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Doc@DrIrene.com


 

Do I Want to Leave a 23-Year Marriage?

January 25, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,

I'm sad....bet that is one you haven't heard before !  I've been married for 23 years.  We were not high school sweethearts, but we were always very close friends.  After a 6 month courtship - we married.  I was 17 and he was 21.

I've worked with my counselor to determine my earliest memories of the abuse. It started with a violent temper that his mother warned me of, however I had not ever been witness to it.  After about 3 months of marriage - I remember he threw a window air-conditioner out of a window (but I cannot remember what he was mad about).

The story is familiar - years passed.  I was a stay at home mother - frequently criticized for my parenting, housekeeping and lack of assistance with family finances - although it was a joint decision for me to stay home with our two daughters.....and of course there were happy times too.

After 10 years of marriage - we moved into a house that took us a year to build (I am sure you can only imagine the incidents this stressful situation encouraged).  We lived in the house for 5 years - while I was working on my graduate degree in a competitive field.  The school was 1 1/2 hours from our home.  My husband was very supportive of my education and took on much responsibility of our home and children at that time......

Then the explosion -- a whirlwind of transitions......

bulletI graduated with honors - came out of school with a career that provided me with an income that more than doubled his (remember, I was the stay at home Mom before school). 
bulletHis best friend was hit by a car and killed.
bullet He received a promotion that allowed him to work in our hometown rather than a small community 20 miles from home (however, he loved the previous position and has really never been happy with his promoted responsibilities).
bullet We sold our new home and bought our dream home - an old Victorian (money-time pit) that we had always admired.....and then the real bombshell.....
bulletHe was arrested at local state park for public indecency.  My husband is a prominent local businessman.  It was a real scandal -- he was innocent, but the papers made it sound as if he were involved in homosexual activity.  I am certain of his innocence but the ramifications of the 6 month ordeal nearly killed us both. 

All of these transitions occurred in a period of less than one year. Ouch! But, there is no excuse for abuse!

His verbal abuse began to really escalate at this time.  He would keep me awake at night - threaten to leave me if we didn't have sex, even if we had had sex as recently as the night before. Character assassinations accompanied increasing episodes of violence toward objects in our home.  Oh boy...


There were occasional episodes of physical violence between my oldest daughter (19) and him - but he was never physical toward me.

The ugliness - name calling - threatening violence and rage became a whirlwind spiral.  Police were called more than once for domestic disputes.....my self-esteem continued to dwindle - although I continued to try to soften things and assume that I must have done something wrong to make him so mad - while hiding the fact that this was going on to others and to myself.  We were upstanding - he was president of the governing board of our church, we were very involved socially and in community activities. And then I began to fade. 

I dropped out of all organizations, my contact with friends ceased and I was at home at night for 2 years while he spent the time working on a vintage car with his father. I have a history of eating disorders - my weight has fluctuated forever.  I had ballooned to 250 pounds .I decided to use the time available to me and I joined a gym - and lost the weight. 

bulletI became reacquainted with someone I dated before I became engaged to my husband.  This person told me he had always loved me and didn't date anyone for 7 years after our last date.  His compassion and kindness gave me the safety I was dying for.  I made the worst decision of my life - I had an affair.  I own that decision - I am responsible for what I did - and I truly am sorry to have done something so hurtful to my husband who already had so many trust and self-esteem issues - but I am also sorry that I let my husband off the hook.  My affair took away his responsibility for what was wrong with us. Exactly. Don't let him do this. Having an affair is never "right," but before we get all wrapped up with making you into the bad guy, recognize that professionals understand that an affair is a symptom of underlying problems in a marriage. Your marriage sure has its share of problems; you even know what they are! 

I have completely stopped all contact with the other man - pledge my faith and love to my husband and completely changed my lifestyle to attempt to earn back his trust. Wait a minute... All this is fine, but, what about you? Why doesn't he have to earn your trust? Once he stops behaving like a looney, that is. You must insist that he do so and stop cutting him the benefit of the doubt time and time again. It has been 7 months of persecution, punishment and hell.  I don't think he will ever get over it - he is so suspicious and paranoid.  He refuses to get help and he continues to perseverate on details of my affair. He can refuse help, but his decision should not influence you. You need to get help. Now! As a family therapist, I often start with one partner, usually the wife, who wants to drag hubby in - but he won't come. I tell her, "No problem. We'll work alone. Watch how quickly he gets curious!" Besides, there is plenty of work to do without him.

