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Doc@DrIrene.com

Interactive: Killing Her with Kindness

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here Killing Her with Kindness

March 10, 2005

Dear Dr. Irene,
I have been in a verbally and physically abusive relationship for almost 10 years, married to him for 7. I'm sorry...This past October I finally said enough is enough. He had to change or I was done. I could no longer take the insults, jealousy, controlling behavior, criticisms, accusations or physical attacks (which he has pointed out didn’t happen very often – somehow that it makes it okay? Yeah, right. That is about as OK as putting just a tiny amount of poison in your dinner guests' food on those evenings you wish you hadn't invited them!) We have four children and all of us have been subject to his high standards that apply to everyone but him. He has gone so far as to call our children losers, morons, stupid and a variety of other unacceptable names when they don’t act in ways that he feels that they should. This past summer our 5 year old daughter, who has an exceptionally loud voice and outgoing personality, was held under pillow to “Shut her up while I am on the phone.” This very brief account of his behaviors leads me up to where I’m at now. And you certainly have come a long way!

After two months of repeatedly requesting him to get help and acknowledge what he was doing to myself and our children. I finally told him that I needed space, I couldn’t live under the same roof with him anymore. He reluctantly went, but constantly called me at work and in the evenings begging to come home and wanting timelines for when that would happen. He let me know how depressed he was, that he couldn’t eat or sleep and was losing weight. Why was I doing this to him.
Is "Manipulative" his middle name? What about what he did to you and your family?

Three weeks after he moved out, he came by the house to talk to me about what it was I wanted from him. I told him that I didn’t want to do this anymore, I wanted my life back. He proceeded to plead with me, I said "No." Smart lady. He went on to say anything he could think of to make me angry – he succeeded, and let me know how well he knew how to push my buttons. I still didn’t give in. Very smart lady. His next move was to overdose on alcohol and pain killers. Very manipulative; very dangerous. It's too bad he doesn't understand the only person who can help him is himself. By morning he was in the hospital begging me not to make him stay. He loved me and wanted to just get away somewhere with me. This was in January.

He came back from the hospital and moved back home. I know that I did this out of guilt and some twisted thought process that it was my fault he did this. Many people stay in relationships out of guilt; nobody wants to feel responsible for another individual's possible suicide. He spent two weeks in a partial hospitalization program for depression, started counseling and joined a men’s anger management group. He also is on medication for his depression. By the end of January he appeared to be making progress and was actually participating in the kids lives. They are loving their father’s attention, but I’m wary of his actions. Stay wary. At this time I thought that maybe he was actually changing and that we could work through this, although I still wanted a physical separation. I spoke to him about it and he was excited, but unsure about the separation, why couldn’t he just be at home. Four days later I was subject to an awful verbal assault when he came back from his friend’s house. He said his friend told him that I didn’t really want a separation, I wanted a divorce and was just looking to get him out of the house and then claim that he had abandoned his property. So much for change. So much for change...

Since this episode, he has gotten his own apartment and continues with counseling and his group. I have also been seeing a counselor who is helping me learn to set boundaries and work through all the conflicting feelings that I have. Excellent! I started attending a group for abused women, it helps keep my perspective on the situation. Yes! You certainly seem to be doing all the right things. Good for you!

In the six weeks since he moved out I have told him that in no uncertain terms that I have to be done with this relationship, for my own self preservation and for the kids. I am finding that I do not miss him, I feel better about myself every day, but feel bad each time he is here to get something or see the kids. Your reaction is common. Once the abused person recognizes there is really no change on the partner's part and has gotten some distance and support, each day feels lighter and lighter. He has been relentless in his efforts to tell me how he is changing and that he can promise me it will never happen again. And I'm sure he means what he's saying - at the moment he's saying it. Unfortunately, his ability to follow through at the critical moments is w whole 'nother story.

He tells me how awful he feels about what he has done and why can’t I see that. I'd rather hear him say how awful he feels about what he's done to you and the kids, and why can't he see that!? Answer: Because his motivation is to show you his pain. Your pain is less important. He says that he still loves me and he can forgive me for this. He can forgive you?  Excuse me, but I may be a little confused here. Seems to me  that it's you who may consider forgiving him!  His train of thought (MeMeMe) indicates to me that nothing has changed. Be careful! I’m making a mistake and I’m just too stubborn to admit it to him. This is where my question comes in…is it possible for an abusive person to try to manipulate you with kindness? Absolutely! In fact, this is exactly what's happening, and his behavior is totally "normal" and in line with all the rest of the abusive stuff. His actions clearly demonstrate that the only person he really cares about is himself, and he is attempting to control the situation around him to best care for his needs, as he sees them, with no regard for your feelings. This is why abusive people are often called "Jekyll and Hyde" types; two personalities rolled into one. He's in the good boy, remorseful phase now.

