Dear Doc I really don’t know where to begin, or if I really have a question. I have been involved with a man for over two years. He pulls me in, he lets me go. He has a list of “ten things I hate about you.” He can’t have sex with me because there is something wrong with each of my orifices. He does enjoy his bj’s, demeaning, sterile sex. My journal, spanning a year, bitches about this man. In public he ignores me. I make a fool of myself by throwing tantrums, his boss thinks I am insane. The only time he really wants anything to do with me is when he is drunk, so he can tell me how flawed I am.
In the meantime I have watched him show great compassion and caring to other women. He tells me of all the wonderful conversations he has with them, they show up at the “box” wanting to rip his pants off, he invites them for day long bike rides, etc, but “nothing ever happens.” In the meantime I sit at home each weekend. We averaged sex twice per month, he never kissed or showed affection, but yet I am responsible for his life.
I am responsible for his bills, his hunger, his work load, his house. We “broke up”, but our relationship was the same as before. Two hours on Saturday a.m. Recently, we were lying in bed after sex (always anal, never vaginal, that orifice is too imperfect) he tells me he is having some woman from Florida come to stay with him (a roommate of a friend). After I thought about it, I went crazy. Then I found out there were others besides this woman. I feel like such a fool. But, the thing is, I would go up to see him if he invited me.
What IS WRONG WITH ME?? I sent him off some vicious e-mails and text messages. I am insane and he is going to get a restraining order. I feel guilty. I feel like such a fool. What is the gig?
What is wrong with you? You're not listening to your own better judgment, to put it one way. If you did, you would have nothing to do with this man, you would not be throwing tantrums or having sex with him, spending time with him - or anything else with him! There would be no reason for you to feel guilty or foolish!
I'll put it another way as well: You've given him all of your Personal Power. You are allowing him to mistreat you because you choose - yes, choose - to continue your relationship with him. Do you understand that he cannot, repeat: cannot, hurt you if you refuse to have anything to do with him?
Each and every time you choose to interact with him - in any way - you are choosing to hurt yourself. Ouchhh!!!
Now, I know you are going to tell me something like, But I can't help it!" And to that, I say, "Nonsense!"
Only YOU are in charge of you. If you feel truly unable to control yourself with respect to him, or have tried to stay away and failed, please, get some professional help! Otherwise, by default, you will continue to choose to hurt yourself this way. If you're already in treatment, stay there; this could take time.
On the other hand, if you're feeling helpless and refuse to get professional help, don't complain. You'll get exactly what you're asking for. And that's no fun. :( Good luck to you, and go get some help - or hang in there if you're already in treatment. Dr. Irene
Sunday February 22, 2004
Dr Irene, My girlfriend is an intelligent and attractive woman. Her friends and coworkers admire her charm, beauty and intelligence as well. She tells me constantly. She is a mother to four children, two daughters (twins) in their early twenties, one daughter age eighteen and a son who is six years old. She is very involved in her sons’ life, as she should be, but she is also very involved, maybe overly involved, with the two oldest daughters.
I thought she and I were very much in love with each other. She expressed her feelings and love very well I thought and the importance of communication and conflict resolution.
When we first met I was showered with love and affection. It slowly started to fade. And I was blamed for it: More recently when we did get together (or plan on getting together) I would often find out only then, that some critical aspect of her (our) plans had changed. Whatever the reason it was always the same; I didn’t ask or I wasn’t listening or I just found out.
Within reason these are all legitimate, but this turned into a pattern. I got the feeling I couldn’t do or say anything right. I felt frustrated, upset, as it was always my fault. I don't understand how changing plans is anybody's "fault." Changes often just "happen," and you aren't the first or last guy in the world that didn't ask or wasn't listing! Pretty normal stuff, I think, especially when kids are involved. Certainly no reason for fault. It was becoming a take it or leave it kind of attitude. And I began to reflect this in kind. So, if I understand, you got upset her attitude towards you seemed more casual than you were used to and began to treat her similarly. Not OK.
We forgot we loved each other. I'm sorry... She backed away from the relationship saying only that she could not put up with the mean spirited and sometimes embarrassing things I would say to her and in front of others. This is factually true – with her. I readily admitted it and apologized for my behavior and explained that I needed to, and would work on changing that. While I don't doubt your sincerity, the problem is, when this stuff happens over and over, apologies get old... She needed time alone to work through her pain and hurt and refused to talk about it -promising that soon she would - be patient.
