the potential loss of another son and wife,
both of whom I loved. Good for you for
recognizing that both of you were misbehaving. You were back into
taking it and dishing it out, and she, apparently was doing same. Good
for you for insisting you both become more whole!
Finally, I began to put the pieces of my life back
together. I broke-down one night and cried for three hours. This
night, after reading ‘Codependent
No More: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself’
and spending many hours on this website, I began to review things in
my life. THEN IT HIT ME. I felt rage, sadness, bitterness. I cried
and cried. I tried to stop crying and could not. Finally, the crying
stopped and I felt 110% better. :) A
little connecting with long-lost feelings methinks! I
somehow felt assertive, in control. I started getting my life back.
Now I feel like I can do anything. I could not remember having this
feeling before. I feel powerful. Not in a controlling way, but an
inner power. Excellent. It's called "Personal
Power." Sense of self. Mastery. Centeredness. Wholeness.
My Ex-fiancÚ are now ‘dating’ and things are going
well. Good! We are both in counseling and
hope one day to try a move-in again. I just know that I will NOT put
up with abusive behavior and I will not allow myself to become
codependent or abusive again. She has
‘baggage’ that needs addressing and she is working on it, just as I
am. Excellent! She is reading another
book about codependency and we can talk without hurting each other.
We both still love each other but we need space apart. It's
a good idea to really get your boundaries down pat alone before you
try maintaining them in a live-in situation. I don’t think she
likes living back at her mother's, but it’s what I need and I think
she needs to ‘find herself,’ just like I am in the processes of
doing. I agree! I will never compromise
myself again! Good! As you continue to choose
the "high road" and stop selling yourSelf out, you will develop an
ever deepening sense of self-respect, mastery, power, and integrity.
It becomes easier and easier to do what you know you must do, no
Is it possible for two people who were abusive to each
other to change to a point to have a normal relationship – I mean
without abuse or controlling issues? Yes.
Certainly you can. And, unless she is way far off the narcissistic end
of the scale, so can she. I pray that this is so. I think
about her and when I see her; all I want to do is hug her. I miss her
being with me from time to time, but I don't miss the abuse.
What I really like is your ability to
spot your own issues - and your ability to understand what
issues are hers. Boundaries are so very important to being
centered in the Self. If you don't know where you begin and you end,
you run the risk of making another individual responsible for your
issues (as in narcissistic, sociopathic, BPD tendencies) and/or
taking responsibility for another person's problems (as in
dependent, histrionic tendencies, etc.), both no-win situations. Go
slow and no matter how much you love her, never sell out the
information the little voice offers in favor of the short-term gain of
having the warm body around.
When and if the wedding day approaches
again, watch your fear and approach it with respect. When you
find yourself bored with her or feel as though she's taken over your
life, remember that she hasn't done anything. But you have.
You have sold yourSelf out.
You may want to look at these books, if
you haven't seen them already:
Thanks for reading; I know it was very long. It helped
me, just in writing it. Thanks for this website – It has changed my
Thank you Steven. Thank you for
writing about your story. It's great to get stories from men. It's so
much harder for guys to think about this stuff and write about it. In
most cultures, including our own, guys are taught from early on to be
tough and not feel.
Plus I'm happy to support those who
have supported our wonderful country in any way I can.
Warmest regards and God bless you, Dr.
Anybody have comments for Steven?
Steven's May 2003