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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

3/23 Interactive Board: He's Changing... I'm Not...

3/1 Interactive Board: D/s Lifestyle

1/14 Interactive Board: My Purrrfect Husband

12/12 Interactive Board: What if He Could Have Changed?

10/23 Interactive Board: Quandary Revisited

8/24 Interactive Board: Quandary! What's Going On?

7/20: Dr. Irene on cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness

6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

Am I Abusive?

Am I Abusive?

From: Sandra
Sent: Sunday, August 15, 1999 2:32 AM
Subject: Am I the abuser????
Dr. Irene,

I think I am on the brink of a failed marriage. I have been to several counselors who act like I'm the innocent one and my husband is the monster. I don't know what to believe - maybe we are both the monsters. I will try to keep my story short.

 I was reading about the 'Will the real victim please stand up', and it hit home with me. If I am the abuser, if I am causing this - I need to know, I want to save my marriage badly!  

Dear Sandra,

Your reaction is more typical of one in the victim camp.

About the last thing I want to do is confuse people. Though, sometimes confusion is a necessary step in getting to know oneself...
A quick tutorial: The abuser is the person trying to impose the most control over the other in the relationship. The abuser is the person who would be described as most "selfish". The victim tends to give emotionally. The abuser tends to pay little attention to the other person's feelings. If they give, it is usually material.
It is often hard to figure out who is who because both partners may be verbally abusive and controlling - but, where is the power?
In truly abusive marriages, one person has most if not all of the power. In general, this individual feels that their emotional well-being is their partner's obligation. The partner's feelings don't count. How the partner "should" behave matters more than how that person feels.
In more ordinary marriages, the power is roughly evenly distributed, even though each partner may behave abusively towards the other. 
Now, about you in particular:
It started after we got married. I was pregnant. It was a difficult one and he would get angry if I asked him to sit with me while I was sick. Could it be he was jealous of the child - who would soon get more of your attention than he would? I felt so alone. Codependent victim camp stuff on your part; abuser stuff on his. After I had the baby, I would get mad at him for being 5 mins late from work. I would sit there staring at the clock. More codependent stuff on your part...but I wonder...would he come home late on purpose? I stopped that Good., we went to counseling. It was hard but I stopped. He would tell me I was crazy, a crazy b----, that I need serious help. He told me 'No wonder what happened to you in your past happened' (I was abused). That is very cruel phrasing, even though he was right that you needed help.

Now, where are we? I decided to leave my husband after he got mad because the computer room was messy. How mad did he get that you decided to leave? Seems to me there must be more to your leaving than what you put down in this brief account. I tried so hard to keep the house clean for him, he didn't want me taking my daughter out (she's 21 months now) to play a lot because I should be at home cleaning. OK, now it makes more sense. His reaction is typical of those in the abuser camp. He is trying to restrict your world, define your role. Not at all OK.

He said a stay at home mom was another way of saying lazy housewife. Wrong! Abuser camp. He accused me of letting my daughter play with the computer disks and was saying she would break them. Abuser camp. (Feelings don't count.) He didn't believe me that she didn't. He was yelling and I picked up a disk and broke it, and said, there now I broke it. He slammed his fist into my scanner and started to rage, knocking pictures off the walls. My daughter was scared and I begged him to stopped. I was pushed, he said he knocked me accidentally but she hit her head against the wall. I was holding her. Whoa...not good stuff. Can you imagine anything your husband could possibly do that you would "accidentally" push him while he was holding your child?

