The Doc Answers 29

The Doc's Answers 29


Saturday February 19, 2005
11:42 AM

I am the survivor of a verbally abusive relationship (ages 15-35). My codependency (as defined in your answers to others) took me to the brink of dying. Let me just add ‘Ditto’ to all the Ask the Doc Board comments of today (2/19/05). Well, I'm not entirely sure what Ask Doc comments you're talking about, but Melodie Beattie has written an excellent description of codependency symptoms. Reprinted from her book, Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.

My dilemma: last night my new husband of 3 years made a comment of condemnation that put me back into the same state I had lived for so long.  I felt the same ignorance, confusion, & hopelessness all over again. Not to dismiss what he said, but it sounds like you're carting some baggage around... You know, reacting today to past hurts.

The situation: He went to the grocery store for needed fresh food. He had the day off; had a cold. I had been at work meeting a deadline. I was feeling the effects of withdrawal from Prozac as I had ignorantly let my prescription run out (5 days). Ouchhh! The pharmacist said it would take as many days to recover from withdrawal as it had to first experience it. Today is the first day that I should be feeling normal again. My husband was aware of this; he disapproves of Prozac. By yesterday afternoon I was ready to crawl into a hole and recoup; I had to keep working until five & commute to home by 6. Once home, I changed into comfortable clothing & relaxed.

Our custom is that the person who is home all day does the evening meal. He then told me that he had felt sick all day and had rested (fine w/me). And then he commented that ‘he guessed he would have to go to the store for dinner as there wasn’t any fresh food in the house’ (lots of canned/frozen stuff). When he got home he said, “I can’t believe that you made me go to the store when I was sick to buy food for dinner when you were already out & knew that we were out of food.” What was I supposed to say/feel/do? It can be trying in any marriage when both partners are needy at the same time, but those in healthier marriages negotiate it by, say, ordering out - anything but dwelling on recriminations! You can't make him go out; he had to choose to comply with your wishes that he go out. Say something like, "Dear, if you really felt that sick, maybe you should have said something instead of just going out! We could have made do with leftovers or something. I realize you are sick, and that I should have gone to the market, but I'm sick too! It took my all just to get through the work day! 

I knew I was incapable of shopping that day. I couldn’t meet his needs, too late. I offered to fix him dinner. He said that he already had something going. Well, that's good. Say, "Thanks dear," and don't make yourself feel guilty (or frustrated, or helpless, or anything else!). Just like you didn't make your husband go to the market, he can't make you feel guilty. Nobody can make anybody feel anything! Again, I couldn’t meet his needs, too late. I realized in retro that I felt the exact same way that my ex made me feel (translation: how I let him make myself feel) on numerous occasions. For starters, you guys have boundary issues. You're not taking your power!

Any of these books will help you understand the boundary part:

bullet 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
bullet Better Boundaries : Owning and Treasuring Your Life by Jan Black and Greg Enns
bullet Living in the Comfort Zone : The Gift of Boundaries in Relationships by Rokelle Lerner.
bullet Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine.  
bullet Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting, and Enjoying the Self.  Charles L. Whitfield, MD.  
bulletJoy Erlichman Miller's, Addictive Relationships : Reclaiming Your Boundaries.  

Dr, Irene, how do I nip this type of manipulation in the bud? A little less simple than you want. Sounds like your husband may be on the selfish side or thick - or just icky since he's not feeling well. Whatever his problem, had no empathy for you, and/or he didn't notice your pain, and/or was too preoccupied with his own pain.

But this type of silly incident should not bring up so much hurt! I'm thinking that not only do you each need to better understand your boundaries, but you need learn how to stand up for yourSelf, as well as work through some of the emotional baggage from the past that just brings up the bad feelings from yesterday into situations occurring today.

Get some professional help. Why hurt more than you absolutely have to?

