Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 1999
Subject: I think I've had
I've been married almost 3 years and
I'm seriously thinking of calling it quits. I'm tired of his
constant criticism, advice-giving, his need to be right about
everything, blaming, etc. I thought that things were getting
better (we've been going to counseling and it's helped decrease the
number of arguments), but after this weekend I have my doubts.
people - perhaps I should call them "closeness phobes" - since
that is what the phenomenon really amounts to - tend to stir up trouble
just when things are going well, just when things are getting better.
It is frightening for them to feel close to their partner. With
closeness they confer to you the power to devastate them. They are
inclined to push you away before you hurt them. Rotten strategy.
We had some really good times together this past week-we went on
vacation and enjoyed hiking, being outdoors together, relaxing, etc. But
towards the end of the week, he started telling me that I shouldn't talk
about some of the places I've visited because that's bragging, Nope. that I was selfish because I stood in
front of someone's car when I took a photo of Mt. McKinley (he's says I
blocked their view, (Why should he care; it's not
his view!) but I was standing near their trunk and if by chance I
was in their way, they could have asked me to move), Absolutely...don't defend yourself! This puts you in a
one-down position, though I understand you are trying to explain the
circumstances. and that saying "no" to sex after having
sex four days in a row was "ignoring his needs", and trying to
have total control over our sex life" (never mind that I was
satiated). Exactly. If both people don't
want to do something, the "something" is not done. HE is
selfish if he expects you to have sex when you do not want to - for any
reason! A more caring individual would not want to have sex if you did
not want to. And after the second night when I wasn't interested
in sex (no surprise when he'd been sniping at me all day), Yes, one of the first things to go under conflict is
sex. he really got going on the blaming-"I'm killing his
career," and "I'm not willing to sacrifice my career for the
sake of our marriage," and on and on ad nauseam. A partner would not want you to "sacrifice"
anything. A partner is interested in your well-being and your self-actualization.
"Destroying his career" is his favorite accusation. In
fact, he's started almost 80 arguments over the last 10 months on that
issue. He can't argue alone. Don't participate. Last
fall, I was "killing his career" by leaving a job that I had
been dissatisfied with for several years - he's known for over two years
that I've been looking around for something different. Don't defend it! But my dissatisfaction didn't
matter Nope, he's plain selfish. , he
wanted access to the computers where I worked. After I changed jobs in
March, his complaint changed: the commuting each weekend is killing his
career (I find it strange that commuting is harmful to his career now
that I have a better job, but that it wasn't harmful to his career last
fall when he accepted the only position he was offered, even though it
meant several hours round-trip drive each week). Boy,
you are angry at him! Because I'm established
and he's not, he believes I owe him extra consideration or
"compensation," so he can get established. No dear, you owe him nothing.
My reasons for refusing to do all
the travel next year are nothing but "trivial excuses"
(my 2 hr commute to work is "my choice" and therefore not
relevant since I get child support and make more money than he
does, Lucky you! He should be happy for you and
proud of your accomplishments! I can afford to buy two plane
tickets each week; visiting his home each week wouldn't disrupt my
daughter's social life because she doesn't go out with friends every
weekend anyway; if you don't want to put the dog in kennel every
weekend, just get rid of him, etc.). Yuk,
ugh, no, no no! Put him in the dog
house! I was also accused of persuading my daughter to sign up
for cheerleading this fall, just so I'd have a reason for not visiting
him. He is competing with her for your attention.
You really have two children, don't you?
He's currently threatening not to go to our next counseling appointment
(we're not making fast enough progress to suit him). Your progress is to not tolerate his ridiculous
impositions. His progress is about taking responsibility for his
own life. He's also told me that he wouldn't come to visit me
until we have a plan in place for dealing with the commute and that plan
must include a way to compensate him for the damage that's been done to
his career. Oh my! I guess he won't be over for a
while. I'm agreeable to reworking our arrangements for
commuting, but I do not believe I owe him any compensation (and
that I do not agree that I'm "killing his career").
You can't kill
his career. No matter how hard you try. His career is HIS career and
only he can "kill" it. If he is failing, he is making choices
that are leading him to fail. If he truly believes that his choice to
stay with you is detrimental to his career, he must make the decision
whether or not your marriage is worth it and stop
complaining. (Next time he tries this, thank him for the
power he's given you - Almighty status - and remind him you are mortal.)
If he thinks coercion is going to work, or that I'm going to miss his criticism,
advice-giving, having sex with him, etc. so much that I'll be willing to
do what he wants - he's crazy. At this point, I'm inclined to let him
stay where he's at - I don't like threatened or coerced into a course of
action that I don't think is appropriate. Good for
you. If he cancels our upcoming counseling session, I suspect my
next step will be to file for divorce - I just don't see us having any
future together as long as he continues to believe that most of our
problems are either due to commuting and/or my fault. If he truly cares about you, your distancing may force
him rethink his position. Unfortunately, he has a history of upping the
ante, leaving you with few rational options.
He is frightened of intimacy,
so he pushes you away by making you responsible for stuff that is his. The only way he is likely to get the message,
if he ever gets it at all, is for you to take a stand. Every single opportunity you get,
stand up and do not accept his impositions.
