Sent: Thursday, September
02, 1999 2:24 PM
Dear Dr. Irene:
Thank you, thank you, thank you
for such a wonderful site!! Not only is it filled with intelligent
and helpful information, it is also fun to "surf". I
especially like all of your moving icons. And I really appreciate
the fact that you keep it so current.
Dear Young Mom,
Flattery will get
I know you are busy and have many
emails to respond to, but I like writing to you because it helps me sort
things out, even if I do not get a reply. (I plan to check out the
"Ouchhhh" support group next.)
Since I wrote to you in July or
so, I have gotten a great deal of clarity on my life and choices.
Part of that is weekly (sometimes daily) visits to your site. Part
of it is because I found the wonderful books by Patricia
Evans AND Mira Kirshenbaum. I have not seen you mention
Kirshenbaum's books, so I wanted to tell you about them.
always glad to get new references. I just ordered the books & am
linking to them at Amazon.com based on your recommendations.
The first one I read was Too
Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, because I was in such a state of
confusion about what is "okay" to expect from a relationship.
By reading Patricia Evans and your site, I realized that I had dealt
with so much covert abuse that I needed some guidance. (He is good
at saying things like "this is what couples do" or "in a
committed relationship, you expect things like this" or
"love is a choice; when you choose to love someone you take them as
they come." All of these sayings are fine and good, but they
do not warrant staying in an abusive relationship just because you love
somebody.) So, I found Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay,
extremely helpful as a step by step guide to examining my relationship;
individual therapy if you will.
Then I read Women
& Love and I have to say that I wish I had had this book in
my 20's when I was worried that I would never get married or have
children. (If I had known then...) I think that I married my
husband because we were so similar, and I had found someone who really
understood me (we were both getting advanced degrees).
But, sometimes, I think now that perhaps we should have been just good
friends. I think I stayed in the relationship because I was
lonely, even when I saw warning signs of out-of-control anger. I
remember thinking, "well, we are so much alike and I do love him,
and I am 29-years-old. So he loses his temper sometimes and he is
a bit judgmental of others. At least it is never directed at
me." All the while he was controlling my time and space and I
couldn't see it. Anyway, the point is that perhaps if I had read
this book at that time, before I got married, I might have insisted on
taking some time to myself (which I never had) and really looked
objectively at my relationship. Perhaps then I would have seen
what my family saw but didn't tell me because they didn't think it was
But, enough if onlys.
My life is what it is. I know I have the power to make it better
and to make good choices. And I think I will make better and
better choices because of you, Patricia Evans and Mira Kirshenbaum.
I think you should rest easy at night because you are making a
difference in the world. Thank you again.
One last thing: I found Amy's
and Norma's emails really helpful. Do you have any more advice to
give to young mother's like me who feel incredibly guilty about breaking
up their homes? I know you will say something like "what
about him, does he feel guilty?"
You are one sharp
lady! Got me down pat!
Which is good advice. But,
I am preparing to leave my marriage and even with you, Patricia and
Mira, I get conflicted about it. Of course you are conflicted. You
should be. It is a big decision, not to be taken lightly. You are
I am lucky to have very
supportive parents, an education and years of good therapy. Even
so, I feel guilty because I see my daughter, Cara, when
she is around both of us and I know she is happy that we are together.
Yes. She loves both of you. She and I spent about
10 weeks with my parents this summer while my
husband worked out of State. When we were together again, I could see she was pleased. When
I am holding her near her father, she even grabs my head and his neck
and tries to get us to kiss and hug each other. This makes her
very happy. So, what's my point? I love her father, I know
he could change if he admitted he has colossal amounts of anger at his
past and his abusive family, and that he often takes that anger out on
me. Dad may be more motivated to
change once he sees you are not willing to put up with his stuff. Right
now, what is the incentive to give it up? He's got it all ways.
It is as if I see myself as
mother 30 years ago. She is only now seeing how my father has been
abusive to her. But, I have choices that she did not have.
