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End My 24-Yr Marriage?

End My 24-Yr Marriage?

 "You can't cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water."
- Rabindranath Tagore

April 17, 2002

Dear Doc,

My husband and I have been together for 24 years, married for 19.We have a 28 year old son, from my husband's first marriage, that we raised since he was 8, a 13 year old son, and a 6 year old daughter. I first read about my life 2 years ago, when I got my hands on Patricia Evans' "Verbal Abuse" books. Finally I began to understand what had been happening to me all those years. There is no longer any doubt in my mind that my husband is verbally abusive.  

He has occasionally pushed or hit me, but a year or 2 could go by before it would happen again. It has not escalated as they say. He never comes after me, indeed his favorite form of abuse is "withholding". He can go for days, weeks, or months without speaking directly to me. If I speak, he would turn his back to me, or leave the room .He would often frown when I was around, making me wonder what he was mad about. How awful! The other things are well described in Patricia Evans' books.

 It is weird for me to read what I just wrote, because, though I am trying to remain detached, detachment is different from denial… Reread Beattie! and we are currently in a "honeymoon period". During these times it is hard for me to connect with the reality of the abuse. Probably because you want things to be OK, you tend to sweep them under the run, i.e., go into denial…

 He has always been a "Dr.Jekyl/Mr.Hyde". During the good times, I cannot remember the bad times. It is like these memories go to a separate compartment of my brain that I cannot correction: don’t want to access. I have tried keeping a journal and writing about the abuses so that I could remind myself of them when I needed to take action. This helps for awhile, but then I forget again or it just doesn't seem real-more like it happened to someone else.

 Here is my situation right now. I filed for divorce over a year and a half ago. At the time I was into the second year of homeschooling our younger son, who has bipolar disorder, ADHD, and OCD. I was working part time as a nurse and spending all of my energy trying to find resources to help my son. I must have felt pretty desperate because I had been willing to go to work full time and return my son to public school, even though he was not yet medically stable. However, my husband and I talked and agreed to give it another try, so that I could continue to homeschool our son.

My filing for divorce won me 7 months of good behavior from my husband. Then one day, for no apparent reason, the abuse was back in full force. Meanwhile, I had found a wonderful school for my son for ADHD/Bipolar children. My daughter started kindergarten this last Sept. So, last Sept I went back to my atty and asked my husband to leave the house. He told me at that time that he needed to stay until late Dec, when he would leave to go across the country on business. He told me that he would probably move to this location because he could no longer make a living here. He said that he would come back in March and we could do divorce then. During this time, I packed a lot of his stuff. I wanted to move it to storage and change the locks on the house so that he would not come back in. My atty told me that I could not do this because it was still his house.

 I did not fear his violence. What I feared was just what is happening right now-getting sucked back in to this endless Jekyl/Hyde cycle of craziness. He is back in the house, acting like nothing ever happened, being as nice, loving, and helpful as possible. He apparently is no longer interested in moving across the country. Even though he told everyone at my son's school that he could no longer make a living here  because I had "ruined his reputation" in some inexplicable way. Now, he says the only important thing is "family". I had him served within 10 minutes of his return to the house.  

I love this man unconditionally. I have not been interested in any other men. He is the father of my children. I want to do what is best for the children. My friends and family all want me to divorce this man. My mother hates him with a passion. I would probably lose some friends and support if I don't go through with it this time, because everyone would be so disgusted with me. So be it; losing support is not grounds to determine what direction to take in life.

 What is best for the children? People say "go with your intuition", but I stifled my intuition for so many years, only in recent years have I been trying to nurture it back. Right now, I can't seem to find it at all .He even bought Patricia Evans books this time. Yesterday, he even talked to me about them, like he was reading them. Is this just another hook? Probably, but less because he is playing mind games and more because he just can’t keep it up. Or is it possible that this time he really will change? This possibility is almost irresistible to me, though I have spent 24 years being hooked by this possibility. Right now, he has no job, though he is looking -this man has a post graduate degree. He told me that he spent the kids college funds paying bills last fall. He is now living on the IRA that he cashed. I went back to work full time in Sept. Sorry my writing is so scattered, but I am home with bronchitis today, and my thinking is not as clear as I would like it to be. Thanks, Susan

Questions: What is best for the children? Should I get him out of the house, and if so, how? Is it possible that this experience could have shaken him up enough that he could change and we could still have a marriage and family? If so, is it worth the risk to try again? 

Doc Has Questions


Is there any psychological  treatment history? Yourself, hubby or marital? The kids?

