Dear WholeFamily Counselor,
My husband is a very good provider and is a good man in many ways, but I am very unhappy in our marriage and I need your help.
He has been verbally abusive with me for a long time. This is his nature, just the way he talks to people in general. He has done the same with our 2 children, now preteens. For years, I made excuses, said "that's just the way he is", talked to him about my feelings and my needs, gone to counseling (alone, he wouldn't go.)
As I have gotten older, his verbal abuse has become less and less acceptable to me. The tension in our marriage became unbearable. On two occasions, his temper and frustration erupted into physical violence against our children. They were not seriously hurt, but they were frightened. My son is now under the care of a therapist for anxiety, and my husband has agreed to marital counseling for our son's sake. My son in particular seems to have long-standing issues with his father, and the neglect he has felt over the years. Our daughter seems to be handling it all OK, although I worry about her too. Her grades, friends, etc. are all terrific right now and she seems happy in every other part of her life.
My husband is truly trying to do the right thing. He sees that his behavior is unacceptable. At one point he told me that "If I had known the situation was marriage-threatening, I would have changed years ago." My answer to that was "Why did it have to be marriage-threatening to be important? And why, then, have you told me for years that you could not change and I would have to accept you the way you are?"
He is controlling his temper, although I am a bit afraid that it is just simmering beneath the surface. He says he is remorseful. He is paying more attention to the children now, although still not what I would call a "normal" level.
Our sex life was never wonderful to begin with, but now the thought of him touching me is repulsive to me. I do not feel any attraction to him at all any more. I don't know if I can ever get that back. Sometimes I feel like he could jump through hoops all day long now and it wouldn't make any difference because that part feels dead inside me.
If his "change" is real and long-lasting, will what passion we had ever come back? Right now I feel like I do love him but not as a lover. I love him because I understand his pain, but I'm not sure I want to be with him for the rest of my life. I am ready to start living life in color again, and I don't want half a marriage. And most of all, I want a healthy environment for my children, both of whom are feeling the effects of our situation.
Any help for me?
Dear Wanting To Live Life In Color,
I'm so sorry that your marriage had to get to this point before your husband would seek help. I can understand why you feel angry and frustrated.
If you've already made up your mind that it's over, then nothing he can do will change your decision to leave.
I'm glad to hear that you're already in marital therapy. Really make use of your sessions. Be completely honest with your husband at all times but especially when meeting with your therapist. Let him know that you care for him but that at this time you're not feeling passion for him because of his behavior towards you all these years. If he reacts angrily, then you'll have the therapist there to help you work through this. And if he asks you if you want to stay in the marriage, what will your answer be? Maybe you'll need a private session with the therapist first to explore your feelings and map out what you want to do.
I honestly don't know if the passion will come back for you. I do know that if you've already made up your mind that it's over, then nothing he can do will change your decision to leave. Or you may feel that his behavioral changes won't be long-lasting but you're ready to give him one more chance before you end the marriage. Please sit with your therapist to explore all of your options before you make a decision.
Also discuss with your therapist what to say to your children if they ask you if the two of you are going to get a divorce. Given what happened, I'm sure that they know a lot about what's going on between you two. Be prepared to deal with their questions in a way that's truthful and age-appropriate in terms of the amount of information that you tell them. For example, if they asked you today if you were getting a divorce and you denied it, only to separate six months from now, then they could easily feel betrayed and that you lied to them. Instead you may want to say something like "Daddy and I are in counseling to work things out. I don't know what will happen in the future but I do promise to be honest with you if we ever get to that point." Don't burden your children with your problems. Let them remain kids.
One last suggestion, accept the support of your friends and relatives but remember that the decision to stay or to leave is yours alone. Learn to deflect well-intentiioned advice that begins with "If I were you I'd-". Be firm and polite. Thank the person for caring but tell him/her that only you know what's right for you.