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I Got It

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here I Got It! I Won't Abuse Anymore!

May 27, 2004

Dr. Irene,

My story sounds familiar after reading through your site. For years I have been verbally and emotionally abusing my wife. She tried and tried to tell me what I was doing but I could (did) not hear. She said she was leaving and I began to hear, convinced her to stay, and tried to change. Yes, I was better, but I still did not get it and though some things changed, others stayed the same. When she actually left I was in shock. That night I found a book she had been reading,
The Verbally Abusive Relationship. I read through the whole book that night and was stunned to see myself on virtually every page. It was like looking into a mirror for the first time in a long while. And it was not a pretty sight.

It was at that point that I finally "got it." And even then, I realized that my getting it and my empathy was going to be a process and that it had just begun. Just like my apology is also a process that has just begun. I tried to tell my wife that I had got it and that just getting it made me into a different person. I began to sincerely apologize for both specific instances, and general ways I had acted. You got it...

The knowledge and understanding of my abuse and the effects it has had/is having on my wife and our relationship cause me deep pain and the days and nights of guilt and shame are hard. I feel isolated and alone. I am asking for help, something that is very hard for me to do. Good for you! Asking for help forces you to assume you are human, imperfect.  You are beginning to identify with your softer, more feminine side. This is a necessary yet difficult task for the person who needs to control. I also started going to therapy the week before our separation and am going to start taking meds. Wow!

All this has brought up many feelings that are also hard to deal with, but which I am trying to feel—something I haven't done in a long time. I feel like I was dying, and now I am beginning to bring myself back to life.  Again, excellent!  I found this little gem on the net. It was written by a man (I just edited it). It is one of my favorite hand-outs for people who have difficulty accepting their feelings. Please look here.

I have hurt my wife so deeply. I feel terrible about this and have a deep sense of remorse. I turned my wife into an enemy, constantly attacking her, tearing her down, playing on her insecurities, controlling her, and denying it the whole time. I created a vicious cycle of abuse. I am only beginning to understand the damage I have caused her. I did this all because I was unable to see how deeply unhappy and hurt I am. Yes. I put her between my pain and myself. Yes. I violated all the rights she has as a person. It was not fair. It was not her fault. It was wrong and totally my fault. I don't like the word "fault." It is too laden with blame, and that's not a constructive way to view these things. Let's say that you were  responsible for subjecting her to this pain and she was responsible for accepting it - until she left. And neither of you were taking responsibility for your actions.

I am coming to terms with this and beginning to realize that I can feel what I feel. As you get used to feeling, it becomes like breathing. It feels good to feel, even if the feeling is bad, and you'll wonder how you ever lived without feeling... Even though I have acted terrible. I am not a bad person. I have tried to make myself miserable because that is what I think I deserve. And I took my wife with me. But I am not worthless. I am not unlovable. And I can love. And you have started to love - by learning to love yourSelf.

My mother and others have told me that I am incapable of affection or intimacy, even as a baby. Now I realize that is not true, but I have always believed it. The reason I have been like that is because I was neglected and emotionally abused as a child, something I never let myself believe. I always believed I was incapable of affection and intimacy. It was a lie. And there are other lies I believed also.

All this has brought up so much from my past. I have always pretended (even to myself) that my childhood was a little screwed up, but so is everyone's. Now I realize that the abuse, neglect, and control my parents exerted over me was wrong and forced me to survive. I survived by protecting myself no matter what. Yes. Abuse (often) begets abuse. And I never realized that I was doing it or that I didn't have to do it anymore. Right. I have also realized other instances of sexual and emotional abuse from outside of my family, from people I looked to fill a void, or to substitute as a parent. Something that I am sure also leads to my need for self-preservation. Correct. You were unable to trust those who were entrusted with your care - because they were not trustworthy. And though I never forgot those instances, the shame and guilt of them forced them deep inside. Thank God it's finally coming out now!

