|June 9, 2003
|Stimpy's back, an
old friend. See her
email here, and see
what she has to say now, over 3 years later. Growth never ends, does
Dear Dr. Irene,
Well, I am back again. Thought you might be interested in an update--and
the trials of my second relationship, which lasted two years and ended up
without getting married. I guess I had trouble recognizing the abuse this
time because it was much more subtle and covert.
I met BF after taking a period of time to "get to know myself" and get
over my depression from leaving DH and being on my own for the first time
in my life. When BF and I were introduced by a mutual friend, I felt
strong, independent, and healthy. He was (still is) a counselor--a good
sign. I was living 600 miles away, and had come to my home town for a
visit, where he lived. My friend knew him well and said good things about
When we first met, we liked each other, but there were no "sparks". I
took that as a good sign. He was reserved, and asked me a lot of questions,
but never revealed anything about himself. After arriving home, I didn't
hear from him for three weeks, and then one day I got an e-mail. He
remembered every detail about me. The more he revealed about himself (sloooowly),
the more I liked him.
We kept up this e-mailing back and forth a while. I went back to visit
when my grandma died, and the "sparks" flew then, but I was still on guard.
No sex yet--I knew it was too soon. It was two months after we had met.
Pretty soon we were calling each other regularly.
Five months after we met, we were in love. We loved everything about
each other--we loved to talk, we had similar views on religion, politics
and other subjects near and dear to my heart, and he was sweet. Really
sweet. He sent me gifts. He told me nice things about myself. He built me
up. And he listened to me. So very very different from my ex-husband.
I guess my first sign of trouble was his paranoia. He was just a little
too jealous when I mentioned ex-boyfriends, although he didn't put me down.
Just asked a lot of questions (like "Who bought you that teddy bear you're
talking about?"). He would get worried when I wasn't talking about "us" as
much as I had before--was I still interested? He would say I seemed more
"withdrawn" lately (did I? I hadn't noticed). He wondered if I still cared
about him. He noticed I hadn't been saying as many affectionate things.
There was no "change" in my behavior as far as I could tell.
These inquiries would start out politely, but would always go downhill.
It would begin with me asking questions (what exactly did I "do" that you
perceive as "different"?) or saying that I hadn't noticed I was acting
differently. This was intolerable to BF, who perceived it as "invalidating"
of his feelings, and suddenly his whole attitude would change. He would
become nasty and sarcastic, sometimes drilling me with rhetorical
questions, even when I was able to remain grounded and calm.
I always tried to reason with him. But he was cunning. He could take any
statement and intellectually challenge it. I know that this was all
subconscious for him--he didn't "mean to" do it. But it sure did hurt.
I hated our fights, but reasoned that he was so much kinder than the
ex--he could say sweet things to me five minutes after a blow-out fight was
over. And even when we were fighting, he was never HALF as nasty as
Ex--never called me names, rarely yelled, didn't slam things. But the tone
of his voice could slice me in two.
One time he called to talk to me, I asked him how his day went, he spoke
very little and got quiet. I started talking about a movie I had just
watched. He got "irritated" (his words) because I didn't seem to want to
connect with him, I hadn't talked enough about him or "us". I replied, "I
asked you how your day was." His response, "Oh, and that's enough for you
huh?" It turned into a huge fight.
I ignored the signs and made plans to move back to my home town. Not
just for him (thank goodness), but also to be back "home", where I would be
closer to family and some really dear friends. And hopefully to get married
(gulp!). I made the move a year ago. I thought that when I moved down, he
might be a less insecure and trust me more, knowing that I was REALLY
SERIOUS about the relationship.
I kept working on myself, knowing that I still had room to grow. I
learned listening skills (BF suggested it, a little too strongly for me), I
knew they would help me in ALL my relationships. I practiced them--with him
and with my best friend (also a counselor). I kept talking to my faithful
individual counselor, who had seen me through my first break-up (we did
phone sessions). I read books on relationships and anger. I journalled
after our arguments and thought of ways I could have responded differently.
I learned to sit through my feelings, and my bouts of depression became
less and less severe, until I rarely felt the urge to hurt myself or take
pills to numb myself. Today I am alcohol and drug free for a year and a
But the problems with the relationship did not go away, even when BF
began to see a counselor of his own. He got offended when I offered to
"help him" rake the leaves ("You said it like you were a friend offering to
help, not like you felt you had shared responsibilities"). He assumed I
didn't enjoy being with him (wouldn't give me reasons, because he was
"afraid to"). I would try hard not to react to him, not to get defensive,
but often I did, and then he would jump on me for "not listening to him."
Once, when I was asking him questions trying to figure out where he was
coming from (he hated
questions!) he accused me of using "lawyer tactics".
But then it was another matter when I complained of his behavior. I
would carefully craft my statements before approaching him, saying "When
you said [fill in the blank], I felt [insert emotion]", just like all the
resources I had studied said I should. His reaction--"Well what about what
YOU did?" or "You do that too!" He saw attacks when I was merely stating my
experience. When I would confront him on his little verbal attacks he would
say, "I can't promise you I won't react emotionally" or "Everybody gets
angry!" He thought I was asking for perfection. I just wanted to feel safe.
