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Doc@DrIrene.com

 The Doc Answers 39

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Saturday August 04, 2007
07:57 PM
Dear Dr. Irene,
Born in 1954, married in 1979, I have three daughters ranging from 14 to 23. My engineering-type husband has made a 180-degree radical change as I have gone back into counseling for myself with the counselor with whom we were in marriage therapy with for 9 months a couple of years ago. I began an exercise program to help cope with living with a toxic verbally and emotionally abusive man whom I could, previously, rarely please. Excellent!!! I'm so happy to hear you have done good things for you! He now sees my pain and says how sorry he is and how much he loves and cherishes me. I am not moved. I understand. You have no reason to trust a quick radical change, nor should you. Yikes.... He now embraces the same Christian beliefs as I, which he had previously balked against for six years. The question is can he maintain his faith - and his appreciation for you - for himself. Not because he is frightened that he may lose you. My interior design ideas are wonderful. He even likes our third dog, which he previously disliked. *Giggle!* My 14 year old wondered if he is "on drugs," although commented that she likes the "new" Dad. He is not negative. Reading through Lundy Bancroft's book, "Why Does He Do That" he mentions that change does not happen like this. It seems disingenuous to me. Exactly. Although, there is a percentage of men, somewhere around 20% last I heard, that just "correct" when the partner put her (or his) foot down permanently. I am learning to trust my instincts. Good! They say that there's more to this than meets the eye. Trust thy Self.  I am concerned about sexual infidelity. He recently asked one of my friends three times in the same conversation whether I was interested in someone else. At one time he asked my therapist if I was having an affair. She thinks its just projection on his part. He asked me twice in the same hour one day last week and I told him that I was absolutely not interested in anyone else and to never ask me that question again. Maybe it is time to investigate him. There is no way to know. People who see their partner find new strength often suspect infidelity. Others suspect infidelity because they are, or have been guilty of it themselves. Although I have never considered the "D" word, I am now thinking there might be life after divorce. The thought of going through a divorce while my youngest daughter is still a minor greatly disturbs me. I want to learn the skills that will prevent me from enabling his bad behavior so I can model more assertiveness and less passivity. Please advise. Just keep doing what you are doing. It is resulting in positive changes in yourself, and apparently has affected your husband as well. (YAY!) Why not wait and see how things pan out? Certainly there is life after divorce. Especially if you are prepared, so understand how you will need to proceed if need be - and do that now in case timely preparations are necessary. Knowledge is Power. But, why push things now? Do you secretly want out? Do you feel nothing he does will ever restore your feelings for him, or your trust in him? Do you feel guilty because you think you'll never trust him again, etc? Whatever your reasons, pay attention to them to better understand yourself - and internally deal with whatever thoughts and feelings you have. It's OK not to trust him. You don't have to do anything about it now. Especially since husband has been behaving and you want to maintain the marriage for your daughter.So unless something tumultuous happens in your marriage, continue on your present path. It is a good one. Use this time to work on yourself, to become more and more assertive and secure in yourself and in your personal power. Only time will tell where hubby will go. God bless. Dr. Irene


Thursday August 09, 2007
01:28 PM
Dear Dr Irene, My relationship with K started 2,5 years ago and I still don't understand him. While he can be really romantic and sensible, we fight about trivial things. This is really stressful and I can't handle it. Listen to your body: don't handle it!!! (I read ahead.)Let me describe some incidents: He said something bad about me and I replied that somebody else would like that on me. I'm sure they would! He went crazy after that. Ugh! He implied having an affair with another girl, so I told him we should break up. YES! He called later to tell me he lied about the girl and that he loved me so I invited him to a party. He just came to force me to leave with him. Later he excused himself saying he was still angry and he was afraid of hitting someone. The next day we went out when all of a sudden, he told me he couldn't be with a girl dressed like me and that he would leave. I got into panic and tried to hold him. He hit me, not really hard, but I was shocked. Oh boy... Afterwards, he apologized saying he just thought I was trying to humiliate him. Do I provoke this kind of treatment by being too harsh? NO!!! He is creating all of this craziness. And there is no excuse for hitting. Sometimes I try to seem too invulnerable or I insist in seeing him and get upset when he cancels our plans. Do you think he is just insecure or controlling? Both, and then some. I think he's a really sick puppy. When he excuses himself for not contacting he says he had to teach a lesson Yuk!!! and that everything would be fine if I changed. Wrong. When I cry after a fight he often says my tears are showing weakness or hypocrisy and are disgusting. Don't you see: you are not the problem; the problem is the way he interprets the world. He creates problems where there are none. He will unfortunately continue to do this. What you describe is consistent with a personality disorder, probably BPD. Now we have broken up. Thank God. He has been looking suspicious for a week, then he disappeared for a day and when I asked him why he did that he called me a prostitute without explaining his problem. Now I start to forget my anger and miss him and although I won't communicate with him I am not sure I won't forgive him if he comes back. I am confused! Thank you for your help. Sweetie, do yourself a BIG favor and RUN. Get away from this guy ASAP. You are already showing abuse victim symptoms: you doubt yourself and buy into his crazy thinking. He will bring you nothing but grief and life will be a rollercoaster, with the bad parts getting uglier. Sure you will miss him for a while as you get over him, but is this craziness what you want in your life? You want to be going through the same ups and downs 5 years from now?I can promise you one thing: stay and watch things go from bad to worse. I strongly suggest you leave - even if he hadn't hit you! (That's how nutty he sounds.)  But physical violence, for any reason, is a dealbreaker. It often starts lightly, sometimes as an "accident." And it escalates. If he is indeed BPD, as he sounds, he can become truly dangerous. You are on a very destructive and dangerous path with this man. I hope this is clear enough. Bite the bullet and free yourself. Go to TheCatBox, you'll get lots of free support there... My best wishes to you... Doc


Tuesday September 11, 2007
12:18 PM
Dear Dr. Irene- I really like your site and think that it has great information. I am married with two kids and I don't know if I am in an abusive situation but there are a few things that are bothering me. My husband has been increasingly angry and irritable over the last two years. Our oldest child is three years old and lately my husband's anger seems to be directed at my son. That's not fair to your son! I can't stand the way he talks to our son, he is very disrespectful and harsh. Abuse. He makes our son apologize ( something he tries to do with me as well). I can't understand this as I don't see the value in a coerced apology. There isn't any. Childrearing is not about breaking a child's will, and that is what coerced apology is about. This is emotional abuse. Recently my husband spanked our son in anger. Spanking especially in anger is not OK. There are far better ways to child discipline. I've included a few books below. We have agreed not to spank and I confronted my husband about it. His response was to justify it by saying that a lot of people spank their kids. I think you need to be concerned given that he is targeting that child. I told him that it still wasn't okay with me because we have to agree on it. I think that he may be spanking our son behind my back, because I've heard it from the other room. Not OK. I have a gut feeling that the anger that is coming out towards our son is anger towards me. That's probably a good guess. Whenever I try to talk to my husband about it he tries to blame me saying that I am too permissive and he is trying to make up for it. Tell him that you will not tolerate child abuse and there is no need for him to "make up" for anything! My question is: What is the line between discipline and abuse? Respect. If the child is disrespected in any way, that is abusive. Basically good discipline offers rewards for behavior we want more of; it offers incentives to earn wanted stuff for good behavior; it ignores the little icky stuff; it times out (to create boredom) for repeated misbehavior. The child's right to choose is respected. If the consequences are laid out ahead of time, and Junior chooses to touch the hot burner, he will feel the heat. If Junior chooses to scream all night and keep you up, he will not get TV in the morning before school. Etc. It is administered without any anger at all. It is not about yelling or hitting.  It is painful for me to watch and I can't seem to get my husband to see my point of view. My husband recently took a job where he travels about half of the month and I am beginning to think that it is better for the family when he is gone. You may need to get some professional help to get this to stop. Think about some family therapy with hubby for starters, or go alone if he won't go. But, for your child's sake, do not let him continue this abusive behavior with your child.A few books to consider:Kid Cooperation : How to Stop Yelling, Nagging and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate by Elizabeth Pantley.Canter & Canter's Assertive Discipline for Children  Incredible Years : A Troubleshooting Guide for Parents of Children Aged 3 to 8  by Carolyn Webster-Stratton.  Thank you, K Good luck to you guys! Irene


