Dear Dr. Irene,
My spouse is emotionally unavailable. Because of it, it feels like
abuse. It is abuse! Emotional abuse...
All the components of emotional abuse are there....deceit,
withholding, denial, discounting, disregard, invalidation, etc.
Recently, my spouse got tired of doing the monthly budget. Budget?
There wasn't any, and our finances are a mess. So I took it over and
we're now following a strict budget. It's caused me much anxiety, and
I share this with him, especially since he lost $115,000 on the stock
market and we're retired. I can appreciate your
anxiety. But, keep in mind that just about everybody lost money in the
market recently. Investors understand that it will come back in time.
Last week he wanted to order some posters from his favorite
football team. Imagine my surprise knowing he knows as well as I that
we're on this strict budget and don't have extra money to buy these
things. I thought he was playing a power game on me, sort of testing
how strong I could stand up to him and say "no."
As it turns out, it was his way of telling me he doesn't like our
strict budget and by purchasing something frivolous he was showing me
that he isn't concerned about having a few bills.
I'm not surprised. He's angry and his expression
is passive-aggressive. Only after arguing, loud and messy, did
he verbalize any of this. I told him that when he doesn't tell me what
he thinks or feels, I am left to guess. Then if I guess wrong, I am
blamed. He probably feels he has no power, so he
acts out. Yuk!
He could have prevented this arguing if he'd told me right out, in
the beginning, that he felt my budget was too tight and that he didn't
like it, giving us an opportunity to work toward something both of us
could live with. Easy for most people. He may
not have the skills to tell you, he may not recognize that he has a
problem with the budget you proposed, he may think he doesn't stand a
chance arguing with you, he may not want to make waves, he may be so
angry with you, he's looking for ways to retaliate. I know you're
likely to say, "Yes, that last one is it!" But be careful! Your own
anger at him may be in your way... (That's a common occurrence for
victims of abuse, and for good reason!)
This game playing all in an effort to protect himself from having
to be vulnerable and place his thoughts and feelings on the table, is
very destructive. Yes. While you are certainly
"right," you do not have the right to insist that he place his
thoughts and feelings on the table. It simply doesn't work. The more
you insist, the more he is likely to dig his heels in or retaliate
passive-aggressively, as you describe. His behavior has caused
me to see him as an enemy and I do not trust him.
Who can blame you? But, knowing that your
reaction is "normal" so to speak won't help clear up the problem. You
two have a control battle raging - and you are both furious!
This man is so emotionally closed it's like living with a robot.
Is he emotionally closed, or is he emotionally
closed to you? He's clearly "wrong" in behaving in ways that
shut you out and hurt you, but, have you asked why he's so
angry? Yes, this is his issue... Yes, he probably had some
conflict with mom, etc... But, whatever is going on inside him, you
are participating in the drama.
Consequently, I am living in an empty relationship. Honest to God,
I swear to you, he does not ever, under any circumstances say, "Ouch."
I used to believe he was a superb human being until I realized that no
human is this divine. Hmmm... You used to admire
him, and then you stopped... Why is his refusal to say "Ouch," which
was once seen as an asset now seen as a liability? Because you are
angry with him for other stuff? You are both so angry at each other,
you have polarized. Think: How does he experience you? Yes, you do the
right thing, but keep in mind there is no universal "right." For
example, people have very different tolerance limits for finances.
Yes, he should respect your stricter criteria. Ditto, you know him
like a book and should not be surprised he wants to spend frivolously.
Then I began learning about abuse, and though his agenda may
not be to hurt me, it feels the same Yes.,
which leads me to my question. Is there a correlation between
emotionally unavailable and emotional abuse?
Emotional unavailability is a form of emotional abuse. The
difference may be in the intent, though the resultant damage is the
same? Or is the intent the same? I'm not
comfortable answering this question; in my opinion, there are too many
individual variables and I am not aware of any research addressing
I would appreciate your opinion because I've searched everywhere
online and find very little discussed about emotionally unavailable,
and I'm sure there are many of us out in the world who live with this