I have been, I think…it’s been over two months and all she is willing do right now is, in her own words, chit-chat through e-mail…uggggg! She says she’s still hurt and angry. The verbal abuse / victim patterns / narcissism are you describe on your site are frightening and present on both sides of the relationship. What is really happening here? Help! You are describing a complex relationship and asking a complex question in a forum designed for a asking a specific question, but I'll do my best to help you. I see that you can't understand what her problem is. It makes no sense to you that if you guys are supposedly in love, that it's taking her so long to get her head together.
I appreciate your frustration and I understand that her behavior is not making much sense to you. If it were you, you'd handle it much differently. Problem is, it's not about you! This is hers. If she is still hurt and angry, you have no sane choice other than to accept that she is still hurt and angry! It doesn't have to make any sense to you, and you need not understand her position at all. You do need to come to grips with the reality that, right or wrong, that's where she is, and it is purrrfectly OK for her to be there, whether you like it or not.
The person in charge here is the person setting the limits. Her limits are email only. You may want more, you may not understand, you may think she's dead wrong, you may think she's being unfair or abusive, you may think she doesn't understand, doesn't love you, whatever. But if she's put her limits out there, whether you agree with them or not, your job as a separate individual is to respect her limits or cease the relationship.
Respecting and accepting her limits means that you agree to play by her rules without needing to show her how hurt you are, or how awful it feels, or how unfair it is, etc. After all, nobody is twisting your arm to play by her rules! You can respect her position or leave the relationship if it is causing you too much pain. These are your sane choices.
And should you choose to hang in there and respect her space for a while to see where things go, I suggest you check your internal thinking. My guess is that there's lots of stuff running around in the back of your head to the effect of the unfairness of it all, etc. Pay attention and see if you can hear your implicit thoughts, the stuff in the back of your head. Chances are these thoughts are not only untrue, they are sabotaging your relationships.
I say that because if you were OK with what she's doing, you wouldn't be writing. And if you were not OK with what she's doing, you wouldn't be writing. But you would be writing if you were accepting her limits on the surface, yet bucking against them internally.
Check these selections out and pick one. I think they'll help you.
Good luck to you! Dr. Irene
Dr. Irene, I emailed you around 3 years ago. I am in a verbally abusive relationship with my husband. However, the relationship has improved over the years, although there are still occasional outbursts and name calling. For the most part I am happy. My inquiry may seem trivial, but it is heart wrenching to me. I don't think this inquiry is trivial at all.
Three weeks ago, an old girlfriend found my husband via the internet. She told him she is happy in her marriage, but has always had fond memories for him. They met 15 years ago when she was 17 and he was 19. It was a very meaningful relationship for both of them, one that has obviously not been forgotten. She played a significant part in helping him spiritually and inspiring him to go on a church mission. From reading their emails, they seem so connected and have EVERYTHING in common. Especially by way of conversation, ideas, music, books----you name it! They had stimulating conversations then and now. He has told her that he is grateful for the time he was able to love such a wonderful and intelligent person. She says she understands perfectly and feels the same. They talk about how there are different levels of love, their relationship is different now but still has “cerebral beauty.” She thinks it was inevitable to find each other again. They have probably emailed 5 times each, chatted twice and one phone call. I find this relationship entirely inappropriate and unfair to you.
He was upfront and honest with me when they started corresponding and even let me read some emails. These emails upset me. Of course. He says I am overreacting and twist every little word around. I think you are reacting normally, while your husband is out of line. He also says I am immature and making something that is innocent and good to be something bad. That is not true. Your husband is minimizing a tantalizing emotional affair. This is inappropriate behavior for married individuals. Over and over he assures me the correspondence is harmless. It's really not harmless. The strong emotional bond between two age-appropriate opposite sex partners is a dangerous liaison and is unfair to you, as well as to everyone else involved. The relationship between them, devoid of the day-to-day stresses of married life seems purrfect, and in stark contrast to married life. The other woman becomes idealized. You, next to her, fall further in stature. This is dangerous. His upbringing was hard, he had a mother who did drugs and dragged him around from one boyfriend to the next. So, he says he needs inspiring relationships in his life like this girlfriend offers him. Nonsense. He needs to grow up, accept that life dealt him what it did and make the best of it. He is a married man in a romantic flirtation with a married woman. It has been a trying marriage and he has some bad habits, he says I only see the bad in him. It seems he has demonstrated a bad side towards you. Are you supposed to he happy he is "emotionally involved?"