Monday September 16, 2007
05:20 PM
I am a 45 year old female who was raised by a bullying mother, no matter what I did in this life I was never good enough, through out most of my teens and young adulthood I made extremely bad choices based on my need to feel loved. I had some tragic things happen and so I married the first man to come along so I could run as far away from my demons as I could. Unfortunately, I married a man who was older and very much to my surprise, a lot like my mother. Before my mother passed away, I tired to talk to her and her response to me was that she prayed to God to forgive her for what I think she did to me. My mother passed away three years ago and I left my marriage of 20+ years and have begun to start over from scratch. I don't feel much these days, no anger, nothing. I have been in therapy for two years but it is a slow process for someone who likes tangible returns. I am learning more and more each day. I am in my first relationship since my husband and low and behold he is a verbal abuser. I stay because I'm scared of the unknown and that any attention to include bad attention is better than no attention. I have felt so alone my whole life and crave any recognition of my being.   My question to you is this: I am an intelligent woman and I know the whys of the abuser, I know the whys of why I stay and why I subject myself to this abuse, I know it's wrong and it has made my self esteem go from low to lower, consciously I know all of this. So how do I reach the subconscious part of me that holds onto these beliefs that I deserve this abuse; that I am so screwed up that no one will love me, all of those thoughts all of us in abusive relationships have. My intellect knows right from wrong but my subconscious seems to fight my conscious and it is a never ending battle. How does one truly come to believe, especially at my age? I feel that time is running out and I feel stuck. I would also like your advice as to whether you support subconscious work with hypnosis; I can't seem to get there from here. Dear..., You are asking an age-old question: how to get from here to there. Knowing the problem, as you do, is the biggest step - and, good for you, you do. And good for you for having the courage to do all that you have already done! Alas, as you know, knowing is not enough. Also, change does not happen overnight, and unless we change internally, we are likely to recreate the old with the new. This too  you know. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. Each theoretical orientation has its own method to guide you to your towards your goal. They all boil down to the same thing in the end: hyper-awareness of your inner life and making the behavioral choices that are likely to get you there. Over and over again, you will find yourself going through subtler and subtler layers and layers of same 'ol same ol' until one day, finally, you have extricated yourself.You feel stuck. OK. Good for you for recognizing your stuckedness; you need to do that to unstick. From what you say, it sounds like an internal battle between doing what you believe you think you should do vs. doing what will help you feel OK in the present moment -  even though feeling OK in the present moment may run contrary to supporting your long-term  goals. It seems that you are too-often choosing the shot-term solution (feel good now) over the harder, long-term response that will support your goals and values over your immediate emotional state. I think you understand most of that, but you are having difficulty dealing with the repercussions of doing what is right for you.  Facing the fear of being alone, of the unknown, is very difficult for many people; that is usually why people get stuck. I hope that you slowly let yourself out of your prison by gradually allowing yourself to face your fears, including dealing with life without the attention you think you need. In is the only way out.  In any case, you must come to terms that you can't have your cake and eat it too. And you also must come to terms with the fact that it will take as long as it takes. And, you must come to terms with the fact that you are the only one to make the choices to stay where you are or to move past them. Only you. Each of us creates our own experience. Each of us create our own prison. The good news is that since we create them, we can tear them down. It is difficult work, but you can extricate yourself from your fears and your "need" for attention. That is freedom.  Will hypnosis help? Perhaps. Sometimes a different approach sparks a new effect. Talk to your therapist about adding a hypnosis trial over whatever work you are already doing. Any way you find to help you free yourself is well worth it.   Wishing you the best, Dr. Irene


Tuesday October 02, 2007
01:13 AM
Dear Dr. Irene, I need to let you know about "weird happenings" with my H of 27+ years since he made a radical 180 degree turn when he saw I was changing. Two months ago you said to see how things would pan out. Here is the update: He is still being "Mr. Nice" (Fortunately he is exercising 1-2 hours/day). He has seen a counselor 3X. (Not sure what the topic is.) Doesn't matter. There are no changes after 3X. Maybe, maybe after 6 months, a year, there are some changes. He still seems fake to me. I do not trust him. I do not want him to touch me. If you do not want him to touch you, do not let him touch you. If you do not trust him, do not trust him. If he seems fake to you, you need to trust yourself. Do trust and respect your feelings. I am able to be kind to him and wish him well Good for you! but I do not want to be married to him. Good to know your own mind. I have seen a collaborative attorney for a consultation. He tells me he is so sorry he hurt me because he was full of bitterness and would like us to begin marriage therapy again. Now he likes EVERYTHING I do and has me on a pedestal. The key word is "now." If ugly things have happened before, they will happen again - simply because he knows no other way to be when the pain inherent in everyday life hits him.  (Ugh!) Weird happenings: He stalked me at 24hr fitness one morning. Not OK! Any kind of stalking is not OK. That is controlling behavior. I came home one day to find my name spelled out in pennies, "I Love" spelled out in nickles, and "You" spelled out in dimes on the counter of our master bathroom. Oh boy... Emotionally manipulative too. Change takes time. Lots of it.He has a "voice change" that sounds like a 12 year old when he is apologetic or is trying to convince me that he trusts me or has never been unfaithful to me... Finding his gun that I hid and then him hiding it....asking one of his coworkers about a gun for sale....Telling me he would never hurt me and would lay down his life for me. Whispering "I love you...love you...as I am falling asleep and last night after I had been asleep for about 1 hour I awoke hearing him say.."I love you and want to be with you forever" (After that I was sort of freaked out Of course!!! and could not sleep so eventually got up and ate some cereal and took an Ambien and slept for 4 hours.) Telling me he is after my heart and my mind. There is more but no room... I think I got it. Listen to your body. Unlike some Humans you may know, it does not lie. Which brings me to my question to you: There is absolutely nothing - nothing - in this email that suggests wanting to stay with him. So, why did you spend your money to write?  :)   Because you don't trust yourSelf and had to hear it from an expert. Yet, all I did is parrot back agreement. So, what is your lesson? :)  That you have the right to your own thoughts and feelings. Nobody else has to agree with you. Once you understand what your body is telling you, you are free to exercise your will and choose a path. OK? Learn to trust yourself. Your body has been giving you very strong signals on this one. Wishing you the very best, Dr. Irene

