The Doc Answers 44

August 22, 2012

Dr. Irene,

I divorced my controlling, abusive husband after 10 years of marriage and 4 children. Since I have left, he has custody of the children and uses them to punish me every chance he gets. He is the one who initiates court battle over EVERYTHING and when he does not get his way comes up with excuses or just ignores court decisions. I do not have enough room to write out all the questions for all of my children, so I am just going to ask for Shellie.

Our middle daughter, Shellie, is 15 and lives with me because she accused her step mom of physical abuse. Shellie was diagnosed as bi-polar and has made suicide threats. Since she has lived with me she has improved dramatically, but her father wants to put her in a long term treatment facility. When she wasn't showing signs of improvement, he was sending accusing emails demainding to know what I was doing to correct the situation. She started showing improvement when he started talking about sending her to a facility.

This is good! She was able to modify her behavior to avoid consequences she did not want.

When he comes to her counseling sessions he basically chuckles or says it didn't happen when my daughter brings up instances of abuse. The therapist does not call him on it or even ask my daughter how it makes her feel. The therapist's supervisor claims 'ignoring the abusive behavior to defuse the drama' is a valid treatment and thinks the therapist is doing fine. When I asked her for a reference book explaining how this therapy works she told me that the texts detailing the therapy was written for therapists and since I'm not a licensed therapist it would be inappropriate for her to provide them to me.

Am I wrong to feel that witholding information is a valid reason for distrust?

First of all, anything you feel is valid! Anything! And, you are the consumer. In today's society, the social norm is that you have a right to understand your treatment.

I'm not sure what specific theoretical basis is being used, but in learning theory, which does work, when an unwanted behavior is ignored, in time it will drop out. But it won't drop out if it is being maintained by something else: your doubts and abuse concerns.

While the heightened emotionality created by abuse talk will not be helpful, your feelings need to be addressed!

By the same token, barring glaring abuse, Shellie's father has a point regarding limit setting. He seems to accuse you of being soft on her. This may be, especially if discipline is a 'war' topic. Each of you will polarize further away from each other. He may be too harsh and you too empathic. A therapist's goal would be for two parents to negotiate behind the scenes and reach agreement so together they could calmly set strong and consistent limits with clear consequences, which they stick to. *Sigh* Not easy.

As such, while understandable, your insistance on validation of the abuse may not be helpful and may fuel an unintended continuation of the war between you and your ex - which your daughter can and will take advantage of. That's just what kids do! Helping you get beyond this and teaching you to better tow the line with her would help. When dealing with a bipolar kid, the risk of parental splitting increases.

There is always motivation in divorce to 'side' with your kid. Most divorced parents are guilty of this to some extent. However, this is not helpful and is detrimental to the child. As the saying goes, the parents have to love the kid more than they dislike each other.

Therapy may or may not mitigate/stop the abuse, unless of course it is something readily identifyable that would require supervised visitation, etc. Either way, you and Shellie need to learn how to better handle it. Intervening on her behalf won't help her cope now or teach her how to handle this stuff later in life.

I suggest you schedule a session for yourself alone with the therapist (and the supervior, if possible) and find out what the thinking is. Don't assume they are withholding, but do let them know how the therapy is laying a foundation for your distrust. Keep in mind that therapists often take a position that the kids are reacting to the stuff going on around them. A major goal is to help the parents 'side' with each other for the kid. Keep in mind that some theoretical orientations 'work' by temporarily keeping you in the dark. Nevertheless, you are the consumer and an explanation that a theory is beyond your qualifications does not wash.

Good luck! Dr. Irene

November 29, 2012

My husband doesn't give me affection, sex or attention to speak of. I told him I wanted him to show me love (ie spontaneous hugging, back rubs, and kissing), that I felt sad and lonely without these expressions of affection. I said that if he unable to do these things, than I would not be with him.

Statements like this convey a strong sense of rejection to the partner. Not a good way to go.

He responded by saying he can't love me because he feels unlistened to. When he is 'conversing' with me, he tells me my own thoughts and gets mad if I insist what he's saying isn't true. I now refuse to continue in a conversation if he is trying to tell me what I did or what I think, because that is a boundary violation. Yep. It is.

He doesn't seem to look for another way to talk to me, he just concludes that I'm not allowing him to talk freely so he feels constrained (and is unable to love me). He identifies this problem as the biggest in the relationship.

When he brings up our distant past during arguments, I also resist talking about that. He says he brings it up over and over because I have never done a good enough job talking about it with him. It feels manipulative to me.


My therapist says he has avoidant attachment. He does not seem to search internally the way I do or seek to understand his childhood and the ways it currently affects his behavior. He does not read articles I give about effective arguing or anything else. We are stuck. I want love, but he can't give it, and he wants to be listened to and I can't give it like that.

What an ugly cycle!

I know I can't make him do anything. Do we have any hope? I keep waiting for love. Nona

Yes you have hope, and it is time to stop waiting!

Each of you is feeling unloved or unlistened to. Neither person is getting what they want. You feel unloved, he feels unheard. There is a stalemate, yet, both of you want much the same thing from each other: the partnership you once had.

When a couple is polarized, are you two are, each person gives the other little benefit of the doubt. Neither person will give an inch. So each of you has their worst foot forward. If he has difficulty with intimacy, he will have even more difficulty during this time. And, as you mindfully admitted, you just won't listen to him the way things stand now. The destructive cycle continues and this goes nowhere fast.

Yet, once upon a time, you two fit well enough to marry. Hmmmm.... You owe it to your partner, your self and your marriage to get some professional help together. Together is the key word. There is always hope! There is hope even for marriages where the both parties are so angry and disappointed with each other, they remain stuck, each refusing to give in. You seem very distressed over the boundary breaches and what may be some control stuff. I can't blame you, but don't throw your hands up in the air yet. You would be surprised at how these patterns can shift with intervention. Let a therapist help you guys figure out if there are ways to break this stalemate. Don't sit on it since left alone, things are likely to get worse. Like too much water under the bridge. The good news is that you are not there yet.

Ask those in your circle to recommend a trained marital therapist - and go! Even if you have to tell him something like you want to learn how to better hear him, give an inch and get him in the office! Warmest regards, Dr. Irene.