January 6, 2006
Hi Dr. Irene,
I recently have found an explanation to why I feel like my marriage is so bad and why I cry so often. That reason is that I think I am in an abusive relationship. I thought this after I read the book by Patricia Evans, The Verbally Abusive Relationship.
I have been married for four years and have 2 young children. I am writing here because I want an opinion from a professional. I thought the best way to illustrate this was to tell you how my life has been the past couple of weeks.
About a couple of weeks ago my husband called me at home from work. I had asked if he would mind stopping at a restaurant and pick up a gift certificate as part of his sister's Christmas present (he passes the restaurant on his way home). He said,
"No," he didn't feel like it, and it was too cold outside. I said
"OK," I'd just go when he gets home from work.
No problem so far.
A short time after he came home I noticed the gift card on the counter. I said, "Oh you got it, thanks."
Good for you for thanking him! Good for him
for getting it!
Then he asked why I didn't stop
to get it while I was "gallivanting around" all day
Not OK. He's making assumptions and negative
judgments. He could have simply said, "You're welcome."
He could have also inquired why you couldn't pick it up without the
accusatory tone, and that would have been fine. (which I wasn't doing; I was
Christmas shopping with two toddlers). I explained to him the kids fell asleep and were too crabby to drag into another store.
Now you are defending your actions; you should not
have to do this. While an explanation from you would have been perfectly
OK, your explanation becomes a defense given his judgmental and accusatory
For example, he could have said "How come you couldn't pick up the card since you were
in the area all day with the kids?" No problem here. He's
asking a logical question. Outlining why you didn't pick up the
certificate is fine. Your explanation is informational - instead of
defensive: his question was phrased in a way where in answering you felt
obliged to defend yourself against implied laziness, having "fun" while he was slaving at
work to support you, etc.
Then he said the
gift certificate was a stupid idea for a gift; how could I come up with such a stupid idea, and how come I can't take care of business,
why does he have to finish everything for me, etc.
Criticism. Not OK.
If your husband was displeased with the gift certificate idea, he could have
offered another idea earlier. Or, he could have avoided criticism after
the fact by saying
something like, "Well, it's done now, but I was wondering if maybe
such-and-such wouldn't have been a better gift for them. Let's keep in
in mind for next year." Once again, the tone is
conversational and non-blaming. You are working together as partners. See the difference?
Then my husband went
on about how I make him look bad: Definitely not
OK. He had taken the kids to a church Christmas party. The days prior to the party we had talked about getting
a Christmas gift for the teacher, and whether or not he was going to take the kids
since I worked the weekend of the party and was unable to go. Nothing was ever really decided about going, or about the present. He ended up taking the kids to the party with his sister.
He complained that he didn't have a gift for the teacher and that had to hurry and
leave at the beginning of the party. Blame is not
OK. It is subtle, but it is blame. There was nothing constructive or
conversational about his statement. He simply complained about how your
implied failings made his life difficult instead of doing something to
fix the problem.
He went on about how could I do this to him,
Do what to him? If there is no gift and he wants
to get a gift, what is preventing him from going to a store and getting
a quick gift? A box of chocolates, for example? By not taking
responsibility for his role as partner, he blames you! This is
I'm a doctors wife So what so I'm supposed to make him look good.
Really? He's the only one with the power to make
himself look good, and he would have looked much better going to the
party with a little gift.
Partners fill the gap for each other all the time.
It's often routinely done and not even discussed. Partnership is a normal
state of affairs in a good marriage! I embarrassed him
Really? Because you two are Human and somehow
jointly failed to articulate plans for the party/gift? And I couldn't even take care of business
- again. Your husband's idea of "business" is that you should be
purrrfect and never, ever make an oversight! However, if he neglects
something, you should compensate for him, which, I'm sure you do when
you anticipate him or catch it. However, when he identifies one of your
oversights, instead of remedying it, he gives himself license to
complain and blame you.
Oversights are an inevitable
fact of life. Partners work together to "correct" this
type of stuff, not use oversight as an excuse to blame! A good
marriage is a two-way street; each partner works silently to
take care of silly little things like this. I started crying.
Of course! I told him he was being mean.
He was. He said, "What?
Aren't I allowed to be mean, I'm not allowed?" I said "No," and that was the end of that argument.
Certainly he's allowed to be mean, but why
would he want to?
A few days later we went to my cousin's for the Christmas get together that we do every year. When we
returned home, we each carried a child up to their bedroom to be put to sleep. I went to change out of my dress clothes
while he went to get some things out of the car. As I was changing, he came in saying, "What are you doing?
You think men have to do all the work around here? You are a primadonna that thinks she doesn't have to do anything. Can't you help get all that crap out of the car?"
Here we go again: blaming. He is taking his
frustrations out on you. This is not OK. He seems to resent your role in
the family, and if you do any teenie tiny part of it imperfectly or
otherwise not to his liking, he's feels somehow taken advantage of -
since he works so hard to support you.
