The Doc Answers 17

The Doc's Answers 17


Saturday September 27, 2003
11:43 AM

I'm 3 months pregnant, married for 3.5 years, known him for 5 years. My 2nd marriage, his first. Early in our relationship, he displayed anger issues (pushing, throwing, yelling profanity, threatening to hit me etc, yelling profanity at other drivers -- even women); sex/controlling issues (forcefulness against my wishes); stress issues (symptoms arise when work is stressful); self-confidence issues (always thinking he's going to be fired, wary of being sole bread winner with a family). His father's anger was the same. His mother "took it" and hid it from everyone (i.e.. "closed the windows so neighbors wouldn't hear"). Now in his 60's, he still screams at other drivers with such a demeaning tone, it's sickening. They've been married 40 years, which my husband takes pride in. His mother never has a conflicting opinion or a negative thing to say - NEVER! Arguments are never one sided.

I've said or done something that he doesn't agree with. But instead of resolving it, walking away, or agreeing to disagree (any of which I'd settle for), it escalates into a name-calling shouting match (one-sided, until I've had enough and yell back for him to stop). He has said that I have issues - not affectionate enough, negative, depression (I try to address these, but sometimes I fall short) - and tells me to get therapy. So each time, I see a counselor. After a few months, I am "finished" according to the therapist with nothing further to accomplish without him. I've asked him to go. He never does.

Then, he's back on good behavior... we get another 3 months of solace.... until the next incident. During those 3 months, his actions are generally in the "bell curve" of behavior and I do enjoy being with him. We just had another blow up. Same symptoms. I don't want to fall into the "abused wife with kids and no job" category. (I've stopped working my high paying job, which we both decided). I'm planning to call a lawyer on Monday, without discussing this with him when he gets back (he always "leaves" after fights). I am not weepy or scared of not having him, as in the past. I'm self-confident and mentally strong. I'm ready to consider raising the child on my own. Is there any advice that you can give me on anything? I'd like to consider all angles. 

It seems that you are pretty clear on the poor prognosis of your marriage as things stand now. If you could be like his mom, you would probably stay married. But if you are yourself (i.e., healthier, more knowledgeable about abuse, and with better life opportunities, including income history), you are likely to divorce. As I read through your letter, I wondered why you married such a problematic individual in the first place...

Good for you for contacting an attorney. Try to get your job/ or similar back as soon as you can. Get on with your life and raise your child in an atmosphere that doesn't model abuse. You've already witnessed your husband's "pattern," several times in fact, and it's not a good one.

Keep in mind that once he realizes that you are leaving, he is likely to go back to good behavior, perhaps going further in a good direction than he has before. Don't be lulled into believing it is real. "Real" takes time. Sometimes forever. Sometimes never.

Your husband will need professional help to change. And so will you, whether you stay or leave. Either way, you need to sort through all this. If you stay you will need particular help to remain focused on not putting up with crazy behavior, to help you not get lulled into complacency; to help you deal with the angry and other feelings you must have towards him. 

Good luck to you. Doc

Thursday October 09, 2003
09:36 AM

Hi Dr. Irene, I need help standing up to my husband, a program to get my life back. I have been suffering from depression or/and CFS for yrs and I suspect it's because my marriage is in a toxic state. I am in the Critical Part of your chart. My husband tells me I don't say things "right". But he calls me names constantly. He needs sex daily, or he threatens divorce. Hmmmm, I wonder what would happen if you were to take him up on his threat? Or to get "it" somewhere else. He claims that's just a fact, not a threat or controlling gesture. It don't matter if I am tired, or sick. He starts projects and don't finish them. then it's my fault because I interrupted him, so (3 yrs later) that's why it's not done. He wants to be in charge, but doesn't follow thru. Like take over the checkbook, paying bills. Threatens, but never does anything different. He never deals with anything when he needs to, and anything I say "is telling him what to do" so he digs in, throws a tantrum, and nothing gets done. If I share something personal with him, he throws it in my face when we argue. I am a SAHM. 2 beautiful children who deserve better. He doesn't discipline either, but plans fun activities, and undermines my attempts at parenting, if it conflicts with what he wants. I need a program to stand up to him, I know that when I am strong, things get worse. When I get the attitude I am not taking anymore sh*t, he gets really crazy then, so I withdraw because it gets too painful. But I want to try this again and succeed. Any suggestions, books?? His excuse for everything is he works...and he does work alot of hours, and is building/remodeling at home. I say it's his responsibility to get enough sleep, and take care of himself. Of course to say that causes a fight...... help and thanks!!  Oh boy... Lots of issues here. Sounds like a no win for you. You want a program to get your life back? OK, here goes: leave him. Why? Because you are by your own report physically ill, are putting up with sexual activity you don't want, are the "sponge for blame" in your marriage,  continually have your child discipline undermined... Need I go on? Why are you in this marriage when your body is telling you that it is very unhappy? (Yes, I know all the reasons: finances, kids having a dad, fear, sometimes he's ok, etc.)

