December 8, 2006

Dear SML - Divorce or Not?

Dear SML,

My life sucks. I am married with children, but feel very lonely. I resigned from the morg, and have since discovered that my marriage was really just an empty shell with no foundation that was artificially held up by the morg.

My wife is nice enough most of the time, does a lot for me, says she appreciates me, and all. I appreciate all she does for me very much (and could make a very long list, that unfortunately doesn't include much in the sexual arena). But I don't really have any feelings left for her. The deep dark secret is that I'm an abused spouse. I don't mean that I've been beaten to a pulp over and over again (though the abuse has gotten physical a couple of times), but rather a victim of emotional and verbal abuse. And I'm man enough to admit it. There's only so much of that a person can take before completely withdrawing from a person, you know?

I've read several books, one of which was aptly titled "Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay" on this topic, as well as seeing a counselor on my own. It is pretty clear after all of that that I don't want to remain married to this person, yet here I am still.

I was a child of divorce myself, and my parents did all the things you're not supposed to do to a child of divorce, and few, if any, of the things you are supposed to do. I swore to myself that I'd never put my own children through the same experience.

I don't want to face the pain and hurt my children will feel if I leave their mother, yet I also know that giving them a relationship role model of an unloving marriage isn't good either.

We've tried counseling. After the last flare-up of physical violence, I insisted that we go. It didn't change anything from what I can tell. There hasn't been any recurrence of physical violence (yet), but it's probably only a matter of time. Even if it doesn't happen again, I know there's more emotional & verbal abuse to endure down the road.

I don't hate my wife, nor do I think she's a bad person. I just think that we're not good together as a couple. Unfortunately, she isn't willing to see it this way, and has blocked all of my attempts to discuss divorce or separation.

What should I do?

Dear Mr. What Should I Do,

I think if you read your words here, you already know inside what you should do. Although I recognize that there are always two sides to every relationship, I can only offer you my advice based on what you wrote.

First, let's address the issue of physical, emotional, verbal abuse. Counseling is a great way to work through this problem, and it is a problem. Physical abuse is somewhat easier to acknowledge and address as a couple, because the evidence is right there in front of both of you in the form of bruises, red marks, or visible evidence that some hurt was inflicted. It is harder for the one who inflicted the physical abuse to deny it after the fact.

Emotional and verbal abuse tends to be more subtle, insidious, and much more damaging than physical abuse. These are wounds that sometimes never heal. It can start with seemingly minor, derogatory remarks that belittle the victim, causing him or her to feel little or no self-worth. Often people who emotionally abuse others say they do it because the victim brings such treatment on themselves, or because they "deserve it."

I say bullshit!

The horrible thing about emotional and verbal abuse is that it is easy for the human psyche to forget (or push deep into the subconscious) those things that hurt emotionally. So you may be filled with anger and hate one night over the abuse you suffered, but the next morning when you wake up, and your spouse is treating you well, it is very easy to enjoy the relief you feel, making it easy to "forget." But it is still inside you, and it can build up to massive proportions, snuffing out all feelings of love and respect that you once had for your wife. This appears to have already happened to you. If left unacknowledged, it can even damage your ability to feel love and respect for anyone, including yourself.

What really stinks about emotional and verbal abuse is that it is difficult to make your spouse see what they are doing to you, and that it is wrong. They may claim to love you, respect you, and treat you well, but you know otherwise. Sometimes counseling is necessary to help the abuser to actually see their behavior, and then learn new ways to treat others that aren't abusive. You said that you've tried counseling, and it didn't change anything as far as you can tell. This may be because you initiated the counseling, and she only went because she had to. If a person doesn't recognize that they need to change, they certainly won't.

You are stating clearly in your letter to me that you want a divorce. However, you have reservations because your parents divorced and did all the things parents are not supposed to do during divorce, and none of the things they should have done. You swore that you'd never put your children through the same experience. So, what's holding you back? It sounds to me like you will NEVER do any of the same hurtful things your parents did, because it is not who you are, and because you are also going to consciously avoid making those mistakes.

If you are worried that your wife will make it ugly, and hurt the kids in the process, I can understand why you might be hesitant. But you should know this: kids are not stupid. They have eyes, and feelings, and they know a lot more than we give them credit for. If you remain calm, reasonable, and open to discussing your children's worst fears and feelings about divorce or their lives after the divorce, that will go far in giving them a firm confidence that you are there for them, and that you are an understanding, wise, and good father. This will cement your relationship, no matter what happens custody-wise. I'm guessing her verbally abusive behavior toward you now will translate into character-bashing later, maybe to the kids. But if you show them your calm, steadfast love, they will know what's true for themselves. It always works this way. And they will also see the truth in their mother at some point too. When this happens, they will need that love and support from you more than ever.

If you stay in this marriage as it stands now, you are teaching your children a few important things:

1. It's OK to be abused the way you are being abused.
2. It's normal to not be happy. (If you think they can't tell you are unhappy, think again.)
3. It's OK to treat your spouse and/or loved ones in an abusive way.

If you stay in a marriage where you are lonely, emotionally empty, and abused, you are doing your children no favors. When your emotional cup is absolutely drained and empty, how will you have anything to give the kids when something happens where they really need emotional support from you? That is a gamble you might not want to make.

You wrote, "My wife is nice enough most of the time, does a lot for me, says she appreciates me, and all. I appreciate all she does for me very much (and could
make a very long list, that unfortunately doesn't include much in the sexual arena)."

You could get the exact same thing from a maid, only the price would be money, not your SELF.

You owe it to yourself to be happy.

