Dear Dr. Irene,
I have been separated from my husband for three months and each morning
when I wake up I feel like the day is a gift that is given to me. :) The relief is incomprehensible to anyone
that has not lived through years and years of emotional and verbal abuse
and physically aggressive behavior.
I have been married for 26 years and have been in a
legal separation for a month and a half. The abuse probably goes
back fifteen or more years, but I never knew it had a name. My husband
could always find many words and ways to blame and criticize, but could
not say that he loved me or was pleased with anything I did or our kids
did. He was angry so much of the time and I knew something was
terribly wrong, but I kept examining myself, trying to figure out what I
was doing or saying or thinking wrong. Sad when one
partner takes all the anger and the other all the responsibility and
I tried for five years to get him to agree to go in for
marriage counseling but he adamantly refused time after time saying if I
just did things differently our marriage would be fine. Right. All you had to do was give him the impossible -
which I know you really tried to do! Good for you for waking up! By
last winter I seriously considered suicide. I felt totally
worthless. If the man that was I believed loved me more than anyone,
could not find it in him to ever tell me that, who found things to correct
or criticize or get angry over every day, of what value could I possibly
be? Isn't it terrible to rely on another for one's
sense of worth? Good for you for realizing to stop trying to get blood out
of a stone...
I had never shared any on my pain with anyone. That was how I had
been brought up. So, you grew up in a codependent
home where sharing pain was somehow shameful... Any problems in a
marriage should stay just between the two partners involved and be worked
out. "Don't hang your dirty laundry on the line where others
can see it." "It takes two to argue."
"Forgive and forget." "Never go to bed angry with
each other." "A woman should make her husband feel the most
important, the smartest, the boss of the family." I try not to
feel angry about the way that I was taught, because my mother and dad grew
up in a different time, and perhaps those axioms worked for them .
But I feel like those lessons that I learned so well, almost destroyed me.
Stop trying not to feel angry! You have a
right to feel angry at your parents - as well as to understand they did
they best they could. Codependent people have a hard time with anger; they
tend to gloss over it. Please, start to feel it. Hear it's message!
(My mini lecture: Anger is a
signal God gave you. Use it! It means something is wrong and needs your
attention. Pay attention. Anger is not rage, but it can transform to rage
if you ignore and suppress it long enough. Anger can be expressed
responsibly and effectively, or it can be acted out in various
mis-behaviors - which compromise your self-respect and hurt others.)
One day, I dared to tell a friend - and it was like a dam broke. I
couldn't stop crying or talking. The relief was like nothing I had
ever felt. Wonderful! You broke through your
denial! Then I started reading books, started seeing a
therapist, and found your web-site and finally everything started to make
sense. Yippeee! I found that others
understood, had been through it or were going through it. I wasn't
alone. No way! What amazed me most was
how many of the women were my age and had been in marriages for 20, 25, 30
years! Yes. And some men too. And gay and lesbian
couples. This codependent-abuser stuff is surprisingly common! I
felt stunned and overwhelmed with what I was learning. Most of all I
felt validated. And I knew I was going to live. You started to take responsibility for your life, and only
your life. Excellent.
The day I finally went to the lawyer was the day my husband finally wanted
to "turn things around." Amazing.
Over and over and over again, that is the story I invariably hear... But
I feel like it is too late for me. Sometimes there
is just too much water under the bridge. He still refuses to go for
individual counseling and I feel like couples counseling is not what we
need. Hubby is still trying to get over.
Optimally, for him, you need to start with a specialist in abuse who can
encourage you to continue taking responsibility for your life while
clearly laying your husband's refusal to take responsibility for his own
life squarely on his shoulders - who will then work with him individually
or will refer him for same. Optimally for you, you need to stop worrying
about him and get on with living your life.
Suddenly, after years of rarely attending, he is
going to church every week, making a point of sitting with my parents.
Suddenly, after years of not even wanting to sign them, he is
sending cards and notes to them and my sister. Suddenly, after years
of complaining about going to family functions, he drops by their houses
to chat. By choice he has taken no furniture so he lives in a
barren, empty house, with hardly more than a table and bed and his
clothes. Your husband has no clue what taking care
of himself is about. In his eyes, he doesn't matter, as evidenced by his
home, or lack thereof. He needs to learn that he does matter, and
that the only one who can give him what he needs internally - is himself.