Friday October 19, 2007
09:29 PM
Finding your site has been an epiphany. Dad was the abuser & mum the victim although she was always the one who got us into trouble with him. :(  She co-conspires... I'm about to go home to visit my parents in Ireland with my 2 small children, 4 & 3. My abusive husband recently left me after raping me & I dearly want to meet & spend time with an old school friend who has supported me thro this crisis ( my parents don't know about the rape). My mother has had recent surgery but will have been home for several weeks. Dad has already put his foot down that "she wont be well enough to have visitors" so I'm already being pressured into not seeing my friend. Not OK. Go spend a few days at your friend's place! Or spend time with your friend outside of the parental home.I feel very strongly now is the time to make my stand with BOTH my parents over the abuse/control/ manipulation issues. I am a GP so supposedly a skilled communicator but being with my folks reduces me to a teary 5 yr old every time. On every visit they find a way to cause a screaming match (usually over me daring to go out with an old friend, or go against their wishes) & I don't want my children traumatized any further. I'm even thinking of not staying with them. HELP! Not staying with them is probably a good idea; especially now since mum is sick and you don't want to tax her health. Great excuse! *giggle*That's a reasonable short-term solution, though they'll probably give you a hard time if you stay with them - and a hard time if you don't. But you can stick to your guns about not wanting to tire poor mum.You could confront your parents about abuse issues, but do you think it will  make a dent? And it's admirable that you want to do that, but I think you may want to wait until you're in a stronger emotional space. When you're very strong, it won't matter at all whether you do or you don't.Confront them if you must, but recognize the probability of getting what you want from them is not very high given what you've told me.Focus your energy on detaching emotionally from their judgments of you - from anybody's judgments of you! Otherwise, you remain chained to them, a prisoner, caring too much about what they say or think.  What they say and think really doesn't matter if you think about it. It matters that you care so much about it... At some level, you're still seeking their approval. You haven't come to terms with the fact that you'll probably never get it - and that it is sad but purrrfectly OK if you don't.As you take yourself out of this place of seeking approval, be it from husband, parents, etc., you begin to remove yourself from the probability of becoming somebody's victim.I'm talking about, over time, developing greater trust in yourself and not second-guessing yourself over what others may think. Now that's is freedom Doc! See how abuse really is an equal-opportunity employer?Sending you lots of virtual hugs and well-wishes. Dr. Irene


Wednesday, October 24
Dear Dr. Irene, I am looking for clarification I suppose.  I can't tell you what a relief it was to find your website which answered so many questions for me.  I have been married to my husband for six years, and when I met him he made me feel so incredibly special all the time.  It was only small things that bothered me before (name calling, and when his children were around he would treat me with no respect) Eeeks! These are not small things!!!! and then about 6 months ago it was like someone had taken over his body.  I really thought he hated me by the way he spoke, things he said and tone of his voice.  I truly couldn't understand it and even my family thought he had found someone else.  I think he is just not controlling himself and now just says what he wants.  There is small periods of the nice side but I almost feel it is an effort for him and being nasty is his comfortable side.  My problem is that I have never been one for putting up with being treated bad and at first I would not speak to him.  Lol! It is not a problem to not put up with being treated bad! Then it escalated to me driving around for hours because I was so hurt.  Then came the threatening to leave.  Each time he would repent and life would go on.  It then reached a point where I left with my son and drove seven hours to go home to my family.  I suppose because I keep going back he feels I will never really leave. Yes. I have told him that I feel he is a verbal abuser and he tells me that I am the one. Nonsense. You make a complaint, and he counters by accusing you of same. Abusive people tend to use that strategy as a way of deflecting answering your question. I am worried that I have some of these traits also since when I would be upset with him I can go for a couple of days without speaking to him.  Maybe you do; most likely you are just angry. Most of us get angry when we let others push our buttons. Most of us don't have good assertion skills, so we scream and yell and act ickily. You should feel angry when provoked! However, when you act out your anger ickily, he uses it against you.  Don't forget, abuse is not about being or acting angry, it is about control. I suppose I take things he says too hard. Yes, that's a normal reaction and is how most people respond. It's hard to disengage emotionally and realize that the icky stuff he says says more about him than about you... but I don't feel I should be treated that way Correct! Our arguments turn into screaming matches and we can't discuss our problem. There is nothing to discuss. Every time you point out to him what he's doing, he appears to use your (normal, yet unassertive) behaviors against you. So stop trying to tell him anything. It doesn't matter anyway, and he doesn't have to agree. You're not going to change him. Accept that.Every time we argue now he tells me he wants a divorce. Lol! Tell him it will be your pleasure! What do you think would be his reaction if you really meant that?  I am so confused on how much of this is my fault and I am afraid that I don't have the courage to leave. In your fear, you have given him power over you. Your job is to stand on your own two feet, and once you are there, decide what to do. Not now. I have always only wanted to be married and have a family so I never went for any training and I am now 47.  I have a job where I don't make much money and I would have to go back home and start all over again.  Not only that, it hurts when I think of this marriage being over because it was so good at one time and I get those few moments still.  Any advise? Yes.Thank you, L   You are stuck in the typical abuse mess. You need some help because you don't see how you let him intimidate you out of your fear of losing him. You don't see how your need to depend on him/ have him be normal keeps you stuck and produces soooo much pain... You have to get on your own two feet. Get some counseling to help clear the confusion. Figure out what kind of retraining you'll need to be able to get a job to support yourself, and get it now, while you are married. Talk to an attorney to get an idea of how much support you are likely entitled to. Forty-seven is young. You have the whole second half of your life in front of you! Wishing you the very best, Doc


Tuesday, October 30
 I think my husband is a bit narcissistic.  He never takes blame for anything its always someone else's fault, usually mine..... Let's first call it "responsibility for" instead of "blame" - because that's what it is. :) Right down to his constipation!. Amazing... This weekend out of the blue he was in a bad mood  My third grade daughter and I went all out for a Halloween dance party.  We bought decorations, food, lights, went all out; there were like 14 friends from school, some parents, and they just loved the party.  Anyway, after the party got started I ran upstairs to get drinks for a couple parents. I was running around like a chicken with no head while my husband is on the couch sulking because there was nothing to eat. Well, obviously you are to blame! LOL!! :)  First of all, I had ordered 5 pizzas. Immediately he shoved a piece in his mouth, even though I told him to wait a bit.  I wasn't ready to give it out yet because Dominos came early.  He was complaining there was nothing to eat and he was starving and he can't believe how inadequate (or something to that effect) I am at providing food for my family! I'm like what? You're joking? Sure I will whip up a 7 course meal with 20 people in the basement while I'm dancing, playing games and entertaining them.  Is he kidding? What is wrong with pizza? Absolutely nothing is wrong with pizza, but what is wrong is his demanding way that doesn't take others (you and those at the party) into consideration. So you are mad! And with good reason.I think he thinks I live to stand around and feed him.  Probably. I said, "You don't look like your starving." He said, "Well I am. I'm also constipated!" I wanted to die laughing!  *Giggle!* First of all, I cook every day.  Some days I make great homemade meals, some days not at all because we are very busy, the kids are in all activities.  HE never thanks me, he just sits and eats. I don't want sex with him and I know no sex makes him grouchier - I just have too much anger to ignore.  I don't know what to do.  Now he is trying to be nice because he knows he was a jerk. Yep. That's the rollercoaster, and you're riding high, but at least your situation doesn't sound dangerous. Perhaps you can learn to disengage from his stuff - or you can leave him - or anywhere in-between. The first is the least drastic solution.Pain is a part of life but agony is optional. The sooner you accept that he is the way he is and likely will not change, the sooner you will achieve peace of mind. This is called "Radical Acceptance." Why spend so much time and energy being angry? He's annoying, but you create your anger!  (And he creates his.) For example, do you make yourself so angry when you go shopping and find the purrrrfect pink polka dot skirt - but, its not in your size? Maybe you frantically search through the racks, ask the sales help to look in the back, or check  availability in another store. If all your attempts fail, you probably feel disappointed. Darn it! And let it go at that. You accept reality. It is what it is: no skirt.  Consider accepting reality regarding your husband. He is who he is and wants what he wants when he wants when he wants it. And, he blames you for everything - even constipation! It is what it is. If you understand this and accept this from deep inside your soul, if you expect no more from him, you will have less reason to upset yourself over his nuttyness.  Easier said than done, but wouldn't a little peace in your life feel good?Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha
 by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield.
Easier said than done. Consider too some professional help. Wishing you peace. Dr. Irene