I also know that if you were able to get out, you would have been out already, and would not be asking for advice. So, assuming you two have tried marital therapy already, my very best advise is for you to find your own therapist to help you deal with this very painful issue. If you need a few books to help you get into a more knowledgeable frame of mind, consider these selections: (Also look on The Book Shelf)

bullet The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by (The Father of Cognitive Therapy) Albert Ellis et al.
bullet Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.
bullet When Love Goes Wrong: What To Do When You can't do anything Right by Susan Schlecter and Ann Jones.
bullet No Visible Wounds: Identifying nonphysical abuse of women by their men by Mary Susan Miller.

Don't kid yourself on this one. You will need some help. Get yourself a good therapist you can work with.

My warmest regards, Dr. Irene

Monday October 20, 2003
02:28 PM

Doc, It's been 3 months since I wrote and you responded with answers to help my verbally abused friend. Once again, I am trying to figure out what's going on knowing the answers are not simple and every situation is so different. Today, we were talking about all the chaos she lives with and the power this chaos has over her. She constantly responds to his "made up" misery, lies and abuse. Her goals appear to be appeasement and survival without full acceptance of the damage his abuse has done to herself and her children. You have said this power and submissiveness is the result of fear or the helpless feeling of accepting there are no other choices. After talking with her I feel a different emotion and would like your response. After 24 years she still feels sorry for him. She has said feeling sorry for him helps her cope. By focusing on his issues, she does not have to deal with her own... She feels guilty and accepts all the blame for his actions. Is it possible she has become his "caregiver"? Certainly sounds that way. This is a verrrry codependent lady. Or depressed. Or personality disordered. Has her life been reduced to survival and appeasement? Perhaps. She told me the story about a prisoner who was in prison for his whole life and when he was finally free killed himself because he could not survive. Yes... How do you change the doubts about surviving without him to doubts about surviving with him if she wants to be his "caregiver? Thank you. If she wants to be his caregiver, she wants to be his caregiver. Most codependent individuals, when armed with knowledge begin to claim their personal power.  Some don't. Why not? Sometimes the dependency is too ingrained in the personality (personality disorder). Sometimes there is an anxiety disorder or a depression that needs treatment before change can occur. Sometimes the individual does not have the intellectual resources to comprehend the consequences. Sometimes the fear and intimidation is too great and the support resources (like money and emotional support) too few. Sometimes old habits are just too tough to change. Sometimes it takes a looooong time to adjust to the idea of change. Etc. It would be hard to know exactly why your friend is where she is without being able to interview her. 

My question to you: Why do you care soooo much? Are you in love with her? Have you created your own fantasy about what life would be like for you with this woman? What is going on inside of you - that makes this woman's plight important enough to spend $25 on this board, more than once, in order to help her? By focusing so much on her, could you be overlooking the issues in your own life - as, by focusing on him, she is overlooking the issues in her own life?

Never, ever lose sight of the fact that the only person who can help the Self - is the Self.  Free will.

And, just in case her plight is not an over-riding concern for you, and you are just a caring person who is curious and who wants to help, and whose life would not be affected one way or the other should she stay with or leave this man, ignore "My question to" you. Instead, begin to understand the WHYS yourself. Read a few books about abused women and their relationship to their men. Since I don't know exactly why she stays, I've given you the titles of books that would address her issues from different perspectives.

bullet The Battered Woman  by Lenore E. Walker.
bullet Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them : Breaking the Cycle of Physical and Emotional Abuse by Paul Hegstrom
bullet Beverly Engel's  The Emotionally Abused Woman.
bullet Facing Codependence : What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody.
bulletBeck & Freeman et al. Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders.