Good luck to both of you. Dr. Irene

Date: Tuesday February 22, 2005
Time: 02:05 PM

Hi Doc;

Once again, I need your help to sort out my confusion. I am still supporting my dear friend and lover who remains in a very harmful abusive marriage. Over the past 6 months, I have started sending you a "post" many times and decided to wait. This time it feels so different compared to those other thoughts. Once I felt the main cause for her to do nothing was her perceived inability to make a decision. Then, I read a powerful article about co-dependency and felt the "I can fix it" stubbornness inside her. Have you noticed the "I can fix it" stubbornness inside of you?

I have been reading many articles about verbal abuse combined with narcissistic personality disorder. She agrees the articles I e-mail her relate to many real life situations in her life. They mention his fantasy about wanting this "pretend" wife he feels so entitled to and to many fantasy threats to him including their daughter. After I read about him wanting sex without intimacy (or he will turn up the abuse), I started to feel something I never felt before.

Is it possible she stays with him because she doesn't love him and she hates him? I don't know. Love and hate are both very strong emotions. I suppose hate can bind some people together, though answering your question is really a stretch. You are asking me to try and make sense of a relationship between two people that you are unable to provide much information for. (You don't reside in the head of either one of them!)

Does her co-dependent mind force her to give him the exact "narcissistic supply chain" he so desperately needs? I don't know. Maybe she finds him exciting. Is withholding intimacy the key or glue that allows her to cope or justify staying? Why don't you ask her? She is sad and depressed. She has said she is waiting for something to happen that will allow her to free herself. Is she saying those words for her benefit or mine? Why do you think I have the answers here? You aren't able to provide what is in her heart, or his! What could happen that is more powerful than hating him and still doing every hideous thing he asks of her? She still sees a therapist. She has his family members that are starting to support her. My intentions are the same as they have been for 5 years. I want to help her. I love her. My co-dependent self still believes in miracles. I know you love her and you want to help her. But you're really stretching. You are trying to understand a situation that may simply just not make any sense! Thanks for your reply.

Back to you: you know you are codependent with her and look to take care of her before you take care of yourself. Did it ever occur to you that this may be part of the problem regarding why she doesn't flee her abusive husband to land into your warm arms? One complaint I hear over and over from my codependent ladies who have left their abusive husbands is: they're simply not attracted to the "real nice" guys! They don't respect the guy who behaves the way they do; the guy who would do anything for them! Even though some of these ladies wish they could feel differently about the "real nice" guy, they just don't!

If you would do anything for her, and it certainly seems that way, you may not have enough going in the self-respect department. I think this is the key variable. My best advice to you: put this lady on the back burner for a while and start doing some work on you. Don't you deserve better than this? Why do you continue to put yourself in a position where you are continually trying to understand her, win her over, etc., etc.

Maybe if you learned to develop your self-respect, you would be more attractive to her - simply because you wouldn't put up with her stuff anymore! Think about it; think hard: how many people do you know that just fell for somebody they could easily have? Most of us like a little challenge. Just human nature I suppose.

Good luck to you. Dr. Irene

Date: Tuesday February 22, 2005
Time: 05:43 PM

I met Peter eight years ago at a family function and fell in love immediately with him. Let's get this straight: you fell immediately in infatuation with him. Love is about knowing the person; love takes time.
He was the funniest, most charming, and handsome man I have ever laid my eyes on. The sex, oh my God! the sex was great. I have never experienced such pleasure.

We continued on a long distance relationship for several months, he lived in Chicago and I lived in New York. After only a couple of months we were pregnant. We were so much in love that we immediately starting planning a wedding, and I was never more happy than at that time. Immediately after plans were well on their way, his behavior starting to change. He became evasive, moody, and nasty. We never got married because he got back with his x-girlfriend and I remained in NY, pregnant, alone, and mortified.

Although I never spoke with him throughout my pregnancy, his mother and other family members still kept in touch. After my daughter was born and almost 1 year old, he called me and told me he had made a terrible mistake. He wanted to be a husband and a father, and he bought a house for us and told us that we would be a family. I went for it; it was what I was waiting for for almost two years.