Your outrage and anger are
appropriate. You should not have sex when you don't want to. You do not
have the power to "kill" his career. You certainly do not owe
your partner compensation! He demands the unreasonable to
push you away. While his fear provides an "excuse" for
his mis-behavior, the excuse doesn't wash. It hurts you, and it hurts him.
Enabling him through your kindness or understanding gives him license to act out more.
Watch out for the cyclical pattern of abuse.
As soon as you distance, he feels safer and is likely to charm you back.
You can spend years on this roller coaster ride.
Should you fall
victim to your
kindness, forgiveness and short memory, he is likely to take advantage.
He will feel
contempt towards you for your "weakness."
get treatment. Whether you attend as a couple or he goes alone, he needs
help. You already have the right attitude. Your problem is that you
doubt it enough to write this letter. Make sure your therapist is
familiar with verbal abuse phenomena so he or she is not manipulated by
your husband's distortions.
Ideas and encouragement are appreciated. -Janet
So is the time and energy you
spent writing this letter. I hope I've confirmed your intuitive good
sense and appropriate anger. Good luck to you. -Dr. Irene
Thanks for your
thoughtful reply. A lot has happened since I wrote to you a few days
ago. And most of my indecision has vanished.
A telephone conversation Wednesday night really triggered a lot of
thinking. We've recently come up with some novel and workable
solutions to a couple of long-standing problems, but within a couple of
days, he's either managed to find something wrong with the proposed
solution or make something else into a huge problem. And the issue he
picked Wednesday night was a good one!
He really thinks that 80-85% of our problems are caused because of the
commuting - so therefore, my daughter and I should just pick up and move
across the country again and live with him by fall (an option that
was never mentioned until after my daughter and I were
happily settled into our new home). Not only did he once again
dismiss my reasons not to move as trivial, he told me that I didn't have
the right to analyze the situation and draw my own conclusions.
Excuse me, no one can take away my right to think for myself and act in a
way that I think is appropriate! And that no matter what his desires
are, I am not going to do something that I consider to be wrong! You bet!
A more caring person might have asked me about what I perceived to be the
risks, considered that my desire not to move my daughter in the next few
years is valid (for the first time in her life she is attending a school
that really meets her needs, and she loves fitting in), and that
I've never liked his town (and love where I'm living). But no, he
told me that I did not have the right to make that decision-it should be a
joint decision, not a "unilateral decision" (any decision that I
make for myself and he doesn't like gets label a unilateral decision even
its as trivial as choosing where to open my personal checking account or
what color to paint the walls of my study).
After that conversation, I began realizing how much of my time and energy
he soaks up. He tries to monopolize my time when he visits on the
weekend and gets resentful if I have errands to run or have planned
something with my daughter (I'm realizing that he can't stand it if he's
not center of attention at all times). Even when he's not around, the
relationship is very draining. I've not been working as much as
usual because I find it harder to concentrate. I've also realized
that I've needed more time to myself for reading and relaxing than usual -
I suspect because it's takes a lot of energy to remind myself that
I'm not "selfish", that I'm not "raising a spoiled brat
"just because I have a teenager who occasionally mouths off and balks
at doing chores, that I've accomplished a great deal professionally in a
field that's far more complex and demanding than he thinks, etc.
Last night and this morning he tried to convince me that if I really cared
about him and our marriage, I could easily rearrange my plans and hop on a
plane this afternoon and visit him for the weekend. He's not exactly
happy with me right now (I stayed home), but that's his problem, not mine.
But I expect he'll have a bigger problem to cope with in the fall - I'm
going to file for divorce as soon as I've met my State's residency
I wasn't my usual active self today-but I sure feel better about our
relationship than I have in a long time. -Janet
Good for you. You sound much more in control of your life. My very best
wishes, -Dr. Irene
Subject: Thanks for
the reminder re:
the cyclic nature of
abuse. As might be expected he started calling and emailing me last
night. No remorse for his actions, but all sorts of nonsense about
how we could have a wonderful future together I would only learn to be
comfortable with "joint decision-making." I got some
practice at being assertive and when he got out of line, I told him I was
not going to continue the conversation and hung up the phone (Yea me!!).
And as for his emails, I'm going to thank him for sharing his thoughts but
indicate that I have some thinking to do and until I'm clearer about my
thoughts, I'm not going to make any commitments or respond the the things
he wants to discuss.
My thoughts are clear-but I want to get some support in place for my
daughter and I before I act. When I told my daughter yesterday that I've
decided to get a divorce, she asked to talk to our counselor about her
feelings. I told her that I didn't know how our counselor would feel
about working with a kid, but that I would ask and if not, I would find
someone that could help her. Even if she hadn't asked, I think I'd tried
to get her hooked up with someone
before I spring the bad news on my husband (he can be very
manipulative and I wouldn't put it past him to try to involve her in our
problems). I need to set up some individual therapy for myself too-to help
be cope with the nastiness that's likely to result in my decision and to
work on the things that made me attracted to someone like him in the first
See a reader's
follow-up to Janet's correspondence