I hope this has been helpful. Dr. Irene

Tuesday October 28, 2003
07:51 PM

Dear Dr. Irene: Thanks for your answers to my questions in #16, second, third and fourth questions. I have been going to therapy, am on Celexa, and been working with the couple counselor, along with H, on his issues. Some of his issues have come out, and it sounds like he grew up in a violent home, with frequent humiliation and physical abuse of his mother by his father. No surprise there. I understand all of this, but frankly, at the pace he is going (he is still VERY closed off), I feel it will take decades before our marriage improves in a sustainable way. It probably will take a very long time. If ever.

I find myself hating him even when he thinks things are going well. He still constantly criticizes me, corrects me, rescues our daughter from my "incompetence," orders me around. Have you talked about this in counseling? Insist on an agreement: when he criticizes you, corrects you, rescues your child, or orders you around, let him know you are going to say, "STOP!"

When angry (which he frequently is, with me, with others), it seems his personality switches into complete hatred, with no compassion, out to destroy and humiliate completely. I find I do not want to work on our problems any longer. The last thing was: he slammed the door in my face because I was "nagging," shoved me a number of times to prevent me from holding my baby, and when I told him to stop shoving me, he did it again forcefully. Ouchhh! I don't want to go through this. I understand he had a terrible childhood, but I am coming to conclusion he doesn't want to help himself. I find no joy in my life with him, and curse myself for having picked him. OK, I got it. You have tried enough, are fed up, and now you know that you want out. Given what you've posted, your feelings are entirely understandable.

Yet when I think of leaving him, I get scared of: not having enough money (I make plenty now), being so depressed I won't be able to work, being so preoccupied with the divorce I won't be able to function, having to put up with his abuse regarding custody of my daughter, etc, etc. In short, it seems to be I am staying because I lack the confidence to leave, not because I want to stay. How do I overcome this???

Very few women who have left abusive husbands did so with confidence. Most women worry about money, though that is not directly your greatest concern. You seem much more concerned about remaining functional in general once you're out. 

Fear is normal under abuse circumstances. Abuse undermines your self-confidence. Plus, if you've ever had a severe depressive episode which had left you dysfunctional for an extended period of time in the past, it's natural that you would worry about a repeat episode which might render you dysfunctional in the future. If you have had such an episode, were you medicated then? Were you taking the correct meds for your body? Are you doing well with the Celexa now or do you need to adjust your dose/meds to better contain your current symptoms? If you are not being medicated by a psychiatrist, seriously consider finding one of these medication specialists. They can offer you many more options than an internist or gynecologist, whose specialties lie elsewhere.

Do you have your own therapist now? If not, get one. You are going to need the support. Hopefully you also have the support of some friends and some family members. Ideally you've contacted a support group. Do you have your plan? For example, have you have consulted with an attorney to understand your legal rights and responsibilities; do you have an idea of where you will live and how your childcare will be arranged; do you have enough money to get started, etc.

Got all these pieces in place? Still scared? Well, guess what? You are in good company! Of course you are afraid! Most people facing uncertainty are! Just read this site. You cannot feel confident that you will remain functional once you are out until you are out and you see yourself remaining functional!  That's just the way it goes. So, get all the pieces in place to stack the deck in your favor. Then the next time the iron strikes, you'll be able to - move out of its way!

