Tuesday September 28, 2004
Dear Dr. Irene, My husband has been abusive in the past - ignoring me for days when he didn't like something, making hobbies so uncomfortable to do that I gave them up, either getting angry or walking away when I tried to talk about my issues, criticizing me often, complementing me rarely. We both come from dysfunctional families.
Over the last two years, I became initially more independent - refusing to give up tennis as a hobby, and just telling myself "he loves me," ignoring the hurts and not making issues out of things. It's good to depersonalize his stuff. It's really not about you! I felt better than I had before, although I missed the closeness. Yes, but please don't expect to get close to and stay close to a man like your husband. He needs to create drama so for whatever reason, often so he can feel that you really care. He became increasingly more demanding and we fought quite a bit. I began to use tennis as an escape. Sounds more like a coping mechanism to me; a healthy outlet. In June we talked, came to an understanding which mostly involved me playing less tennis and us doing more together, and I honestly believed that we were coming together again. He went for a two week vacation with our son, came back obliviously not wanting to see me, and then told me he'd fallen in love. I'm so sorry. That would have been a good plan if you were dealing with a more normal guy. At least you can rest assured that you did the "right thing;" you took a gamble that with your ability not to take his stuff personally, things might work better. Unfortunately, he retreated/retaliated/upped the ante once you agreed to "come back" from tennis.
That was in August. Since then things have been swinging from one extreme to the other. He wants to stay with me/his family. He would like this other woman to become a friend of ours NO! - I'm not sure he knows his own feelings for her. Not OK. Regardless of what his feelings are for her, his "friendship" with her compromises you. She becomes his ace in the hole, always there for him to use against you. Even worse, her presence gives him more time to get to know her better to see if they have a future. Do not permit this. I love him - I do not want the relationship as it was. You may have to choose whom you love most: YourSelf or him.
Last week he promised me that if I feel I need to leave, we will find a way to make it the least traumatizing for our son and when he gave me the "you and your ideas are stupid and we are not going to discuss this look" (it was about what to make for a dinner for friends) - he acknowledged that he had given me the look, and apologized and found a compromise. (I'm used to him either denying the look or getting angry at me, or walking away if I say anything). I don't know what made him suddenly able to realize/admit he gave me this look, or to accept that I might need to get away from a painful situation. I'd like to hear your opinion about: whether someone can change this drastically - is this an act, can I trust this ? Sounds to me as though you've done more good give him the benefit of the doubt stuff than you had to. Yet, regardless of what you've done, historically he finds a way to up the ante or do something else. I think your husband is wired in a way that he simply can't help it.
If you love this man enough to keep the marriage together insist he get help. Unless he gets help (and even if he gets help), his drama will find new ways to express itself. Can he change? Maybe. Most likely: he simply changed his costume with regard to the changes in your relationship. Clearly he does not want to lose you, but he does take it to the edge. (Is he worth the angst?) (Is anybody?) I think that you need help as well: why are you allowing this pain to go on?
We are seeing a pair therapist, but I'm not sure that she is trained to recognize verbal abuse - how can I ask her about it without appearing to question her qualifications? Just ask. Remember, you are hiring her. Should we continue to go to her if she isn't familiar with it? That's up to you. Is it helping? Is he doing better? Are you recognizing what he does is unacceptable? Have you begun to recognize how destructive your husband is being and how you are his accomplice in it?
It sounds as though you need to see more of his escapades before you are fed up with his antics. My opinion? Your husband is playing games; he can't help it. If you can deal with it, good for you. If you guys stay together, maybe in 30 years you'll decide it was worth it despite the pain. Maybe you won't. You see, it's all about what you think is OK for you, and what isn't making you sick physically and emotionally in the process. Are you sick yet?
Next, my husband brings up the other woman whenever we talk about the relationship Not OK. - on the one hand, I want to know how he's feeling/thinking about her Why? Think about this one. Is it good for you to care so much? Isn't this activity destructive to you?, on the other hand I'd like to just focus on our relationship and not have to think about this uncomfortable situation I have no influence over, and I am starting to wonder if he doesn't keep bring her up because he likes to see that it affects me. Good thinking. She is likely his reassurance that "you care." As expected, your hubby keeps upping the ante. Notice that as you learn not to personalize one thing, and so he switches to another. My point: Hubby is a sick fellow. He does not have internal "stuff," so he seeks to get it from outside. Again, as long as you can deal with it and it's not making you sick, and this is what you want to do, it is your prerogative. I don't understand why you would do this to yourSelf when marriage should be about partnership or "closeness" as you put it earlier. That you are willing to live in this situation tells me you need your own therapist.
