Monday September 11, 2006
I have been married for 10 years. I believe that my husband is both passive-aggressive and mildly Asperger’s.My husband’s issues include:
When I bring up a conflict or complain, he looks down at the floor and responds minimally or not at all. If he’s sitting down or in bed, he goes to sleep. He does some chores pretty well. But many chores – even ones he’s agreed to do – he either does not do, or does them too late. For example, he’s supposed to mow the lawn, but, right now, it’s a foot tall. This is common. Sometimes I mow it, sometimes I nag him and then he does it. Either way, he sulks. In the past, he has said that he feels like I’m on him all the time to do stuff around the house and don’t give him time to do things he likes. I’ve suggested he name a time to be left alone, but he will not do it. He gets frustrated at the kids (5 and 3) and yells at them. Occasionally, he throws something at a wall. He never hits them. He does not discipline them much, in positive or negative ways. He does not yell at me or get visibly angry at me. He frequently loses it in traffic and rides up on people or cuts them off. We have been in marriage counseling 2x. It goes well. We feel better. But we creep back into the same rut. I make long-term changes; he does not. I don’t want to break up my family, but I’m not sure if I have the strength to live with him. I think my kids would be better off if we stay together. I have my own issues: chronic depression and obsessive skin picking. His issues fuel mine. How likely is it that I can “contain” the damage he can do to me and my kids? I don't know how likely it is that you can "contain" the damage. But you have some options.
You have a conflict: you want him to change, so you can live with him, but he will not or cannot make the changes you desire. On the other hand, you don't want to break up your family. Certainly, you have a dilemma.
The bad news is that you have absolutely no control over him. I get the feeling he's not terribly interested in helping more. Right or wrong, he behaves like the "henpecked" husband. Perhaps he feels he already does enough and is angry that you ask for more - and does not know how to make it clear to you that he will not do more. So, not being a communicator, he acts his thoughts and feelings out. Perhaps he is under-responsible, expecting you to pick up all the pieces. Perhaps he backs out of work because his standards and your standards are different. In any case, it is impossible to know why he's doing what he's doing given what you've told me. And it doesn't really matter why he's not changing.
The good news is that you have control over yourself. You have already indicated that you have made long-term changes. Good for you! You can make more.
Since history is the best predictor of best behavior, it's unlikely your husband will make many changes. Therefore, if you want to keep your marriage, you will have to change more. Certainly you can do a third, and perhaps more stints of marital therapy. After all, they work, if only for a time; in any case, you change.
On the other hand, perhaps your expectations of him need to change. I certainly empathize with your frustration, but ask yourself, "Will it really matter in 5 years if he doesn't do such and such?" If it's not that important, why torture yourself (and him) with your frustration over his behavior. It is after all your frustration - so that you can change!
Basically, if he's not changing, you have to accept that he's not going to change. Then you need to assess whether or not, given your goal of keeping your marriage intact, it is worth it to you to accept him as he is. You may want to explore individual therapy to help you achieve this end. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an exciting new evidence-based approach, would be particularly good for you.
My warmest regards, Dr. Irene
My husband and I have married for 19 years with 4 children ages 16, 14, 12 (boys) and 3 (girl). My husband is generally controlling, a perfectionist and often critical of everyone in the household. He is moody and all seems fine when he is okay but is miserable if he is in a bad mood. This behavior is hard to live with and over the years has caused me to emotionally detach from him. I love him but more as another child.
What has put me over the edge are my husband's infrequent (one very 4 months) out-of control, angry outbursts. Often, his outbursts end up directed at our 12 y/o son, and he’ll launch a physical attack. These horrible outbursts have gone on for years. Last summer, his outburst happened when we were on a boat. Something set him off and he jammed the motor full throttle forward and then reverse causing everyone to fall (fortunately no one went overboard) while screaming profanities. After that, I talked with him about his actions and insisted that he seek counseling or risk loosing his family.