Monday November 5, 2007
Hi Doc; Hi! I have remained very close to my verbally abused friend for 8 years. She continues to see a therapist who offers excellent advise. She continues to read about verbal abuse, control and emotional manipulation. She has said many times she is very close to leaving. She has seen an attorney. She has said she often gets sick to her stomach when she is with him. Ok...I feel her situation is very similar to an abduction described in papers and magazines I have read this year. The "invisible leash" keeps her abducted. In the October 20, 2003 (Answer 17) you questioned me about chasing a fantasy through her. Even though I love her very much I seem to be able to manage my own life better than 4 years ago. So this question is about helping her. *Sigh...*We have worked together 17 years for the same company. She receives bonuses and pay raises ever year. Everyone she works with respects her and values her knowledge. She is confident and very focused at work. She has said her job is her salvation and sanctuary. On Monday, when she described to me the typical weekend including all his insults about her looks, all the bad mother comments, and then he started describing how dumb she is and said, "You are so dumb, I am surprised you can keep your job". In the past, he would say she should find a better job. Usually, he repeats the same insults over and over and this was a new one.During the Monday work day, she felt so insecure when she received the typical expedite phone calls and pricing questions she has answered flawlessly for 17 years. I asked her how he could take her confidence at work away from her when he's not even here? She said it was part of all the other insults and she found herself believing everything he was saying. I said you know his "dumb" comments about your job are lies and, therefore, why not believe everything else he says are lies, too? I know it's not about "why". However, it sure is easy to fall into the "why" trap.I asked her again if she would agree to be interviewed by you for one hour. She was defensive and questioned whether you would offer other suggestions instead of the advise to just leave. If she's getting defensive, you are pushing her too hard. You can't want her to leave more than she wants to leave.What can you suggest to help my friend living a nightmare for 27 years? People stay in these relationships for different reasons. Clearly your friend is unhappy and is seeking help. But she has to be ready. Whatever that means to her, it is her life, and she needs to move in the direction she chooses, when and how and if she chooses. She should not move if she is not ready to. You can't do any more for her than you have already done. Wait. I stand corrected. You can. You can give her the space she needs to make up her own mind - and not push her as though you were living in her shoes. Yes, you would leave if you were she. But, you're not - and whatever her reasons, she is not. I can see how frustrating her situation is for you. But your frustration is the only thing you have any power to do anything about. I wonder how your frustration affects her? Are you creating a comfortable emotional space for her, or is she worried about your feelings too? Let it go. Please. Be empathetic and supportive, but stop trying to control what she does with her life. She's already got enough of that! Respect her enough to accept the decisions she makes for herself, and spend your energy dealing with your own frustration. I know this isn't what you wanted to hear, but you asked, and this is what I believe. Wishing you both well, Dr. Irene


Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Dr. Irene:  I am in an unhappy 5 1/2 year old marriage to a man whom I can best describe as self-centered, angry, and unwilling to seek help.  :( We have two children 3 and 5.  I have in the meantime, based on your advice of 4 years ago, entered therapy with a wonderful therapist. Excellent! I have read The Verbally Abusive Relationship  and Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men  Excellent!  I have selected a divorce attorney, gone through and documented financial information, seen a few rental properties, created a budget to leave, etc.  Wow! I, however, find myself without immediate plans to leave.  I certainly would not say I love this man.  I am ecstatic and joyful when he is not home.  I am tense when I am around him.  I in fact pray for his absence.  I have been keeping a superficially nice and loving façade with him, hardly ever bringing up issues or mentioning any hurts or wrongs. This façade has kept me (maybe only on the surface) at peace, so that, when he is not home, I can actually be joyful and productive at my work. :) I'm glad you can find peace. I sometimes even believe my own little charade, and buy into the idea that I have a good marriage. Ooop! In the meantime, however, whenever we are overtly at odds, whenever I have had enough of his angry temper tantrums (truly out of the blue, including slamming doors, raising his voice, punching furniture in front of the children, etc), I do not talk to him, sometimes for months. I understand.During these times, I am depressed, have a feeling of dread, and cannot function well at work. Hmmm... It is as if the charade keeps me functioning, while the truth weakens me. Yea Why is that? You put yourself into protective denial. Here your wishful thinking about what is/may be keeps you afloat.Should it not be the reverse? It is the way it is - and the way it is is perfectly reasonable given your circumstances. You are OK when he is OK, but are miserable when he's awful - and your denial falls apart. The truth really does hurt. Does he actually strengthen me? Of course not. Only you can strengthen you. Do I have a dependency on him that is creating this type of superficial peace? Perhaps the best way to put it is that you likely are terrified of upsetting the status quo, breaking up the family, hurting the kids, the man who is their father, etc. You may also be afraid of going it alone, finances, career, etc. So, when he's OK, rather than deal with your frightful fears, you coast along by pushing the bad stuff away, half convinced it doesn't exist anymore. Do I need to go through this dread (and I mean it, it is a "dread"ful feeling of emptiness) to leave him? Sigh... Sorta. Face the fear and the fear will disappear. The more you avoid that which is feared, the more powerful you make it. But you're not ready to leave. I think you need to explore what frightens you first! Thanks for your insight on this one. You know, people stay in bad marriages for various reasons. Moral values, cultural heritage, family, children, religion, etc., may play a big role in choosing to leave or stay. Choosing to stay, if it is in line with your goals and values is not the worst thing in the world. The point is, choose what you want to do, and make that choice out of self-knowledge, not out of fear and avoidance.I am impressed with your ability to make yourself happy when he is not raging. You have developed the ability to disengage and direct your attention where you want it to be. Yay! This skill can be applied even when you are not deceiving yourself out of fear. Consider learning to disengage even further - so that you no longer allow the broken dream to destroy you when he does rage. At some level,  you probably think you need him. Learning to let him have his hissy fit while you walk away in disinterest would be an excellent lesson for the children. They learn how to be in life by watching the adults around them. (It goes without saying that you cannot and should not do this in a home situation where violence is or may be an issue.)
  • What if you could disengage emotionally - and create your own joy as you do when his mood is OK - despite how icky he is? Wow!
  • And what if you got a better handle regarding what your dread is about - why the need to deny the reality of your marriage? How much is your dread about opposing your family values, cultural values, religion, fear of upsetting others, looking bad, making waves, fear of going it alone, etc., etc.?
Accomplish these two objectives and you will be in a position to make a less dread-full, more clear-headed choice regarding what you want and what to do. There is no wrong choice, including staying, as long as it is the well thought out choice you make...Wishing you wisdom and joy, even when he's in a bad mood. Doc