I lived with him for two years with his alcoholism, verbal and emotional abuse and sometimes physical abuse. I realized that I needed to do something drastic in order to make him understand that his behavior was unacceptable and life threatening. So I moved back to NY. Yes, I think that qualifies as "drastic." Good for you. He begged and pleaded for me not to leave and I told him if he gets help and sobers up, I will come back to him. Here I am four years later, still in NY. He has verbally abused me over the phone for four years, dragged our now, seven year-old daughter into our personal problems, and I let him. For some reason, I needed to hear him beg me and to say he loves me. Of course you did after he stranded you at the aisle!

He did this religiously for so many years, he would tell me he will never love anyone like me again and that he will change and he tells our daughter to tell me he loves mommy. And your hopes go through the roof!

Since around Thanks giving his phone calls have lessened and he speaks to my daughter directly, where as before he would always want to talk to me for a few minutes.  He tells us that his girlfriend doesn't like him talking to me.  He has a girlfriend, and after five weeks she is moved into his apartment. They are going on a Caribbean cruise, and he is extremely happy, so he told my daughter. Inappropriate, don't you think? I think he tells my daughter these things so I get jealous. Probably. It's certainly a good way of getting back at you for something. Anything. I really don't know. I don't know what has happened to me lately. For four years I have been in complete control of my emotions, hanging up on him when he is drunk, not answering his phone calls, and now I find myself jealous, angry and depressed. Because he's not chasing you! And you apparently think being chased is enough! You shortchange yourSelf terribly! Don't you want a man in your life, who while not as exciting, is there for you?

I am completely disengaged, I had to go on Welbutrin for my anxiety, and I am looking at the phone both at work and home for him to call. Sounds like you are having withdrawal pangs! This is an addictive relationship... I have waited four years for him to straighten his ass out and his frickin answer is to find a new fling!  This guy will not change; stop waiting for that to happen. Get him out of your system, as long as it may take, and get on with your life! He says I left him, but I did it for a reason. Whatever you did or didn't do, he would find a way to pin it on you. I don't know Doc, I am sick, I need to get this out of my thoughts because I feel completely disabled from it.  What should I do.  I feel as if I still love him, and my heart is broken. hopelessly confused... This guy "needs" a woman around. He's got a good prospect now, so he can forget about you; use her even to wound you. You come in handy when he's got nobody important. Things will eventually fall apart with her too. So, at some point, he'll be back - assuming you wait around long enough. But why would you do that? He'll just be gone again. As he has in the past, he'll set it up so that you two fight and eventually split up, find another lady, and so on and so on. The fact that he can bounce around "in love" with you, someone else, you, someone else is evidence that he cares little about the person. He just needs a woman; any woman he's getting along with will do. This tendency of his will not change. He is emotionally immature. This is the best he can do.

So, I strongly suggest you do whatever you have to do to get this guy out of your life. You deserve more than episodic "I love you" calls. Here are a few books you may want to look at:
bullet Facing Love Addiction : Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love --The Love Connection to Codependence by Pia Mellody, et al.
bulletSusan Peabody's Addiction to Love : Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships.
bulletJoy Erlichman Miller's, Addictive Relationships : Reclaiming Your Boundaries.

There is nothing to be confused about. While he knows all about infatuation, he does not know how to love, and you're hoping he'll learn to love you. Please, stop hoping and get on with your life. Good luck to you, Dr. Irene

Saturday March 05, 2005
03:48 PM

Dear Dr Irene, I am 44. During 21/2 years of marriage to my 2nd husband, I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster, and have struggled to make sense of it. He’s been loving at times, other times withdrawn, verbally and emotionally abusive, mostly the latter recently. If it doesn't make sense, maybe his actions simply don't make sense... He supported me through a child custody case, but then says his life would be OK if it weren’t for my kids (14 & 10). They are coming between us and they should go to live with their father. It hurts me very badly. I’ve started seeing a counsellor who named the abuse Excellent! and now I see more clearly, thanks also to your website. Thank you. I’ve ordered Patricia Evans’ (The Verbally Abusive Relationship ) and Ellis’ (The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster and Regaining Control of Your Life ) books amongst others. Good!