Seeing the way they correspond has showed me that I want this kind of relationship with him as well. It has also inspired him to want more quality of life. Well, I'm glad to hear there are some positive aspects! So, I have changed myself and made a more conscience effort in the marriage which has helped greatly. Excellent! He mentioned that he has felt happier since I have been trying harder. Good! However, he says he doesn’t like my reasoning for trying to change. I have made the changes out of jealousy, not love. I don't agree with his interpretation. It takes a great deal of love to look beyond one's jealousy and arrive at hope. You transformed a negative event into a positive. God bless you. Unfortunately, your husband sounds as though he is more interested in criticizing you than he is in enjoying your enhanced relationship and in rejoicing in his wife's love and devotion.
Now, for how I feel. If this hurts me so much, why does he do it? Because he is being immature and selfish, and you are allowing it to go on. Am I immature? Not at all. You've handled this situation with maturity and grace. Compared to her, honestly, I am pretty shallow. It is not my nature to be engaged in “stimulating conversation.” I am more fun loving. I wouldn't be so quick as to pronounce you the shallow one. Your actions have been anything but shallow.
But it drives me crazy that he is getting intellectual and emotional support from her. If he needs more in his life, join a book club or something else other than an old flame! Agreed. I feel like she is in my territory. Agreed. I think the more they correspond, the more intense the relationship. Exactly. I am not worried about an affair. But it hurts that she has a part of his heart in such a deep and meaningful way. That is what hurts the most. I will always wonder what is really in his heart and what they are saying to each other. It feels threatening to me. In our last conversation, I said I don’t want you to share with her what you share with me. I want what we have to be special that no one else has with you. He agrees and says this is new for him too. However, he is not willing to end the relationship. I want it cut off, they have been able to catch up, now I think they should get on with the life they have. I think crossing the line emotionally in marriage is dangerous. Please advise! I fully agree with you. Seek out a marital therapist or a minister you trust. Either is unlikely to condone his behavior. This relationship is entirely inappropriate for a married man and endangers your marriage, at least at an emotional level. Good luck to you. Dr. Irene
I have just realized your website exists and am therefore skeptical about the whole thing You are skeptical that abuse exists? - In fact, I'm not sure I have any right to be on such a website... No right? Of course you do! Whether or not abuse is present in your life, you have a right to be anywhere it is legal for you to be. that being said, (I'm sorry if I offended anyone), after reading a bit here, I think that some of your 'clients' are writing in for attention (sorry) - let me assure you, I am not. I'll address that one below.
Here's my story: Two days ago I had a fight with my fiancÚ - not at all a new thing for us, as we have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship. I should give some background info: He is a very intelligent man, finishing his PhD, and in the past I've considered myself a fairly intelligent woman, graduating from a prestigious university and working my way up to a very good job; although we are young (nearing 30), we have a great life ahead of us.
We've been dating for nearly 3 years, been engaged for 9 months and are getting married in 4. He was diagnosed with dysthmia (depression) right before we met and is great at taking his medication and seeing his counselor after bad "episodes." "Episodes" are what I always chalked up to his depression - outburst, usually in public, sometimes just at home, that seem extreme to me - lots of yelling, F-words, degrading language that I have never seen or heard before, from anyone's mouth. I never know when one will occur; in the past, episodes have spawned from what I was wearing, who I was with, once what I purchased at a 'lingerie' party, and many times not even things I did, like other people we were around, sports that he participates in, etc.