And lastly - my husband is someone who likes to be quiet when we're together, sometimes I can't tell if he's just being quiet, or if he's ignoring me - is there a way to deal with this ? I don't trust my feelings here - at least not in this situation. Thanks, C I can't tell.
What bothers me most about the way you choose to handle your life is that you are trying so very hard to keep this man. Is he that important to you? You're sacrificing so much of your own stuff to keep him around. Is anybody worth this?
Good luck to both of you, Dr. Irene
Date: Saturday October 09, 2004
I have years of therapy and recovery from food
addiction, alcoholism, and sexual abuse and felt I
I have consistently told him I won't tolerate his
abuse. Good! He'd apologize and we went to counseling for 1
yr, but is still doing it and the therapist didn't do
so well at confronting his verbal abuse...you and I
know couching it as ANGER. YES!
He is an amazing man who is into Buddhism, meditates daily, goes to Unity with me, and is supportive of my career and is very balanced. He goes to al-anon but never really opened up and got a sponsor or did the ACOA work; his dad was a rager and alcoholic (Surprise surprise). HE doesn't drink ever. Excellent!
He would state my dress was too
suggestive, that I drink too much water, he'd get mad when I'd
talk to men in line at the grocery, erupt at
unexpected times, and make it my fault. After doing my
own 4th step, EMDR, and controlling my anger, I
finally got to the place that it's his stuff and I am
not willing to put myself or daughter through it. Not
willing to live in control anymore.
So, I wonder, what's your opinion on anger management? It is only a slight beginning, so I don't get my hopes up? He has said he will change many times before. I don't want to get back w/him and hurt myself, reopen the wounds, and expose my daughter to it when I get her. What do you think? I agree with you that anger management is not the end-all/ be-all, but it's a start. A good start. Anger management will teach him to control his initial, irresistible impulse to lash out. It will teach him to explore his thoughts and feelings, to make fewer assumptions about the other person's motives, and will get him started on a path where he more calmly communicates what's on his mind. He will learn that he can feel angry without acting angrily. For anger management to work, he will have to consciously apply its principles always. Eventually it's application becomes so habitual, it becomes "automatic." So, while anger management won't directly address his particular issues, it's an excellent start. The coping skills he develops make it easier for him to go to the particular places in his psyche that he needs to revisit.
You know there are no guarantees. Some men make significant changes, especially when threatened with the loss of their loved one. Your guy has apparently done this. No one can predict whether or not he'll permanently change, but should you two get together again, you load the odds in your favor if you remain firm on what you will not put up with. If he's feeling just a little insecure about your relationship, he may be more likely to continue to apply the anger management principles.
Also, if you were less emotionally dependent, it would be less devastating to have your hopes dashed. You would be better able to appreciate his goodness when he's good, let it go when he messes up, remain firm about not accepting mis-behavior - all at the same time! Think of it as switching back and forth between mind-sets more effortlessly. Instead of getting hung up in the pain and emotional stuff of not having your ideals and expectations met (the re-experiencing of your own psychic wounds), you're better able to shake off the disappointments, fully knowing his stuff has nothing to do with you, and that you don't have to take it and you don't hesitate in setting limits.
Wouldn't it be great to have a Crystal Ball that really works? Good luck to both of you. Dr. Irene
Doc; This is a Happy Birthday letter from a mid-teenage girl living at home with her verbally abusive father and her abused mother. I know my mother would benefit from your comments. Thank you.
Dear Mom, Happy Birthday. I hope it is great and you have loads of fun.
I know that we aren't the greatest of friends and that we have our ruff spots and fights and such, but, I think deep down we both love each other very much - just we never show it as much as we should, or at least I don't. Oh! I admit that sometimes I go off and am very cruel to you and I really don't mean to hurt you. Ouchhh! Who taught you to do that? I just don't think of it at the time when I am saying it. I just have a very bad temper and can't really control it. I understand you don't mean it, but it still hurts your mom and even worse, deteriorates your self esteem. And, yes you can learn to control your temper! In the scheme of difficulty regarding stuff to change about yourself, learning to more effectively communicate is a breeze! I just get upset when I can't go somewhere or do something that I want because I don't understand why I can't.