He had another upsetting outburst in February where he tackled our son in a ski condo while we were on vacation. Then again this summer at our house: my son was not hanging out the laundry “right.” After words my husband stormed after my son. I was able to get ahead of him and screamed to my son to run away. My husband never caught up to him, but yelled at me for not supporting him, cursed my friends, tried to punch the dog, then slammed into the house in a furry and broke several solid oak chairs into smithereens.
I am heartsick – in between his outbursts and mood-swings, he is loving, caring and a dedicated father. Since his most recent outburst, I had another serious talk with him saying that he MUST get help and that we all love him very much and need him to get better. He agreed…as he always does…but has not followed through. I spoke with his 3 sisters and mother and they acknowledged the severity of the situation and that they each had counseling because of their father’s wrath and that they want to help him. I’ve had serious discussion with my 12 y/o son who understandably does not feel safe in our home around his father. I try not to leave him alone with my husband, although much of the time they get along pretty well. My sons love their Dad very much but honestly “qualify” a lot of his comments/request because “Dad is psycho”. My husband has no clue that his actions affect our family so much – and unfortunately I’m at a point where I don’t think I could ever have a real, satisfy relationship with him even though I love him very much and do not want to hurt him.
After 20 years, he doesn’t really even know me and I appreciate that he has underlying issues with his father and deep, suppressed insecurity. However, I am tired of the stress he causes me (and I am a very easy-going personality). I always figured that I will stay in the marriage to keep the “perfect” family together but now I realize that his angry outbursts that hang over our heads and are unequivocally not acceptable for our son (or any of us) to endure; they can not continue. I don’t know what to do since, if I force a separation, it would destroy him – we are his life. He lives for his son’s soccer games and our family time. He has had episodes of depression in the past. I can’t up and leave with 4 kids. He’s a Doctor and supporting our family and I honestly think he might go off the deep end if I left – which would hurt our children. I’ve reasoned to myself that if he starts counseling, becomes stronger and has support, maybe I would initiate a separation after the older kids leave the house. The problem is that he isn’t getting help and my 12 y/o son (or anyone else) should not have to live with fear of another angry episode. What do you suggest?
I suggest an "intervention," a confrontation is usually reserved for an alcohol or drug addicted member. Instead of substances, your husband copes via anger, and it is deleterious as well as dangerous to your family members. Good for you for having confronted him twice already and for having talked with relatives. That his angry behavior is just about out of the closet is a major part of the battle.
Basically, all the people in your husband's life, those who love him, are close to him, and who may have been affected in some way by his anger meet at a pre-determined time and place. Each person is armed with a little written speech from the heart on how the angry behavior has hurt them/hurt those he loves. Each person speaks from an "I" or "I feel" perspective. For example, "When your wife told me about that incident, my heart broke..."The idea is to break down your husband's defenses as well as to show him that his anger is no longer his deep dark secret; everybody who matters knows and love him anyway. You go around the room, and each person speaks his piece to your husband.
You may choose to have a mental health professional present. Sometimes the family will have a meeting prior to the intervention to help the family members go through with it. You can talk about how difficult it is protecting your children, how embarrassing it is dealing with his behavior in front of others, etc. Talk about each outburst in detail. Your children each need to talk to their father. They need to speak specifically how they have been hurt by their father's outbursts, and how they are frightened of his moods. Your 12 year old needs to tell his father that he is frightened to be left alone with him. It is therapeutic for the children in particular to be able to finally tell their father how his behavior has affected them. His family members need to speak about how their family of origin affected them, and how their therapy helped.
You close the meeting by reminding your husband that he has promised to get help more than once, but hasn't gone; the problem has continued - and has affected the people he loves most in the world. You sit with him while he phones for help.
Prior to conducting the event, you have already explored treatment options and have the name and phone number of one or more appropriate professionals on hand. Perhaps you have pre-screened and found a therapist you like; perhaps that individual will involve him or herself in the intervention. I suggest you look for a group or individual therapist with expertise in "anger management." More traditional psychotherapy can follow, but the anger management treatment will give your husband the tools he needs to curtail his outbursts now.