January 19, 2008
Dear Dr Irene
I am a 19yr old male. My problem is my relationship with my mother. To be brief about 2 years ago I became depressed, enough to ask my mom for anti depressants which she agreed to, however I did not tell her why I was depressed only because I had difficulty doing so (for different reasons).The 3 years leading up to the point were a sort of quiet desperation, I spent all my time alone in my room. I was very much in a world of my own everybody including my family were outside that world my feelings were "I don't need anybody". /span> :(   About the time my brother left for college it was just me and mom in the house she was asking everyday why I was depressed, I think I wanted to tell her, but as I said I had difficult for various reasons. One particular day I remember I came home from school early feeling very depressed I laid on the couch and she started to question I answered only in short grunts. She flipped and started kicking the chairs and accusing me of resenting her, her brother had died around that time and she told me "she couldn't deal with this". Wow! No wonder you had such a difficult time telling her! You knew what the reaction would be like!I entered therapy and subsequently so did she although I'm not sure why. We were taking separate sessions although we took some sessions together also. I have left therapy now as I am past my depression. Yay! My mum told me she is leaving also, although her reason for leaving is because I am no longer going. "Nothing's changing, you still aren't talking to me so what's the point." She frequently asks me "Are things ok with us." In fact as I write this she asked me an hour ago. I said "yes".... "then why wont you talk to me?"  I said because I want to be alone. She then became angry and told me I am avoiding her and resent her. *Sigh* Mum's got some problems... :(I have been feeling very guilty about the whole thing, I hate coming home at the weekends, I feel I have zero freedom to speak my mind since she becomes angry when I do. Sure. But what makes me feel guilty mostly is that she seems to accuse me of the same things I accuse her of. Lol! She told our therapist it's like waking on eggshells, that I am picker her up on things she says. That I am cold. (Yea, you are angry!) She told me that my isolation and rejection was a very cruel thing for me to do to her at a difficult time for her. But I was just doing what I was always doing, staying in my room. Sounds to me like you were reacting to a difficult mom and that she can't handle that. :(I'm very confused , I don't know if I should feel guilty, hurt or angry. No "shoulds" here. You feel what you feel. Sounds like you have reason to feel what you feel too. I know I'd rather have nothing at all to do with her. I can understand that. But then I remember that is also cruel. We pick our friends, but we can't pick our families...To be honest I think I could say I hate her, and that causes me guilt too. I don't even look at her in the eyes because I've never been able to keep that look of anger off my face, and she always notices that. I rarely get angry (although occasionally ill speak in a fed up tone) and I NEVER raise my voice but she does and says very cruel things sometimes :( but mostly she tells me how much I'm hurting her and leaves the room slamming doors, sometimes crying. Sounds like emotional manipulation to me. It's not your job to emotionally care for your mom, though she thinks it is. If at least I knew what I should be doing. Also, being honest, the thought of us becoming friends is very uncomfortable to me, but I don't want her to be feeling bad as much as I don't like her. I feel so drained , angry and guilty especially since she seems genuinely hurt. What should I do?We can't pick our families. From what you tell me, your mom has some serious problems (that have nothing to do with you), but that greatly affect you. You don't talk with her because you know if you do, you will get a reaction. Ouch! Plus, you are understandably furious with her for being unreasonable, yet you feel guilty because you hate how she feels angry or crushed when you are upset with her. Well, of course you're angry! Who wouldn't be! Well of course you feel guilty! You know she's doing the best she can!  All your feelings in reaction to your mom are purrfectly normal. Mom is no doubt doing the best she can, though she is not emotionally mature enough to be a good mom. Sounds like she wants you to be happy and takes an interest in your life, but can't handle it when you have a problem with her. Damned if you do and damned if you don't... You can't change your mom. Neither will therapy work on her given her attitude. I don't know one kid who doesn't wish their not-so-OK parent would change and become normal. But it unlikely that this will happen. What you can change is you. You can change your relationship with your mom in your head. This means you accept what is instead of secretly (or not so secretly) wishing she would become more OK. Consider writing her a letter telling her everything you want to say to her. But don't ever send it. Write the letter to help you clarify your own thoughts and feelings. Please go back to therapy, but keep mom out of it this time. Bring your therapist this Q & A; bring the letter you wrote mom. Sweetie, you can't fix your mom, but you can fix yourself so you're not in this tizzy just because your mom is not all there. Do this because if you don't, you risk being emotionally manipulated by people like mom throughout your life. It's just not worth it. If you came to terms with Mom emotionally, you would know that mom can be impossible at times and you would let her be that way without it eating you up; you would not be looking for her love or approval, you would be OK with whatever her feelings are and would not be manipulated by them; you would be OK with your feelings towards her. And you wouldn't spend too much time thinking about any of it because you would simply accept that this is how mom is. A good goal to work towards.  Wishing you wisdom and peace, Dr. Irene


Date: Monday January 21, 2008
Time: 04:07 PM   
I was in an abusive marriage. My husband was hyper-critical of me and always trying to change me for the better. :( I brought up the issues often and they were minimized and denied so that got nowhere for seven years. I got to the point where I was seriously thinking about leaving and told him so - he apologized and admitted his mistakes but it was followed with an expectation for me to instantly forgive and live in the future. More of the same, just hung on a different content hook. :(  I could not Of course not.  and this caused more issues of resentment Again, more of the same.  :(.  I shut down but I decided to stay for the benefit of keeping my family together. OK. I thought I would find a way to deal with it.  In his defense he did get a bit better, but I didn't trust that it was real because he became financially dependent on me at the same time. No reason to trust; no track record of trust. Typically things get better for a while only to deteriorate since the issues underlying the misbehavior are not resolved. The victim's experience is often one of a lot of work for just a little gain. I thought he just didn't want to rock the boat.  His abuse would still rear its ugly head often enough to let me know it was still there or enough to not let me forget it. *Sigh* Exactly. My way of dealing with it was to become passive aggressive and have affairs.  I finally realized that this was twisted and destructive and stopped.  Now I not only had his abusive behavior to deal with but also my reaction to it.  Yes...  I left him 10 months ago because I just couldn't take it anymore.  There was a "deal breaker" that gave me the propulsion to leave.  OK.  Since he has promised to change and admitted his wrongs Again? (of course this happens after I leave Of course.) but I can't bring myself to give him a chance. Too little too late. Sounds like you've already given him many chances.  Sometimes there is just too much water under the bridge... I got into a great, healthy and nurturing relationship right after I left. Good for you! But be careful, sometimes you don't know what the relationship will be like until you are "his." This relationship has shown me what a good relationship can be.  I have been unwilling to sacrifice this new relationship to give my marriage another chance and have guilt over that because I'm tearing apart a family. I can understand that. I'm beating myself up constantly. Oh my! I guess in the end I brought my own issues to the table in the dysfunctional ways I dealt with the abuse and that I should possibly give it one more shot.  Honestly, even if you were able to bring yourself to go back, can you go back with all your heart? Or would you only be going through the motions? But I can't find it in me and feel horrible guilt. Understandable. I need support. Yes! Been to The CatBox? I can't imagine anything but being miserable if I return, yet I keep thinking about it, but can't do it.  I'm in a personal hell right now all as a result of his issues. Oh dear, think what kind of emotional Hell your husband would be in if he was as sensitive to his destructive tendencies as are you to yours -  years of past misdeeds! Oh, and, why would one more chance change anything? How many chances have you given him already? You feel guilty because you compromised your very solid values (love of family, etc.). And now you are stuck in the pain of the violation against Self. Hasn't enough damage been done? Between the multitude of sins on your husband's part, and your retaliation... Isn't this more than one family's share? Your stuckendess in guilt only adds insult to injury. Will your pain erase the past and restore the family? Will it make anything better? If it was your good friend who was stuck in this guilt instead of yourself, how would you advise this person? Would you be so hard on them? Would you have them burn in Hell? Are you being too hard on yourself?I hear that you want to move on, but, understandably, I also get that you also want to get rid of the pain. You can't do that.  It just doesn't work. Your pain and that which you hold dear, are flip sides of the same coin. Throw one out, and you've tossed the other. Move forward, yes. But face your pain and move forward, both at the same time. Slow down on committing to the new relationship. Even if this relationship is the "right" choice, walking into it without dealing with the guilt may backfire down the road. The risk of using the relationship to mitigate the guilt is too high. Don't risk tainting what may be good and pure with future misgivings. Enter with a clearer heart.  Take a little time and get some help with this.  A therapist might be a smart move. Dr. Irene