One might ask, 'Why would you want to marry him?' - Well, he is also the most caring, most doting person I have ever met. He is always doing nice things for me and he is the best person in the world to have around when I'm sick - homemade chicken soup? No problem. Cramps? Let me get the heating pad. It wasn't until the other night that I ever even looked up the words "verbally abusive." We had been out to dinner and I, being extremely hungry, wanted the first available section, and he, being adverse to smoke in his face, wanted to wait for a table. This seemingly nondescript argument led to him yelling, saying the F-word in front of the waiting room people, (and the child right next to us) and then him leaving the restaurant. (I should note that I argued back), then I followed him, of course, and we headed back home where we neared our friend's house (who we were supposed to have dinner with). My fiancÚ then said "F-you Bit**! There are your friends - get out of the F-ing car!"
I proceeded to get my own car and have a good cry at my friend's house (who happens to be a social worker). I told her I even felt bad talking to her, like I was somehow betraying my fiancÚ. She asked if he had ever said bad things like that before, to which I replied, yes. It was then that she suggested that I might be being verbally abused by him. She asked a reasonable question. Since then I have spent the weekend researching this possibility and I've got to say, I'm more confused than ever. Am I being verbally abused? Maybe it is all a cause of his depression... maybe our personalities clash... can therapy help us? (we, I think, are both willing to try.) If it had been years ago, I would have said, No way - No way could I be involved, let alone marry, someone who is so unpredictable, so vulnerable. And yet here I am, on the verge of making a serious life commitment and dedication to living my life walking on eggshells, waiting for the next shoe to drop. The other side is that my married friends tell me that he is wonderful - he is supportive of my career, takes care of the kitty litter, dishes, you name it.
I feel like I'm being deceitful even writing this... Exploration/education in the service of caring for the Self may seem deceitful to you, but you are deceiving yourSelf if you don't do it! maybe this is all a part of getting married and my social worker friend is just trying to over-read things into it. The problem is that this behavior is not an isolated incident. As I read this back to myself, I don't think I have told you how amazing he is (I REALLY do want an impartial answer) - He is very supportive in my career, gets along very well with my family, and a couple of my friends (the rest have seen 'episodes')... and, judging from your website, he is unusual in that he gets along with all of his family - In fact, he had a very good upbringing (as did I), and gets along with his parents really well (they call each other at least twice a week, though they live farther away and mine live in the same city). I guess I just need someone to tell me, Am I nuts, or am I being "abused?" Is this just cold feet?
You bring up some very interesting issues, and I'm glad you do. Don't kid yourself that verbal and emotional abuse don't exist. They do. Abuse, which tends to become more painful over time, is very harmful for the target individual, whether the situation exists at home or at work.
That said, there is abuse and there is abuse. Yelling and name-calling do not define abuse. An individual may "lose it" for a number of reasons, diagnosable or otherwise. Example: an individual suffering from Tourette's syndrome will certainly appear abusive when spewing curse words, etc., yet they may or may not be truly abusive. The nicest, most un-abusive guy (or gal) in the world may occasionally evidence abusive behavior. Given enough stress, any of us may go through difficult periods. An impending marriage may stress someone out enough to behave in a verbally abusive manner. While the words we spew out may be abusive, the verbal behavior may or may not be about abuse. In sum, there is a difference between abuse and abusive behavior, which any of us is capable of engaging in.
I agree with you that not every individual participating in this site has true abuse issues. I also agree with you that some individuals are attention-seeking, but this is independent of whether or not they have abuse issues in their lives.
Diagnosis of abuse issues is difficult: Abuse is not an official diagnostic category. A DSM diagnosis as per the American Psychiatric Association defines and sets criteria for a particular diagnosis. When I speak of abuse, I am referring to a loosely-defined symptom picture that is not yet recognized as an official diagnosis.
Verbal and emotional abuse as the popular literature refers to it is about a gross imbalance of personal power where one individual more and more dumps on the other, controls the other, manipulates the other, etc. for the purposes of maintaining their own psychological equilibrium - at the expense of the other. Over time, the harder the target person tries to make things good for the abusive person, the worse things get. The target person can never do enough or do it right enough.
