Date: May 23, 1999
Dear Doctor Irene,
Both my husband (of four years) and I are professional people with college degrees and
considerable intelligence. My husband is witty, handsome, very devoted to his family
... and he is an abuser. Out of sheer frustration - and hope that maybe he would
take this issue
seriously - I sent him your tips for anger management. His reply is included in the
Jennifer's husband's reply:
really unhelpful stuff Jennifer, b/c most people have some, if not all these
behaviors. purheps dukter Irene could pull a little balance from her *magic bag* of
helpful comments for today's modern couples. why just look, ah feel better
already. thanks, dukter Irene. you shore are smart!
(See Signs of Verbal and Emotional
Abuse for article Jennifer sent her husband.)
His reply shows pretty much where he is....
I'm so frustrated, I don't know
what to do, Dr. Irene. There is nothing you can do,
other than for yourself. It took me about two years for me to
realize that I was being verbally and emotionally abused. Yes. The first time it happened was shortly
after we got married. I asked my husband to drive me to the market a short distance
from our home so that we might pick up some sandwiches for dinner at the deli, and so I
could get some milk and kitty litter, which were two items that we needed. Well,
once at the market, I found that there were additional items that we needed. Not a
lot more than two, about four or five. After we left the market, I began to pick up
on some unusual "vibes":
my husband simmered and stewed in the car all the way home. Once we were inside, he
let me have it. He screamed at me, telling me that I was being manipulative and
deceitful because I knew all along that I'd wanted to get more than just the two items,
and I'd lied to him. I
don't feel I lied, Dr. Irene, I really don't. You know how things like that go - you
get to the market, and there's always a few more things you think of to pick up than you
planned on. It truly wasn't my intention to deceive, please believe me. Oh, I believe you. The trick is to take yourself more seriously. You don't
have to prove it to anyone. Not me, not him...
Let me set the stage for this period: My husband wasn't working (he did not work for
the first two years of our marriage), and was smoking a lot of pot and hanging out with
single friends who did the same, many of whom were considerably younger (he's in his early
thirties, they still in college or just having graduated). His friends seemed to be
the center of his world, from my perspective. He would stay out with them until all
hours of the night. I worked all day, only to come home at 5:00, at which point he
would just be getting out of bed and getting ready to go out. He is a fortunate man, you are a devoted wife. It is unfortunate
he takes advantage.
Once, he came into my place of
business while under the influence of drugs, which got me a gentle reprimand from my boss;
another time, he almost got himself arrested at a music concert out of town. I was
considerably angry and upset about these incidents, and expressed this to him. He
told me that I was overreacting, that "everybody does it." Gee, who is this "everybody?"
I asked him why he was unable to help
with the household chores - this was a particular concern of mine, because having worked
all day, I did not feel that I should have been the one to help clean, cook, do laundry,
etc. He claimed that he was just depressed because he didn't have a job, and the
only way to get out of the slump was to get out of our home and go out with his
friends. The only way to feel better about yourself
since you are not working is to go get a job.
Needless to say, I build up some
considerable resentment about this, which, I'm happy to say, I've been able to get out of
my system once he became employed again. You always seem to
look for ways to "make nice."
During this time, he was also on anti-depressants (he still is to this day) and under the
care of a psychiatrist. I'm no big judge of depressive disorders, however, having
suffered through one of them after my best friend died, I can honestly say that the
symptoms manifested themselves completely differently between my husband and I.
While I became more prone to stay home, and in fact, suffered through a bout of
agoraphobia, my husband became more social, wanting to go out continually and be with
other people I cried a lot, whereas he was simply restless and malcontent; my
husband, although he did go through
his "blue" periods, was actually the happiest I'd ever seen him. The only
thing consistent about our "symptoms" was that we both slept a lot. But
this is off the topic. It is OK to be on medication. Medication
really helps. But the problem is that your husband has more than depression. He's going to
do what he wants to do, no matter what!
Over the years, the incidents of verbal abuse increased in frequency and intensity.
I noticed a pattern: every time he exploded, it was my fault. I
"provoked" him into blowing up by something I'd said - or sometimes something I
didn't say. Sometimes all it would take was a look he didn't like. Typically,
once the "argument" has escalated, he yells at me anywhere from thirty minutes
to an hour while I cry and beg him to stop. A few times I had to crawl away from him
in fear, because he would throw something at me or destroy something in the room, and once
I got the dry heaves, I was so upset. Oh, boy... After the incident is over, He will accuse me of "acting"
afraid and shedding "crocodile tears." Oh,
boy... Finally, one day, I lost my temper with him and
screamed back. About time.
After that, I began to lose my temper
with him more frequently when these incidents happened. I guess I finally got tired of
being called names and called a liar. Yes. Who
wouldn't. Why do you do this to yourself? My husband
says that I am the biggest liar that he's ever met, and that I lie about everything, which
confuses me, because he is the one person I've been the most truthful with! He also
says that the dynamic between us is "normal," which also confuses me.
Certainly this wasn't the case for my mother and father, my married cousins or most of my
married friends. Why are you confused? Does this sound
"normal" to you?
About three months ago, I'd had it. About time. I was genuinely depressed and thought about suicide often. I had an
affair with an old flame who lived in another state. It wasn't something that I
planned on, but it just happened. Afterward, I felt both horrible and relieved;
horrible because I know that no amount of my husband's bad behavior justified my own; and
relieved because I knew that I'd lain in the arms of someone who had never raised his
voice to me in anger, who had been nothing but gentle with me as long as I'd known
him. I realize that what I did was a sin, and if I had the chance, I would take it
back in a heartbeat. It would be easy to say that my husband's abuse drove me away
(and maybe it did, I don't know), It did. but ultimately, it was my decision to sin, and I take full responsibility
for it. Good. I cannot
convince my husband that it won't happen again except by my actions, and I have made a
commitment to myself that I will never commit adultery again, no matter how much I am
hurting, or how much it might make me feel good for the moment. Good. But, it is interesting to see how badly you feel for your
"wrong." What about your husband's "wrongs." How would you feel if you
had done all he's done? Why isn't his mis-behavior subject to the same high criteria?
