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Doc@DrIrene.com

Feeling Sooo Guilty

Feeling Sooo Guilty

July 5, 2000

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 introspection...

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 together."

 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 J. Smith.

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 you! 


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