Saturday January 26, 2008
11:00 PM
Dr. Irene, I was married 18 years. 8 years ago, I realized I was constantly giving to a man with no empathy or ability to communicate or value me. His abuse was covert, silent, withholding. I brought up the behaviors I felt were unkind and asked him for change. He diverted, withheld, blocked, denied, and ignored. He insinuated there was "something wrong with me;" I was always "too sensitive." I went to counseling and gained respect for myself and I stood up to him. Yay! I became angry because I was ignored and devalued for my strength and self esteem. Yes. On October 4th 2006 he said he needed time "to think" and by December 31 he was gone. Good riddance. He never said he wanted a divorce, just "time" to think. He promised to date me, talk on email, not have sex nor date others because he did not want our marriage to be over, and a separation would help us. He only took clothes because he did not think he would be gone long. Then he never spoke to me again in person. Ugh.The few emails we exchanged blamed me for "pushing him away." I found out he was sleeping with his business partner. He cleaned out both business and personal accounts, changed the locks on our business. He did everything through lawyers, claiming he did not want to talk to me because he claimed "I was abusive." ????? You were probably angry, and with good reason. I was traumatized....I WAS ABUSIVE??? I think you were married to someone with big problems. You were not the controlling person; he was. Abuse is about control. So, something is wrong with you, you are too sensitive, you and too this and too that... I had no idea how I was going to provide for my kids. Any emotion I expressed he claimed was considered "abusive" by him. :( I was the victim you talk about that looks like the abuser because they get so freaked out from confusion and frustration. Yes. I read about narcissists and it describes him perfectly. His mother agrees he is one. I read about victims and it describes me. I admit I turned things around, for self-preservation. He just would not hear that he did anything wrong. He was always right. My question is, does an abuser leave? Well, yours did! Sure abusers leave. Usually the victim leaves them, but abusers also leave. Especially when they find another love interest. My guess is that had things not worked out between them, he would have returned. Notice: he asked for time - just in case she didn't work out. Narcissists especially transfer partners like the objects they view them as.Or am I the real abuser? I often believe everything is my fault, but my gut tells me no. The real abuser rarely asks themselves that question. The codependent is very good at asking that question. The codependent takes too much responsibility; the abuser too little. The codependent doesn't trust their gut; the abuser rarely questions it. I was unhappy but believed it could be the way it was in the beginning again "someday." Lol! Sounds like the wishful thinking of the codependent. :) Little things would happen that made me think change was "just around the corner." Your site assumes the victim leaves. Should I assume I AM the abuser, like he claims? No! Listen to your body. Stop listening to him! If you look throughout my site, you will also find articles on how the victim often thinks they are the abuser because they are told they are and because they second guess themselves. You see yourself having an angry outburst and that qualifies you as abuser? I don't think so. If you must accuse yourself of something, try accusing yourself of wishful thinking or naivetee.I am confused. I learned once a narcissist realizes he can't control his victim he sees their confidence and boundaries as abuse and throws them away. Is this what happened? That's what it looks like to me. Does the fact that HE left ME, mean I am an abuser too? Unlikely. I am flourishing and I am finding things he devalued in me are the very things that are best about me. I love my life, and am grateful I get to live a real life now. Thanks for your site, I read it a lot to help remind me of what I lived with for 18 years and what I no longer must deal with. I appreciate any insight you might have. Confused, VH Well, obviously I can't diagnose anybody I haven't met, but you have said absolutely nothing that is not consistent with victimhood, including your anger. And you have said nothing about him that is not consistent with the narcissistic individual, including covering his bases. Given the confusion you've felt over this, consider treatment again. You need to learn to trust yourself more. A lot more. Cyber Hugs, Dr. Irene 


Monday February 18, 2008
06:46 PM
Dear Dr. Irene, My husband of 30 years went into therapy at my suggestion, approx. a year ago because of grief from his mothers death, anger and resentment from his career problems etc. I perceived him as being in the midst of a "mid-life crisis," and was so relieved that he was finally going to face these problems. He did a stealth 180, and to make a long and hideously painful story short, he ended up not discussing his problems (yesterday, he told me that they haven't gotten to that yet!!) telling me it was HIS DECISION to divorce (almost as if he were proud of his "courage"), saying he didn't love me anymore, I was an emotional and psychological burden - I think you probably are getting the picture. In short, its what every stay at home mom and wife of 30 years longs to hear. I'm sorry. :(  One of my many many questions is - how is it possible for my husband to go into therapy as someone I trusted and loved and emerge a flaming heartless narcissist? One doesn't just turn into a narcissist. But it may be he felt his life with your family was a compromise of sorts for a long time. He told me it was my fault Your fault? He's not taking responsibility! because our marriage caused him too much pain etc. more than he was "willing to accept." When he talked to me I felt like he was "channeling" his therapist. I am so angry that my children and I the ones that are the collateral damage from his "therapy."  What kind of therapy IS this? Geez, I have no idea... As a result of this I am in therapy now trying to make sense of this disaster and it is helping me regain my "sanity." Good! I also left him six months ago, but still struggle with an "Alice in Wonderland" type of disorientation from time to time, but its getting better. Understandable. It is so creepy when I do talk to him, he seems vacant and emotionless - clueless as to what he's done and lost, our marriage, his relationship with his children. Any light you could shine on this tragic situation would be greatly appreciated.  Not much light because I don't know anything about your husband. But I do know that when two people go into individual therapy, sometimes it pulls them apart. It may be that your husband truly was not not happy in your marriage, but didn't understand that. Sometimes the issues surrounding divorce are so difficult to consider (money issues, change, etc.), people "prefer" denial. They just don't want to deal with it.  The "midlife crisis" is what happens when an individual, who has never looked at his or her life, can no longer not see, and makes a radical shift, often during a time of crisis. His mother's death may have set him off.In therapy people talk about themselves; what they want; where they want to go. it doesn't really matter that he didn't talk about what you mean about his problems, because whether he was telling the therapist what he wanted to therapist to hear or not, he took his life in the direction of his choice, right or wrong.For whatever reason, your husband decided to give up what he had and start elsewhere. When you say that he was almost "courageous" in telling you he was done, it suggests that for a long time he stayed despite not being happy. Perhaps he stayed for the sake of the family, for the children, etc. Perhaps he finally got the courage to leave. Leaving may or may not be the "correct" choice for him.He may truly be onto something right for him, or he may be running away from or acting out his stuff; hard to tell. He  may be exploring who he is, especially if he never followed his internal messengers before.  It is sad that he blames you for his misery (since he creates his own misery), and sadder yet that he didn't take the time to help you understand what was going on with him by, for example, bringing you into a few of his sessions.Whatever it is, it is. Clearly you're having a difficult time adjusting, and who can blame you? It was not your decision to end the marriage. Perhaps he will make a better attempt to help you understand down the road; perhaps not. In any case, whenever God closes a door, He opens a window. I'm glad you're in therapy trying to make sense of things and get your bearings. You may find that you can create a life for yourself that you never thought possible. You may like it. :).Wishing you well, and sending warm wishes. Dr. Irene