My husband and I have tried counseling. We went for about one year. However, the
issue of abuse was never addressed. I went into counseling thinking that we - my
husband and I - had a communication problem, not that he was abusing me. In
counseling, he was rational and sane and seemed to be listening to me. In
retrospect, I feel that our whole counseling episode was a farce, because he did not
communicate in his "natural" way. In session, my husband became this
rational, sympathetic person whom I hadn't seen since our courting days. The
counselor, I believe, was tricked into believing that nothing serious was going on except
that we had different communication styles. Unfortunately,
this is a typical scenario.
Even some of our mutual friends - even those who have known me for a long time - want to
know why I'm making such a big deal out of little "arguments." It's
impossible for me to explain to them that it's not just an argument, that my interaction
with my husband makes me feel drained, confused, frightened, depressed, and yes, even
suicidal. I've always had a very health self-esteem, but now I feel as though I am
nothing, that I don't matter at all. What hurts the most, I suppose, is that someone
who professes to love me so much doesn't care that I'm hurting. As of late, he has
been accusing me of being mentally ill and needing treatment. Yet when I did go to
therapy on my own, he objected vehemently because the counselor confirmed my suspicions
that I was being abused and told me that I should think about getting out of the
marriage. Damned if you do; damned if you don't. You
can't win. I think you'd better think hard about what your counselor advised.
I realize that I haven't always done things that are above-board. I'm only
human. I've been cranky and ill-tempered and yes, at times, even hostile.
During the two years my husband was unemployed and virtually ignoring my existence, I went
off into my own world by taking refuge in my writing (I eventually wrote two novels, and
one screenplay). Cool!
To me, this was my therapy. To
this day, whenever he's being abusive, my husband never fails to bring up that period of
our life when I allegedly treated him so badly. Yet when I think back on it, I
cannot see that I did anything that was so awful. Yes, I was upset that he wasn't
working, yes, I did get peevish and a little pushy, and I did isolate myself to get away
from his drug use. I set my boundaries firmly - no drugs while we were driving in
the car or in public places, no coming in at all hours of the night (things he largely
ignored, BTW, because he felt them "unreasonable," once again, because
"everyone does it" or it "happens in every marriage"). But never once
did I scream at him or pick at him persistently. In fact, I went out of my way to
make excuses for him to my mother and father (who were helping us out financially, and
getting quite tired of it). I feel that, all in all, I reacted fairly normally for a
person who was in a pretty bad situation. When you make
excuses for him, or keep the "family secret," you put a nail in your own coffin.
Recently, I phoned the police during one of these verbally abusive incidents. Good. I told my husband that the next time I
felt frightened by his temper, I was going to dial 9-1-1, and I followed up by keeping my
word. I feel that he is never going to forgive me for this, however, had to do
it. One, because I told him that I would, and two, if something happens to me in the
future, I want there to be a record reflecting his history of abuse. Unfortunately, that didn't help OJ's wife.
My husband comes from an abusive background. His father is an alcoholic who abused
his mother, according to her. As per her story, there was a lot of yelling and
hitting that went on in the home, however, I have my suspicions that it might have been
like you wrote in your article, "Will the real abuser stand up?" I think
that perhaps his mother was the verbal abuser and his dad just up and snapped one
day. I can't make this determination, as I wasn't there, but I just have this
"sixth sense" about things. She is very, very hyper-reactive to just about
everything and has screamed at me over the phone, accusing me of being a "liar"
in a circumstance where this clearly wasn't the case. Who was abusive to him is not your problem. Who is abusive to you, is.
As you can tell by his reply to my e-mail, my husband does not believe himself to be an
abuser. I know as surely as I feel hunger or pain or fear that he indeed is.
It took me a long time to admit it to myself, and to admit it to others. I stay in
the relationship because there is some part of me that loves him for everything I know he
is and who he is capable of becoming (he's not a horrible person, he just does horrible
things). Yes, but he does horrible things to YOU. Why
doesn't that count?
How can I convince him that he needs
to seek treatment? You can't. Is this a lost cause? If you
continue to put up with it, it may be. Should I just cut my
losses and find someone who will treat me better? Not
the worse idea in the world... I am almost 36, and want
to have a family, however, I refuse to bring a child into an abusive relationship. I
have told my husband that I will not allow my son or daughter to witness him abusing
me. Good. What about you witnessing him abusing you? There's enough sadness in this world already. Yes.
Thank you for listening ... and hopefully for responding. If anything, telling this
to someone who understands has lifted a big weight off my chest.
Stop being such a codependent
victim! You take it and take it and take it. You question your own behavior and make
excuses for his! You try to convince him to get help. Yet, you get nowhere. Look at his
reply to your email! He is sarcastic and turned off.
Why are you doing this to
yourself? Stop being so guilty and begin being self-caring. You don't deserve this; you
deserve a partner who treats you as well as you treat him (when you are not being
provoked, that is.)
My advice: Leave. Don't take this
nonsense. Being understanding and tolerant hasn't worked. In fact, it has made things
worse. And, if you continue being understanding and tolerant, the abuse is
likely to get worse. On the other hand, if you were outraged and left, your husband
might wake up and smell the coffee...
Get yourself some individual
counseling. Get strong. Get smart. Get on with your life.
My best wishes,