Good luck to you! Dr. Irene

Tuesday November 11, 2003
12:13 AM

Dr. Irene: I believe that I am involved with an emotionally unavailable and unstable person. Here’s the Readers Digest version of our history... We met over the internet about 1.5 years ago. He failed to tell me at the time, that he was a “Christian”, during the first 4 months that we were dating. Once he disclosed this information, he proceeded to tell me that he could not marry me, unless I became a Christian*. I have always believed in God, however, he told me that we could not continue our relationship unless I was “saved”. Like many individuals who do not understand Christian fundamentalism, I become “saved”** in order to “save” our relationship, or so I thought. It turned out to be a funny play on words…

Once, I made this decision, he pulled up stakes and decided to leave town**. He claimed that he wanted to spend some time with his son in another state. My beepers went off and I thought that possibly he was running from something. After many conversations, he disclosed that the IRS was looking for him*. Three months passed, and many conversations, I urged him to hire an attorney to resolve his issues. He informed me that he did just that. He came back to the state three months later, and decided to move about 2.0 hours away from me to “restart his business”. In the meantime, I had a breast cancer scare and the disappearing act surfaced again**. This time, he told me that he couldn’t handle that I was so dependent on him and he suggested that we take a “break”***. I am 40 years old, and have never been married and have heard this scenario time and time again (repeat behavior!). Each time that a man has ever told me that he wanted some space ultimately ended up with him doing a slow exit. Things improved once I attempted to establish my boundaries and stated that if he didn’t want to be in my life, he needed to tell me so that I could move on. The situation improved, and we continued to see each other every weekend. Nevertheless, he refused to get a land line and our phone conversations during the week were limited, due to the fact that his cell phone service was limited*. Our lack of communication was an ongoing problem for me and he dismissed this as “something that I just had to deal with”**. We recently took a 2 week vacation and on the plane ride home, I asked him (out of the blue), what was going on with the IRS…He immediately shut me off* and told me not to worry about “those types of things”. Upon his departure from my house, the following morning, he advised me that we were getting on each other’s nerves and that he needed some space***. I asked him when we would see each other again (my abandonment issues) and he said in two weeks. Three weeks have passed and my conversations with him have been limited, as he fails to return phone calls****. We spoke today and I asked him about Thanksgiving and he said that he was sick of my sh@# and that I needed to stop telling him all about my feelings and that he just can’t deal with my stuff. I said that basically I would consider us broken up and was silent and then proceeded to say, “Why do you have to be such a bit##?****” I was floored, as he has never spoken to me, in this fashion. I retreated (as good co-dependents do) and asked why he was so angry with me. He stated I just can’t stand you right now”****. I am not in denial and would like to go back to see my therapist. However, my health plan is changing and I do not know if my therapist will be part of my network, hence, I am writing to you in the interim. I am anxiously awaiting your response.

I don't mean to sound awful, but what are you thinking? You might as well plaster an "I'm selling mySelf out" sign on your forehead! What are you doing with this guy? At just about each and every juncture*, you neglected to take care of yourSelf! Every * above indicates where I think were not true to yourSelf.

The only person in the whole world who can take care of you - is you! Notice how he (at least temporarily) shaped up when you demonstrated that you had boundaries? Well, that's how it works. You need to practice maintaining yourSelf and your boundaries and taking your Personal Power ALL THE TIME. Practicing keeping your boundaries has to become so over-learned for you, it eventually becomes as natural as breathing. Practice, practice, practice! It's only difficult and requires thought as you're beginning to learn how to do it. Every situation you think you may have sold yourSelf out on requires that you think about how you could have handled it differently if you had the opportunity to do it over. This puts you in a position to handle situations better in the future. For starters, think about how you could have handled all the *asterics* differently. Were you getting back roughly what you were putting in? Or were the scales very imbalanced?

This guy may be too far gone for any partner in terms of his intimacy allergy, but there are other men out there who are not out in left field. Learn to respect yourSelf, take care of yourSelf, not compromise yourSelf, and watch what can happen: they'll be attracted to you like flies are to sugar! (We can't help but respect and admire the individual with a strong sense of Self!)

Between now and the time you get settled with a therapist, look at some of these titles. They will help you claim your God-given Personal Power and help you take charge of your personal boundaries:

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

Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You   by Dr. Susan Forward and Donna Frazier.

Boundary Power : How I Treat You, How I Let You Treat Me, How I Treat Myself by Mike S. O'Neil & Charles E., Jr. Newbold

Better Boundaries : Owning and Treasuring Your Life by Jan Black and Greg Enns

Living in the Comfort Zone : The Gift of Boundaries in Relationships by Rokelle Lerner.

Good luck to you! Dr. Irene