About the kids, any acting out? What's their take on the situation?

Also, tell me about your anger. How long does it take you to notice things are getting un-OK? Do you get depressed or do you get angry? Best if you can describe what went on for you internally the last time the problem escalated.

Also, tell me what you tell him when he acts up and how he reacts to it.  Does he see that he has a problem? Does he have mood swings, black cloud periods, changes in his sleep or eating patterns when he's acting out? Does he drink, use drugs?

Basically, I need to know more about the relationship. Thanks, Doc

Susan Writes Back

My husband went in to inpatient treatment for alcohol and drug abuse almost 10 years ago. The psychiatrist at that time thought he was bipolar and placed him on several different meds at once. Lithium, Prozac, and desyrel, I believe. The desyrel made him comatose and one time he passed out on the floor. Rather than get his meds adjusted he simply went off all of them. I have often wondered if he was bipolar, particularly now that I know more about it since our son has this diagnosis. Bipolar disorder runs in families. Nevertheless if hubby was dx’d bipolar, there is some mood disorder and he needs treatment. Bipolar individuals who tend toward the “high” end hate to be medicated. Feeling “normal” is not as much fun! I have 2 siblings with bipolar also, though their manifestations are different. Until recently, he has refused to discuss this, telling me I am crazy if I bring it up. Not true. In fact, if there is a mood disorder, it will facilitate his acting out, or be entirely responsible for it in some cases. He has remained clean and sober for almost 10 years. Excellent, but not a reason to spurn treatment for a mood disorder, though drugs/alcohol will invariable worsen it. He apparently spent all of our money on cocaine back when our son was a baby. Hmmmm… He was gone from the house all the time, I thought because he was starting his own business by the time he got to treatment, we were bankrupt and our house was foreclosed on. Ouchhh!

 You may wonder how I didn't know this. We always have had separate accounts and he would never discuss finances with me, kept things secret, and I was always so busy and tired just trying to survive I guess. This type of individual also takes too much power, as in his refusal to discuss the bipolar dx. Your job is to take your power back, and do it with commitment. I also went in to recovery at that time. I went to AA and NA meetings and later to outpatient treatment. Good! I found I was addicted to alcohol and opiates. Not to excuse your abuse, but you had a lot to deal with… I’m glad you got help.  When he became abusive and or withdrawn, I would have my painkiller, and that is how I dealt with it for many years. Not uncommon. Just did not deal with reality. Now, I have almost 7 years clean and sober. I am still having problems dealing with reality. You need to improve your coping skills, and not rely on denial.

 I totally forget things. You have asked me to describe what went on for me the last time he "acted up" and I am having trouble remembering him acting up. Right now he is being perfect because he has a divorce hanging over his head. I am supposed to call my atty today about going to court on Tues to get Temp Orders signed by a judge with a definite move out date for him on there. Right now he is being so kind and helpful, giving me back massages, asking me how I feel, actually making eye contact with me, helping with the kids, cleaning the kitchen, etc. It makes me think "what did I want a divorce for?" You know from the website and the Evan’s books that this is roller coaster… Without significant change, the abuse will return.

 I really can't remember when I think about breaking up our family. You must have tremendous guilt. But, hold on: just who is it who is breaking up the family with what kind of intermittent behavior? Asking him to clean up him act so that he does not force your hand in breaking up the family is sane.  I just can't stop crying. Of course.

 When I try to remember what went on for me internally the last time things escalated - I do remember that I would always get "fight or flight " syndrome. I would get tachycardia, my palms would sweat and my hands would shake. Wow! Sounds like you may be bordering on panic… He gets this funny look in his eyes and his face gets real flat and hostile and that’s when I know he is gone. Since I have described him as "Jekyl/Hyde" I would definitely say he has mood swings. You never knew which one would be there. His sleep patterns can be rather erratic-there have been times when I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him in his office or watching TV. As for my anger - my problem is that I can't stay angry long enough to take effective action. Your dependency needs “force” you to forgive and (literally) forget. You need to forgive, but not forget! If I was angry now, it would be so much easier to ask him to leave this house.