An intervention is a very powerful tool. It can be cathartic for all participants involved, especially for the children in this case, as it is unlikely that they have ever told their father how much they love him, yet how hurtful his behavior can be calmly, not as part of a fight.
An intervention is not the only way to go, but it strikes me as a modality well-suited for your family's problem. Another option is to speak with the anger management therapists you are screening and see what they suggest. Not all therapists will be willing to get involved since they may want the patient to call himself, but some will work with you. If you get lucky, the therapist will assist you in conducting the intervention.
Good luck to you and yours! Dr. Irene
I’m trying to decide if I should end my verbally abusive marriage or if there is any hope. I have been to two therapists briefly to ask these questions and they haven’t been helpful. They aren’t familiar with verbal abuse and they seemed to blame me for some of the things he does. Were they blaming you or trying to hold you responsible for your actions? Big difference! They said the fact that he treats his parents well shows that there is hope. I agree. But I don’t know about that. My husband is verbally abusive, but only to me. :( He calls me terrible names and belittles me and insults me and blames me for everything. He starts fights over tiny things – like leaving the vacuum out - and they blow up into huge fights in no time. Why do the incidents "blow up?" Perhaps you can single-handedly prevent them from growing! Wouldn't that be cool! He was nice at first. We dated for 18 months and then moved in together. We were both 34 at the time, so I thought I made a mature decision. He was kind and fun and I thought he was a good one.
Then we moved in together and he started complaining about my housekeeping skills, and nothing I did was ever good enough. I could clean the house spotlessly and he’d come home and ignore everything and point out that the fridge shelf was dirty. Geeez... I hope you told him, "OK dear, thanks for pointing that out. Please clean it." But I doubt you did. Despite that, I wasn’t getting any younger so when he proposed a year later, I accepted and we married three years ago. So we’ve been together six years. We both wanted a family so it seemed we had similar desires. But we couldn’t get pregnant. We did several IVF attempts and finally got pregnant but lost the baby. I'm so sorry! Things were good when I was pregnant, but became worse once I lost the baby. That was last year. The doctors blame him and that makes him madder. This summer we moved cross-country to be near my family, and I thought our marriage would improve. One therapist said that it was okay to move even with my marriage problems if I would have moved here anyway. Right. But things are worse and somehow I feel more trapped despite having my family close, if needed for support. I quit my job to move here and I feel scared to leave without a job and without any money. Can you get another job? We have all of our money tied up in the house we’re building. It would take about a year to finish it and sell it in this market. I worked so hard to have things and I’m so sad that if I leave I won’t have my own home, at least for a while. "At least for a while." Well, if worse comes to worse, you can deal with that. But yet I think of the “bird in a gilded cage” song and feel like that is me. Living in a beautiful home but trapped. I want to see if my marriage can be fixed. How bad is he? He hit me last month when we argued in the car. I had hit him first after he called me a terrible name so I can’t say that he’s a physical abuser, can I? Sure you can. He should not have hit you. The bruise was huge and everyone who saw it joked that my husband had to stop abusing me. Correct. And, you don't say how much you hurt him, but you have to stop hitting him as well. Little did they know that they spoke the truth. First of all, stop protecting him. Tell those close to you what happened. We have argued more this week than normal and he’s been sleeping in the spare bedroom. He blames me for everything and then stalks off and stops talking to me. I just told him that if he doesn’t go to therapy with me, then the marriage is over. His parents are visiting in a few days and I told him that I was going to tell them the truth. You should. Perhaps they can help. He said to go ahead, that he didn’t care and that he’d like me to leave. He was so blasť about it that I threw a bottle of water on his head. Ouch!!! Stop!!! Why are you letting him get to you? Don't you see, if he gets you so upset that you do something stupid, then he doesn't look so bad! It doesn't matter what he does, you don't need to make yourself look bad, and you're doing a great job of that right now! He ignored me and kept watching TV.
