Dear WholeFamily Counselor,
I am a 50-year-old woman, been married for 13 years. There are so many problems in my marriage; I don't know where to start.
My husband is very emotionally abusive. He says mean and cruel things like "You are so ugly, no wonder I can't stand you." He has belittled me so bad I have no self-esteem. We can't talk about much of anything especially my feelings. As long as I let him think he is always right, everything is fine. But if I try to expose different opinions than him, the fight is on and the abuse begins.
How do I tell him I have feelings too? I feel I deserve better than this. Please help me to tell him I am not taking this behavior any more.
Hurt and confused
Dear Hurt and Confused,
What you describe is indeed an abusive situation. There are two roles being played in this 'game': the abusive husband and the abused wife. This is a very painful and difficult situation for you, and it has to stop as quickly as possible.
You write in your letter "there are so many problems in your marriage that you don't know where to start." My advice to you is to start by stopping the abuse, and then to look back at your life, step by step.
First of all, what were the circumstances of your marriage? How was your relationship with your husband in the beginning? Was it based on love, respect, friendship or other positive feelings? Or something else?
I understand that you got married at the age of 37. Did you have other relationships before the present one with your husband? Were these relationships different, or also abusive like today?
I believe that an abusive relationship like the one you describe is the result of several factors. Let's try to point out a few of them:
a. You don't seem to like yourself or feel worthy of being loved. Otherwise, you would not remain with a man who has treated you so badly for 13 years.
b. It could also be that unconsciously you give him the permission to treat you abusively. Do you believe the things your husband tells you? Do you think negatively about yourself in the same ways that he criticizes you? Do you feel ugly?
c. Your husband may have the same problems as yours: self-hatred and no self-esteem. He projects that hatred onto you and treats you without respect. By humiliating and hurting you, he also disrespects himself, even if he doesn't realize it.
I suspect both of you come from families where abuse existed; it seems that you repeat unsolved patterns. My suggestions to you are:
1. I hope that my message will open your eyes and make you understand something about yourself. Then it may give you strength to stop the abuse NOW, even if the price is leaving your husband.
2. Seek help. Counseling will help you gain strength and self-confidence. Do you work? Do you have kids? What about friends, hobbies or things that give you pleasure, joy and satisfaction?
3. If you make changes in your life and stop feeling hurt and confused, something eventually may make your husband change. Perhaps the two of you should try to work out your problems by going to marital therapy.
Arlette Simon, MSW