 I think I get very angry at the time he is mistreating me, but as soon as he is nice again, I completely forget it. You may want to be evaluated for an SSRI which will ease your depression as well as help you with any anxiety that’s floating around. If you are even mildly depressed (and why shouldn’t you be?), learning the emotional skills you need will be more difficult. As for how long it takes me to notice things are getting un-ok-I suppose I am usually immediately aware of mood shifts, but I have been told that he was abusive to me at times that I wasn't even aware of it. In other words, I have become so used to certain things that I don't realize it is abusive. Not unusual. I have tried some of Patricia Evans' methods in the last couple years-telling him to stop, etc. It didn't seem to have much effect-sometimes he would stop and or leave. It won’t work unless it comes from a place of uncompromising conviction.  It also helps to have support while doing it!

 His favorite punishment was withholding anyway. He would speak to the kids or anyone in the room except me. This is abuse and grounds for you to ask him to leave. This could go on for such long periods-like I didn't even exist. Does he realize he has a problem? Only when the ax is hanging right over his head, like it is right now. Then perhaps you need to find a way of keeping the ax right where it is. Now is the time you can make demands, even though you lack the conviction or follow-through. This is an excellent time for you to find a therapist and join an abuse support group!

 Before this he blamed everything on me, said I was crazy, etc. But now he has gone and bought the Patricia Evans books and has given indications that he is reading them. Whether this is just another gesture to "honeymoon" me with I don't know. It’s wonderful he’s reading the books, but even if he’s dead serious, he does not have the capability to follow through. He’s demonstrated that time and time again. He is no more able to follow through than you are! You need support to help you both get to where you would like to go.

 The kids - as I said my son is bipolar, adhd, has severe ocd and also developed hallucinations this last fall - thought there were bugs eating him and would not eat or sleep for weeks because he thought if he ate, the bugs would go in his stomach etc. Poor child… This disruptive home life can’t be helping him, especially if he’s adhd. It has been quite exhausting since he has been born. We got him on yet another med, geodan, and this helped significantly with the psychotic symptoms. He had improved enormously during the 2 months his father was gone. Hmmmmm… Now, everyday the school people tell me that he has regressed severely since his father has been back. What does this tell you? They tell me this every day: he is acting out again. I know that my son has some anger toward his father that has never been dealt with. He used to bring up freq the time his dad pushed me down the stairs and I sprained my wrist. Oh my God! This is very serious; I take it you know that? (This kid’s got to be mad at you too for taking daddy back…) That all got brushed under the carpet. Also, now that he is older, his Dad uses what I call the "bad dog" voice on him quite often. As for  our daughter, as I said, she is Daddy's little princess and is crazy for him. She cried her little eyes out when he was gone, whereas son seemed more peaceful. She has also witnessed abusive situations, but she tends to create a different story for them in her mind. She probably identifies with her dad, aspiring to be like him, the “powerful” one. But, if you could learn to take your power, she might reconsider. Right now, my guess is she has some contempt for your “weakness.”

 For example, when we traveled in our van for our big vacation, my husband became very irate with me because I wanted to know what the plans for return were, as I had to be back at work by a certain date and I did not want to have to go to work right after driving all night or something. Reasonable request. It is abusive to keep you in emotional upset by keeping you guessing, even if he ends up returning you home in time for you to rest up for work. He would not communicate with me, as is typical and became extremely angry over my simple request. He ended up driving me to the airport with the kids in the car and trying to dump me out there, telling me that I had to go home. I refused to get out and said if he tried to force me there was a policeman right there. Good! I made him take me to the hotel so that I could at least make a reservation and pack my stuff. Turned out I couldn't get a flight back until the next AM. My daughter sat on my lap and just sobbed, crying "please don't go Mommy" .Now her memory of that is that I had to go back "to take care of the cat and the fish." She’s identified with daddy’s power, unfortunately.

 As for therapy, we went to years of marital counseling where none of the real issues were ever addressed. Never touched on our addictions at the time, never recognized that there was any abuse going on. I did a lot of work on my codependency issues. I have since gone through recovery with 12 step programs and have finally begun learning what it means to be "true to myself" because I had lost myself for so long.  I’m glad you made progress, but you still need more work in this area.

 I can usually write better than this, but I am still not feeling well-home with bronchitis, my head feels full of glue. Your writing is fine. I have to call my atty by noon today to give her the go ahead or not re going to court this Tues to get these orders saying he has to get out of the house by a certain date. I don't know if I can do it. I feel like a Judas. How can I kick him out of his own house, the house we bought together? I felt it would be much easier for the kids to stay in the same place, let alone that it would cost more to rent an apt than what we pay for the mortgage. It is so hard for me to give up on our family. It is hard for me to remember that most of the time, things were not like they are now, that usually there was this frequent hostility and total lack of communication. We could talk about the kids, but that was about it. I hope this helps. It helps very much. If you’re not ready to call the dogs on him, be prepared to cycle through again. At least get some individual therapy and get yourSelf stronger for the next time.  

