My drives to work in the morning have become quite productive. This morning, once again, I was reflecting on Neil Gaiman’s words, particularly these: “They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind.” My compassion for others has always been one of my favorite attributes – and I am starting to understand why every single thing has to have a boundary, even this. I know that my husband is not an abusive person and that he has a pure and kind heart. I, therefore, know and understand that when he says things to me that crush my soul, he doesn’t do it with malice. But, he still does it, and that is the point.
This weekend I went to my neighbor’s house for her birthday party. It was great – more fun than I have had in quite some time. It was the kind of fun I used to have all the time in college – except very different because the conversations had were much more mature, lol. I had so much fun – and in the middle of the fun and conversations I realized that I am barely really living my life. I struggle so much with anxiety now that I forget how easy it used to be for me to meet and get to know new people. These aren’t your average people I was hanging with – these are people that are real and so much themselves that you can’t help but to be yourself just to try and honor their fearlessness. Sigh, isn’t that only something those of us who are afraid to really be ourselves say? Anyway, on to my point…
I got home late, very late. I was feeling so peaceful and happy that I had given myself that time to relax and have fun, because I rarely let myself do so. I crawled into my bed with a smile on my face, leaned over in an attempt to cuddle with the husband to let him know I was home. I knew he wasn’t sleeping, and he wasn’t moving either. It didn’t take long for the sickening feeling to come over me – the feeling I get when I realize he is unhappy with me for some truly obnoxious and ridiculous reason. I wanted to be sure he actually was alive, so I said, “Are you okay?” I got no response, but the tension began to spread in the silent return. This time, I was determined not to let him ruin that wonderful, warm feeling I had so I just put my ear plugs in and went back to sleep. I didn’t even want to hear what ridiculous things he was saying because they weren’t going to be nice things and I didn’t deserve to hear them. He did answer me, finally, emphatically, with: “Are you fucking kidding me? Do you think that just because you are next door that you can stay out as late as you want?” And, with that, I fell asleep. It felt very good to just tune him out and not internalize the accusation and react to him for the moment.
The next morning I tried explaining to him that he could have expressed his frustration to me in many ways other than the way he ultimately chose to. I explained the same thing I have explained a million times to him (and by a million I mean nearly every time I go “out” and I push the limits of unexpressed rules that he apparently has for me, such as a curfew), that it really is all about communication and the way we speak to each other. I told him how hurt and uncomfortable it makes me feel when he talks to me in that tone for that reason. In the nicest way I’ve ever described it to him, I told him that he is better than this controlling person he sounds like when he accuses me of doing something wrong when all I’ve done is stay out a little later than usual and let myself socialize in an adult world for a change.
He sounds like a controlling ass hole, does he not?? Well, he’s really not! He is simply a product of his upbringing, which happens to have taken place in a part of the world that is largely patriarchal even today (and, more so that here in the good ole’ U.S.A. which I do realize is quite patriarchal still as well.) I have watched his mother and father interact and it is clear that even today, in 2012, there are definite and defined limits on his mother’s actions. She may be feisty and rebellious at times, and by that I mean, she may have an opinion and express that opinion, but she is ultimately guided and willingly follows the standards of submissiveness that she has existed in for her entire life. Now, my husband has explained to me that this is not true in any sense. Because he doesn’t see it. And how could he? It is perfectly normal to him. He has never shown interest in exploring the roots of the kind of behavior he exhibits in these circumstances. So, the story goes that because I am compassionate and I know his heart is kind and pure, I look beyond it, forgive him, accept that he is never “sorry” for how badly he makes me feel during these moments. Which brings me to the title of original title this post, which was “The Subtle, Confusing, Innocence of Emotional Abuse.” You can see why I changed it.
Just saying the word “abuse” feels very taboo and foreign and uncomfortable to me, because it is almost always followed, in my head at least, with the word “victim.” I don’t want to be anybody’s victim, I don’t want to play the victim, I don’t want to over-exaggerate my circumstances, I don’t want to accuse. My husband is not a monster and he really is one of the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. I keep trying to figure out if he’s always been this controlling or if he’s changed over the years as circumstances have hardened his heart. I’ve thought he’s been depressed now for over a year, and I chalk his behavior up to that a lot and I do understand his recent frustration with life. But, our marriage has had many problems that stem from our fundamental differences for quite some time. This is one of the main reasons it is so hard for me to use the word “abuse” when talking about my marriage or my husband, because I know he doesn’t treat me this way with malice. However, by it’s definition, emotional abuse is “any behavior that is designed to control and subjugate another human being through the use of fear, humiliation, and verbal assaults.” This is a fairly basic definition, found on a random college counseling website that I don’t live anywhere near. Google sure is handy. I liked this definition, though, because of this comment, “Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept.”
