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Victim Partner Turns Abusive

Victim Partner Turns Abusive

April 1, 2000

Can a person be turned into an abuser by a previous partner? Many victims are abusive; many abusers are victims.

I was married for 20 years to a man who took care of me and was reliable. He also drank about 4 times a year and came home with an attitude and ready for a fight.  He didn't hit me, but he trashed the house and scared me. I asked him many times to get help. He would go to counseling alone and come home and report he wasn't an alcoholic and he was fine. Sounds like a binge drinker. That's alcoholic.  In between times he was gone on business and home on weekends.  He would listen to me, however he rarely shared himself.  He just didn't talk.  After 20 years I was so lonely, I left him for someone else.

I took an adult class and met someone in class.  I instantly liked him and we slowly became friends.  He would talk to me about his relationship and the problems he experienced.  It wasn't the "my wife doesn't understand me" jargon.  He seemed genuinely confused and wanted to improve their marriage.

He said he had been married for 20 years and his wife left him after graduating  school.  He was still in shock from losing his first wife when a lady from church approached him being "amazingly friendly".  He said, "At the time I was numb and she really liked me, and I liked her attention."  She was very forward, not sexually, but pushing herself on him.  He said, "I just went along," and eventually they started a relationship. 

He remembered that she was very bossy and directive.  However he thought it might be good for him because he needed someone to push him since his neglect in his life was becoming a problem.  He fell in love with her and they married.  When I met him, they had been together 5 years.

 He talked about his relationship and how lonely he was. He shared their interactions and asked me what I thought he could do better.  He wanted a woman's point of view.  I remember sharing some of what I had learned in counseling and reading.  I wasn't qualified to help him.  All I could offer was my empathy and listening.  He would set up the interaction they had gone through and ask me how I would have responded before he told me her response.  Example:  He would say, "You had a phone call today."  I would say, "Thanks for telling me."  Then he would tell me her response, "How could I know that!"  I thought there was something wrong and suggested counseling.  During this time he came across a book, "Verbal Abuse". It was so upsetting to read.  It was what he had been going through.  I remember he asked me to read parts of it to him. He sat there and cried. These interactions sound very manipulative to me. Both the role play and the crying.

I met him in October. By December we were talking several times a week. I lied to my self by thinking we were just friends and it was OK.  It was so wonderful to be with someone who talked with me and shared himself.  I was in love with him and so far down the river in Egypt (de Nile), I couldn't think straight!

So he left her and I left my husband and we moved into an apartment.  For 10 months I was happier than I ever remember being in my entire life! There were struggles, like his wife wanting to kill me. She did every dirty thing you could think of.  They had a child and she used that child like a crow bar to get anything she wanted.  I tried to be supportive and even understand her position.  She was really hurt even though she had been threatening to leave him for almost 2 years.  She was out of control.  I thought it would pass.  However 3 1/2 years later, she is the same person. Out of control, doing every dirty thing she can think of, and carrying on. So she is more controlling than he is.

Now to the point:  On the way to a wedding, he started an argument.  I listened and tried to offer resolution.  He wouldn't stop, and just kept getting louder.  I was in shock. By the time we arrived at the wedding, I was numb.  He turned to me and said, "If you can control yourself and promise not to do this again, I will go to the wedding with you".  I was stunned.  I just said, "OK," and we went to the wedding.  At the wedding he was wonderful, charming, kind.  I just thought he was having a bad day.  That was the beginning of 2 years from hell.

It started slowly.  Once a month he would act up.  Then once every two weeks. Pretty soon it was once a week, and the last year it was almost everyday. We went to counselors.  We read books. We went everywhere I could think of going.  He blamed me for exactly what he was doingThis is called "projection" and is common in denied anger. He would scream me to the floor and then call me his 2nd wife's name.  Not OK. Slowly, over time I started fighting back, and that is when he started hitting me. Oh boy... He hit me 5 times before I called the police and said, "This is it!"  

Each time he would come to me and be so wonderful, I would forgive him and go back.  I started to notice that he was guilty of the very same behavior he complained of in his 2nd wife.  Even using the same abusive words.  It was spooky.  I told him I feel like we are in a play and I am acting your part and you have taken the starring roll of your ex-wife.  

He would tell me, "If you do (this), then I will stop".  I would do it, and he wouldn't stop.  He would say, "You did what you wanted, and not what I asked". No matter what I did, I was wrong.  It was so terrible, I can't believe I didn't stay away.  I guess I have a control problem: proving I am a good person and proving he is wrong about me. In retrospect, I think even if it was negative, he was interacting with me. As sad as that sounds I think it's true. You are codependent and look outside the self for self-esteem - when you already have all the good stuff you will ever need.

I thought if you loved someone you were available to them. Yes. I thought if you loved someone, you admitted your wrongs and made changes. If you can. I had no idea, even after reading a shelf full of books, how to respond. Put your foot down. Set limits. Not allow your partner to disrespect you. My partner found your site and printed about 100 pages for me. Good for him! It was the best information I have ever read anywhere. Thank you. I wish we could counsel with you.  I am making changes, and my changes have done some good.  I really love this guy, and when he is not being a jerk he is a prince. If you want a prince all the time, be a princess. Don't accept any behavior from him that you would not inflict on another person yourself. 

Could he be abusive because his ex-wife abused him?  My grown son told me he thinks my partner is "working out" all of his anger and hurt he felt from his ex on me. What do you think? I think his first wife probably left him because he was abusive. I think that in marriage number 2, he paired with someone more angry and controlling than himself.  I don't think he's terribly angry because: he seems to self correct once you put your foot down; there is no evidence of sociopathy on his part as per this email; he printed info out for you. I think he's really trying, but just doesn't know how to lose the anger and take care of himself. So, if you are having the codependent's typical difficulty in putting your foot down since it feels too "selfish" or you feel too "guilty," etc., think of it this way: when you put your foot down, you help him self-correct by creating the space he needs to correct himself in.

Unless you're talking about severe cases, it does not make much sense to talk about who is the abuser and who is the victim. Most people can more or less take on both roles at different times, or can take on a different role with a different partner. No matter which role they are in, victims and abusers are not being fair to themselves, let alone to their partner.  

Thanks for listening to me.  I don't write well so I hope this makes sense to you. You don't write well? Are you kidding? Your site has changed my life. Faith  Thank you for your many kind words. Good luck to both of you, Dr. Irene

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