Your husband is a great guy. A devoted son, a loving father, a good employee.
You are involved in your community. You are leaders. You might even teach or be involved at your place of worship. On the outside, you appear to be the perfect family, but not all is as it seems. You fight daily.
You try marriage counseling. You’re discouraged when, instead of helping, the therapy only makes your issues worse.
You’ve given up on believing that your marriage can be happy. You feel ill at ease in your own home and misunderstood. Everyone else thinks your husband is such a great guy, so why don’t you?
- You often find yourself “in trouble” for something. For instance, you accept an invitation to lunch with mutual friends without first asking his permission. You know when you’re “in trouble” because there is a look or gesture that lets you know. There is an awkward silence and distance between you until you can get away from the other people. Once you do get alone together, you are scolded and lectured. After this interaction, there will most likely be a new rule you are to follow to prevent upset in the future. The rulebook eventually gets so complicated you can’t keep up.
- The Anger Switch. You’re in a fight on the way to the family BBQ. Once you arrive, you can’t be seen fighting in the parking lot, so you put your best face forward and participate in the event as though nothing is wrong. You get back in the car after a couple hours (and some other uplifting interactions with people), and you feel softened. Ready to have the denouement and get back to loving connection. Instead, you are blindsided by anger. Surprised to find out that he is just as mad at you as when you got out of the car. It’s a switch that he can turn on and off.
- His shortcomings become your fault. When you express concern that he’s depressed, the conversation becomes about how he’s depressed because of you. When you challenge him about his latent tendency to be angry with you more quickly, it’s your fault for making him thin-skinned. This is not just about lack of personal responsibility – it’s about shifting of personal responsibility off of him and onto you.
- Certain people are off-limits or strongly discouraged. You’re discouraged from spending time with friends who just make him “uncomfortable.” Or with friends who seem too interested in you (even platonically). There should be truly compelling reasons for your spouse to tell you who you can or cannot talk to. Whether explicitly or by implication.
- Double-standards when it comes to permission. If he wants to hang out with his buddies, he makes his plans first and then tells you. If you want to hang out with your friends, you first ask him about the date and time, the amount of money you can spend, if he can handle the childcare, and then you confirm with your friends. If you make plans with your friends and then confer with him, you’re in trouble (see #1). If you ask him to change his pre-made plans, you are in trouble (see #1). Double-standards always become lose-lose.
- Something is off that you can’t quite put your finger on. You know something is deeply wrong with your relationship. You know that you are subconsciously accepting bad behaviors for the sake of maintaining the status quo. You know in your core that your relationship is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s hard to face it. It’s difficult to get the ball rolling with counseling. There is no guarantee that he will change, or that your relationship will ever get any better.
If any of that sounds a little too familiar, here’s what you can do.
First, take care of you. Keep some kind of journal or record for yourself of incidents and how they make you feel. You may need to review this journal as a way to keep yourself grounded when the crazy-making intensifies.
Remember, your marriage isn’t all bad. There will be ups and downs just like any healthy relationship—just with different intensity and frequency. The key is to maintain perspective. Focus on your own emotional and mental health.
Find someone who you trust to talk to about what’s going on for yourself. Traditional marriage counseling is not a good option for abusive relationships. It is possible that he will become interested in getting the help your marriage needs over time. If that’s the case, find a counselor who is familiar with abusive relationship dynamics.
Most importantly, believe yourself, even if no one else does. You may be the only person to ever believe you, and that has to be enough.
Author: Kim Caloca
Editor: Renee Jahnke
Image: Jorge Mendez