January 25, 2000
Dear Dr. Irene,
If you choose not to answer this email, what the heck. At least I've
had a chance to articulate my feelings, and that is cathartic in
My husband and I will have been married 20 years in June. My parents
were divorced and each remarried abusive people. Dad was an alcoholic
and Mom was an enabler. She had an affair on my Dad with my step dad
and left one alcoholic for another. Dad married an abusive alcoholic
too. I was an angry verbally, then sexually abused child and teenager
and I vowed I was never ever going to be like 'them'....yeah right. It
turns out I'm more like my Mom than I ever wanted to be. That's usually how it works out.
I've been put down, ridiculed and treated as somehow a lesser
person for most of my marriage. When I read on your site about an
abuser's need to win and always be right, you described my husband.
Even the road rage part hit home. I answered yes to at least 25 of the
things on your list about recognizing abuse. I was manipulated into
believing there was something wrong with me sexually because I didn't
want sex as often as my husband did (>3 times/week).
I will admit I
had sexual hang-ups due to the abuse I suffered at the hands of my
stepfather. I sort of 'checked out' mentally during sex for about the
first ten years of our marriage. But after my therapist convinced me
it wasn't my fault my step dad manipulated me and my teenage naiveté
for his sexual needs and that I did a damn good job avoiding him as
long as I did, I got better. It is your
husband's job to respect your sexuality, or lack thereof.
I was in and out of therapy for 5 years for severe depression and
sexual issues because I thought I was the one who was broken. You are, but so is he. We all are, in fact! "I'm the one with the messed up family. I'm too sensitive.
My sex drive is too low. I should be able to just "get over"
all the baggage from my childhood. I shouldn't have to tell you if you
look nice, you should just know it." I was actually suicidal and
didn't tell my husband because I knew his response would be
insensitive and unhelpful so I dragged myself out of the abyss by
myself with only the help of my therapist and through sheer force
of will. No one but my therapist knew I was at that place because I
didn't think I could share it with anyone. Hopefully,
you know better now.
This summer in front of my Mom my husband treated me and my
children with sarcasm and ridicule. It was as if a light suddenly
dawned and I saw him through my Mother's eyes. He was treating us the
way my step dad had always treated Mom and us children, with the
exception of the physical abuse. I thought, "Oh my God I married
my step dad!". I guess I thought it wasn't that bad if no one got
hit. If I really think about it even the sexual manipulation is
there.....hubby admits now that he let me believe there was something
wrong with me sexually when he knew he was being unreasonable just to
get more sex. How horrible! I saw myself and my children tiptoeing around my husband
trying not to anger him, and my children cringing away from his
outbursts even though he'd never been violent....the anger in his
words and body posture were violent.
I met a man online that told me how wonderful and special I was. He
taught me that all men don't treat their women that way. I know you
can't really know someone online (or I thought I knew), but I fell in
love with him. In November I met him for a weekend and it was
wonderful and loving, and all the things I'd never experienced. I
don't think I'd ever experienced love without pressure before him. I
went 20 years without cheating on my husband, 20 years of saying
will never divorce and do to my children what was done to me," 20 years
of just taking it because every time I told him he hurt me, he threw it
back at me and said I needed to go back into therapy or that I was too
sensitive. Good for you that you see how
ludicrous that is now!
I have S.A.D and my libido goes down every winter. When my husband
gets sex less than 3 times a week he starts to get crankier. I can
feel the build up and know an explosion is coming. The last few years
he has written me letters warning me when the explosion is near,
detailing his frustration with our sex life and my faults. I had been
thinking for years that I would never grow old with this man, that I
would leave when the children were grown. Your
husband gives sex too much power over him. He needs to cease sexual
activity altogether so he can begin to recognize just what thoughts
and feelings he uses sex to medicate.
