February 5, 2000
For years my wife has told me that
I am an abusive person. When we got married 11 years ago, my 2nd and her
3rd, I was pretty screwed up, i.e.. alcohol, women. dope and DENIAL. My
wife is quite organized and represented structure and stability for me.
Over time, with the help of a therapist, I began to take control of my
life and develop healthy relationships with myself and others. Everything
in my life, including my chronic depression, has improved. Everyone,
except my wife, has seen substantial improvement. My wife sees my every
flaw and makes it clear to point them out at every opportunity, including
when they don't actually occur. I have asked my wife's adult son
about the behavior Huh? Whose behavior? I will
assume you mean her behavior. and he said it is real and insidious.
He also says, as do I, that she will deny making stuff up and claim that
my memory is faulty, which it is, and that my frustration with her
behavior borders on paranoia. Perhaps it does.
You certainly sound fed up!
I finally told my wife to define the behaviors in me that she finds
abusive rather than using catch all phrases. Good!
Instead, she directed me to your site and told me to see for myself. Talk
about begging the question! Your question was
reasonable. She only need define these behaviors once. Ask her again. She
may define her position. You may not understand it or agree; that is
OK. Ask her again.
Well, I believe that I am a victim of what is called "Gaslighting". The problem is that I
no longer believe that what my wife says is true and we have reached the
point that either she stops the hypercritical talk (this is NOT my
imagination) or I change my living arrangements with her. Frankly, divorce
is a possibility but it is not my desired choice.
If my wife could get over the fact that someone who is forgetful, and I
am, is not a person who is a liar and an abuser simply because he loses
his temper, under stress. Correct. But, drop the
temper. If that happened then maybe, we might have a chance to
restructure our relationship. If she can not see me any other way
than flawed, we our doomed. I think she needs to see
you as flawed and be OK with the fact that you are flawed. To do this, she
needs to be OK with her own flaws.
So, any suggestions? My wife is quite bright, but not very flexible in her
thinking. Her mother appears to have been imperious, righteous, short
tempered, a perfectionist and an abuser and persecutor of my wife, while
pampering and controlling her Husband and her prodigal son , "the
Her mother died before my wife got her Ph.D. Her father died within 30
days of her mother. Her brother's comment, at the time was, "Well
you're NOT a Real doctor". They rarely see each other and speak only
once or twice a year, at holidays. My wife has no other siblings or
children. Oh boy...
For several years I have allowed my wife to tell me that I am flawed and
can not act properly without her guidance. NO MORE!!! Good! Her job is to love you, not fix you. Her
comments are hurtful and are spoken out of the fear that she is losing
control while I am gaining control over myself. Hallelujah! That is your interpretation. You can't tell
what is going on with her; you are too close to it. The important part is
that you are gaining control of yourself; you feel good about yourself;
and you know you don't want to hear any more criticism. Good!
I would appreciate your comments.
My position is that
in most cases - cases that are not terribly extreme, that both people are
"broken" and either partner is capable of mis-behavior and
abuse, depending on the balance of power in the relationship at a given
time. Couples may even take turns being the "abuser."
Your marriage most
likely falls into this category. Your wife is out of line in her criticism
of you. While her complaints may be accurate (or close, or not...), it is
up to her to deal with what it is within her that bothers her about
you. Her complaints are her problem. Your complaints are your problem.
Of course you are
flawed. Of course she is flawed. Who isn't? The best any individual can do
is focus on their own stuff. This is Serenity Prayer stuff: fix what you
have control over (aspects of the self), accept what you cannot change
(other), and be wise enough to know the difference.
Fix your behavior, then insist she do same - so
you are treated with the respect you give. If you act out under
stress, stop acting out. Deal more appropriately. Also, check out
whether your "memory problem" is a biological given or a passive-aggressive (i.e., acting out) response on your
part. Forgetfulness may be "real"; or, it may be a reflection of
your anger towards her - and the way you get back at her.
criticism. Tell her, "Thank you, I heard it. Enough. Telling me more
times will not make me any more aware, just more angry, so, please, knock
it off and deal with why my deficits bug you so much. Work on accepting me
and my faults if you choose to stay with me." If she still won't cut
it out, escalate: "I am not interested in hearing it. STOP!"
(Then walk away, don't discuss it further.) But, only do this once you
have taken care of your own behavior - otherwise it is the pot calling
the kettle black.
Bottom line: It is
each person's responsibility to themselves to be their best self. Control
your behavior. Behave in ways that increase your self-esteem as
oppose to the momentary high of enhancing your ego. Behave in ways that do
not compromise your partner's self-esteem. When you behave respectfully,
you not only have the right, but the responsibility, to demand that
you are treated with respect in return. Each individual
Hint: the person
who can fix their acting out (i.e., outbursts)
more easily tends to be the healthier of the two.
February 6, 2000
I wrote you
recently and you replied. Thank You. Your words, though few, were right on
One suggestion that you made was to control , not ignore, my anger. Right. I have been able to do this
to the point that I am proud of myself for doing it. Yippee! I have just made it clear to my wife
that I am no longer willing to live by the "old deal" we made
when we got married, and that we need to make a new deal based on who we
are today AND, that the "old" stuff be forgiven. Yes. You have the ability to
create a new day, each day.
We are both very serious about doing this but we will need help to
negotiate the NEW DEAL. Yes. I have obtained the names of several competent marriage
counselors. Excellent! IN THE MEANTIME we need
some rules to get us over the hump. Do you have any suggestions? Yes. I promise you
that no matter how hard each of you try, you will blow it - and go back
into your old habits! Accept that this will happen. Agree that you
are both likely to make the same mistakes - until you learn how to do
otherwise. Make an agreement to forgive each other. Deal with your
own hurt and start with a fresh slate as soon as you can.
This is more
advanced, but if you can do it: When your partner blows it, try not to
point out their mistake (unless of course that is how you blow it). Give
your partner the space to figure out what they did and come to you with an
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings" type statement.
People rarely set out to hurt each other. We hurt others when our own
broken pieces get in our way.
We are both interested in learning more about life. But, if we are to grow
it will only be when the pain is lessened. My wife and I are likely
abusing each other and letting it happen, again and again, because we fear
we don't deserve to be happy. I do not feel like
that, any longer. Good!
In order for the abuse to stop, the inner source of the pain must be
attacked.....no treated.... with kindness. I therefore pledge to you
and my wonderful wife that I will lovingly help to create a new deal based
on today rather than all those bad taste yesterdays. And I hope
that my wife does the same. Me too.
This is pretty serious stuff, Doc. I reviewed your reply to my post with
my therapist/pal. He said "Good stuff!" I thought your
reply was balanced and well reasoned, given the info that I gave you. So,
have any suggestions to avoid any potential "land mines"
that may disrupt the new deal contract negotiations. I also like the
stuff you publish. Best of all, I like the fact that my wife referred me
to you. (Flattery
will get you everywhere...)
Thanks again, Doc. This stuff is real important to me and I can use all
the help I can get.