The Doc Answers 25

The Doc's Answers 26


Thursday July 15, 2004
12:01 AM

Hi Dr. Irene, I don't know if you remember me but you spoke to me about 2 yrs ago regarding abuse in my relationship.  Hi Sonja! My X was more covert in the abuse. Well I left now; almost 6 months have gone by. I am wondering how long before the effects of the emotional/verbal abuse will leave?

The more time I spend away, the more I remember things that were said and done. Your denial is fading more and more as you strengthen, away from him. I am angry. Of course. I see him in town now and I won't even acknowledge him, something that pisses him off! Are you surprised? Your "job" is to chase him.

I do it for my own sake because I don't quite feel strong enough to resist him and the charm. Good for you! No sense in putting yourSelf in dangerous situations before you feel ready. We had a very hot/cold relationship. Of course he blames me for everything. Of course. I still feel hurt by his actions towards me and my son. He even says that he needs to put up boundaries to limit his time with me and my son. That was before I started to just ignore him and stopped calling him. Exactly. Now that you've turned the tables, he's a bit off balance.

What you are going through is normal. The longer you stay away from him, the more your self esteem begins to return to normal. You no longer are subjected to his covert put downs. You are becoming more and more aware of the significance of situations that were "normal" for you during the marriage. Because you feel better and safer, you are recognizing all the "stuff." You are angry! And you should be. Look here for a rough map of the stages in Victim Recovery.

But, you remain connected to him emotionally. You feel vulnerable to his charm. But this time, you know better. Don't test your skills until you feel more comfortable in your ability to see through his emotional tricks.

Just keep doing what you are doing. Keep away as long as there is any doubt in your mind that you are vulnerable. Recognize that which was done to you that was not OK.  Become aware of the anger you didn't fully acknowledge while you were together. You are in the process of working these issues out, and eventually you will care less and less about him. How long will that take? I don't know. As long as it takes, I suppose. A general "rule of thumb" is one month for each year of the marriage, but I suspect it takes longer in abuse.

What is love suppose to be like? Reciprocal. A loving relationship is not one-sided. Interdependent rather than codependent. I have tried to date but I still hear him in my head saying how no one else would want me and how unattractive he found me. Will it ever go away? Thanks , Sonja  You're not ready yet. Give yourSelf time. You are still very connected to him and are plagued by his irrational brainwashing, for lack of a better word. You will need to challenge the validity of the thinking he threw at you - the thinking which you accepted!

bulletTake a look at this wonderful book, which, while technical, may prove to be invaluable to you: The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life by Albert Ellis et al.
bulletConsider a support group. Validation of your experience will help.
bulletConsider individual counseling if you haven't already. The pieces are likely to process more quickly with therapy.

Good luck to you and may God bless you and yours. Dr. Irene


Thursday July 22, 2004
11:57 AM

Hi Doctor Irene, I wrote to you back in March – it’s posted on “Ask the Doc” page 21.

I’ve been in counseling for almost a year. I like my therapist, but don’t feel like I’m getting much out of it. I'm not sure what you mean here. She knows my husband from the initial contact when my daughter was hospitalized, and a few times he’s come in for couples’ counseling. She doesn’t see repentance or much hope of him changing. I agree. He’s tried everything, on and off – flowers, gifts, doing everything around the house (which I see as either self punishment or passive aggression), brief apologies (without wanting to talk about it – “I can’t change the past” – meaning I should be able to just forgive and move on.) In between trying to get along, there’s been anger and frustration from both of us. Maybe some denial, too.

My therapist keeps telling me to be honest with him and myself, and I can’t say I’ve really tried at all to make things better. I do try to be more respectful and civil. All along I’ve been trying not to be deceived, and sensed with each new tactic that it was not sincere. This is off topic, but I'll say it anyway. It is possible to be respectful and honest and file for divorce, all at the same time! I almost filed for divorce, and just then he had what seemed to be a sincere change of heart. It’s happened in the past, but this time I really saw something new – humility. He stopped drinking (he’s done that before too), lost weight, was trying hard to be a good father, and for the first time seemed to actually have some self esteem. (I did notice that there was still no heartfelt brokenness over our situation, on his part. At least he didn’t express any. That bothers me too, but many people have told me that’s just how some men are.)  