I guess the turning point for me was around Christmas of last year. I
was getting excited about marrying him (which he swore profusely that he
wanted so bad!-and I wanted to have kids before I got "too old"), and I
sent him links to web-sites with pictures of diamond rings on them as a
hint. He got the hint, and asked if I would like to go look at some rings,
and also made the comment, "Well, I guess I should get you a ring by
Christmas, huh?" I wanted to scream "YES!", but I was being polite, and
said, "Well, you don't have to." But we went and looked, and I found a ring
that I liked, and told him it was the one I wanted. He even bought me a
small gift in a square box, wrapped it, waved it in front of my face and
said, "I bet you're going to like this one!" But Christmas came, and no
ring, and no talk of a ring. I hadn't said anything because I thought he
was trying to surprise me with a romantic proposal (something I had said I
wanted). So imagine my surprise when he said, two days before Christmas,
"Are you disappointed that I didn't get you the ring?" Disappointed? I was
devastated! So I laid in the bedroom and cried quietly, not wanting to make
him feel bad. But he came in and asked me what was the matter, and I told
him that I had thought he was going to get me the ring. He asked me with
contempt, "So, do you want to EXTRACT it from me?" Things went downhill
fast from there.
We went to couples counseling, but the counselor focused on the
perceived "issues" ("Do you see the leaves as his job, or are you willing
responsibility?") rather than the behavior, or communication skills. I
began to toss and turn at night, thinking through our arguments. Not long
ago I started noticing I was tip-toeing around certain subjects with him,
like finances (he often questioned my motives around money, wondering aloud
if I was "taking advantage" of him). I still wanted to be around him, but I
wasn't comfortable being myself, wondering if I was "listening" enough, or
sounding like I was "interested" enough. It started to bring back feelings
from the bad old days, my days with Ex-husband.
I gingerly approached him a few weeks ago and said I had been feeling
afraid recently of his emotional reactions, especially since he said
recently he "couldn't guarantee" he wouldn't have them. He snapped back at
me, "Well then go marry a statue!!" He began to raise his voice at me, and
I raised mine higher, saying, "YOU CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. YOU DON'T
HAVE TO TALK TO ME IN A MEAN WAY!!!!" I saw it was going nowhere and told
him to stop, I didn't want to hear any more. He followed me around,
criticizing me and telling me this "attack" was not okay with him. I left
the house to get him off my tail.
I decided a few days later to call it quits. I should have seen the
signs earlier, but he was really kind and thoughtful in so many other ways.
It is a lesson that abuse comes in all forms. The abuser really doesn't
have to be Saddam Hussein to make the relationship unworkable.
To this day, BF still asks me--"Why do you think all the problems in the
relationship are my fault?" First of all--the assumption is wrong. (That's
something that drove me crazy--he assumed he knew what I was thinking or
how I felt, and didn't want to check it out with me.) Because I KNEW I
still had things to work on, like setting boundaries and not getting
defensive. But I couldn't tolerate his outpouring of anger when I screwed
up. And it didn't look like things were going to improve fast enough, if at
all, for my already wounded psyche, because he didn't see anything
unhealthy about his behavior (although now, of course, he is admitting to
bad behavior and claiming he is changing...a little too late though,
because now I don't trust that he won't hurt me).
So what else did I learn? I learned that I still have work to do in
recognizing when my boundaries are being crossed-it seems like I don't see
it until I replay the argument in my head later. I have gotten much better
at avoiding flying off the handle when things are going bad, and ending the
arguments before they get too heated (I only had two door slamming
incidents with him!). But I still need more work on staying grounded. And
most importantly, I have learned that I DESERVE RESPECT, AT ALL TIMES, even
when someone else is angry at me. That is what I keep repeating to myself
now, so hopefully it will sink in for good. Yeah!
Sink in. Sink in. Sink in!!!
As always, grateful for you and this web-site,
P.S. I have written a Bill of Rights for myself:
Good stuff! I'm renaming:
Everybody's Basic Bill of Relationship Rights
|I deserve to be treated with respect, even when you are angry.|
|I deserve to be listened to when I ask for what I want in the
relationship or express a concern about your behavior in a respectful
way. I do not deserve to be attacked full force when I point out specific
behaviors of yours that are disrespectful.|
|I deserve an acknowledgment from you when you say something
disrespectful of me, and an apology too.|
|I don't need to be perfect to deserve all of the above. This is not a
competition, it is a relationship. I will not play the game of "who is
the worst offender." If you have a valid complaint, you can express it to
me in a respectful manner. I don't have to listen to your barrage of all
the things I am doing wrong, and correct them all, before you take
responsibility for your own actions.|
|I work on improving myself no matter how bad YOUR behavior is. I
deserve the same from you. |
|It is not my responsibility to bear the brunt of your emotional
No it's not! Good work! Thanks,