If he would deal with his feelings of
being taken advantage of, or whatever other fear or resentment is
lurking in the back of his head, he would be emotionally free to be a
partner. Instead, he takes his issues out on you with blame and
criticism. (In contrast, take a look at what happened to
this abusive guy when he
started waking up! Great stuff!)
Then I proceed with, "Yes. Just let me finish changing." He said to forget it
because it was already done. That was an
unnecessary and angry comment on his part. In a good marriage, he would
have just done it and said no more; he would not be "counting" and
harboring resentment about
what he did and you didn't. He continued with more comments, and I started to cry again.
You are being made to feel as though you just
can't get it right. The reality is that he can't get it right. It
is not OK to shirk one's own personal responsibility, and shift it to
blame one's spouse. That is abuse. Think about
it: if you turned the tables and he was the one getting dressed, how
would you have handled the situation? I bet you would have either waited to let him finish dressing
to help you, or you would have just finished
the task yourself and let it go. There is no reason that such a
silly little thing should create so much pain - unless somebody is looking for
reasons to hang blame.
The next few days we didn't really talk to each other. We just spoke what
was necessary. He just grunted or shrugged his shoulders when I spoke, never looking at me. I
was afraid to say too much. I'm trying to avoid conflict and more brutal words.
Yuk... He's intimidated you. He's controlling you!
Or rather, you are letting him control you in your desire to avoid
conflict - which he brings to the marriage optionally and
single-handedly because of his own internal issues. I'm willing to bet
that his objective is not to hurt you and that he doesn't realize how
his stuff gets in the way.
Note too how you guys are arguing over the
silliest, little things! There is no real conflict here: we're not
talking about a values clash. This is the little stuff.
After four or five days of near silence, he started to rub my back while lying in bed one night. We end up having sex. Was he feeling badly about the way he treated me, or did he just want to have sex?
Who knows. Certainly his resentment/anger towards
you resolved, but your hurt feelings didn't...
Nothing was ever said about what has been going on. Now we are talking and even laughing together. Everything seems to be
OK. Sure. He's forgotten it. But I anticipate the next outburst. I never really know what is going to get him angry.
Exactly. Because his anger is mood-dependent and
it is acted out instead of rational. He'll either be fine, or not,
depending on his mood. And when he's not, you irrationally become the
source of his frustration.
When he comes home I don't know if he is going to be happy or
irritated. Right. Mood-dependent behavior with
acting out. So, like a good codependent, you are put in the position of
having to tiptoe around him. Not OK! Sometimes he gets mad if I leave too many lights on or a cupboard door open.
He could get upset over anything, really. So, you
can never feel safe.
Sometimes he will walk in saying, "Where's my dinner? Do your wifely duties." or something like this in a joking matter.
From doing some reading on your website I have now realized I have poor boundaries and many issues. I am sad that I have learned all this after entering a marriage and having children.
Better late than never. Keep in mind that your
codependency issues would likely not have been a problem with a partner
more like yourself. Your caring traits would have been treasured and
your Human oversights forgiven. While your husband surely appreciates
your thoughtfulness, unfortunately, his inability to take emotional
responsibility for himself causes him to take his
frustration out on you.
My sister has just gone through a divorce. She also feels that her
relationship with her husband was abusive, although she did not realize
this until after their divorce. Not unusual!
I gave her the book by Patricia Evans to read just recently.
Does this relationship seem abusive to you? Merri.
Yes it does. You are describing an
emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. You are not doing
anything wrong; your husband is. He is taking out his frustrations on
you instead of dealing with them internally, as he should. He is not
being a partner.
Take a look at these two books:
Then, take a look at this book:
The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off
the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life
by Albert Ellis
How close are you to telling your
husband how you feel? Are you ready to send him here? (OK if you're
not.) Have you two been in counseling yet? Are you in individual
counseling? Eventually you will need to learn not to take your husband's
painful comments personally because they have nothing to do with you
- they are entirely about him.
Men like your husband just don't get it;
they don't see what they're doing - but not knowing does not get one off
the hook. Unfortunately, too often, they just don't get it, unless the partner
gets entirely fed up and makes a dramatic statement - such as leaving the marriage.
Try to let him clearly know how you
feel before you reach the breaking point, if you can. Sometimes it is
best to do that in a therapy session. Otherwise, by the time you are so
broken and fed up and are ready to call it quits, sometimes there is too much water under the bridge to avoid a divorce.
Also, I hope you get to The
CatBox Forum and post.
Lots of good feedback there!
I'll be back in about a week to answer
your posts (and your husband's, should he show up and identify himself.)
Hang in there Merri... Dr. Irene
Dear Readers, Any advice for Merri? I
know too many of you have already been in her shoes... You can no longer
post, but you can read the posts,