What is wrong with me? I am not that kind of person. Everyone tells me I’m super nice and kind and generous. And yet here I am, letting my husband treat me like dirt. I’ve never had anyone treat me like this before so I don’t know why I’m accepting it now. I just keep thinking that my biological clock is ticking and even if it’s through IVF, at least I could still have a baby with my husband. I have nearly convinced myself that things would be okay if we could have kids or if he’d just go to counseling a few times. I think you need to learn to handle your husband, but yourself better. Unlikely a child would fix the situation permanently because once the novelty is gone, it is just you and him. And you don't know how to handle him. (But you could learn.) Is there hope? There's always hope, though I warn you that it's not a good idea to stay with him just because you both want a child and because you don't want to lose your home. Stay with him and try to work things out only because you love him.
What should I do? Regardless of whether you decide to stay or leave, the first thing you do is fix yourself. You are reacting left and right to his taunts, and reacting very badly at that! You are behaving in ways that makes you look bad, and your behavior is likely killing your self esteem. This is exactly what abusive people do: taunt, taunt, taunt - and then you finally blow up and look bad. Not OK. For your own sake, you need to learn to deal with your temper, and then to deal with him. Fix yourself first. Then you'll be in a much better position to handle him, or make a wise decision regarding your marriage. Remember, you have no control over him, but you do have control over yourself.
Wishing you warm wishes and good luck, Dr. Irene
Help. I’m feeling really stuck. I just got married. My husband took a new job, we moved to a new state, bought a house. I have a son from my first marriage, and I had to endure another custody trial to move. (I got out of that very dysfunctional relationship and was happy and single for years before I met my current husband, but I’m wondering now if I’m not a psycho magnet…). :( So, I’m in a new town, adjusting myself and my son to a new life and my husband works crazy hours. And we’re trying to start a family and that’s not happening, so that’s another stressor. LOTS of stress!
My issues: 1. My husband blows up about 1-2 times a month. He says he “learned in therapy” to express his anger and why can’t I accept him? Tell your husband that if he was taught to blow up in therapy, he needs to find a new therapist! While therapy helps individuals to feel their feelings, therapy also teaches the appropriate expression of those feelings. Hissy fits are not appropriate! Tonight he blew up about my son leaving the bathroom floor wet, something he’s told him repeatedly not to do. My son was asleep, so he just yelled so I could hear him downstairs, and then came to show me a wet towel and scream about it. Your husband should not be yelling at any child, but particularly he should not be yelling at his step-child! All discipline should come from the biological parent. I lost it and shouted at him to calm down. Hmmmm... Two wrongs don't make a right... But I know you already know that.
Then that became a fight, where he justified how wrong the wet floor was and NOT his response to it. Both were "wrong," so to speak. Especially the yelling! He says he has 2 choices – (1.) be milktoast and repress it, or blow up. Wrong! There are many choices in between, including not taking out the frustrations of his long day on a kid, He says my son will never learn responsibility; that I don’t correct him. (Not true.) He says he isn’t mad at me, so why can’t I just let him be mad? It would be fine if he was just mad, but it is not fine to act so angrily. There is a huge difference. I really can’t take his rages, it’s very hard for me to ignore it. Of course! He thinks he should be allowed to “vent.”Wrong. There is no excuse for destructive ranting. Your husband needs to learn more adaptive methods of managing his anger. He may want to read a book on anger management for starters. (2.) He reduces me. I’m “not a careful person.” I don’t take care of things. He thinks he’s better than everyone at most everything and makes no qualms about saying so. He’d listen to a therapist, but only to help me. Fine, then get him into a therapist's office, especially someone who practices some variation of behavior therapy where this poor expression of his feelings won't fly. Let him "help you" by learning to manage his anger.
He’s had therapy. This is his third marriage (flag!). His other two wives left him. He had therapy about that. He seemed to not blame, and seemed to take responsibility for those losses, so I thought he was okay when we were dating. Hah… now I think of them a lot.
