I read a quote recently that has me pondering. It’s by Father Thomas Keating and it says, “There is no commandment that says we have to be upset by the way other people treat us. The reason we are upset is because we have an emotional program that says if someone is nasty to me, I cannot be happy or feel good about myself.”
What do you think? It shifts the power, doesn’t it? Instead of being a perpetual victim of someone’s ugly words, you become an owner who decides what words you are going to allow to impact you.
Your work isn’t to change the other person (which we know is not possible). Your work is to change your own emotional program. Click To Tweet
Today’s Question: My husband became verbally abusive after I gave birth to my son 12 years ago. Is this common? I walked on eggshells. I believed I was as worthless as he told me. I believed I was lucky to have him and that he was so wonderful to even consider keeping me around. I believed I was stupid. I was a whore. I thought he was so smart and loved me, so why would he lie?
Well, the day came that his rages were targeting our children. I put my foot down and told him I would file for divorce if he ever raged again (Which he had done weekly for 12 years).
This has been 4 months ago now and he has not raged since. In fact, he is the passive one now. I prayed for God to give me the strength to leave him or to change him and I got both. Leslie, it seems I got exactly what I wanted but now I am filled with resentment.
If it was this easy to change, why didn't he do it long ago? Why would he have ever treated me or the kids this awful way? How can I ever forgive him? He was a downright monster.
Answer: First it is not uncommon for women to report that abuse begins during her first pregnancy or after the birth of their child. That’s when your attention is shared, it’s not only him but now you are also focused on your child and he feels insecure, ignored, jealous, or slighted.
When he started verbally abusing you, what was going on in you that you would still tell yourself that he loved you and you were lucky to have him when he was so cruel and abusive towards you? Obviously, his awful words penetrated some of your own inner insecurities and lies you believed about yourself that you would have so easily surrendered to his bullying and rages.
But as it happens, often when you start to see your little ones’ being treated the same way, somewhere deep inside of you a well of courage erupts and you say ENOUGH! You know they don’t deserve to be treated this way (even if you believed the lie that you did). You spoke up, set boundaries, and told him the consequences if he ever did that again.
And he stopped. Four months now.
You are shocked that you had more power than you thought you did.
You are shocked that you believed that you were helpless and voiceless but the truth was, you were not.
You are mad at yourself that you waited twelve long years before you found your voice and set boundaries and consequences in place.
You resent that you and your children suffered in fear of emotional abuse for twelve years before he stopped.
You are furious that he had a whole lot more control over himself than you believed he had. Now he’s quiet. He’s passive. He hasn’t raged. All because you said, “if you do this again I will divorce you.” You didn’t have the strength to change him, but you did have the strength to tell him what would happen if he didn’t change and mean it. That’s why he changed.
Now you have a quieter man but not necessarily a better marriage. You are struggling with your own feelings – anger, resentment, lack of trust, and unforgiveness. You said they were towards him, but I wonder if you’re also feeling some of that towards yourself for not standing up sooner?
If you don’t address these emotions, they will hurt you and they will tempt you to retaliate with some of your own emotional outbursts towards him. I’d encourage you not to take that path.
Instead, it’s time for some self-compassion and a second conversation with your spouse. Make sure you do your own work before you have this conversation and decide what you what to say and how you want to say it.
For example, you might say something like this.
It’s been four months now where you have not raged or called anyone in our home a name. I’m grateful that you took my words seriously, but I’m also pretty dumbfounded that it was that easy for you to stop.
It makes me angry that you would willingly choose to hurt me and the kids for twelve years until I finally had enough. It makes me angry that you would think that’s okay and never once apologized or realized you needed help.
It also makes me very angry to realize you had control over your tongue and temper all this time. You could have chosen to stop anytime you decided to, but you did not until I threatened you with dire consequences if you did not.
Your rages have stopped and that is a good thing but it doesn’t repair all the hurt and damage that your rages did.
Let me give you an example; “If you punched holes in the walls whenever you raged, after twelve years there would be a lot of holes in our walls.
So many holes that the structure of the walls would be weakened. If I said, “if you don’t stop punching at the walls, they are going to fall down” you stopped.
But the holes are still in the walls and you have not made any effort to talk about the holes, to repair the holes, or to say you are sorry for ruining the walls of our home. Stopping is the first step but it’s not enough to repair our home.
In the same way, stopping your emotionally abusive rages was the first step but it’s not the only step that needs to be made if our marriage and family are going to survive.
You don’t want a divorce – that’s why you stopped. I don’t either. But I want a relationship where we can talk about how we are going to repair the holes in our marriage and family that were made over these past twelve years. I want you to realize how much you’ve hurt us and I want you to genuinely feel sorry for the pain you’ve caused and never repeat it again.
I need you to understand how angry I am for what you put us through and care how deeply you hurt us.”
Then stop talking. Watch how he responds and see if he’s willing to take that next step of not only stopping abuse, but also repairing the damage he’s caused.
Meanwhile, do your work to continue to get stronger, to get those old lies out of your head that you deserved to be treated that way and help your children heal from the wounds their dad caused.
Don’t be surprised once it’s safe around the house that your children may get angry with you that you waited so long to protect them. Validate their anger. Try not to get defensive. Tell them they have a right to be angry that you weren’t stronger back then. But make sure you encourage them to express their anger in constructive ways rather than destructive ways or they will simply be repeating the same patterns their dad engaged in. Do not allow your children to be emotionally abusive with you in their own anger or pain.
Remember, you are working towards getting stronger and healthier for you, for your children, and hopefully your marriage. Therefore it’s very important that you nurture your courage, deal with these negative emotions now in a constructive way, and invite your husband to make more changes.
Friends: How did you get over your anger at your own self when you realized that you should have done something sooner?