When I left him I started to see someone. I thought I needed that. You sound so codependent, you probably did think that is what you needed - to reaffirm your self-worth. He was threatening to call cps and lie to them if I left him. Abuser camp. He thinks you are property he owns. He started to withhold money from me. I hired a lawyer. He found out about the affair and I dropped the lawyer. I felt so guilty about it. I don't know what to do now. Guilt is part and parcel of typical victim behavior. Stop with the guilt. You've got enough stuff to deal with - like why aren't you mad at him and insisting that he shape up? He talks to me sarcastically about how I am soooo abused. Tells me to go f--- the guy every time we fight. Has called me a stupid b----, a fat wh---, refused to let me have my car keys to leave, threw them in the street and told me to fetch them because that is where I belong. Threatens divorce if I don't move back in with him. No good! Abuser stuff! He gets so nasty and I am so sad and I don't know what to do. Get out before it gets any worse...and don't go back until he acknowledges his horrible, selfish behavior and agrees to treatment. I know what I did was wrong. I know how serious it is. I have read about the effects it has on a spouse. Excuse me. You keep focusing on your wrong. What about his? You left him & had an affair - not right, but under the circumstances...well, you're not perfect. Furthermore, you acknowledge that you did a wrong, and hopefully have learned from it. Has he acknowledged his many misbehaviors? I know why he has his anger about it but he had this temper before that happened. Yes. I don't know what to do. Please help me. Stop harping on your wrongs and start getting angry about his. Stop putting up with his acting out, which is probably why you had the affair to begin with. Tell him the affair is over, it was a mistake and that he needs to drop it. Tell him you will no longer defend yourself or discuss it, but you are interested in discussing his seeming need to hurt your feelings and his assumption that you are his possession. I know I'm not perfect...I know *I* need to work on being a wife, but I don't know how to stop these angry outbursts. Could I be causing them? -Sandra
No dear. You sound very much like the victim who has poor self-control skills and acts impulsively and abusively in response to provocation. Yes, you acted out. So, you have some work to do. But you are not causing any of his behavior. Not one drop of his behavior has anything to do with you. You can misbehave, but your husband creates his behavior all by himself. He has no business "accidentally" pushing you while you are holding a child - or not! Your husband has no business worrying about the child breaking the disks. Buy her more to break! What is more important, keeping the disks pristine or the child having fun and learning? Also, since when is a full time mom a "lazy wife?" If he feels the family income needs your contribution, there are ways he can discuss same with you without putting you down. And if you feel a commitment to your child to be a full-time mom, a sensitive husband would respect your wishes - whether he agrees with your decision or not.  
So, Sandra, I am in full agreement with your counselors. I hope this helps. Best regards, Dr. Irene

Dear Dr. Irene,

Thank you for your response. My husband has never said he wants me to work. He wants me to stay home. He can want whatever he wants. He is allowed. That doesn't mean you have to do it. He just wants me to stay home and clean more, instead of taking my daughter to so many functions. What about you?. Don't your feelings count? I feel it is important to her development. I know I have to work on how I react to his outbursts. Yes. I have to realize I am in control of how I act, and take control of how I respond. Yes. I have been working on that. Good. It is your job to appropriately communicate your limits to your husband, and it is his job to accept the limits you have set for yourself.

Despite everything, I love my husband dearly. He has agreed to counseling but doesn't believe he is abusive in any way. He is controlling at the very least. Even though he is dictating things that he thinks are in your best interest, he is still dictating your life. You need to clarify your role. If you accept his idea of what you should do when it is not what you want to do, you are likely to become more and more resentful towards him. Then you are likely to mistreat him. He says to say things you regret is normal in a relationship. I don't think it is. No. It is not OK, though it is not uncommon. Sounds like you could both use some self-control skills. I cry and he thinks I am pathetic, and gets angry. That he sees your crying as pathetic suggests contempt on his part. Contempt is consistent with an abusive picture. I don't know how to help him see that this behavior isn't normal and shouldn't be accepted. You can't get him to see if if he won't. However, you don't have to tolerate it. I don't know if it is important to see it as abusive. You don't have to put a label on it; just stop it.  Except that 'abusive' means you have overstepped boundaries. Yes. He has told me if I am not moved in by the 30th of this month he will divorce me. For my child's sake I can't. I don't want her to see this. I've watched her be scared enough. I do not think it is wise to accept ultimatums. If you mean so little to him, let him go.

I fear if I purposefully find a counselor who works with verbal abuse my affair will be minimized, and it is something I think needs to be addressed. Stop with the guilt. Your affair is not the prominent issue. The prominent issue is the abuse and control on your husband's part. The last counselor we had told him he couldn't treat me like he was and he now says he is stupid, doesn't know what he is talking about, and probably isn't married. Should I show him a book or something so that he can recognize our marriage is not healthy at this point? You can try, but it probably won't help. The only thing that will help is your not going back. Maybe then, when you stand up to him, he will wake up. But first, I think you need to wake up, that is, stop blaming yourself and stop allowing abuse.) Good luck, -Dr. Irene



This is my last email to you. I just wanted  to say thank you. You really gave me a wake up call. I know I still need a lot of work, and I need to go through with it, but I am starting to realize it is my responsibility to myself to not let anyone treat me the way I am letting him treat me. If he goes, that is his choice and I cannot do anything about it. I realize I need to be more scared about continuing to live like this than I am of losing him. I am still scared of losing him, so I am not there yet but I will work on that. I still don't feel anger, I have a hard time getting angry and this is  probably because of my own abandonment of myself. As far as my guilt, God has forgiven me, I will now work on forgiving myself.  Now you're on the right track! Dr. Irene

Thank you,  -Sandra