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Is This Verbal Abuse?

From: Paloma
Sent: Sunday, July 11, 1999 4:13 PM
Dear Dr. Irene,

I am deaf  and just got married a few months ago to a deaf guy that I have been going out for the last three and half years. Sometimes I think that he is too blunt for me, especially when we argue. He always tells me what is on his mind (that I am not doing enough for him)  when I tell him that I do not feel comfortable doing what he wants me to do for him. What does he want you to do? Sometimes he makes me feel bad or guilty by saying that he would do things for me that I didn't feel comfortable doing for him. Nobody can "make" you feel anything. You feel guilty or bad because you choose to take responsibility for him.
It is NEVER OK to do anything you are not comfortable doing! If your husband wants to do things that he is uncomfortable doing for you, that is his prerogative. I would suggest to both of you that you only do things you each feel OK with.

I have been seeing a therapist because I was really confused about getting married so quickly. Good.
(Three and a half years is quickly?)
But I am finally getting used to the idea of being married. It takes time to adjust, even under the best of circumstances! I still feel guilty or bad when he tells me to be "nice" or "that he is just trying to help." I am sure he is trying to be helpful... when I don't want his advice or opinion on how I do things. Do you feel badly because of the way you've treated him or because you did not follow his advice?...Does he understand that his advice or opinion must either be solicited by you, or just mentioned once or twice by him? (More than that and it borders on control, where he is trying to direct your life since he thinks he can do a better job than you can. Not OK.) It is your responsibility to get him to understand that when you want to hear it, you will ask for it.
For example, when I was driving on the freeway, and got stuck behind a few cars that got on the freeway from the exit. My husband told me to move in the next lane. I refused because I felt pressured to move at the last minute. OK. I just remained in the lane, slowing down behind the cars. I then told him to let me drive and not give me advice because it only made me feel pressured or nervous. Good. Your husband's behavior is where we get the term "backseat driver" from - it's tough...
He just told me to "be nice" to him since he was just trying to help. Yes. What you said could be expressed politely and respectfully.
Thank him for the help, and be "nice," i.e., respectful in your body language, tone of "voice" and choice of words, but explain to him that his advice is only helpful when he respects your option to disregard it. 
 I felt bad because I was trying to tell him for the thousandth time that
I did not like advice or his opinion on how to do things his way. Especially when you are in a tense situation while driving!
Still, it sounds as though you may need to clean up your act a bit. He IS trying to help - from his perspective, even if you experience it as control. Try to understand that. There is no reason to act angrily (You can be angry without expressing it angrily.) If indeed all he is doing is trying to help, hear him out...but there is also no reason to listen to his input if you are not comfortable with the content, delivery, or timing of his suggestions. If he gets mad when you don't take his advice, make it crystal clear that while you appreciate his "thoughtfulness," ultimately, he must accept whatever you choose to do with his advice - or not.
I can go on and on but that is one of the examples of how he behaves towards me when I tell him that I would not deal with it or let him talk to me like that. Talk to you like what? Is his communication disrespectful?

I am not sure if it is verbal abuse but I sure do feel bad or guilty when I tell him that he is too  blunt with me.
I'm not sure it is abuse either. Nor am I sure I know you mean by "too blunt." Nor can I tell if he is upset with your attitude towards him or with your unwillingness to listen to him. This is an important distinction:

It would be disrespectful and controlling if your husband assumed that you have an obligation to do it his way and gets angry when you do not. You probably are being disrespectful since you've had it with his "help." (You know, some of what he suggests may really be helpful - and you may be so angry with his "helpfulness" that you won't even consider what he has said.) Also, the world is not always clear cut. There may be many things going on: he is trying to be helpful;  you do anger him by your defiant reaction because you challenge his ego; you hurt him with your defiance and he gets angry;  he is being controlling and overly critical and cannot accept that you run your life and he runs his.  Many, many possibilities and too little information to narrow it down more.