The change was hard for me to take. I didn’t want to be fooled again, and to accept it meant a complete about face from where I was heading. But I still didn’t want to miss something that might be real. A couple weeks into this new deal, I had a minor breakdown, couldn’t stop crying, etc. He came home to help and I opened up to him – allowing myself to be vulnerable for the first time since he left (and came back) in September. I told him how hard it was for me, that I felt like I was almost free and then had to readjust etc. He shrugged his shoulders like he didn’t know how to help. So you tried to be honest with him and look what happened... Good for you for taking the risk and keep reading.

Right after that things started going downhill again. Now he’s almost back to his angry self, and has started drinking a little. No remorse, and he blames me. Should I have been more receptive? He will NEVER initiate a “talk”, but may talk if I want to, until I say something he doesn’t like. We’ve been trying to coexist. I can’t stand it anymore, but I can’t bring myself to get a divorce. My kids have already been through so much. And the worst thing is, although I have no concrete reason for suspicion, it is there – regarding the incident which I mentioned in my last letter to you. He seems to have tried so hard, yet I still want out. Am I just messed up from the “secondary” trauma?

I think it's good that you gave your husband another chance when you sensed that the change was sincere on his part. When and if you finally do leave, you will know you did what is in your power to save your marriage.  The change you sensed in your husband was likely sincere. However, when you became vulnerable and honest with him, he fell back into his old habits. But not because he set out to fool you or hurt you. He became frightened; terrified. Intimacy is experienced as dangerous by people like your husband.

Plus, you made a demand: you needed him to be there for you; to understand your emotional dilemma. Not that he had to do anything but listen and perhaps empathize with you. But he couldn't. His reaction indicates that he felt something along the lines of panic; feeling overwhelmed; powerless; uncomfortable at giving, etc. It did not meet his needs to have to meet yours. In other words, he shut down when the situation required him to be a partner.

There are a few thoughts to chew on:

bulletIt is good that you allowed yourSelf to feel vulnerable again and you shared your heart with your husband.
bulletYour vulnerability per se is not the problem. Your husband's inability to handle it and your inability to see his inability-to-handle-it is the problem.
bulletYour emotional dependence on him is clouding your vision regarding whether or not he is capable of partnership, thus
bulletYou fell prey to your own wishful thinking.
bulletDoes vulnerability demand you compromise yourSelf - and continually walk on eggshells - for your partner in a unidirectional relationship?
bulletVulnerability need not be met with shutdown. You want to offer yourself only when you sense the other person has the ability to do give, as you do.
bulletRight now your antennae seem to be tuned to being needed. Your husband needs; you give. One way.
bulletNote he felt safe enough to attempt partnering when you were nearly lost to him. Only when you are distant and he is in pursuit can he feel a measure of safety and control. He feels safe when you are more emotionally distant than he wants you to be. For that moment. What about the next moment?
bulletYour husband did not set out to fool you. He seems to have truly tried to be a partner, but lacks the requisite abilities.
bulletHe responded to your increased emotional interest and allowed himself to become more real, but only while your acceptance of him was absolute and made no demands.
bulletDo you have the ability to accept fully and make no demands? 24/7. Does anybody?
bulletBecause you were unable to live up to unconditional acceptance/ no demands, he shut down. Just when you needed his understanding. Is this OK with you?
bulletDon't be surprised if as you move away again, he sincerely changes again (for a little while) once you have become safe again.
bulletHe probably learned something too: to go a tiny bit further on the intimacy/partnership ladder. From what you describe in your two letters, it's unlikely that he'll ever get to the top, but over time, he may scale another few steps. Is this enough for you? Worth the pain?
bulletBefore you allow yourSelf to care again, ask yourSelf if you want to ride this rollercoaster over and over. And over. Can you deal with his tendency to shut down? He will, you know. And what if he never achieves the ability to be a partner?
bulletDo you go back out of a sense of guilt and obligation mixed with wishful thinking? If yes, are these good reasons to go back?
bulletWhat speaks louder: actions or words & promises?

I agree with your therapist: you need to be honest. You especially need to be a little more honest with yourSelf.

In answer to your question, I don't think you are "messed up." I think you are fully intact, but are working on overcoming a couple disconnects: You have needs too! And believe the person you see in front of you is the person-you-see-in-front-of-you, history and all. They are not their potential, their new efforts, or their promises. You disconnect because you kid yourself into believing what you want to believe.

