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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!

A Mom Gives Herself Good Advice

A Mom Gives Herself Good Advice

From: Young Mom


Sent: Thursday, September 02, 1999 2:24 PM

Dear Dr. Irene:

Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a wonderful site!!  Not only is it filled with intelligent and helpful information, it is also fun to "surf".  I especially like all of your moving icons.  And I really appreciate the fact that you keep it so current.

Dear Young Mom,

Flattery will get you everywhere!

I know you are busy and have many emails to respond to, but I like writing to you because it helps me sort things out, even if I do not get a reply.  (I plan to check out the "Ouchhhh" support group next.)

Since I wrote to you in July or so, I have gotten a great deal of clarity on my life and choices.  Part of that is weekly (sometimes daily) visits to your site.  Part of it is because I found the wonderful books by Patricia Evans AND Mira Kirshenbaum.  I have not seen you mention Kirshenbaum's books, so I wanted to tell you about them. Thanks. I'm always glad to get new references. I just ordered the books & am linking to them at based on your recommendations.

The first one I read was Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, because I was in such a state of confusion about what is "okay" to expect from a relationship.  By reading Patricia Evans and your site, I realized that I had dealt with so much covert abuse that I needed some guidance.  (He is good at saying things like "this is what couples do" or "in a committed relationship, you expect things like this"  or "love is a choice; when you choose to love someone you take them as they come."  All of these sayings are fine and good, but they do not warrant staying in an abusive relationship just because you love somebody.)  So, I found Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, extremely helpful as a step by step guide to examining my relationship; individual therapy if you will.

Then I read Women & Love and I have to say that I wish I had had this book in my 20's when I was worried that I would never get married or have children.  (If I had known then...)  I think that I married my husband because we were so similar, and I had found someone who really understood me (we were both getting advanced degrees).  But, sometimes, I think now that perhaps we should have been just good friends.  I think I stayed in the relationship because I was lonely, even when I saw warning signs of out-of-control anger.  I remember thinking, "well, we are so much alike and I do love him, and I am 29-years-old.  So he loses his temper sometimes and he is a bit judgmental of others.  At least it is never directed at me."  All the while he was controlling my time and space and I couldn't see it.  Anyway, the point is that perhaps if I had read this book at that time, before I got married, I might have insisted on taking some time to myself (which I never had) and really looked objectively at my relationship.  Perhaps then I would have seen what my family saw but didn't tell me because they didn't think it was their place.

But, enough if onlys.  My life is what it is.  I know I have the power to make it better and to make good choices.  And I think I will make better and better choices because of you, Patricia Evans and Mira Kirshenbaum.  I think you should rest easy at night because you are making a difference in the world.  Thank you again.

One last thing:  I found Amy's and Norma's emails really helpful.  Do you have any more advice to give to young mother's like me who feel incredibly guilty about breaking up their homes?  I know you will say something like "what about him, does he feel guilty?"  You are one sharp lady! Got me down pat!

Which is good advice.  But, I am preparing to leave my marriage and even with you, Patricia and Mira, I get conflicted about it. Of course you are conflicted. You should be. It is a big decision, not to be taken lightly. You are reacting normally.

 I am lucky to have very supportive parents, an education and years of good therapy.  Even so, I feel guilty because I see my daughter, Cara, when she is around both of us and I know she is happy that we are together.  Yes. She loves both of you. She and I spent about 10 weeks with my parents this summer while my husband worked out of State. When we were together again, I could see she was pleased.  When I am holding her near her father, she even grabs my head and his neck and tries to get us to kiss and hug each other.  This makes her very happy.  So, what's my point?  I love her father, I know he could change if he admitted he has colossal amounts of anger at his past and his abusive family, and that he often takes that anger out on me. Dad may be more motivated to change once he sees you are not willing to put up with his stuff. Right now, what is the incentive to give it up? He's got it all ways.