 My mother doesn't understand my anguish. Your anguish is very understandable; your behavior is not. Your dependency, guilt, and possible depression is keeping you prisoner. She says she felt complete relief when she left my father. Didn’t you feel any relief when he left after a bout? She doesn't understand why I love someone who has treated me the way he has. I don't understand either, but sometimes my heart hurts so badly that I  have wondered if I am having a heart attack. More likely a panic attack. Yet I want to break this cycle. I want to change things for my kids. I don't want to role model this dysfunction for them anymore.

 I don’t think you’ll be able to either leave your marriage or help change your marriage unless you make some changes within yourSelf first.  You are telling me you cope by going into denial because you really, really, really can’t stand the idea of breaking up your family. You take responsibility for his misbehavior because you see yourself as breaking up the family by filing for divorce, when he’s the one who is messing things up. You also need to get a much better handle on what abuse is: emotional as well as verbal. While you make very much sense when taken from the perspective of an abused individual, your behavior makes no sense when viewed from a healthier, more logical perspective.

 Yet, I’m not suggesting you run into Court.  You will probably recant at some point. I am suggesting you learn to face reality as well as learn to take your power. You need to get some counseling to help you own your personal power, and insist he do same. You need to be evaluated for depression and anxiety and insist that be evaluated for any mood disorder may contribute to his periodic flare-ups. You guys need marital counseling if you are to make a go of it, but I think you in particular need some individual work first/at the same time. You are the type of client I get in marital and find myself feeling angrier than the client feels! That’s when I throw hubby out for a little while. But each therapist works differently. Please look for a good counselor knowledgeable in abuse as well as in mood disorders, personality disorders, etc.  Perhaps you can send them this letter and ask how they want to proceed.

 OK, back to your questions:

 What is best for the children? Two healthy parents. People say "go with your intuition", but I stifled my intuition for so many years, only in recent years have I been trying to nurture it back. Right now, I can't seem to find it at all .He even bought Patricia Evans books this time. Yesterday, he even talked to me about them, like he was reading them. Is this just another hook? Probably, but less because he is playing mind games and more because he just can’t keep it up. Or is it possible that this time he really will change? Perhaps, with therapy and medication, if indicated. This possibility is almost irresistible to me, though I have spent 24 years being hooked by this possibility. How many more are you going to spend? Right now, he has no job, though he is looking -. He spent all of the kids’ college funds on bills last fall, and now is paying bills with the IRA that he cashed. This man is incredibly irresponsible. Sounds like he subbed one addiction for another. I went back to work full time in Sept.  The good news is working where you work,  you probably have good insurance.


  1. Get yourself evaluated for depression and anxiety
  2. Insist he be evaluated for his moods
  3. Find a therapist versed in abuse issues and go (my personal bias is a cognitive behavioral therapist because they target the thinking that gets you into trouble)
  4. Become more sensitive to what constitutes abuse
  5. Examine how your dependent thinking style gets you in trouble. A very good book for you is (cognitive behavioral) is by the father of cognitive therapy, Albert Ellis: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life
  6. One to help you recognize stuff that’s not ok, and stop it: Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You