Make sure you get a great lawyer. Too often women get the best lawyers and men get raked over the coals for it. Stand up for yourself and your kids. If she doesn't want to listen to YOU about a divorce, maybe she'll listen to your lawyer.


Janet M. Kincaid said...

And, P.S., fight like hell for custody of the kids. If she's abusing you emotionally and verbally, she's going to do the exact same thing to them, if she isn't already.

Good advice, SML!

Bishop Rick said...

Wow, powerful stuff.

Bishop Rick said...

Go to bed Janet.

Rebecca said...

Yeah, just cut and run. File immediately. Sure, divorce is tough on kids. But coming from a family where the parents SHOULD have split up and DIDN'T, I can say that that's probably just as bad. Show your kids that when you give everything and you can't make it work, it's okay to quit. Quitting isn't the same as failing. Show them that being happy is an option. Of course, in the end only you know what you really need to do. But whatever it is, DO it.

Freckle Face Girl said...

My parents weren't good together either. I spent my whole childhood wishing they would get divorced, but it didn't happen until I graduated from college (Mormons don't give up easily). When things are bad, it is NEVER a good idea to stay together for the children. They would rather live in a happy atmosphere.

Cele said...

First off, Lisa you rock for recognizing men are abused too. It sucks that as a nation we tend to over look spousal/partner abuse by women.

I pretty much agree with all of Lisa's comments/advice.

Here's one more little view point.

As a parent you have a responsiblity to your children (this you know.) That means being a role model (this you know.) If you can't find a way to survive your life, how can you expect your children to survive in one piece? Teach them self respect and survival, because one day they will be grown ups and may have the same dilemia to resolve. And as Janet said, fight for custody.

Sideon said...

I'm in awe of SML and her sage advice.

For what it's worth, there are people out here in the blogosphere rooting for Mr. What Should I Do, whatever he decides to do.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Thanks, everyone. This post was a hard one for me to write. Hits home on many levels for me too. I appreciate your comments to the ones who write in as well.

Anonymous said...

I know a couple with startlingly similar problem. I know them only too well - to what extent my relationship is with this couple, let's keep that personal.

What Mr. What Should I do is saying, is exactly what the man is going through. But I also know the woman's perspective. The reason why she's verbally abusive is because the man is the problem. It's almost like a chicken-and-egg situation. You have been having this problem for far too long, you can't even remember how it started, but now both parties have the baggage. And it doesn't matter how hard you look, you can't even remember anytime when you don't have that ongoing problem with your spouse.

I don't have any solution for neither this couple nor Mr. What should I do.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is... let's try not to judge too negatively Mr. What should I do's wife.

However, yes I agree with SML's advice, every single one of them. You're one very wise woman.

Liseysmom said...

I will only offer this in addition, because I agree with all of what SML has said - kids do not suffer when their parents divorce. Kids suffer when they are put in high-conflict situations. Recognize the difference between the two. If you work to minimize the conflict your kids experience during the divorce, you will be surprised how adaptive they are.

Anonymous said...

Right on, liseysmom. Very astute observation.

I was one of those who daily advised my mother to divorce my father.

I think divorce is far more traumatic for children if it seems to comes out of nowhere to them. As in, Mom and Dad seem to get along alright, and we had a relatively nice family life, and now they are destroying that. But, in situations where the marriage is loveless or abusive and where the children are exposed to high-intensity conflict between their parents already, the trauma has already occurred, and divorce can be a relief.

My Marrakech said...

Dear SML,
Very interesting. I am hoping that the person who sent you this will post a response via you.

Anonymous said...

Wow SML, most excellent advice! I also agree with what LM and Gluby have said. My heart goes out to the one who needs the advice. I don't envy their position.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this entire post, plus all the comments hit home for me. I am a survivor of just such a marriage...and it took me until the 4th yr to figure it out and another 6 to actually GET OUT! For heaven's sake, don't wait that long, and I agree, get an awesome lawyer...I gave away tons of "my stuff" to my ex just to get him to go away. SML, your comments were dead on! and I agree totally...abuse is abuse, no matter whether verbal, emotional, or ALL damages irreparably. If you read my blog, you know I don't mention my ex too often, when I do it's with much bitterness, but I'm better off now, and in an very happy marriage with a wonderful & loving husband.

ajax said...

I would say get out of the marriage as well, but what are you leaving to?

You say the husband is the problem because he's not doing what the wife wants, hence he's the one making her react in this abusive way?

We live next to selfish people and while I no longer view doing something for oneself as a sin, I do view lack of patience as a sin.
Truth is we can't have what we want right now. We can only have faith that God will recompense us according to our works. Those who do not possess this faith have no reason to use any and all forms of coercion they can get away with to squeeze what they want out of others.

I came to the realization long ago that if I wanted to be married at all I would have to be married to a selfish person.

I didn't marry because I found the perfect person. I married because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. If I were to wait to fall in love to the point where I believed my wife's shit really didn't stink, I would never have married. Nobody finds the perfect person and nobody has the perfect marriage. But I do have faith that if I endure life in this society, God will at the very least put me around others who will treat me the way I have treated others.

I still believe that there will be fairness in the end, regardless of our present circumstance. If the atheist are right and this life is all there is, then I got cheated and I guess I'm the looser. If the Baptists are right and I'm not supposed to care about fairness, then hopefully I won't be put with them in the next life. Whether they're views are higher than mine or not, I know I cannot live happily under that belief. Moreover, I know I'm right.

Beat Dad said...

I have been in that situation before,
and my current relationship also had the potential to go in that direction.

I think your advice was spot on. It is difficult to do but once an abused person starts to stand up for himself/herself the abuser will, in my experience, either stand down and see the error of their ways or accept divorce.

My DW, has responded by becoming more loving, and not abusive.