Sometimes I feel that I am destined
to accept the way he is because the therapist I talked to said that it was just a personality difference between me and him. Why would that be so bad?
He is the way he is. You do have to accept it. That is not so bad, unless he is playing control games. In a good marriage, the partners respect their differences. Your job is to control yourself so that your anger doesn't eat you up. Sounds like you may have a bit of an issue with people telling you what to do. If so, clear this one up. If your husband is not a controller, things should improve dramatically.
I have told him some of the things that he said but the therapist said it is just his personality. I'm not sure I understand what "his personality" means. Has your therapist met your husband? Is your husband saying that you have to accept that he knows better? Is he saying that you should do what he wants you to do? Is he saying that he can't help  being helpful? Is he critical because he cannot control you, or is he critical because he feels diminished? 

What is not OK is for you to snap at him because you have being controlled issues. What is not OK is if he is unwilling to accept that you are your own person and will do what you will do.

I still feel a bit afraid of his temper How bad is his temper? because when we fight (we do not fight often) but when we do, he says its because of me not being happy or him trying to reason with me. I feel its my fault STOP! It takes two to tango... If you have not brought him to your therapist yet, do so now. and I tell him I just want someone to listen to me. Not to criticize me. Of course. That's what we all want and deserve.. He says nothing and then says sorry, but he still is blunt with his feelings as he always has been.
There is nothing wrong with being honest and even blunt with feelings. You may need to accept that is his style. What about his "bluntness" bothers you? Why not respect him enough to allow him to express what he feels, as long as his expression is respectful? What does he do when you do not comply? If he gets upset, is he upset because you did not comply or because you are being oppositional and angry towards him?

My suggestion: Print this out and bring it with you to therapy. See what you can do with it.

Good luck to you Paloma. Dr. Irene

Hi Dr. Irene,

Thanks for your helpful feedback. I will talk to my therapist next week about that car incident. My therapist told me that it was because I am the kind of person who does not like to confront other people because it is hard for me to be direct with them on what they have done to me.
Lack of assertive skills. You can cultivate these. On the other hand, my husband confronts me when I have done him wrong in an somewhat angry or impatient way. Good assertion skills assume that whatever is communicated respectfully. He may be direct, but he is not skillful in expressing himself. Sometimes he even sulks when I tell him that I can't do things for him, like telling him that I can't pick him up when he wants me to do because I need a break from driving and do not have enough money to pay for the gas. It makes me a little upset that he has to behave that way, but I ignore it. He doesn't have to behave that way. He can learn not to.

But I show my anger only when he makes a face or shows impatience, just like my father did with me. I guess it is because my father treated me the same way (but he called me stupid and came to long rambling explanations of what I did wrong) when I was a child, and he would get angry at me when I did not do things right. So seeing my husband's reaction was like seeing my father at times.
It is good that you see  your baggage - reacting to present events as though they were painful past events. I have told my husband that, and to show more patience with me when I do not do things right. He knows that, but sometimes he admits to me it is in his nature to be blunt to teach others a lesson or to avoid conflict. Huh? How do you teach others a lesson in order to avoid conflict? But, I have noticed some improvement in him since we started going out three and half years ago because he had learned how to be more sensitive from me and his older sister. Good! So, you are right about me not liking being told what to do. I believe in letting other people do what they like because they have that right. I know that my husband is trying to be helpful, but he reacts in an impatient way that it makes me feel defensive. But how does your husband react if you do not take his advice?

I will continue to see my therapist and talk to him more about how my husband reminds me of my father at times. I have told him about it a bit the last time so he wants to talk with me about it the next time.
Good. I just wanted to get some feedback to learn more about what verbal abuse is like since I was sometimes put down or criticized by my father. Verbal abuse is primarily about control. That's why I keep asking how he reacts if you do not take his advice. I have forgiven him, but occasionally its a bit hard. I do keep in touch with my father and we have a much better relationship than before.  He has even admitted to me that he was not a good father to me and my sister, and I told him not to worry about it. Before you forgive him, did you allow yourself the luxury of being angry with him? I just sometimes don't know why I get defensive when my husband tries to help me, but I think its just because his attitude reminds me of my father's. Could be. I am sure with some more therapy, I will find out some answers about myself and my husband. Thank you for your advice and feedback! Good luck!