She had to stay. I can leave. Yes. I want to leave. I am
just having difficulty deciding what is best for Cara. I know what
is best for me. Perhaps you will say that what is best for me is
best for her. I really don't know. I could try
"harder" to make this work. I could ignore the ways he
annoys me, stand up for myself when he abuses me and settle for a less
than happy life with a man who is almost perfect for me. But, in
order to keep the peace in my house, I basically have to treat him like
another child of mine, a very young child mind you. That is true. If you can do this, more power to you.
Most women begin to get physically as well as mentally sick after a
As I write this, I see that the
only way to have a happier life with him is to become MORE codependent
and keep him happy. The never-ending cycle.
That would make for a happier life with him,
and a happier life for Cara in the short run, but definitely not a happy
life for me. Yes.
Now, I look 30 years in the
future to Cara's life and the choices she has to make. If I stay in
a codependent marriage, will she be unconsciously "set-up" to
find an abusive husband the way I did because my mother was not aware of
what was happening to her? It is likely. She is likely to either grow
up codependent like mom, or angry like dad - since those are the two people
who teach her everything she knows about relationships, family, and
love. The healthier you get, and the healthier dad gets, the healthier
is likely to turn out, biology aside (nature/nurture - our best
guess is 50/50).
I do not want that for her.
And I do not want her growing up in a house where she sees it is okay to
take advantage of and abuse women. Even if I "call" him
on it every time, she will still be exposed to the pattern on a
continual basis. So, finally, my question: I can handle my
daughter being angry with me. I know that if she sees that I love
her consistently and am there for her that she will be confident in my
love for her. I can handle it if she hates me (for a while at
least) because I know that she will have her own feelings to deal with
as she grows up and takes responsibility for herself. What I fear
is that she will think I am selfish for leaving her father. Is
that silly? Yes. More codependent stuff. You need to
work on not feeling guilty about being self-caring!
Loving yourself and taking care of yourself is good healthy
stuff any parent would want to teach their child!
I'm secure in almost all the
negative feelings she could have for me except that. Is is a
"woman" thing? Its a codependent thing.
Take a look at Melodie Beattie's Codependent
No More. She writes about the partner's of alcoholics - just
substitute whatever problem you live with for "alcohol" and
everything applies. You are
used to putting yourself at the bottom of the list - when you should be
at the top!
Do I just fear being the
"selfish monster" because that is one of the worst, most denigrating
things you can say about a woman? After all, if we are
supposed be "good" and "kind" and never
"bitchy", then the last thing in the universe we are supposed
to be is "selfish". [I know I could be a rich woman
right now if I bet a million dollars that my husband does not, and never
will, have this fear!!] Isn't that terrible? Codependency
training is part of many women's cultural training, I think. Anyway,
stop thinking of it in terms of "selfishness" and start
thinking "self-caring." Stuff you want to teach your kid.
Anyway, I am a smarter woman now
that I have written you this email. It is amazing how much we can
help ourselves when we get out all the junk in our heads and look at it
in black and white. If anyone else were writing this note, I would
know exactly what to say. Now, I just have to listen to myself. You bet! That is one of my biggest messages: You are the
best expert on yourself. You have all the answers. Only you.
Okay, my final request. Any
advice for women who know that they are going to leave, but cannot leave
quite yet because they have to "set things up" in order to
protect themselves? I have to wait 6 months
before I take any legal action. The reason I know what I have to
do is that I spent 2 hours with a lawyer
already - money well spent. Good work! But, he is driving me crazy. I
am not prepared to tell him yet that I want out for good. I do not want to have
sex with him (always an issue), and I am trying to keep busy, but it is
so difficult to hide my disappointment that our relationship is falling
apart. How can I "put on a happy face" until I am in a
better position to help myself? No easy answer. You must weigh
the pros and cons and the probability of success of any plan. The only
advice I can offer: use your head, not your heart, and for the most
part, you seem to be. Know you are hanging
out because it is part of your plan, and your plan is well thought out
from what I can tell. (Specifics are omitted to preserve anonymity.) You
are doing very well...taking your power and caring for yourself.
Thanks again for your site, and
thanks in advance if you happen to answer any part of this letter.
P.S. Please do not reply to my
email address. I cannot take any chances on him finding out my
plans right now. OK.
And my best wishes to you, -Dr. Irene