It has been a few long weeks since my wife left. What was originally a couple of weeks looks like it will be at least four months. I feel proud of the progress that I have made, yet know there is much left to do. I want to continue to understand her pain and have asked her to share it with me, something I hope she can do. I have tried to stop pressuring her to come back and have told her that I accept what she has done, admire her strength, and believe it was the best and only option she had available to her. Yes. And her courage in leaving led to your breakthrough. I still want things to work out between us, but for now I am trying to focus on myself. We talk almost every day, and see each other a couple of times a week. I try to continue my apology as I "get it" even more. And I try to let her in on the things I am dealing with and show her how I am changing. I am also trying to patient with myself, with her, and with our separation. She is in a safe place right now and is beginning to heal. I am so happy for that. I am also glad that she has friends and a support system to help her through this time. Don't be surprised if she goes through an angry cycle and/or a space where she simply won't put up with anything! Should she go there, your roles will switch. It will be up to you to remain consistently understanding despite what you are going through. This will be one of the acid tests of your developing abilities because it needs to be about her  despite your feeling that it is about you. You will need to empathize with what she is going through and give her center stage - while you put your own issues on the backburner and not burden her with them.

Neither one of us knows how this is going to end. Hope seems so transient. She is so understandably angry. I see it's already started... She has put a wall up to defend herself (something I am all to familiar with). She does not want me to know where she is living and says that she does not want me to touch her at all (things which hurt, but I also understand and respect). And anytime I mention the future she closes off. Yes. And I already know that you know that you need to respect her feelings.

My main question is this: Is there a chance of us having a happy and healthy marriage together? Yes. Do her anger, protection, and lack of hope mean that it is too late? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it possible for me to earn her forgiveness? If she is willing to give it to you. Will she let me try? You have to ask your wife. Can she decide to trust me again? Again, you have to ask your wife. Will she allow herself the chance that I might hurt her again, in order to try and save our marriage? Again, only she can answer this questions. And she is allowed to change her mind... And what can I do to help. Ah, yes. THIS is the question to ask. It is the only one you have control over. The only person each of us has any modicum of control over - is yourSelf. Repeat: You are the only person you have any control over!

She says that she still loves me and I believe her. And I do love her even though I haven't loved her. She is still available to me and listens to my feelings and me. And what I see as a small miracle, the other day she let me see some of her anger, and asked me "why" I treated her a certain way. If your wife has given you the gift of entrusting you with her feelings, attend to her feelings!  Listen to her the way she has listened to you. Make her feelings as important to you as your feelings have been to her. Do not let your own feelings/ questions/ needs, etc. get in the way. A very common dynamic in the abusive relationship is that the couple conspire to push the victim's feelings aside. (Yes, "conspire" because the victim does not know how to stand his/her ground and the abuser is more powerful, insistent, and in great need.) 

As an example, lets refer to the small miracle you spoke of above - truly a Small Miracle! Your wife is (finally) being honest with you (She trusts you enough to be honest with you!), and she is talking with you about her anger towards you. It is likely that your insecurities/fear/etc. will kick in. You may find that you want some reassurance from her that there is hope, she still loves you, etc. Don't go there! At least for now. Stick to the topic of hearing her concerns, answering her questions, comforting her.  Put your own issues entirely aside. This is not the time to request that she put her struggle aside in favor of your - again. - even for a little while.

Developing the ability to deal with your feelings without requesting she soothe yours when she is upset - especially when you are both upset - is crucial to your recovery.  With practice, you can do this. Unless you learn how to do this, your wife cannot feel she has your emotional support. Emotional support is what has been sadly lacking in her life. It's been a one-way relationship because she gave her support to you, but you could not reciprocate.

Regardless of how things work out between us I truly want her to be happy. ;P I trust that she will make the right decisions for herself, and I respect her right to choose. I do not want to control. I also want to work on my things for me, so that with her or without her I can be a more healthy and happy person. ;P;P But in all of this I want her to know that I am changing, will change, can change, and am willing to put in my work to earn her forgiveness and try to transform where we are at into a loving, intimate, equal relationship. You are off to a good start and I wish you both success no matter where life takes you.

I expect that the responses to my story will be a mixture of anger and understanding. I will not mind the anger because it can help me to understand even more how my wife is feeling. TD  My request to you TD is that you address the putting your feelings aside for hers issue when you post. I also hope you give your wife this url as I am inviting her to post as well.  I will be back in about a week to reply to your posts. Dr. Irene

I  want to read the posts.