(3.) I do try and stand my ground and set boundaries. I have a problem ignoring him when he goes nuts. He doesn’t get how corrosive his bad moods are. That’s who he is, he says. I miss the good parts of him, and feel like I can’t relax around him. His angry outbursts are certainly not who "he is." He is not his anger any more than he is his appetite. His angry outburts are simply a way he expresses himself, and there are certainly more adaptive ways to express anger that will enhance his self-esteem and contribute positively to his family life.
(4.) Finally, I’m trying to build a new life here and find work. I contribute a lot financially to our life (all the household expenses, utilities, plus I paid his debts off so we could get a mortgage, plus half down on the house). He earns very good money, and I don’t have that potential. But he pressures me to contribute more and is horrible about my career. “What is your agenda?” he’ll repeat. Implies I’m not ambitious enough. Then each day he asks and calls to make sure I do household things. Not good... This is controlling behavior... This week it was gutter cleaning! His expectations are whacked and I sometimes think his demands get in the way of me finding real work. He expects both. I don’t see him picking up the domestic slack. The money fights get ugly. Our finances are still separate. He pays the mortgage and I pay most everything else. I told him I wouldn’t pay another cent until we had joint accounts and full transparency. He agrees, but it hasn’t happened yet.
(5.) I’m probably stupid to hold out hope. I just can’t face bailing, knowing that my son is building a life here and we’ve made a commitment. And my husband is wonderful with him. (Except when he rages.) And with me, sometimes. I admire his tough, alpha side. Just not his abusive jerk side. I just saw a counselor and he said he’d go to the next one. But he’s already told me he doesn’t think he has any problems. My strategy is to focus on building a life for myself and quit reacting to him, but it’s hard and lonely pretty often. Thanks for your insight. Good for you for recognizing that engaging with him will only make matters worse.
Hi, it's me again. The same poster as above. I wanted to post again, because I felt in the interest of brevity, I wasn't specific enough about the abuse, or asked a proper question. My question would be what is the balancing act? When do you see hope or give it up? My husband, after he calms down maybe a day later, can discuss things with me. Can be contrite. Can talk therapy talk "There's no excuse for my behavior" or "I'm not going to justify what I did" -- but the weird thing is that these admissions are enough for him. They often stop short of an actual apology. Sometimes he says he's sorry. It's not the apology that is important. It is important that he takes steps to prevent these outbursts in the future.
Most times he doesn't. That admission is hard enough. In the heat of the moment, he says stuff (even after I apologize to him for my outbursts, reacting to his outbursts) like "WELL YOU DESERVE IT!" and then says later, I should know better than to try to talk to him in traffic/on a bad day/whatever. In a purrfect world, you would be able to talk to him at any time, but knowing what you know about your husband, it is good advice not to. Also, again, when he's angry, and I tell him to speak to me in a respectful tone or I'm ending the conversation, he'll yell "I shouldn't have to kiss your ass!" Which tells me he doesn't get it. When he's angry he seems to see not getting his way as giving in, which its not.
But later, he says he does get it. He's trying. He often says "Well, in a perfect world, I wouldn't lose it..."Right. And, the good news is that he can learn to express this anger much more effectively! But I'm not trying to hold him to perfection. (He is terribly unforgiving of himself in other contexts, mostly professionally. He's very driven and achieved a lot from very modest beginnings. I admire that. Just not the flipside of his perfectionist standards for others. To not apply rigid, punitive standards to you, as well as himself, is much harder to accomplish than learning to manage outbursts.) Once I questioned him when he said he'd "try" to stop swearing at me. And I said, don't try, just stop doing it. And he lost it and said what did I expect? I was being unreasonable! Did I want him to lie to me? Write him a script? That was the best he could do! Right. That is the best he can do. That's why he needs to be taught the skills he needs to do it better! Think of it as learning a different language. He needs to learn the requisite skills.