I am most disturbed about his line that he could forgive you, that you are making a mistake - and most upsetting - that you are not seeing this clearly. I am concerned that you have lost some of the clarity you had earlier, and are instead doubting yourself again - and are close to allowing yourself to be emotionally manipulated.

He tells me so much and so often, what he is doing to change and how he doesn’t want his kids to see their father treat their mother that way anymore. He’s going to be a better person, with me or without me.
Well, that's excellent! That's what we all want for him! So, let him continue with his quest, you continue with your life, and when and if you no longer sense manipulative, MeMe actions, you can determine if you want to work things out.

I’m going to realize too late that I made a mistake and someone else is going to benefit from his changes. This is very controlling and manipulative. If he really had grown to the extend he thinks he has grown, he would never make such a statement.  I would be more encouraged had he said something like: "I want to change and be a better husband to you and better father to our children. I understand that you don't trust me now, and I don't expect you to trust me overnight. Gainining your trust will take time, and if I am a very lucky man, you will notice the changes. I want you back very much, but only because you are sure I have become the person you want to spend your life with." You see, this shows concern for your feelings (remember, you have feelings too) - not just his!  Should he ever make such a statement, you would expect to see him carry out this behavior over time without attempting to manipulate your feelings.

Instead, he persists viewing the world from his perspective only. He can make all the promises he wants, and he will kill you with kindness. But unfortunately, given the direction he's going in right now, it will be your slow death indeed.

I feel like he’s trying to plant seeds of doubt in my mind about the decisions I feel I have to make. Correct. Trust your feelings. I still feel that I see the same abusive behaviors, just more subtle. Correct. Trust your feelings. It scares me to think what that means. He will call me and ask me to have lunch with him. When I say “No thank you.” He responds with “You’re so mean, if you would just try this would all be fine.” Sounds like control and manipulation attempt to me. The right answer would be more like, "OK."

All this is sprinkled with an occasional, “I just wish I could hold you. I miss you so much.” MeMeMe! What about what you feel? Do you want to hold him?  I feel like I’m losing my mind some days. Hmmmm... That doesn't sound consistent with wanting to hold him.

How do I know when he’s being sincere or just playing games when it’s not accompanied by screaming, name-calling, breaking furniture or physical threats? You know because it feels right. You know because you don't feel confused.

Still letting guilt and self-doubt creep in. Karin
Yeah. Because you're letting him manipulate you by giving you the words you want to hear. Words and promises, yet when push comes to shove, he doesn't deliver. Your feelings are not in his picture. No room for you!

Dear Karin, Think about it: if he's for real (which I'm sure he wants to be), wouldn't he be more concerned about your feelings? If you were in his position, having put your spouse and kids so much over the years, what would you say? In the same sentence that you tell him you want to change and be a better partner and father, would you tell him that he is making a mistake to leave - and that someone else will benefit from it? Somehow I doubt that. It's a mind-clarifying little trick to put yourself in his position, and using your ordinary compassion, think about what you would say to the other person.

And he should be able to carry out what he says he will carry out over time. No ultimatum, no implied threat, no pressure, consideration for your feelings. That's what you're looking for.  

Parenthetically, keep in mind that it's not your job to help him fix himself. How he does it, what he needs to do, etc., etc. are not your concern. Your job is simply to keep yourSelf safe and comfortable. Your second (yes, second; you first) job is to take care of your kids. And it ends there.

Do you see why I say your clarity has slipped a little from how well you started out? (Which is normal, by the way, since this is just a new level you need to master.) He's become more subtle, so have to identify and put a stop to this level of stuff. Then, be prepared to deal with the next level - and the next - should you choose to hang around.

Here's some reading you may want to do:

bullet The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by (The Father of Cognitive Therapy) Albert Ellis et al.
bullet Boundary Power : How I Treat You, How I Let You Treat Me, How I Treat Myself by Mike S. O'Neil & Charles E., Jr. Newbold

I'll be back next week, so please post your questions.  Good luck to you! Dr. Irene

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