He is a Christian pastor with no friends (I have lots) or close colleagues which troubles me greatly. I am his main support. Yet, he's not yours... I tried too hard to be loving and accommodating when we moved into his home (belongs to the church), but now I’m using boundaries. Good for you! He isn’t happy. And I'm sure you're not happy that you find yourself in a position to have to use them.

His congregation thinks he’s marvellous because they don’t know what he’s really like. I find the pretense on Sundays unbearable. Listen to your body. It's trying to tell you your marriage is not OK. When I try to communicate with him, he is dismissive, invalidates my feelings, tells me the problem is all on my side, demands apologies. He is perfectionist, critical, interrupts, puts me down in front of others (he also puts his sister down), demands attention regardless of what I’m doing, walks out of the room when I’m talking, and rarely makes eye contact. Ouchhh! You know this is unacceptable.

A year ago he took an intensive 1-week psychological detox to deal with his anger and addictions, but has reverted. I am close to his adult daughter and his sister, so I now know (belatedly) he was always like this. We agreed we wanted a marriage with all aspects of intimacy, but I actually don’t think he does. I think he probably does want it; it is more likely he can't manage or refuses to manage the demands of a two-way relationship. Probably some of each. I feel awful for putting my kids in this situation. Stop feeling guilty. You didn't set out to put them in the middle of this any more than you married him so he could abuse you! I realise I may have to separate for him to see the reality and while he may see reality once you're gone, his vision may again fade next year – this could cost him his job and the house. Such a beloved man should be able to talk his way clear, don't you think? Regardless, his job and home are not your concern. My kids’ father could re-open the custody case. The good news is that custody is 9/10th of the law; it would be difficult to get the kids away from you if you already have them. I would be more concerned if I were you that the kids may want to go live with their father - just to be away from him!

It is scary and I feel miserable. Yes, it is scary and no doubt you feel miserable. But your course of action should be clear: if you've ever been on an airplane, you know the stewards instruct the passengers that, if oxygen is needed, masks will drop from the ceiling. Then instruct each person to put their own mask on first. Only then are passengers advised to help children and others with their masks.

You didn't create this situation. Try to remember that. Your biggest "crime" was to marry someone who hid his darker side from you prior to marriage. You cannot take responsibility for his actions any more than you can take responsibility for mine. Each and every one of us is gifted with free will. Your husband chooses how to live his life, and if his ways are hurtful to you and your children, so be it. There's not much you can do for him. But you can save yourself. So, put your oxygen mask on, and then help your children with theirs. Please don't let yourself go down with him because you feel responsible for his life, or guilty that separating may present problems for him. That's not about you.

Look at this book since your emotional boundaries need some shoring up: Cloud & Townsend's  Boundaries: When to say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life . It is and excellent book and is written from a Christian perspective. Given that you are a Pastor's wife, the religious bent may make the boundary concept yet more meaningful to you.

If you still have doubts, consider your children's' welfare. You owe it to them to do everything you can to keep them in your life. Do not expose them to his abuse of you, or risk losing custody because of a man you feel sorry for - who has the potential to ruin your life. Please take this reply with you when you see your therapist. It may be helpful for the two of you to discuss this reply.

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

Thursday March 10, 2005
08:01 AM

I am not allowed to be myself. Rephrasing: I do not allow myself to be myself. My husband makes me feel like I am such a bad person and says he is trying to teach me a lesson. I let my husband make me feel like I'm a bad person.

We have been married for 6 years. Five years ago I made a comment my husband didn't like. He left me in a bar and went home. Ugh. I didn't want to go home, so I walked the streets. I never thought my husband would do this to me and I felt devastated. The next morning he said horrible things and got me into such a state that I was crying out "somebody help me please." He carried on regardless. I could not stand anymore so I went into the bathroom and put my hand through the window. I was rushed to hospital.

This was out of character but I could not believe the person I thought loved me so much was doing this to me. I could not believe I let the person..." We eventually made friends. He has since had outbursts following something I have said. He makes me feel like he doesn't care He doesn't care... - I had to drive myself to hospital when I had meningitis and he had nothing to do with me for two days whilst on holiday. Unacceptable behavior. At home he has nothing to do with me for days. He would sleep on the sofa and if I would try to talk he would reject me. I felt heartbroken. Frankly, if I were you, I'd feel angry! Why put up with this bad behavior!

