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
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
Then the explosion -- a whirlwind of transitions......
|I 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). |
|His best friend was hit by a car
| 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).|
| 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.....|
|He 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
|I 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.
|Do you see any potential for
recovery here? There is always potential
|I 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.|
|He 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.|
|We 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
|Will 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
|Will 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
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!
like to read others'
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
I am also including the titles of a few books that have been helpful to
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
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.