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6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

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4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Doc@DrIrene.com

Interactive: What if He Could Change?

 Interactive Board:  Your ALT-Text here What if He Could Have Changed?

December 10, 2006

I left 18 months ago after an 18 year marriage. I never had my husband pegged as an abuser, but since reading your site, I realise that the way he treated me was unacceptable. (Just so we're on the same page, there is no diagnosis for "abuser." People can be abusive for many reasons. ) He called me names and disrespected me in front of our son, despite me asking him not to. He threw things at me, and poked and shoved me – so hard that on one occasion, I fell down 2 steps and injured myself. Not OK. He never showed any remorse. Not a good sign. In fact, this is a very, very bad sign. I was often scared of him. Another bad sign. He was constantly criticizing me or complaining about things I had or hadn’t done. Everything from cobwebs in the corners, to using his pens. I felt like my opinions and needs didn’t count. I tried talking to him, writing letters to him and asking him to go to counseling, which he refused. We didn’t have sex for the last 3 years. I didn’t have the strength to leave. I felt like I was out of control of my own life and future. I felt that things would never change, so I accepted my lot in life and got on with it. Sounds like you did everything in your power to get him to hear you... Sounds to me as if you were too patient and understanding!

Two years ago I joined a writing group and became close friends with a member of the group. After a year of initially getting to know each other as friends, we started an affair. He left his partner (13 years together, no kids) within two weeks and I left my husband within 2 months. I am still seeing him. He is a loving, understanding and patient enough for me to get to wherever I need to be in my head through all this.

On the day I left my husband he asked me if we could go to counseling. You gotta love his timing! I was quite surprised as I felt that he didn’t even really like me very much by then, let alone want to stay married to me. He used to tell me he loved me, but towards the end, I never felt that from him. I declined counseling because I was worn out by it all, had given up and had the promise of a happier future ahead of me. Understandable.

For the first 6 months or so, I felt happier than I had felt in a long while. I moved into my own house and started to get my life back. My husband got angrier. He threatened to put my boyfriend in a wheelchair. He pushed him off his cycle from a moving car. This is seriously not OK. He dragged my son off me in the street. No! All these things I made excuses for. “He’s angry”, “he’s hurt”, “he has no self control” “he can’t help it” I now realize that NONE of that stuff is excusable. Correct. Entirely inexcusable. Forgive but never, ever forget.

As financial worries and guilt over my son’s future without his father around full time started to get to me, I become plagued by” what ifs”. What if I had agreed to counseling? What if he could have changed? What if the moon falls down tomorrow?

I only recently told him that I have realised that I was a victim of his verbal and physical abuse. He denies this. He does? No insight at all! I asked him tonight if he thought it would be a good idea for him to attend anger management classes or counseling. He told me that I’m the one who needs help. He's begging you back and he's telling you that you are the one who needs help? (He knows I’ve already had counseling since we split up) He told me I’m not acting as a rational and reasonable person.

But supposing he does admit to it all and does something about his behaviour and succeeds? Suppose the moon really does fall down tomorrow? How would I even know, as we're no longer together? Why would it matter? Have I given up on what might have been a good marriage if he made those changes? A little wishful thinking here, you think? I would feel so incredibly guilty Why? You gave him a thousand chances... if he made the changes and I'd given up on us and thus denied our son the chance to grow up in what might have been a happy family. Denied your son the opportunity to grow up in an abusive family perhaps?

But I don't want to sit around waiting for that to happen. I want to get on with my life, and be able to commit to my new relationship. How do I do that when I'm haunted by "what ifs"?  Rachel

You start by recognizing that the "what ifs" are part of an anxiety disorder. You start by recognizing - and accepting - that we do the best we can. That there is no such thing as certainty, that you will make the best choices for your and your son at any given time.  You recognize that in retrospect, many of us would choose to do some things differently. For example, knowing what you know now, would you have  married your husband?

I hope when you make whatever choice you make, you make it fully. Whether you stay or move on, please walk into your future unencumbered. Know that nobody can predict the future, including you. Know that our choices are educated guesses. Know that you alone are responsible for your life., and please know that all of this is OK... It is even OK if you feel some guilt. It is not OK to wallow in it.

Back to business: You have absolutely no evidence to believe that your husband will all of the sudden wake up and smell the coffee. None. Historically he has waited until the very last minute to give you an inch, like agree to go to counseling on the very day you leave. More recently, he tells you you are the one with the problem. Well, you know what? I agree with him! The problem is that you would even consider staying with a man who has pushed you around and who has attempted physical harm!!! Who then tells you that you are the one with the problem! What are you thinking?

Let's say he did finally admitted it all. So what? He would have to work very, very hard to modify a personality style that is centered in self-gratification. The leap you implicitly make from "But supposing he does admit to it all and does something about his behaviour" to "and succeeds?" is HUGE. Think along the lines of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat. It would take time, luck, and mammoth effort. Even among those who are highly motivated, too often the challenge outweighs the motivation over time.

Guilt and anxiety (your "what iffing" is anxiety) are not unusual. You are emotionally worked up because you are making life changes. You want to make sure you do right by your child. But, please, never, ever stay with someone because of their potential! (Potential, which, in your husband's case, is not remotely apparent.)

Seems to me you've fallen prey to your wishful thinking. Hoping against hope that somehow he will "get it." That you can somehow go on and have a normal family life. And with absolutely no evidence to support your concerns!  If anything, the "evidence" you've presented is not in his favor.

So, what are you doing?

My question to you is, guilt and anxiety aside, what do you want to do? Deep inside your heart, what do YOU want? You know, you do have a right to pursue happiness.

Oh, and please read this book:

When Hope Can Kill: Reclaiming Your Soul in a Romantic Relationship by Lucy Papillon

 Please think about all this and post away. I will be back in about a week to reply.

Readers, what do you think? Any suggestions or insights for Rachel?

No more posting, but if you just want to read the posts, please click here.

Very warmly yours, Dr. Irene, 12/12/06