Try! I don't know how to react to that. And when I have a problem, with this move especially, he doesn't want to hear it. My life is great (you're home all day, freelancing, I wish I could walk the dog, etc.) His life sucks. My life is great. And it becomes this weird competition, and so I just don't go there. Best not to go there. This is another issue of his that is a much more difficult issue to address in therapy than simply managing the outbursts. He feels used, when, in fact, he's not being used. I tell my friends or something. (The ones who are hours away now...) I can't tell how much of this is situational. We did just take on a tremendous amount of stuff with a marriage and a blended family and a move and fertility stuff, oh and a court battle. (He's very good about that -- he's supportive and great on the legal stuff). Or how much of it is him? I feel like I have to give it a chance and hang in there and get counseling. If I weren't a parent though, I would leave. I don't want to put my son through another broken home. And he loves my husband. And my husband loves him. The crap he puts me through, he doesn't with him. He controls himself, which is annoying because it shows me he can. He just feels he has license with me. So, I need some strategies. And I need to focus on building a life for myself here and setting limits with him. In my early post, I didn't want to say I wouldn't do housework. I do a lot of it. It's just the micromanaging. Right. The setting the agenda for me which drives me bats. And then, somehow, I'm supposed to materialize with the perfect career, and meet all his needs simultaneously. He doesn't see that's what he's asking. If he sees it, it doesn't matter, because my life is great, his life sucks... (it's a one size fits all excuse). There are parts of him (like anyone here) that are so good that I put up with this garbage. And I think, perversely, he likes that I stand up to him. Like, he doesn't respect anyone that won't call him on his crap. But it is exhausting. And not what I hoped a marriage would be... I guess that's it. I'd love some advice or magic bullet. Thanks. Sorry I have no magic bullet... Most new marriages are stressful, and yours is particularly stressed, as you recognize, given the move, his long hours, your child, etc. I have no way of knowing if your marriage can work, but you have little to lose if you set aside, perhaps a year to give it a good shot. It would be a good idea to refrain from trying to get pregnant during this time. That will only add more stress!
You need to work on disengaging from the silly things he says in anger, because, the reality is, he does not mean them. He is, as he says, just "blowing off steam." His anger is gone a little while later - while everybody else's feelings are hurt... The more you recognize that his anger is momentary, the easier it will be for you to disregard his rantings, and by ignoring them, they are likely to pass more quickly as well as hopefully occur less often. Of course, the ideal would be to scout out a behavioral therapist with skills in anger management and get him inside that person's office since you indicated he would likely listen to a professional.
Overall advice: Ignore him when he's "bad," praise him when he's "good."
Disengage emotionally from the micromanagement as well. Let him direct you and be upset with what you have and haven't done all he wants. All of this is about him, not about you. His tendency to micromanage was present long before he met you, so you know it is not about you. Let him get angry, and don't get caught up with his anger. You don't have to make yourself upset simply because he is angry with you, or because he feels used, feels as though he's doing more than you are, etc. Just do what you do and essentially ignore his remarks because they have nothing to do with you. Easier said than done, I know. You may want to enlist the help of a therapist yourself because disengaging emotionally can be hard to accomplish. You essentially need to recognize that his anger per se does not upset you; instead, you create your own upset in reaction to his stuff.
You are just married, and the stressors are great. If you two stay married, you want to use this early, turbulent time to set up good habits that will settle into a pattern that more or less works down the road.
Some book recommendations. Both of you can read the first. The second is for you, the third is for people who need anger management, but like your husband, don't have the time to sneeze.
Good luck to you! Dr. Irene
I am so confused. Have been "seeing" a male for almost a year. He is an executive, stressful job, much traveling. I was good. I read ahead. You're too good! So good in fact that you are downright bad. For yourself. Never expected anything or made demands. That's a problem! Please reassess what you want. You deserve more, and I can confidently say that even though I don't know a thing about you! You are letting your low self-esteem get in your way. You think if you are "good" enough, trouble-free enough, the man will appreciate you. Wrong! He told me he "loved me; so glad you are in my life" after about 60 days. I was to be exclusive, no dating others, sit by the phone. A woman never, ever should sit by the phone! Go live your life; miss a few calls. Be busy living your life! And if you don't have a life to live, start working on getting one because you deserve that too!