For the last year he would come to me eventually and say "can we be friends" although I didn't agree with things, I would say "yes" as I was glad he was no longer rejecting me. You are selling yourSelf out... I now realise I can't live like this. Nor should you. We have not spoken now for 5 weeks - we tried to talk but he says it's all my fault. I do love him and think deep down he has feelings but he won't show any now. What good are his having feelings if he doesn't show then? He may as well have none. I am going to arrange counseling - is there any hope? Well, that depends on who you are arranging counseling for. For yourself? Yes, lots of hope! You can learn to own and take control of your life - instead of feeling as though life is running you. For the marriage? Not as hopeful - if you are somehow hoping the counseling will change him, make him understand, which is what you seem to be requesting in your posting, it's unlikely to work. No, it's not fair, yes, there is uncaring behavior on his part, but you are asking him to change. He's the only one who can change himself - and he would have to want to, just like you are the only one who can change yourself. Since it's unlikely that he will wholeheartedly agree to change (because, wouldn't he have already done so?), perhaps you need to consider changing yourself instead.

Please do go ahead and arrange counseling of any kind, though individual counseling for yourself would be your best option right now. Change yourself so you no longer put yourself in a situation that creates so much pain for you. Marital counseling, where you ask him to see the error of his ways and plead with him to allow his inner self to come out is unlikely to work. You are the one in pain; therefore, you need to make changes within yourself.

My warmest regards, Dr. Irene

Monday March 28, 2005
03:04 PM

My now ex girlfriend was in an emotionally abusive marriage. We meet and things were great until her ex would start the abuse up again. They lived many miles apart but he still managed to upset her to the point of her needing medication. She remains emotionally engaged with him; she lets him push her buttons. She slept and ate very little during these times. She is in counseling now. Excellent! During one of these times of stress for her, she ended the relationship between us, and we stayed friends. After not hearing from her in awhile and not being able to get a hold of her on the phone for a couple days, in my worry for her well-being (not from her ex), I phoned a family member to see if she was okay. She found out about the phone call and told me that it really upset her because it was something he use to do. Whatever your motivation, she perceived your behavior as controlling or intrusive. That's her "baggage," as I'm sure you realize.

We haven't talked since.

I now realize that I was wrong to make that phone call. I would NEVER intentionally upset her or do anything that he use to do to her. Here's my question: 1. Should I contact her, by email, phone or in person, and tell her I was wrong to phone her family or should I just continue to give her space and hope time will straighten things out? I do plan on contacting her in the future but only to let her know I'm still here for her. I care very much for her and would like to salvage the relationship. I'm just confused as how I should proceed. I don't want to be seen as the enemy anymore.  Clearly this lady has the unavoidable baggage that comes with abuse. She's not sure what is and what is not controlling, and, in counseling, she's trying to make sense of things, and learn once again to trust her feelings. She needs time and space.

Your best course of action, in my opinion, is to leave her alone. It's OK to send a card for a Holiday or a Birthday,  reminding you care. But keep it very light and infrequent, and don't expect anything in return.

Maybe time and space will clear her head and she'll realize what she had found in you, and if that's the case, good for both of you! She needs to work things out in her head, and her counselor will help her.

But maybe you just don't "do it" for her. Many of these ladies find it difficult to find their infatuation/in-love type feelings for the nice guy. Many of these ladies find they somehow can't respect the guy who is kind or would do "anything" for her - anymore than she respects herself for having done "anything" for him.

Bottom line: you don't know what's going on inside her head, and it's unlikely she will talk with you about it honestly. She may fear hurting you, losing you entirely, or may not be sure how she feels at this time.

My advice to you is to leave the door open, but please don't hold your breath. Get on with your life, knowing you did your part by leaving the door ajar.  Remember: she already knows the door is open, but for whatever reason, she is choosing not to knock.

By getting on with your life, not only do you increase your own self-respect, but she is likely to respect you more as well. Good luck to you, Dr. Irene