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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

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

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Which One is the Abuser?

Which One is the Abuser?

"He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens 
our skill. Our antagonist is our helper." -Edmund Burke

July 23,2000


      I need to understand something.  I am currently going through the beginning processes of separation and divorce. I'm sorry... My wife and I fought all of the time. At the beginning of our marriage when we would argue and tell me that I was a sorry excuse for a husband, that I was worthless and that I was nothing, along with other expressive metaphors, I would play peacemaker. I would apologize and try to make it up to her, even though sometimes, I didn't know what "it" was. I thought the tearing into me would stop, but after a few months, when it didn't, I began to fight back. 

Everything that she called me, I called her right back, and then some. Oooops! Bad fight-back strategy. I never enjoyed those confrontations and went out of my way to avoid them, but I was determined if she started an argument, I would either finish it or put up a good front. This backfired on me however. Even when she clearly starts in on me, when I tell her to leave me alone and that I don't want to fight, she calls me a name and I decide to give a return tongue lashing - she begins to cry and say that I am verbally abusing her. You are. But she is also verbally abusing you.

She says that what she says to me is because I made her mad NO! She can let you make her mad, but she has to take responsibility for the poor way she handles her anger., but that what I say to her is because I hate her and am a mean person. She is telling you that she doesn't mean it, while you do. What difference does it make when, in fact, both of you had been behaving abominably. I never considered myself a mean person, but I never considered myself a wimp either, and my conscience is telling me that I am being cruel to her, but I can't help but to remember that 95% of the fights that we have had started with me being in another room and her coming in calling me names or speaking to me like I had offended her in some way that I knew nothing of. Good conscience. 

When I would try to just say I'm sorry and let it go, she starts belittling me, when I try to tell her I don't want to fight and walk away, she blocks the door and steals my keys so I have to stay and listen to the abuse. None of this is OK and your wife has to understand that. By the same token, perhaps she has reasons why she feels she has to block your exit. Are you "unable" to find the time to talk with her? Do you remain silent and shut her out, etc. But when I fight back, she would try to argue as long as she could and when she saw that I wouldn't quit until she did, she would threaten to expose this argument to our community and our church so that they would know what type of person I "really" was, or she would cry. I would feel guilty Had you "behaved," you would have no reason to feel guilty!, and she would apologize because she knew in turn I would apologize to her, then she would initiate intimacy. This is a sick way to carry on a relationship.

I would be left totally confused and feeling down because I was just cruel to someone I said that I loved, but she would be seemingly happy that I had just lost my temper. I said all of that to ask this, Am I an abuser? I don't want to make the excuse that she provoked me because that seems so lame Correct , because I could have chosen not to fight back and it would have been over a few minutes later. Even when we weren't fighting, I was constantly trying to think of things to say to counter what she might say in an argument and that doesn't seem healthy. I have been married for 4 hellish years and it is finally over but before I move on I have to know, is there something wrong with me that could damage someone if I decide to delve into romance again (which won't be for a very long time)?

Help me please, Gary

Dear Gary, I can't really tell what's going on here. Your wife is certainly behaving in a verbally abusive manner; so are you. It is clear to me that neither of you know what to do with your anger, or how to express it. Does that make you an abuser, or for that matter, does that make either of you an abuser? No. You are just both behaving abusively. Abuse is about control in a relationship where the balance of power is uneven. The balance of power in this relationship seems pretty balanced from what you say. One of the best ways to figure out what's going on in terms of abuse, or anything else really, is to ask both parties to stop acting out. Even if only one person complies, things become so much clearer... Try it!

Will you "damage" someone in another relationship? I don't know enough to comment. But, do yourself a favor and learn how to speak assertively and express yourself effectively. Insist your partner do same; you'll save yourself a lot of heartache.

Take a look at some of these excellent titles. They will help you express yourself more responsibly:

Tongue Fu! How to Deflect, , Disarm, and Defuse any Verbal Conflict by Sam Horn

Ellis et al, How to Control Your Anger Before it Controls You 

The Other Side of Love, Handling Anger in A Godly Way by Gary Chapman

Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No by Jean Baer and Herbert Fensterheim.

Your Perfect Right by Alberti & Emmons

Grow Up!: How Taking Responsibility Can Make You A Happy Adult

My very best wishes, Dr. Irene


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