Saturday March 08, 2008
04:17 PM
Like Dana in your article entitled The Female Narcissist, February 16, 2002, my estranged wife Marisol is a real charmer—and all the rest as well. Like Dana, this very beautiful, very charming (and extremely manipulative) young woman has absolutely no concern for others apart from those who are in a position to provide her with narcissistic supplies. Under duress, I reluctantly married Marisol, a foreigner, in a civil ceremony in May 2001. Marisol married me for immigration benefits and stayed with me until I had nothing more to give—financially or emotionally. Six months after she abandoned me, after careful consideration, I filed a complaint for annulment of the marriage alleging immigration marriage fraud. In order to prevail, I need to prove fraud in the inception. Obviously, proving what another person intended—what was in her mind when she repeated her marriage vows—is difficult. However, I wonder whether or not expert testimony regarding BPD and/or NPD might help to establish her propensity to use, abuse, and deceive others, which would, for the purposes of Canon Law, render her incapable of entering into a valid marriage. I hope to use the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and annulment to establish her state of mind at the time she entered into the civil marriage. What are your thoughts? How might I establish BPD and/or NPD to the satisfaction of the court? Have you ever testified as an expert witness? Do you know anyone who has? What advice can you offer me?  *Sigh* I think you need a very, very good attorney and possibly the advice of a good forensic psychologist. I'm going to refund your payment since I have no answers for you. Wish I could help. Good luck to you. Dr. Irene


Wednesday March 12, 2008
11:06 AM
I finally left my verbally/emotionally abusive boyfriend of 8 months 2 wks ago.
Good for you! It started happening badly, to where I would cut myself after. Four months ago after I cheated. But before then, he would put me down for my exes and my hobbies occasionally, which is why I cheated and wanted to end it but couldn't.  :( After breaking up, he was so apologetic, depressed, sad & "I love you, I want to marry you" that I gave him my time and listened, and somehow believed he realized what he did and would change. I didn't want to go back, I just hated that I had caused someone so much pain in their life. I didn't have the courage to say NO. Now that I did go back, I lost somebody else (an ex) I believe I truly loved (that I promised I would not go back to the abuser) because they found out we had spoken. I feel lost and a "loser" in all senses. Like I am a weak, terrible, lonely person. Hold on here! I keep messing up. I get my bio B.S. in May. Yay! Conratulations! This has only made me feel worse after the abuse. Awww... Of course you feel awful given what you've been through, but please take pride in your accomplishment! A worthwhile accomplishment that will benefit you throughout life.  I am struggling to find strength and happiness again, and recover from the heartbreak and abuse. Hmmm.... I see that, and I agree you need to find your strength and to recover. But I don't think your problem is about "relationships," or even about the abusive relationship you've just left. I think first you need to deal with your most important relationship: the relationship with yourself!Please take some time for the Self. Away from love relationships. Learn first to have a more loving relationship with you. This is very, very important, and the basis of any successful love relationship.  You are not a "loser," but an individual who needs to find herSelf. You are not a "weak, terrible, lonely person." You are a bright and sensitive young woman who is looking for happiness in all the wrong places, places outside the Self. I can promise that you won't find what you're looking for there, at least not permanently. Do yourSelf a BIG favor. Find a therapist you feel comfortable with and stick with them. Since you mention cutting and feeling lost, I strongly suggest you find a DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy) therapist because a DBT practitioner is in the best position to help you learn the skills you need to not just get through life, but to help you thrive; to grow. To become comfortable inside your own skin. You are worth it. Promise. Wishing you the very best, Dr. Irene


Wednesday August 27, 2008
02:33 PM
Hi Dr. Irene- I've posted a question before. Thank you for the good information! You are welcome. :)After about 6 years of marriage I am finally coming to face the fact that my husband is verbally abusive. I'm seeing a counselor who identified it immediately and recommended The Verbally Abusive Relationship . Little did she know that she passed the test! I read your advice about being careful to find a counselor who had experience in this area. Lol! Anyway, I am having a hard time disengaging  Disengaging...Yes, that is the key word :) from the arguments with my husband. I had planned to go back to school, a plan that would take me five years to complete. I am so exhausted by being on edge and under so much tension that I decided to return to work instead. :(I have been a stay at home mom for the last 4 years. Every time I bring up finding childcare my husband has a million different reasons why it is a bad idea. OK, but the choice should be your choice. In a normal (i.e., not controlling) marriage, you would balance your needs and the family's needs, and your husband supports your choices - simply because your choices are important to you. (And, of course, I am assuming you are not making those choices out of anger/rebellion. I don't think you are,  but since many people are reading this, I need to make that clear.)I confronted him about this. Back to the wonderful "D" Word: Disengage. If you're emotionally disengaged from his stuff, there is nothing to confront. You know he doesn't have to agree with you and that you don't need his "permission." And, given your history together, you know that he will most likely not support your choices, so you don't expect to have a mutual conversation. You make your choice and simply give him the courtesy of telling him what you will do. You don't get into exchanges about it, or defend the validity of your position. You don't even get caught up in the "But you are my wife and this has to be a mutual decision" bait because you are dealing with an individual who has a history of controlling you. Nor do you say that you are making a unilateral decision because he's controlling, because then you'll be baited into arguing that one! So, no explaining, no defending, just a statement. He will get mad and you will do nothing. Let it blow over. Needless to say, you don't do this if your marriage is physically abusive.I told him that I felt it was unfair that I had to be the one to find the right daycare that he would approve of. We never agreed that I would stay home permanently but that is how he is treating it. If you are disengaged, none of this matters. Unless you don't have access to the bank account (which you should demand if you don't have) or unless your marriage is physically abusive, you don't need his permission or his approval. Your opinion is as right for you as his opinion is right for him.  Anyway, when I expressed this he turned it around on me saying that I kept changing my mind about school and that he didn't feel like work was a good enough reason to put our children in daycare. No problem. That's his opinion. But since you are the one taking care of the kids, your say counts more. There is nothing to argue and he can talk to the air as much as he wants. After I found myself defending my position I realized that he escaped dealing with my complaint! Yep. That's what happens when you ask permission instead of state your thoughts.  The hardest part about accepting this is letting go of the idea that I could communicate effectively with this man. Well, I would disagree. You certainly can communicate, but you are unlikely to get him to see things your way. So don't even try. The good news is that unless you are in a physically abusive or otherwise threatening marriage, you don't have to! Anyway, my real question is " Am I getting ahead of myself by trying to make these big decisions without enough support and thought."  I think its sad that your husband is more interested in having you do things his way than in having you grow in the direction you choose. I think its double sad that as a result, and because you care too much, you find yourself in a position where you are second guessing yourself. Ask yourself instead, "What is it with my "need" to have his support to do what I want to do? Especially when I can count on not getting it.!You won't be able to do this now. Work on detaching in counseling, Work on what to do with the guilt, the anger, the second-guessing that will arise as you move towards emotional independence. This is a suggested direction that will move you away from the subservient spot you are in now. The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by Albert Ellis et al. is highly recommended reading for you.I don't want my children to get caught in the middle of my anger and his abuse. They won't if you're not caught up with it!   Good luck to you! Doc

Friday September 12, 2008
12:12 PM
Hi Dr. Irene: Hi! I have a boyfriend who I have been seeing for almost a year. He is very sweet, accommodating and thoughtful in every day life and we are quite affectionate and compatible. He does not show controlling behavior in every day life, he is pretty egalitarian, complimentary. He can be very playful and fun as well. I am attracted to him in a number of ways, and he to me. He has from early on talked about marriage and now we are on the verge of picking out rings etc...