My son and daughter see that and feel sorry for him.
Sympathy is a manipulative ploy that accomplishes
nothing constructive. How sad. But, it's the best he can do right now. My
parents seem to feel like I am being cold-hearted and stubborn not to see
how hard he is trying. He's been working overtime to
gain their sympathy too. Yuk. His energy would be better spent conducting
his life in a way that would enhance his self-respect rather than tugging
on people's heartstrings. He is not in a good direction.
But nothing has changed in relation to me! Every time we
talk, he blames me and tells me I should stop all of this. Yeah. You've blown his world apart. How dare you! Maybe he
would have preferred you to have committed suicide back then? You should
not stop any of this. He tells me I will not be able to survive
financially. It will be harder no doubt. That
I have torn apart the family. He has given you no
other sane choice. That I have separated him from his house, his
possessions, his family. He has done that.
That I have no right to do this and that this is abusive
to him. You have every right. In fact you have a
responsibility to yourself to do exactly what you are doing, especially
given his reluctance to drop his position. If he were willing to do
"anything" to make your life together work, that would be a
different story. He's not. He's still trying to run the show. He has
dictated how far he will go. He's not come nearly far enough in terms of
what is needed for his recovery.
That the fact that I won't go to marriage counseling is
proof of that. No, it's proof of how fed up you are.
If had the energy to do the kindest, most benign thing by him, you would
take him to an abuse counselor who would pronounce him as the one who
needs to do the bulk of the work, including firing himself as his
"case manager." He's done a poor job managing his life.
I don't know how to respond to all of this. I am
more at peace and happier with myself than I have been in so long. Listen dear: your rudder is speaking to you. Your body is
trying to tell you exactly what to do. My son talks and laughs and
shares again. His grades and behavior got better after his dad moved
out. You don't have to convince me... I
know this is not only the right thing for me but that I would die if I
went back into the marriage relationship. So...what's
the problem? You know what you have to do. Do it.
But no matter what my head says, when I hear these
things from him and from my family, I feel guilt. Your
guilt and shame is what's gotten you into all this trouble to begin with.
A healthier reaction, I think, would to be angry with them for enabling a
man who has manipulated them with sympathy. Trouble is, your big
heartstrings are getting pulled and you don't quite see this yet. But,
notice that your body does. Your head will rationalize, your
heart will fall for manipulation - but your body does not lie.
I don't like to hurt people Get
used to it. Cold as it seems, it is impossible to go through life and take
care of yourself without hurting those who have grown accustomed to you
comfort them while giving the food off your plate - while you slowly
starve. and I know I am hurting him and others. Yes. balancing the scales by taking away what should never
have been given will hurt those who have taken. My children 16 and
23 are supportive of the separation, but the guilt sometimes threatens to
undermine everything I have gained. He tells me that until we are a
family again, nothing will heal. Be true to
thy self lady. Tell him the truth. This is how I read what your truth is
from your letter, but I think you still have a way to go before you
embrace the courage inside you to say: "Of course I want an intact
family. That is all I have ever wanted. But right now I need time to
regroup. I also need you to start taking responsibility for your life and
stop trying to manipulate people. You will need specialized counseling to
do that. If you are really serious about our marriage, you have no options
other than to give me whatever time I need while you use that time to do
everything in your power to work your own recovery. I offer no promises,
but I think this path may be the only chance we have at a life
I am so afraid that if I give him a second chance
and things don't improve, I will never have the strength to go through
this again. You are stronger than you think. If you
gave him a chance now and it failed, you would survive. But why would you
go back into a situation that, as you paint things now, is almost certain
to fail? Once again, you'll be selling yourself out to make others
comfortable... But how can I get past the guilt? June
Dear June, Think rationally
about all I've said. Bring this letter to your therapist. Take a look at this guilty woman's letter.
Read Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use
Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Dr. Susan Forward
and Donna Frazier. Also look at When I say No, I
Feel Guilty by Manuel
Let us know how you're doing. You
can do this; you owe this to yourself and to those who love you. You owe
this to any future your marriage may still have left... We're rooting for
I want to read