This week’s question: I just read your book about Emotionally Destructive Relationships. I’ve been feeling emotionally abused by my husband for the past 7 or 8 years. We’ve been to counseling to little avail. I am now on medication for depression. I’ve been taught that the only reason for divorce is adultery, so I’ve been feeling very stuck.
Almost every day I get a lecture about how I communicate and instructions on how I could have said things better, in a way that doesn’t push his buttons. I can’t be myself and I find myself guarded with what I say and always expecting a lecture. I try to let it slide off my back but it’s getting to me. I used to explode a lot when he said demeaning things and insulted my intelligence.
Now that I’m on the medication I can keep my emotions under control better, but I’m wondering if I should continue to put up with this. It affects our kids. They hear their father talking to their mother in very condescending tones and it’s not healthy. And sometimes they hear me sobbing or yelling when I can’t take it anymore.
Here are some of the phrases he uses with me:
“You didn’t bother to….”
“I don’t understand why you want to lose.”
“You are a very unique woman”
“I’m waiting for you to get your head out of the sand.”
“That isn’t very smart”
“You’re not paying attention”
“This does not bode well for getting good results.”
It’s not just the area of communication where he acts controlling. He doesn’t want me to make any decisions on my own. I can decide regular daily stuff, but anything new or different he demands he be consulted. He gets very upset if I circumvent his authority. Here are a few examples.
He got upset with me telling our daughter that she could go somewhere without consulting him about it first. I went to pick out new glasses after my prescription was filled without asking him first. I invited my parents to come take pictures of my daughter and her date for the prom without letting him know first.
Even though I apologize for these misunderstandings, he continues to bring them up and remind me of my failures.
He refuses to allow me to get on his computer, even though he’s had a problem with pornography. He gets upset if I move any of his stuff when I’m trying to clean up the house. Heaven forbid if I move any furniture without getting his approval first.
Are these things controlling and/or abusive or is this just every day common behavior that I’m taking too personally?
Answer: I’m so glad you asked. We’ve been talking about why it takes some women so long to recognize abusive behavior and because your husband’s putdowns are more subtle, they aren’t always recognized as abusive.
My definition of an emotionally destructive relationship is this: Pervasive and repetitive patterns of actions and attitudes that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting a person’s growth, often accompanied by a lack of awareness, lack of remorse and lack of change.
If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to take the test at the end of chapter 1 of The Emotionally Destructive Relationship or take the free test on Emotionally Destructive Marriages. Click here for the test.
In many of these kinds of relationships, you can’t point to one specific abusive episode of grossly sinful behavior to “prove” that the relationship destructive. That’s the hard part, especially when trying to get pastoral help or explain it to a counselor.
But you know deep within that the person you once were is dying and you don’t know how to live in a healthy way in this relationship any more. You mention that you used to explode in anger and now with antidepressants you keep your emotions better in check.
I’m glad you’re not exploding anymore. That’s not healthy for anyone. However, my concern for you is that by dulling your emotional pain, you’re not paying attention to your internal warning bell that’s telling you something is very wrong.
Here’s what I mean. When you break your ankle, the pain drives you to the doctor. That’s a good thing so that you get help for your problem (broken ankle) and then you can take the pain medication and get crutches while you heal you’re ankle. If you just took pain medication so that you don’t feel your ankle pain and then continued to walk on it, you would make your ankle worse.
In the same way, when you feel continual marital pain, you need to ask yourself what’s wrong. Pain motivates us to take some action, to get help in order to fix the problem. If you just mask the pain with medication, you won’t solve the problem and the problem can actually become worse.
You said counseling has been little help. You’re not alone in this. I think it’s very difficult to describe the kinds of abuse that this kind of relationship entails. It’s also very hard for counselors to grasp. Much of what your husband asks of you sounds so reasonable.
For example, it’s normal (not controlling) for husband’s (and wives) to want to be included in decisions regarding where the children go, money spent (especially if the budget is tight), and in laws visiting. I’m guessing the problem is deeper than just a lack of information (in that you failed to inform him). But rather, he feels that it’s his right as the head of his home to decide the final outcome.
What happens when you do talk with him about these things and you have a difference of opinion? How do you resolve these disagreements? From the phrases he uses, it sounds like he has a very strong sense of win/lose in problem solving rather than mutual consideration, respect, and compromise. He believes that his authority entitles him to always have the final say.
But for you dear one, take heart. There is a God who see’s you and who knows what you are going through. There is a God who hates abuse and warns husband’s not to treat their wives harshly.
Right now if all you can work on is you and not your marriage, start there. Deal with your depression and anger. Do what you need to do to learn how to communicate in a strong and firm way that you will not engage in conversations that are disrespectful and demeaning anymore.
It is only from a position of wholeness can you then invite your husband into healthy change and make good decisions for you and your children.