The Other Shoe: Four or five times now we have gotten into a really heated argument. During these times he seems to become another person. He tantrums rather than argues and accuses me throughout the argument. For example, he says that I am showing signs I do not want to get married because I have not picked out a ring (we visited the ring shop last week and by the way he has not formally asked me yet) and I haven't moved out of my apartment yet although I have said I am not quite ready (again he has not asked me yet). OK, you're bringing up that you want the proposal first twice. Did you tell him that that? He may think its OK to do that after the ring is purchased, etc. But in fact I have changed my rental agreement because of the potential to move in when engaged. As this cost me money, I said it's a pretty clear sign of my commitment. He responds irrationally to those comments. He also says I do not want to hang out with any of his friends and when I say: 'You haven't asked me out with any of them' he ignores this and keeps ranting. Implement a little golden rule now: Never talk about anything with each other when either person is angry. It will just get you into trubble. By the way, this is something virtually every marital counselor will agree with!

He also got mad because he is in a small way helping me with a real estate situation with a former boyfriend which is very frustrating. I have asked him repeatedly if this bothers him, and he insists it does not. Yet when I point out he told me it was okay, he said I should have known even though he was telling me the opposite of what he was feeling. No, you shouldn't have known. Tell him that. Tell him too that you appreciate his wanting to help despite his difficult feelings, but that you'd rather he be honest with you and not help you if whatever it is bothers him. He'll just come to resent you for it in the end. Anyway, when he is in this state he can not be talked out of it Don't even try! Agree ahead of time that you will calmly exit when you see him too worked up and several times he has escalated to telling me to leave, its over. He is very cold during this time.  Bad sign. The next day at some point he has always recanted and says when in his right mind that he never meant any of the things he said about me. Boyfriend needs to learn how to shut his mouth when he's angry! Tell him! One time he criticized my cleaning but then later said that never bothers him. He is really irrational when arguing and it always feels like I can't win, that he is not actually trying to solve the problem, but to inflate it. That is not a good sign. See if he can agree to the no talking when upset "rule." See what happens. Oddly there have been a few times when he was actually wonderful in a argument when I was upset so I don't know. I did leave one time after one of the bad episodes for a week and he did agree to go to counseling which he is going to every week and seems to be getting something out of it.

Can controlling and abusive guys have this profile? Sure they can. Or not! It throws me because he really is not so 95 percent of the time. Most abusive guys are great 95% of the time, especially early on. It goes downhill from there with held resentments tightly held and blame. His shortcomings become your fault. But there is not enough here to label your man.

Which doesn't mean an abusive pattern won't eventually develop once he "has" you and/or life stresses him too much.

On the other hand, he may simply be a bit of a hothead who is working too hard at trying to please and needs to learn to relax - and shut his big mouth and think before he talks.

Is he abusive? I don't know. There is some bothersome stuff here, but this could be present in a young guy without abuse issues as well. You may pick up some more clues by looking into his family background as well as your own. Any abuse? Look too at past romantic relationships. Any abuse? We tend to repeat our unresolved stuff.

Angry talk is not necessarily about abuse. Control is. Is the power in the relationship balanced, or does he have more say than you? Does what he think, say, want, etc. more important that what you think, say, want, etc? "Winning" is suggestive because winning can be a control tactic. Lies, half truths or misleading statements and other manipulations are suggestive. Insecurity is suggestive. Not supporting you in whatever it is you want is suggestive because that is usually about control. "Remaking" you is suggestive as changing you is about control if it persists beyond the good things each of us can teach those close to us. Knowing you better than you know yourself/ knowing what's best for you better than you know for yourself is highly suggestive; that is about control. 

Look not only at the presence or absence of abuse stuff, but also at the intensity. A little bit of anything is generally OK.

Good for him for entering counseling! Furthermore, I suggest you go with him for a bit. It may be a good place to examine your concerns (perhaps print out this Q&A) in a supportive atmosphere where you are more likely to enter into a constructive exchange. 

Most important, keep your eyes open and listen to your body. If something inside is pulling at you (and it must be for you to ask these questions), don't ignore it. There is no rush. Take your time; this is your life!

Good luck to you both! Dr. Irene

Sunday September 28, 2008
11:15 AM

Hi, I've just now come to fully realize that I am and have been an emotionally abusive husband and father. I have criticized all of my wife's self esteem down to nothing. It has trickled through her to my 11 year old daughter, who lacks confidence and self worth. My wife's comparison of me with my mother was what opened my eyes fully, as she too always has an endless supply of little one line criticisms or head shaking or just a sigh. It's no mystery where I got it.  Yes, kids learn not from what their parents say, but what their parents do.

See, I was asking her not use put-downs to discipline our child, as it reduced self esteem. She told me I had done to her for years the same thing, with terrible damage to her psyche! Acting like my mother, whom I have a close, long distance, relationship with, though don't get along with well in person.

The blood ran to my feet and I knew that she was right. I feel terrible, as I should, and I want to make it up to them. When I stop this When you choose to..., as I must, will time alone fix us? I think before time can heal, you have to stop acting out... How to avoid criticizing about criticizing ? How can I make amends ? Ask her; but don't ask until you've gotten a handle on your behavior.

My wife has never been very open about her feelings as opposed to myself, who wants it all out on the table to be talked over until resolved. When you force her to talk when she doesn't want to, you are hurting her. Never talk until BOTH people want to. She held it in as it ate at her, and my heart is breaking for her, and I love her and want to make it up to her. I'm so afraid of losing her.

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind as a short term solution you can start right NOW is that behavior and feelings/thoughts are very different. Behavior is external. Thoughts and feelings are internal. Yes, you will have to clean up the internal stuff, but meanwhile, you can stop putting what you think and feel "out there." You don't have to "act" the way you feel.

Feel angry? Misunderstood? In need of resolution? Whatever... Do nothing. Say nothing.

Journal it instead. Find a therapist and bring your journals with you. You will need help with this. Doing this will help you gain control over your impulses, which seem to get you into trouble. So, for now, live with all the nagging frustration/etc. I'm certain you have. But simply holding that frustration, pain, and anger is a better plan than letting it out into the world in any way (which includes speech, letters you send, gestures, facial expressions, etc. Just Hold it, Journal it. Don't act it out in the world, and certainly don't drink it away or find other other distractions to mask it.

There is a wonderful little book to help you with anger. ACT on Life, Not on Anger  by Eifert, McKay, Forsyth, and Forsyth. That should get you started, at least until you can find yourself some help. Let your poor wife be for now; worry about beginning the road to fixing you, and let things take their course from there.

Wishing you well on this wonderful journey...

Doc