That said, in answer to your questions, "Am I being abused?" I don't know. Not enough information. Yet, some of what you describe bothers me:
So, I'd say you have a better than 50/50 chance of being in an abusive relationship. Maybe you simply learn how to set limits so his awful spells stop. Maybe not. My advice is that you seek out a therapist knowledgeable in abuse issues and take it from there. Good luck to you, Dr. Irene
Dear Dr. Irene, I have been in an emotionally abusive, codependent relationship with a man for almost 13 years. I have not been happy during this time and every day, almost all day, think about leaving. I rehearse what I'm going to say, etc. So far, although I've brought up his leaving in the past, he's still there. I haven't been able to follow through - feel too guilty and sorry for him Sounds like you're allowing him to manipulate you emotionally, and I'm also attached and do have caring feelings for him, but I'm not in love with him, nor was I ever. Even though we have not had sex for over a year, he shows no signs of ever leaving. We don't agree on anything and much of the time barely speak.
My apartment, in which we live, that I rent, is not very large and I have little privacy. He complains when I'm on the phone with friends and family - says I'm too loud and this disturbs him. He mopes and complains if I want to watch something different on TV than he does, so I usually relent, and miss out on a lot of pleasure.
Recently I discovered that he is deeply in debt. After he had lived with me for about 6 months, he told me he owed the IRS about $8,000, from one year when he "forgot" to pay taxes. the truth turns out to be much worse. Every once in a while, I get crazy and wonder just who he is and what his real situation is. A few weeks ago I opened his mail - mail that he had not opened for months. I found out that he has not been paying income tax for the past several years, nor has he paid child support since he's been with me. He is now in debt for about $200,000, and this is just what I know about. He also had some credit card debt which he's paying off. He owes me about $10,000. which I lent him when his company went out of business. I am still paying for everything in the household except food which he pays for, which has doubled my monthly expenses. I need to save for retirement. I'm in my late 50's. He doesn't know I know the extent of his debts. I'm not sure what to do about the entire situation. I am the type of person who wants harmony at all costs. I don't like to take action. I'm extremely passive and let things happen to me. What do you think about all of this? What I think doesn't matter. It does matter what you think since this is YOUR LIFE. From what you tell me, you are very unhappy with this guy. You are unable to tell him he HAS to leave because you feel sorry for him. You probably also wonder how he would find someplace to live given the tremendous debt he's in. Just remember that his debt is not your problem, except for the money you lent him. You also seem to feel what he is contributing towards the household financially is unfair.
Sounds to me like you need to learn how to stop others from manipulating you, for starters. The best book I know that will help wake you up regarding this stuff is Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation and Guilt to Manipulate You by Dr. Susan Forward and Donna Frazier. Once you stop feeling sorry for him, you may be in a better position to ask him to leave, or to ask him to contribute more money towards the household expenses, and/ or to ask him to start paying back his 10K loan NOW.
You also say you are extremely passive and that you let things happen to you. Please understand that your passivity is your choice. While becoming more assertive may be something you have to work at, you are the only one who can stop letting things you don't want happen to you.
Start by reading the Emotional Blackmail book. Then decide what you really want: do you want him out? Do you want more monthly money? Do you want him to start repaying his debt to you? Do you want control of the TV every other night? More sex? Do you want to ask him why he lied about his debt? Whatever it is you want, you will have to ask for it, perhaps fight for it. Pick a book on "assertion" and read and re-read it until you are better at expressing yourself. There are many good titles to choose from on The Bookshelf.
Remember, it's your life. If avoiding conflict is more important to you than getting what you want - perhaps you're already getting what you want! But I doubt it - so, get going! You've got lots of learning to do! Good luck to you. Dr. Irene
I have been in an abusive relationship for 3 years. Both me and my husband have very demanding jobs and being married to each other is good for both of our images. But I feel I need to divorce him now. He has done things to shock me – screaming (ear popping) foul language, rape-like sex when unwanted, locking me in his room and preventing me from calling the police, placing his hands around my neck to choke. This is physical abuse! I worked very hard to make him stop and he did Whew!, except he replaced this overt abuse with emotional abuse Ouchhh... – blaming me for everything and reminding me how bad I am. I can certainly understand why you want to divorce him.
Early in the relationship, his behavior did not objectively affect my work. Now I have lost my sense of self confidence, become overly passive at work, and my performance is gravely falling. I have nightmares of him abusing me and am unusually easily frightened around him. This is not good... Moreover, I have pretty much lost all my friends and feel like I’ve become ridiculously eccentric. I don’t know how to act in the world anymore. I tried counseling and antidepressants, neither worked. Because the abuse is still eating away at you, destabilizing you.