That said, you've come a long way dear lady and you're not far from Home. Keep up the very good work! Dr. Irene


Thursday July 22, 2004
11:23 PM

Hi Dr. Irene, I'm having some difficulties with my marriage. My husband has dealt with an anxiety disorder his whole life, since around 19. He had panic attacks then. He's in his 30's now and is diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression. He got off his medication, an SSRI and a tranquilizer, about 3 months ago. He stopped because I thought it might be a good idea and he and his doctor agreed. He was OK for a few months. Anxiety disorders tend to ebb and flow over time, and the specific symptoms can change over time. Also anxiety often occurs together with depression. This is pretty common stuff. His doctor probably agreed to help him come off the medications because your husband requested it and because there was a slim chance that he no longer needed them.

He was off the medication and had a routine physical. There were some abnormalities in his blood work and he freaked out. He's now totally obsessed with his blood tests! It's been awful! So he was OK for a while, but as soon as something that disturbed him occurred, he relapsed. Physical issues are prime anxiety-producing material for people plagued with anxiety, so it's not surprising that he relapsed at this provocation.

I've been married a year, and just found out after talking to him about getting off the medicine. He has been co dependant on it since he was 19, he's now 36. OK, first of all, your husband is not "co dependent" on medication. Your husband has a physical disorder that is responsible for the anxiety and depression. This physical disorder is very real. He is programmed, so to speak, to react with anxiety much more easily than you are, for example. Like an individual with a propensity towards any other disease, his body chemistry (in this case brain chemistry) is different from the chemistry of others who don't suffer from the given problems. Anxiety and depression frequently go together. Because the antidepressant medications (like SSRIs) effectively treat both conditions, we think they are mediated in the same part of the brain.

By the way, your husband can also receive a specialized psychological treatment called cognitive behavior therapy for his anxiety and depression that can help him very much. He may be able to reduce his dosages.

Now he's recently started some new, similar medication. That's good!

The worst is that now he is criticizing me for everything, as if he is trying to fish for problems to constantly antagonize me. Ouchhh!

Its not me, I'm still the same, it's just that things are creeping out one by one, and they seem to get a little scarier every time. He wants things just so, so that "his" life is better. Ranging from the way I act to picking up around the house, the reality of it is, that I help with everything, go to school and work 30 hours as well. I'm a great wife, and a great supporter of him, yet lately I'm having to put a great deal of myself aside due to his constant reminder of how things "should" be. We were so happy for a good three years together. I don't know what has happened, we haven't been married that long. I asked him a question, "Is there someone else that your interested in, and comparing me to, are you generally not happy with me or are you doing this so that I just in general go away. I can't tell if he's being controlling, or this is just a way that he is reaching out to let me know that he needs help, or both? Both. Don't forget, right now he's in survival mode, just trying to get through the day. I'm such a cheery person, this relationship has turned south almost overnight, I love my husband, but this is getting ridiculous, almost like child like behavior.

I have almost no one to talk to about this, and how would I, its like a reflection of myself. Oh boy... keep reading. (PS, I also found out a week ago that these symptoms could be hereditary, his grandmother had to be hospitalized for mental illness a few times-(before they had meds) ARGGHH! Well, the good news is that anxiety is one of the most treatable diseases around! Aren't you glad you guys aren't living 100 years ago?

Please don't be so concerned about the anxiety disorder. It's more common than you realize. I am more concerned over the effects this relatively innocuous illness is having on your marriage!

How is it that you are together so long and you didn't know he was taking the medication? (And, are you mad at him for not telling you? Feeling cheated?) Maybe your husband feels ashamed.  Maybe now he's feeling double ashamed of himself because his drug vacation did not work. (Is he mad at you for "making him" take a shot without meds?)

Unfortunately anxiety (and depression) are still stigmatized, though less than they used to be. Would you be ashamed of him if he suffered from diabetes instead? That's how you need to think about anxiety.

Please give your husband some time for the new medication to take effect. Don't expect him to be business as usual until them. He's in the grips of an illness.

Once he's better you guys need to both become more educated with respect to anxiety disorders. Start talking; find a site and chat. Airing shame is one of the best remedies. Then you need to have a bunch of good talks about how you both feel. If you can't get over the shame piece by yourselves, please see a counselor together. Your talks won't be very productive if you are both stigmatizing your husband's anxiety!

There should be no stigma attached to anxiety - a relatively mild and treatable - physical disorder. Unfortunately, there is. Please educate yourselves and begin to understand that anxiety is really no more shameful than diabetes or migraine or you-name-it! Your husband did not choose it any more than the diabetic chose diabetes. He's certainly not crazy (though I'm sure he fully realizes he's acting pretty crazy these days).