It is as if I see myself as mother 30 years ago.  She is only now seeing how my father has been abusive to her.  But, I have choices that she did not have.  She had to stay.  I can leave. Yes. I want to leave.  I am just having difficulty deciding what is best for Cara.  I know what is best for me. Perhaps you will say that what is best for me is best for her.  I really don't know.  I could try "harder" to make this work.  I could ignore the ways he annoys me, stand up for myself when he abuses me and settle for a less than happy life with a man who is almost perfect for me.  But, in order to keep the peace in my house, I basically have to treat him like another child of mine, a very young child mind you. That is true. If you can do this, more power to you. Most women begin to get physically as well as mentally sick after a while.

As I write this, I see that the only way to have a happier life with him is to become MORE codependent and keep him happy. The never-ending cycle. That would make for a happier life with him, and a happier life for Cara in the short run, but definitely not a happy life for me. Yes.

Now, I look 30 years in the future to Cara's life and the choices she has to make.  If I stay in a codependent marriage, will she be unconsciously "set-up" to find an abusive husband the way I did because my mother was not aware of what was happening to her? It is likely. She is likely to either grow up codependent like mom, or angry like dad - since those are the two people who teach her everything she knows about relationships, family, and love. The healthier you get, and the healthier dad gets, the healthier Cara is likely to turn out, biology aside (nature/nurture - our best guess is 50/50).

 I do not want that for her.  And I do not want her growing up in a house where she sees it is okay to take advantage of and abuse women.  Even if I "call" him on it every time, she will still be exposed to the pattern on a continual basis.  So, finally, my question: I can handle my daughter being angry with me.  I know that if she sees that I love her consistently and am there for her that she will be confident in my love for her.  I can handle it if she hates me (for a while at least) because I know that she will have her own feelings to deal with as she grows up and takes responsibility for herself.  What I fear is that she will think I am selfish for leaving her father.  Is that silly?  Yes. More codependent stuff. You need to work on not feeling guilty about being self-caring! Loving yourself and taking care of yourself is good healthy stuff any parent would want to teach their child!

I'm secure in almost all the negative feelings she could have for me except that.  Is is a "woman" thing? Its a codependent thing. Take a look at Melodie Beattie's Codependent No More. She writes about the partner's of alcoholics - just substitute whatever problem you live with for "alcohol" and everything applies. You are used to putting yourself at the bottom of the list - when you should be at the top!

 Do I just fear being the "selfish monster" because that is one of the worst, most denigrating things you can say about a woman?  After all, if we are supposed be "good" and "kind" and never "bitchy", then the last thing in the universe we are supposed to be is "selfish".  [I know I could be a rich woman right now if I bet a million dollars that my husband does not, and never will, have this fear!!] Isn't that terrible? Codependency training is part of many women's cultural training, I think. Anyway, stop thinking of it in terms of "selfishness" and start thinking "self-caring." Stuff you want to teach your kid.

Anyway, I am a smarter woman now that I have written you this email.  It is amazing how much we can help ourselves when we get out all the junk in our heads and look at it in black and white.  If anyone else were writing this note, I would know exactly what to say.  Now, I just have to listen to myself. You bet! That is one of my biggest messages: You are the best expert on yourself. You have all the answers. Only you.

Okay, my final request.  Any advice for women who know that they are going to leave, but cannot leave quite yet because they have to "set things up" in order to protect themselves?  I have to wait 6 months before I take any legal action.  The reason I know what I have to do is that I spent 2 hours with a lawyer already - money well spent. Good work!  But, he is driving me crazy.  I am not prepared to tell him yet that I want out for good. I do not want to have sex with him (always an issue), and I am trying to keep busy, but it is so difficult to hide my disappointment that our relationship is falling apart.  How can I "put on a happy face" until I am in a better position to help myself? No easy answer. You must weigh the pros and cons and the probability of success of any plan. The only advice I can offer: use your head, not your heart, and for the most part, you seem to be. Know you are hanging out because it is part of your plan, and your plan is well thought out from what I can tell. (Specifics are omitted to preserve anonymity.) You are doing very well...taking your power and caring for yourself.

Thanks again for your site, and thanks in advance if you happen to answer any part of this letter.

Young Mom

P.S. Please do not reply to my email address.  I cannot take any chances on him finding out my plans right now.  OK.  

And my best wishes to you,  -Dr. Irene