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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!

Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries

From: Ginger
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 1999 

Dear Dr. Irene,
(Dear Ginger,)

After 22 years of being verbally abused I moved to an apartment. (Good for you!) He admits that he abused me and says he is sorry and wants to stop. I told him that I will never live like that again. (Good! You don't have to.) When he told me some of it was my fault, I told him none of it was my fault and until he admitted what he did, we didn't stand a chance. I told him that I had never done anything to be treated like that. (Good! Great!)

He is trying. I can see that he is. I had told him when I moved that it was all up to him.  I was here and he could come over anytime he wanted to, but he was the one that had to stop being controlling etc. I am improving allot but still am not trusting of him even though I know he is trying. (You have no reason to be trusting at this point. Trust is earned.)

Is it possible for him to really change after all these years? Or is it more possible that he is waiting for me to let my defenses down? (He can change. If he really, really wants to, but I doubt that he has any clue what "changing" means. If he succeeds, it will be the hardest thing he ever did - but well worth the effort. In all likelihood, he does mean well and is sincerely trying, but it is unlikely that he will be able to keep it up. It is not that he is "waiting" for you to let your defenses down, but he is likely to start up again once you let your defenses down. He is unable to control himself and needs you to help him control his behavior by setting limits. He needs treatment by someone knowledgeable in domestic violence. By the way, he would probably disagree with almost everything I just said.)

In our 22 years I could count on one hand the times we did anything alone.  I moved away from my family to this State when we married. In 20+ years we visited my family only 2 times. It was always some excuse: the car didn't work or we didn't have the money. I was sick allot due to allergies and other problems. He always said sickness is in the mind (Yeah, his!). He drank when we first got married. When he stopped, he started to work, and that's all he ever had time for (give him some credit; work addiction is better than drinking). He never went to one Teachers meeting, or school play for our kids. He belittled my job and family. He never remembered my birthday, anniversary, or Christmas. He said I wasn't his mother. And at Christmas he said, "Oh I'm sorry Honey. I didn't have a chance to go to the store." Nor did he ever take the kids to buy me anything. When the kids got older and started doing it on their own, he started giving me money. Oh, I take it back. One time he bought me a box of candy and leg warmers for Christmas. He made me feel I was selfish for feeling bad. (At least now you know who has been the selfish one.) I tried to explain that it wasn't the gift, it was knowing that someone you loved didn't love you enough to think of you.  (I know it feels like he didn’t love you, but, in fact, I am sure he loves you as much as he is capable of loving anyone. You cannot love when you cannot trust.)

This list could go on and on. If it hadn't been for my health, I believe I would've been strong enough to leave years ago. When the kids finally left home, it was easier. I am giving him every chance to prove himself, even though I ask myself, "Why?"  Is it because after all those years I still am not healed enough to just say it? (Maybe you really love him but are too hurt and angry to feel it.)

When I left, I told him that we had to be friends before we could have anything at all. (Good! A marriage is about friendship.) He asked if there was any chance at all. I told him maybe. But one thing for sure was that I was not moving back into that house and the mold with my health like this. (Yes, Yes Yes!) He is totally remodeling the house and has said that if I still can't live in it, we can buy a house that I can live in. (Yes, Yes, Yes!)

What bothers me is: What if he really does change and I do go back but find that I was hurt too deep by him and would rather have him as a friend. (If he has hurt you that much, he has to accept that fact and the fact that you are only able to care for him as a friend. Period. End of story. If he is  truly able to accept that (What acceptance and lack of control!), you just might fall in love with him all over again.)

He was getting very mad when I  went with friends, since I left. (Too bad; tough noogies.) I never even went before. I told him that I will not put up with his controlling attitude. (You bet!) I had surgery a couple weeks ago and haven't went anyplace so he has been fine. Now I will see how he is when I start again. I don't go out drinking, etc. Two female friends and I went to dinner and played pool. I was gone 3 hrs. and he wouldn't talk to me for 3 days, even though he was ok with me going before I went. (When he doesn’t talk to you for days, why do you keep him around? Throw him out until he "gets" it!) Can a Man really get over that kind of stuff? (He needs professional help.)

He has been spending the nights here with me. We sleep in the same bed but do not have sex. I told him that I feel like the sex takes away from solving our real problems. He said he is OK with that. He paid for plane tickets to my sister's for us and we are going. He is doing everything that I have always wanted to do. I just don't think it will last. (It probably won’t if you let your guard down. You need to protect your space constantly and draw firm boundaries in terms of what you will put up with. I know this feels unnatural, but, just think of it as learning new skills. The more you impose self-protection and boundaries, the easier it becomes to do and the more natural it feels.)

It doesn't seem possible for some one to change so completely so fast. Is there any tell tale signs I can look for? I am confused but determined not to live like that anymore. In fact I won't live like that. I am planning a 3 day trip to see a friend. I guess I will see how he takes that. (Do not give him many options. He accepts your decisions, or he takes a hike.) Thanks for letting me sound off.  Ginger


You have gotten off to an excellent start. You are right to be suspicious; he will not change quickly. The changes you see now are the result of the limits that you have imposed. He has respect for you instead of contempt. You have imposed limits that he cannot impose upon himself yet. In so doing, you have also provided emotional distance that he feels safer with.

The changes you are making in yourself are good changes and long overdue. Keep it up! You need to impose boundaries. You need to tolerate absolutely NO disrespect. In time, you will become more and more aware of the many ways that you have allowed yourself to be disrespected. Then you can put a stop to those ways too. This is your therapy as well. Keep it up. In time, it will feel "normal" to take good care of yourself.

Your part is easy. His part is much harder. He has to own his selfishness, his opportunism, his lies,  self-hatred, his inability to forgive, his inability to trust anyone - his inability to trust himself. He cannot trust himself because he has virtually no control over his impulses and has no clue what he may do when angry. This is why you must impose limits for him, at least for now.

It is almost certain that if you go back to your old ways, so will he. So, you both need to change. To maximize the probability of success, get him into treatment (insist he go!) with someone knowledgeable in domestic violence – and join them as need be, or as per your therapist's suggestions. Try a referral from a battered woman’s shelter. Getting an appropriate clinician is very important -   otherwise he is likely to fool the therapist.

You know the signs of slippage better than anybody. You have lived through the deceit and rationalizations. Put your foot down immediately as soon as you notice anything you don't like. Trust yourself. Tolerate no disrespect. Don't worry about being too tough or not giving him the benefit of the doubt at this stage - giving it won't help him.

Good luck to you. So far, you’re batting 1000!   Dr. Irene