But this year I had had enough. When he left me the note (just
before I left for work), I stewed about it all day then told him I
wanted a divorce when I got home. I don't know why, but I thought he'd
be glad to be rid of me. I thought he was as unhappy as I was, that I
was making him as unhappy as he was making me. But he reacted with
tears and remorse and self-loathing. He said he could never be happy
with another woman and didn't think I would ever be happy with another
man either. That's when I told him I loved another man, that I didn't
love him anymore. He begged me to try therapy together and I did/am
for his sake, as well as my own. I think no matter what it will make
us better people. Good for you!
He's been whipping himself since the big announcement (4 weeks ago)
because he can actually remember incidences where he was cruel and
insensitive. He says he drove me to the affair and he's really trying
to change. In a sense, he did drive you to it...
He's a good man. He coaches the kids baseball, basketball,
football, fishes with them etc.. But the problem is that I just don't
think I love him or can love him after all that's happened in our
lives. And I do still love Mark (the other man). You don't know Mark! There is no way you can know
someone after I don't care how much internet time and one heavenly
I know I can't base my decisions on running to another man, but I
honestly believe I'd be happier on my own than living with a man I
don't love, even if he does change. Perhaps.
However, if your husband really does follow through, and you can put
your fantasy - yes fantasy - of who Mark is aside, you may be able to
save this marriage. You may come to love your husband again. (Perhaps
Mark is "for real," but it takes day to day life to find
that out.) He's asking me to stop talking to Mark while we go to therapy and I tried (4 times I tried) but I get so
desperately depressed when I do stay away from him, that I go back to
him. This is not fair to you, Mark, or your
marriage. You need to give up Mark for the time being. Your husband is
being compared to an idealized man. Asking me to stop talking to
Mark is like asking me to give up my
only support. Then, you are love-addicted and
haven't figured out yet that the only person THAT important is -
yourself. He says I should go to him for support. No. You will go to him for support when and if you are
ready and feel safe doing so. He has to earn your trust.
But I find
that impossible. Of course. Number one, because he's hurting so much right now,
but also because it's just not what I've become used to doing after 20
years. And, are (rightfully) too angry to
do right now.
My husband has become needy and clingy in his love and is doing all
the courteous things he never did before. But I'm not used
to it from him and it drives me up a wall. I've told him that I'm
doing the therapy not necessarily to save the marriage but to help us
both through the transition. I don't know if the marriage can be
saved. I've also told him that I tried to avoid Mark but can't. You mean, WON'T. I will
not lie to him anymore as the lying just hurts too much. Yes. Am I wrong to
refuse to give up talking to Mike while still going to therapy with my
husband? Yes. Most marital therapists will tell
you they cannot do their work with a relationship in the background.
If there is any chance of saving this marriage, you sabotage it by
maintaining a tie with an idealized other.
My husband thinks that, over time, if he stops abusing me and I feel
safe, I will love him again. I agree with him,
but only if he is 101% sincere about changing and is not just
doing everything now that his marriage is threatened. Will he treat
you well when things are going well and there is no threat? But I think there is too much water under
the bridge for that to happen. That may be.
Time will tell.
I'm willing to stay together if the household is calm for a few
more years for the children but not for myself. I don't want to spend
the rest of my life in a marriage with a man I love but am not in love
Thanks for listening, Sally
You are very angry, and with good
reason. It is OK to be there right now. But, I hope, for the sake of your
own peace of mind, you won't act out (i.e., see Mark) while you are in the
process of trying to mend your marriage - because it won't work. No
husband can compare to a fantasy man whose bad side you haven't yet seen.
Get honest with yourself. See your rage. You are entitled to your
feelings. Talk about it in treatment. Let your husband hear it. Take your
If you decide to give your marriage a
shot, be honest about doing so. You cannot give your marriage a chance
when there is a ghost in the bedroom. What you are doing now is simply
going through the motions.
Think about it. Is this, in fact, what
you really want to do? Do you want to make a lifetime decision based on
rage? I think a better way may be to spend some time by yourself - alone
- give yourself time to center. Then you decide what you want. When
in doubt, do nothing.
That's the best way to ensure you
stop walking in mom's footsteps: from one broken man to the other...
My Very best wishes, Dr. Irene