The problem is I see him once a month. Oh Dear... I never see or hear from weekends, only calls when he is in his truck. After 7:00 p.m. forget it. Forget him! He makes promises and he never follows through. I called him on it twice in one year. "Oh Baby, I am so busy." He doesn't come to see me (120 miles from me, so he says) unless I throw a tantrum. I ask, are you married, do you have a girlfriend? "No, baby, no." So today I threw another tantrum. I threw myself at his feet, (through text and email of course). What you should have thrown is him. Thrown him out! But, not to worry, it's not too late to do that!
I don't get it. This is all I get. Because this is all you demand. If you price yourself cheaply (as in low-value), that's how you will be treated. Make a man work to get you, and he is likely to value you more. Men tell me they "Love me, adore me, oh you are so sexy... But, ahhh. I can't spend time with you and don't throw a fit."
It is really true Doc. Do guys just want sex? I don't get it. Is it me. Yes, it is you! Do I expect too much? You don't expect enough... Not nearly enough! I see couples at the mall, at Home Depot. They talk they hold hands. Why can't I have that? You certainly can have that! But first you have to understand how you give away the store. You are not placing much value on yourself, and you are putting up with lots of icky stuff, not demanding enough, and not walking away when you should.? How is it you think so little of yourself? (Note: There is NO reason good enough to qualify as an legitimate answer. No reason at all. The only legitimate answer is that you need to more accurately assess yourself.) How do you convey this sense of low self-esteem to the men you date? Get a handle on this one - so you can stop doing it!
Please take some time to look at how you regard yourself. You deserve much, much more than what you're getting - simply because you breath!
Do some work to overcome the low self-esteem and possible depression (consider professional help). And, you may want to take a look at this book which looks exemplifies how the woman with high self-esteem operates:
Wishing you the best, Dr. Irene
Though my finance and I usually get along very well, we have a recurring destructive pattern. It begins when he says something that upsets me; Rephrase: "It begins when he says something that I let upset me." I try to tell him about my upset or hurt feelings and the situation invariably escalates into a big argument. So, obviously, trying to tell him what's bothering you does not work. Tonight was an example. While discussing a past relationship with his former girl friend, with whom he has been having some issues, I said that I wish she could just get some kind of relief from her bad feelings. He suggested that undergoing female genital mutilation would be a good course of treatment. I found that comment upsetting and really hostile. It is! Is this the mind of the man you want to be married to? There may be more wrong with him than you may suspect...
As usually happens, initially I told him calmly that sometimes the things he says really concern me. He didn’t respond. Then I said that those kind of comments upset me. Of course! Then, as usual, he got defensive and responded by saying that there is a double standard where men are victimized and in the movie Thelma and Louise the main characters castrated a man and that was acceptable ( I know that did not happen in the film, and I tried to explain that, as well as question the relevance of the film to the discussion). Yeah, he got the focus of that one off him fast! If you are going to take this road, you need to bypass the whole movie discussion and say something like, "We'll talk about the movie later. Right now I'd like to know how you feel that your comment upset me." And keep repeating yourself, like a broken record - because he will continue to try to get away from a direct answer.
The whole situation becomes out of control. Of course. You want him to treat you well, and you think that you can coach him into doing so, and he's unwilling to deal with the issue and keeps diverting the discussion away from the issue (him). We are both yelling. I feel like I cannot discuss anything that bothers me without him getting so defensive. You can't! Simplistically, there are two basic approaches: Disengage emotionally and learn to truly not be affected by his remarks because it is OK for each of you to think what you think and need not agree (easier said than done), or apply a broken record approach. I feel like it is more important for him to defend some ridiculous thing he has said or done rather than just apologize. Apparently, it is! He seems to think that if I tell him that he has upset me, I am really saying that he is a bad person and he has to defend himself against that charge. I don’t feel like he can acknowledge my point of view or the legitimacy of my feelings, so I fight harder to be heard. What can we do to get out of this destructive spiral? Stop fighting. You have not broached the possibility that possibly this relationship will not work; this is a possibility. With that in mind, and armed with the knowledge that you can change yourself, but you can't change anybody else, please read, study, memorize this book. If you work it, it will help you learn how to apply sensible options and help you understand when to call it quits if those options aren't working. Do this before you dig yourself in even deeper by marrying this man.