I know that sometimes it isn't your fault for things that I can't do but I guess I just need someone to take it out on and your the only one that will probably listen to it. Mom! Why are you putting up with this? You're not helping your daughter - or your own self esteem - by letting her - or anybody else - get away with this behavior! You are teaching her that it's OK for her to talk that way to those who will put up with it. Those bad habits are likely to make her life as an adult more difficult than it needs to be. There are some wonderful workbooks for you too, to help you learn to be assertive and set appropriate limits.
Even though it hurts you and you know it at the time I really don't seem to care though because I am so upset. So I want you to know that whenever we get in a fight I don't mean half the stuff I say. I just say it cause I am upset at the time. I want you to know that somewhere in me I do care about you as much as you care about me. I love you more than you can imagine. I am sorry for everything I might have done to ruin your life or mine that I have blamed you for or yelled and said cruel things to you. I truly don't mean it. So, every time I hurt you or do something to upset you read this letter again and just remember I don't mean it. I just can't help it at the time. I hope you have a great birthday and get everything you wish for. I LOVE YOU. With all my heart and love,
:( Unfortunately, "I'm sorrys" get old after a while... You feed badly about you since you're out of control and not acting according to your values. Mom gets hurt and even though she probably "understands," how she feels about herself suffers too. Nobody wants to be yelled at!
For you: The Anger Control Workbook by McKay & Rogers
For Mom: Trust Me Mom-Everyone Else Is Going!: The New Rules for Mothering Adolescent Girls by Roni Cohen-Sandler
Good luck to both of you! Dr. Irene
Dear Dr. Irene,
My husband and I have been married for 14 years with a 7 year old son. Back in 1999, my husband bought an escort (left the receipt in a cubbyhole on his desk). We had a knock down drag out over that. That is when the problems started. He wanted an open marriage, NO WAY! Then he wanted to Swing, again, no way. He told me if I was not able to do these things with him, he would be forced to do them without me. Well we ended up in counseling, with 3 different doctors; he did not like them after a while.
Life was ok; he would be the sweetest thing that walked the earth. Then after 3 or 4 months of sweetness he would jump on me for silly reasons. Anyway he got involved with an old girlfriend; I found a love letter and naked pictures. I asked him to leave. Which he did. But in about 7 days, he returned begging for my forgiveness. He would do anything the counselor told him to, and would quit drinking. I took him back.
He started drinking again after about 2 weeks. He did get rid of the girlfriend, only to start up with a new one. (Who is also married with children.) The second affair started in 2002. I again told him to leave. Again he comes back on bent knee asking for my forgiveness, same promises. Again I took him back. We went back to counseling, and it seem to help. But he started it back up the this woman and the counselor jumped on him pretty good, so he stopped going.
On the brink of divorce, I ordered marriage tapes. My husband said I saved our marriage with these tapes and things where wonderful for about 6 months. Now it seems he may be seeing this woman again. He has time unaccounted for on his paycheck stubs and he has been telling me things like, "I have always liked women, and P---- is just P----, but you are the one I want to spend my life with." Sex is becoming boring, and since I will not have sex with him in our place of business, I am stupid. Then he turns around the next day and buys me a dozen long stem roses with a hand written note telling me how much he loves me.
I am at my wits end. I want to leave and take our young son away from this. But I don't know how I feel. One minute life is great with him, the next it is not. I am lost as to what to do. It seems to me you're trying real hard not to pay attention to the parts of your life that are painful and are hoping that the future will be different. Have you noticed that while the specific situations have changed, the pattern hasn't: he goes off on his merry way; you put your foot down; things are OK, at least for a while.
Since the past is generally the best predictor of the future, you can expect more philandering from him, with concomitant emotional ups and downs for you, assuming of course that you choose to stay with this man.
You know you want your life together to be the way it is when it's "good." Who needs to start over? But you also know that your life together is not always good, and that when it's bad, it's very bad. You don't understand why he does what he does; it makes no sense to you. You wish he would see the light, and just appreciate the good family he has. You do everything in your power to help him, and you hope against hope that he comes to his senses and stays there.
Try to clarify what's going on inside of you. How do you feel about him? How do you feel about yourSelf? Why do you fear the possibility of a life without him? What do you need to do to feel better about yourSelf? What behaviors on your part will maximize your self-esteem and integrity - despite how you may feel?
While you are soul-searching, why not read this book: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by Albert Ellis et al.
Remember: it's your life. You choose how you want to live it. Only you. Good luck to you. Dr. Irene