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Doc@DrIrene.com

Confusion: Who is Abusive?

Confusion: Who is Abusive?

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 Doctor" .

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.

Blue

Dear Blue,

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.

Don't take 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. 

Good luck!  Dr. Irene

February 6, 2000

I wrote you recently and you replied. Thank You. Your words, though few, were right on the mark.

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. 

Always remember: 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, do you 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.

blue