Now is not the time to worry about his being controlling. He's just trying to bind his anxiety and this will go away when the meds kick in.

Now is the time to deal with your own shame crisis while your husband deals with his anxiety crisis.

My best to both of you. Dr. Irene

Tuesday July 27, 2004 
11:05 AM

Hi,I’m 25 and have a history of getting involved with VA men.

3 relationships, first partner was mildly VA. I ended it after 4 years. Second lasted only a year (he was getting increasingly overtly VA, luckily I already found this site) and a third short-lived relationship with a passive-aggressive man.

I stayed single for a while, reading a lot. (The VA relationship, why does he do that, codependent no more.) I know that I have a lot of insecurity left from my childhood (VA father, depressed mom, now divorced) and codependent tendencies. This year I started a relationship with somebody I met through a mutual friend. He is kind, caring, very intelligent, funny and we care for each other a lot. However, I am afraid he has abusive tendencies as well, though not as bad as my previous partners.

He does not match the list of abuse signs; no jealousy or name calling or excessive control. But he can get extremely defensive whenever I try to discuss something he does that hurts/irritates me. Even when I tell him it’s not a big deal or try to word it carefully, he wants to avoid dealing with it (even small things) as hard as he can. We talked about this, and he said he finds it very difficult to talk about “this stuff.” Whenever he is angry about something, he wants me to leave him alone, then if I do that he does not want me to bring up the issue (or ask what was going on) again.

Example 1: He does not like to talk about the way we resolve problems in the relationship. Instead he hopes that if I leave him alone when he is angry and he somehow "tells himself not to be angry anymore" the problem will go away. On the condition that I don't bring it up again.  So I feel that he does not "work it out" during the timeout but tries to stuff the bad feelings away unprocessed instead.

Example 2: If I let him know when he says something that hurts or feels offensive (even if I say that it is something I am very sensitive about and let him know it's just how I feel, not an attack of him), he thinks that if he doesn't mean to hurt me, I should not feel hurt.  If I still feel hurt, he gets angry; he says he does not know why he gets angry but gets angry when what I say is negative, and in relation to him. He thinks it's logical that I should just stop making him angry. (Even though I must say he does not verbally abuse me when angry, he tries to handle it by himself but I can see it is difficult for him.) Thank you for sending me the examples I asked for Kaytee.

I find this very frustrating! At first it made me very insecure, but I figure now that I just want to find a way to deal with issues that is doable for both of us, to avoid issues to pile up. Its easier to detach now, but I still feel it is not doable to never discuss anything negative. But how? He also said it is hard for him to apologize if I tell him he hurts me, because then I try to “make him apologize,” he feels attacked. Any ideas? Kaytee  Yes! It sounds as though you're in a relationship with a pretty normal guy whose got some baggage.

He's defensive and he doesn't want to talk things out after the fact, which makes him lose points in the communication and intimacy areas - but it's not necessarily indicative of abusive control. He doesn't take his frustration out on you, nor does he categorically demand you fix it, etc. He stays within his own boundaries, and that's good. It would be to his benefit to become more accepting of who he is. If he were able to view himself more benignly and more objectively, not only would he be more at ease overall, any relationship he is in would benefit. Unfortunately, it's not  your place to insist he develop his inner life. :(

He's touchy about negative feelings you may have towards him, which doesn't surprise me since he is defensive. He's taking your comments personally and does not understand that it's OK for you to have negative feelings towards him (and vice versa). While this isn't a good thing, it's pretty run-of-the-mill. Aren't you essentially doing the same thing when you want him to apologize to you for hurting your feelings even though he didn't mean to? Each of you would be better off if you were more accepting of each other. I know you're growing out of abusive relationships, so it's normal to be "touchy" for a while; work on letting the other person be whatever they are without getting even a little bent out of shape!

bulletDon't try to make him apologize if you know he wasn't out to hurt you. What do you accomplish?
bulletLet him be; if he doesn't want to bring up "stuff," so be it. You can't make anybody go where they don't want. In time you'll see if there is any "give" on his part.
bulletDon't make negative comments about him to him, knowing how sensitive he can be. Again, what do you accomplish?

Nobody is purrrfect, and there may or may not be enough emotional glue to hold this relationship together. The good news is I see no abusive control stuff; just a guy who is not comfortable with himself / his inner life. At the very least, be happy with yourSelf that you chose a non-abusive guy! Good luck to you, Dr. Irene.