He keeps saying its my fault the relationship isn’t working, but I can’t do anything to make it better because I have so much resentment and fear of him, and feel preoccupied with saving myself! If you are so frightened and resentful of him, perhaps your energy should instead be directed at getting out. As soon as possible! He dazzled my parents and they have pushed me to stay in this relationship and work things out. Doesn't matter. It's not their marriage; it's your marriage!
He has been extremely caring in the past though, but I need him too much now – it’s like I need him to repair me after has broken me. This is not good at all... Then last week I had a nightmare that he was abusing me, I woke up to find him reviving me and listening to the cries I made in the dream. Then he gives me an ultimatum, saying that our relationship is over except under one condition – that I ‘shape up’ and act like I love him. How can I possibly do this now? You can't. It's a ridiculous ultimatum. I'm tired, I give up and I want a divorce. Trust your feelings. From hearing my side, do you think it's fair to file? From hearing your side, I think it's crazy not to file! ASAP!
And go into counseling again, perhaps with a new counselor since you feel your original therapist was not helpful. You're going to need help sorting through your issues. You may want to contact your local battered women's agency. There may be therapy groups available or they may be able to recommend a counselor who is sensitive to the abuse issues you are describing. Seeking help will also support you in your plans to divorce. Given your doubts regarding divorce, support will be extremely important to you. Hang in there. Dr. Irene
Sunday March 14, 2004
Dear Dr. Irene, From age 15 to 23, I knew only abusive relationships. Then I married a guy who promised to be my savior. First, though, we lived together for a year, during which we argued all the time, I still worshiped him. I gave up my self totally. As I guess you know now, giving up your self is never, ever a good idea. (We both agreed there was nothing about my past worth keeping - my clothes, my family, my ideas, etc. Ouchhh! Sounds a little like brainwashing...) I even listened to him when he told me I shouldn’t hug my 2-year-old son from my first marriage so much because it was “kind of sick”. He's kind of sick...
We had three more children, and I had lots of resentment building up. Good! That angry resentment was a healthy response to an intolerable situation. My response to his cruel treatment in the beginning was to cry or yell. His common behaviors were/are lying, drinking, withdrawing, hurting my son (emotionally), and bringing up my past. For religious reasons, for the kids, out of fear, and because I’m not a quitter – I stayed married to him.
In the mean time, I know I’ve controlled and abused him as well. Yeah, sinking to the abusive person's level is unfortunately common.
This year we discovered that our 16-year-old daughter was depressed, suicidal, and cutting herself I'm very sorry.... I was, and still am, almost paralyzed with grief. His response, a week after we discovered this, was to move to the couch and stop talking to me - never telling me why. A month later he moved out. Then he moved back, sleeps on the couch, and is civil. I am still angry that he abandoned me when I was in so much pain. I’ve been waiting for a change of heart (his). I’ve had enough. I don’t feel like I need or want to be married to him, and he no longer can hurt my feelings (almost). But I'd feel guilty about hurting my kids by divorcing, and also about my part in the abuse. These reasons are not sufficient to stay in an abusive marriage. He says that he’s tired of my abuse, but he will never move out again.
My kids seem to think I’m crazy, and I feel totally unloved by all. Please, your thoughts? First of all, feeling unloved does not mean you are unloved. Your kids probably love you very much, but are confused by your behavior. I think you need to get a handle. Do whatever you have to do to get yourself together. Get the Self together and all will flow from there, including the kids. You can best help your children, including your 16 year-old by modeling healthy adult behavior for them to learn from. You are not doing that now. For starters, please get a therapist. You will need help to stop sinking to his level after so many years; you don't know how to express your healthy anger in more adaptive ways. You will need help with your guilt and your feelings around your part of the abuse. These are all abuse issues, and you've unfortunately had a whole lifetime of it. Let someone help you make sense out of the nonsense, and take it from there. God bless you. Dr. Irene
To person who paid for a Q on 3/19: I voided your payment because I did not know which Q you wanted answered and there was no email addy to easily get in touch with you. You are free to resubmit, but please include an email addy. :( Sorry...