Good luck to you! Dr. Irene
Hello, I've been through quite a lot in the past several years. My husband (I met him at age 16/17, I'm now 45) has been verbally abusive for years. Just a year ago I made him go to his parents for awhile and leave for the summer (he's a teacher). Since then, he's been to some counseling, some reading and more talking with me. He is better, but our 2 kids are still livid. How old are the kids? Has he talked with them, as he's talked with you? So when he does slip at all, an uproar occurs. The other day he started getting sassy about them not helping out around the house. (I've let my kids go on this somewhat because we don't have a healthy way of making them contribute and there are other things to concentrate on) and the whole place was in an uproar with the kids telling him to leave and my daughter telling me to divorce him. They have every right to be angry. How about some family counseling to give the kids and your husband a forum to talk about all this?
Almost funny really that they react so quickly and I support them. I've told him they're defending themselves for what they know he can do - and has done - and that's just tough. The thing is, its all so much effort. I feel like I'm training him. Well, I'm also training myself but I don't know if I should keep on - there's always so much more to learn or should I cut my losses and just leave. The only person who can know that - is you! Progress is being made but sometimes I imagine having a relationship with a real adult even though I know I'm not an adult yet (working on it). Your husband may need to hear how you feel as well. That knowledge may sow the seeds of increased growth for him.
Can two people who are archetypal adult children grow up together? Why not? Is it possible to learn and move on? Why not? When things are good I love to be with him, when he misbehaves even slightly, I hate him and dream of new relationships. You get frustrated and go back into old places... You don't have to keep going there... Our problems and behaviour have taken their toll, my daughter is mildly mentally ill (abuse does not cause this unless he bashed her head) and my son has had panic attacks but seems better and has recently become a teacher (a happy one at that). Yay!
My husband has also had cancer which caused us loss of income as well so this union has cost. But truly, I don't know what to do. He would leave if I asked, my daughter is so hurt by him as is my son. Truly, they need to speak with their father. Before this recent incident which including him saying, "What do you do with children that don't contribute?" in the same room with all of us. We had had several months of peace, some of the ice had fallen from me just that morning, we had a cuddle and a long chat about how I'm going to repair myself as we both come from emotionally abusive families. I have read, thought, read thought, again and again but I don't know what is best. I don't want to lose a relationship if it can be healed The only person who can heal you is you; the only person who can heal your husband is your husband..., and I so wanted a healthy family - it's what I really wanted all my life, being aware that something was wrong with the way I was brought, up but not knowing how to do it. I know I am moving in the right direction but I never EVER meet men that interest me and my husband and I share a lot of interests and temperament. I don't know if I should keep trying or not. I WANT to get better. Thanks very much. Your site it great and is the reason I've started on my healing process. Thank you! I'm glad to hear the site has helped.
Your quandary is the most normal thing in the world. Of course you don't know which way to turn. Nobody can predict the future and what changes any of you will make down the road. But, it is fairly certain that just as your husband had to "hear it" from you to make changes, he needs to "hear it" from the kids, and he has to "make it up to" them as he apparently did with you. "Hearing it" helped him, even though it felt risky to you to put out, and was painful to him to hear. It helped him to grow, and you grew.
Which brings me to the next piece: why hasn't he heard how you feel now - that you are considering tossing in the towel because you want a partner? Hearing that you do not want to be his overseer, his mother, his counselor, the referee will hurt him, but otherwise, he is getting tacit approval that things are OK as they are.
Consider going in this direction, preferably in family counseling, and see where you end up.
Wishing you the very best, Dr. Irene