Now, listen as I explain away the absolute fact that this is what is happening in my marriage. I have blatantly pointed out to my husband that what he is doing qualifies as emotional abuse, and, naturally, he scoffs and says things like, “Please!” Or “Wow, really? This is unbelievable.” Or, my personal favorite, “So if you think I am abusing you, why don’t you just leave?” The more I weed through the problems of our marriage and my contributions to our utter lack of healthy communication patterns, the more I come to realize that in this case, my compassion has started to hurt rather than help me. I understand why he thinks it is okay to belittle and disrespect me on a regular basis. This does not mean I have to accept it. Accepting it includes letting it happen. Letting it happen includes letting it go, moving on with our daily lives as if nothing is wrong because it’s just easier that way. I have tried explaining the way he makes me feel many, many times. I have tried every perspective that you can imagine. The only thing that works, sometimes, is when I ask him to put himself in my shoes and “Would you like it if I said that to you?” In the end, whether he says he is sorry or not, the root of the problem is never truly addressed and thus, the cycle continues. Thus, his insistence that all of our problems are due to my “creation of problems that don’t exist (more emotional abuse).” A good friend recently reminded me of a quote that says something along the lines of, “before you diagnose yourself with any kind of disorder or mental illness, be sure that you aren’t just surrounded by ass holes first.”
I actually would prefer to be married to my husband for the rest of my life. I just need him to love himself enough to make some transformations so that he can be the person I know he wants to be, so that we can have the kind of marriage we both deserve. I thought, as I always do, that I could actually be unaffected by his temper tantrum. It had no logic, was cruel, I didn’t deserve it, so why give it a thought? Why try and explain myself? I just end up sounding guilty and I was not guilty of anything – I was literally next door with people he knows just as well as I do! Despite this understanding, I did somehow still end up defending myself as well. ” know it was late, but I was having fun….” I am an adult – I am fairly far into adulthood… certainly far enough to make decisions for myself. The fact that I even had to have that kind of a conversation and thought process is really the core reason why I feel so heartbroken and disturbed at the end of these little battles. Because, they are battles within my husband that I am trying to fight for him. And I will never win.
This is just one small example of the way things typically go in my house. The sad and excruciating part of this is that the rest of the day, we actually got along just fine. I assumed that he had calmed down and reason had returned to him with sleep. I also assumed that he knew what I said was right and recognized his mistake in treating me like his 16 year old child. So, later that night when he tried to snuggle up to me, I asked him if he felt bad for the way he had spoken to me. Yes, I totally ruined the “moment” but this was NOT my intention! I fully expected him to say, “Yes, I do.” And, herein lies MY neurosis. I didn’t expect an apology, he sucks at them. I figured at the very least he’d ACKNOWLEDGE how dreadful he was to me. But, alas, he did not. He actually ended up emphasizing his point that as a wife and a mother, I should not “behave that way.” It’s quite hilarious when you think about it – because one could conclude that as a wife and a mother, he intends for me never to socialize (even with the neighbors), drink alcohol socially, meet new people, invest in new friendships, and of course never stay out past 12? 1? 2am? And the reason for this is because of… what people will say about me? Him? Because I’d love to know who the hell would agree with him that my “behavior” was inappropriate. If I was bar-hopping every night and standing on a corner, eh, yeah, I can see how that may cross the motherly/wifely line. For the love of GOD, I was NEXT DOOR. (That maybe the title of my book, just sayin’.)
So, when no acknowledgement of any wrong doing occurred, I shut down. I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it either… so, he blurted out, “This relationship is going nowhere with you.” Isn’t that lovely? Again, he implies that due to my complete and utter psychosis, “this relationship” is going nowhere. “This relationship” can’t go anywhere unless we are both committed to its survival. Survival. I am completely okay with it sometimes just being about surviving as a couple. It is like life… sometimes we really do just “survive.” I have been “surviving” now for a long, long time. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to thrive. I want my son to see me as free and happy as I was in the midst of all that fun on Saturday night, the way I am when it is just him and I, laughing and playing and living the magical moments of life together. Maybe I ruined the moment my husband was in desperate need of at that time. But, as I told him later that night, it’s pretty essential that we start asking ourselves the hard questions at this juncture, because I’m sick of the merry-go-round. It is fine for us to have a difference in opinion about what is and is not appropriate “behavior” for me as a mother and a wife. It is not okay for him to shame me for not following his definition. It is not okay for him to do this once… and he has done it many, many times.
As things become more and more clear to me, I realize that I have a decision to make. He won’t go to therapy. The pattern won’t change on it’s own. I can’t be our therapist. I can’t save our marriage. Our problems are fixable. This is what breaks my heart… I am a fighter! I don’t like giving up on people, especially people who I love and believe in. However, I realize now that it is not in my power to change him and that my compassion for him and the way he was raised can only take me so far. Trying to understand and explain away his abusive behavior is only hurting me. It is only a matter of time before my son starts to learn the same patterns that my husband learned throughout his childhood. And, I just can’t let that happen.
It’s been fairly dark inside my head this week as we have barely spoken anything other than necessary words to one another. I think we are both sad, and as usual the saddest part to me is that he is waiting for me to “get over it” while I am waiting for him to give me things he will never be able to give me. I don’t know what will happen, how this one will turn out… if I will feel it is necessary to go back into denial or not for awhile. But, I know that I just wrote this blog and that the fear of what lies beyond the “what if we don’t make it” thoughts are becoming less and less overwhelming. I know that my son gives me incredible strength and a will to live and keep fighting this fight that is unparalleled. I know that no matter what happens, I will be fine. Better than fine. I will thrive. 🙂