I desperately want to be happy with my husband - but a single day doesn't go by without abuse and conflict.  It is such a roller coaster.  He is often remorseful and in tears and says he can't live without me - and nearly the next breath he is calling me a whore. Not OK, but you already know that. He is out-of-control and you must put a stop to his antics.

We have such a deep history.  We have two daughters now 17 & 22.  We have a brand-new grandchild.  I desperately want my dreams to be true with this man - but I cannot keep living with this roller coaster and hazardous behavior toward me. He refuses to go back to counseling with me and has told me if I go I am NOT to turn it in on our insurance, which is his coverage. And, you are intimidated. Time to stop. I hope you are still in counseling. If you are not, go for help and don't apologize for it; he doesn't have to like it. Tell him his choices are his insurance or his paycheck - since his behavior is the seat of your misery. Open your mouth and dump the shame. There is no reason to keep his abusive secret. What have you got to lose? You had an affair. Fine. It's over. What about him: 23 years of hell? Take your power and insist he behave like a human being.
 
I am now only 42 years old - I probably have another 42 ahead of me.  I want to share them with him, I want to grow old with him..... but...but...but....but..... He is making it very hard for you.

My questions:
bulletDo you see any potential for recovery here? There is always potential for recovery.
bulletI am so afraid to face life without him - I know of nothing else.  Are there others who regret the decision to leave? Yes. One or two emails here do. But, I will create a board so others can answer your question directly.
bulletHe will blame me - and make me look ugly....can I recover from that? He will try to blame you and you must be assertive enough and sure enough of yourself enough that you do not permit it.
bulletWe live a very comfortable lifestyle and I will have to made significant changes - however my income is not an issue in supporting myself. Will I be happy with those changes? Only you can know the answer to this question...
bulletWill our friends abandon me - because of my affair without knowledge of his abuse? If they abandon you, they were not truly your friends. But, how can you expect them to make clear decisions if you hide the abuse? Never, ever hide abuse. You hurt only yourself and enable your partner. 
bulletWill he get better....after we are apart and he gives the part of him that is so good to someone else? For a while, he probably will be better. Then his stuff will start again. He'll give her that other part too. Promise.  Why can't he get better for me? He can. But, he has to want to. Right now, you want him to get better more than he does. When are you going to realize you have no control over another person? If you disengage, he may just wake up.

I have been living on this fence for  years with this decision.  My life feels like one of those flip page calendars in an old movie....it's going so quick....and I'm not changing anything.... You will make your move when and if you are ready. That is the only time you should move.

Thanks for your time!! Good luck and may God bless you & yours. Dr. Irene

Dear Readers,

Can you help this lady? Any advice? Comments?

April 14, 2003 Update to this story: Look here! Doesn't look like Megan needs any more help!

I would like to read others' comments.

January 27, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene,
Thank you so much for posting my e-mail and including interactive e-mail with it.  It is so helpful to read others perspective - I am looking forward to reading more responses and working hard on me to make the right decision.

I am also including the titles of a few books that have been helpful to me. Thanks!
 
SOMETHING MORE: Excavating your Authentic Self Sarah Ban Breathnach. This is an excellent sequel to her original - SIMPLE ABUNDANCE.  The author went through a divorce after close to 25 years of marriage between the two books. SOMETHING MORE is a wonderful journey toward self acceptance. I have this book and I have the audio  - couldn't live without it !!!

BOUNDARIES IN MARRIAGE Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. You recommended BOUNDARIES - When to Say Yes and When to Say No. Both are excellent books. 

WOMEN WHO LOVE TO MUCH Robin Norwood An old classic - but I like her principles.

BOUNDARIES AND RELATIONSHIPS: Knowing, Protecting, and Enjoying the Self.  Charles L. Whitfield, MD. Another excellent book on boundaries.

OUR LOVE IS TOO GOOD TO FEEL SO BAD: The 10 Prescriptions to Heal Your Relationship by Mira Kirshenbaum, Author of Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. This is an excellent book the identifies  10 prescriptions to heal your relationship!

THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES FOR MAKING A MARRIAGE WORK by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver. This has been eye opening for me - helps me to recognize that it takes two.  I can't do it alone and maybe it isn't supposed to work - and that might be okay too.

Megan

And, Thank YOU!

 

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