Susan Writes Back and Doc Replies

Okay, here is my question re "taking my power back". I must have sounded pretty pathetic. I a haven't been depressed in a while. I usually do really well by avoiding drugs and alcohol, eating well and exercising, getting enough rest etc. But things really got out of balance for me last week-I was ill, taking antihistamines, exhausted and stressed re the legal/living situation. Plus PMS. I can usually recognize when I am getting off balanced and correct it-usually a good run does the trick- but I was too ill last week to do that. I can’t tell you how many people I see in my office who are mildly to moderately depressed – and have NO CLUE they are! They don’t feel depressed, nor does one have to according to the DSM4 to qualify for Major Depression! I haven’t seen you; I don’t know that you’re depressed or not. But, I do know that the circumstances you live under are enough to kill anybody’s spirit! I understand what you are saying about feeling ill and not being able to utilize your ordinary coping mechanisms. I am asking you to keep a depression hypothesis in mind. Anyway, my position now is, I have asked for the abuse to stop and he crossed the line anyway. so my next move was to go back to my atty and ask him to leave. Good for you! Okay, I admit, that part I am having trouble committing to, even though I am going through the motions of making it happen. I do not take responsibility for his abuse or the failure of our marriage. It is just so hard to give up on the idea that we could make it work, make it better. But don’t you see: you ARE doing your part here. He’s not doing his! In that way, the “wishful thinking,” a classic feature in abused people, is keeping you hostage. You ARE taking responsibility for him by hoping he will get it, somehow, some way. You are banking on his potential instead of his history with you.  I feel such grief and also sadness for him-I want him to be okay, I don't want to hurt him. I understand that! That empathy on your part (when you keep getting hit on the head over and over), is holding you hostage. Your thinking is based on wishful thinking and not on logic and experience. You are also making another classic codependent error: assuming you have the power to take care of him/ keep him from experiencing pain.  I know he is a big boy and he will be fine. But for some reason, I love him. anyway, I understand and have no problem with this. My concern is what happens when you love him and try to protect him from pain and/or try to otherwise facilitate things working out: you get hurt. Over and over and over…  I digress the question is, how do I take my power back? First, I doubt you’ve ever had it, at least in this marriage. This is why I suggest therapy and support. Correction: I doubt you’ve had it and been able to sustain it in this marriage.  I have tried, seriously I am not a total codependent wimp anymore-I have my own interests-though not much time to pursue them due to work and having special needs kid etc. I have asked for change and been refused. It seems to me that the only way for me to take my power back would be to stick to my guns and make him leave the house? Yes. Definitely. Can you do this? And stick with it through the divorce? Wouldn’t you like some support in this process? (There will be very sticky moments…) I already have a hearing set up for April 16 for temporary orders that include a move out date of April26 (my atty came up with that date). My heart is not in it. But I had decided I want my "power" back and I do not want to rollercoaster anymore-I want stability for the kids. so do I go through the motions and just do it anyway-is that taking my power back? Or do I call the thing off, thus wasting more time and money, and insist now that he get the therapy and evals you mentioned? I’m glad you ask this. Your question was basically how can I give this marriage a chance. The evals and the therapy, etc. were directed at that question. If you can stick to your guns, all the better. I was responding to your near plea to suggest ways to save the marriage. If you have the wherewithal to pull it off, the BEST solution is to force him out, follow through with the divorce, while at the same time getting some treatment to help you stop enabling others at your own expense. Trust me, you still do this, otherwise you would have had no need to write me because there would be absolutely NO question in your mind. You would never, ever permit anybody to repeatedly hurt you! even though he wouldn't do it before-now he possible would because his head has been under the ax?   Thinking about it, I realize that you can't really answer this question for me, no one can. I just wish I could get over feeling so completely torn. Let me help: History is the best predictor of future performance. Keep in mind that his arsenal for keeping you hostage includes new and creative carrots on the stick. Now he’s got Evan’s books on the stick. Good start, not nearly enough because he simply can’t do it no matter how many books he reads. If he were to embark on recovery, at best, it would take years. I can almost guarantee that he will revert once he’s comfortable and you’ve relaxed your guard. That’s why you need treatment. You think keeping up a guard is “work.” People who don’t have dependency issues have this type of guard up naturally, not even realizing it! It is adaptive. Dependent people need to learn the skills to do this, and it feels yukky at first; like you can never relax, not love the way you want. It’s a process that takes time and attention. i know that at some point one just has to get to the place where one decides enough is enough, and give up. I really, really, thought I was there when I initiated these legal precedings and let people know what was going on. You’ve certainly come closer than you’ve ever been before, but the “enough” realization is also a process. Now, once again I feel torn apart, instead of calm with conviction. Oh well, it "takes what it takes" as they say in recovery. I always have such a hard time letting go. Thanks for all your help and all that you do.  It is important you understand this. You apparently wrote to affirm your conviction to leave. If you really, really internalized that even subtle abuse is not OK, your conviction would not have been shaken. I did not read between the lines and instead responded to your request to come up with suggestions to save the marriage. If I can knock down your conviction, you need to engage in the rethinking process again - because YOU are responsible for YOUR life! YOU are the ONLY ONE who can decide whether or not you are willing to continue putting up with same ol’ same ol’. YOU need to take responsibility for recognizing how his “I am getting better” games have to date resulted in…no lasting change.

I’m glad you’re making this interactive. I think you need to hear it from the gang too! Plus, you get to have me poke at you for another month. (Did anyone ever tell you part of a therapist’s job is to knock you off balance – so that you can gain even more conviction of what is right for you?)

I’m glad you wrote back. Now I think we may be on the same page.

Best regards, Doc