My husband and I have been married seventeen years. We’ve got an issue that keeps bothering me and I’m not sure I can tolerate it any longer. When my husband gets frustrated or angry, he takes it out on me. He speaks to me disrespectfully and, to my way of thinking, abusively. He yells at me and speaks to me as if I were a complete idiot or a child. He does this regardless of where we may be at the time.
He treats me as if I were less-than and I find it demeaning. He diminishes my love for him every time he does this. I’ve repeatedly asked him not to speak to me that way and not to treat me that way, especially not in front of others who then look at me with pity in their eyes but he continues to do it. He always says, “I’m sorry,” later, but to me, his apologies are worthless and empty because he keeps on doing it. If he were really sorry for it, he’d stop doing it.
I am tired of being ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated in public by his poor treatment and behavior and I’m tired of being pitied for enduring it. I can’t take it any longer and I don’t want to either.
I do love him but I have had enough. How do I get him to see that he is destroying our marriage with his behavior?
Getting a loved one to see the impact they’re having on us isn’t always easy. As you painfully described, it’s often the case that our loved ones have no clue how certain interactions cause damage to the relationship. It’s a good thing you want to do something about this. I can’t see this changing without some direct action.
Before you begin setting boundaries with your husband, it’s important to get support so you’re not alone as you try and change these deep patterns in your marriage. You can start by reading “Love Without Hurt” by Dr. Steven Stosny, an expert on helping couples in emotionally abusive relationships. Getting this type of education and clarity will help you decide what direction is best for you and your relationship.
Since your pleas to have him stop treating you this way both publicly and privately aren’t effecting any change, I recommend you try going the other direction and creating more distance from him. It’s normal for us to move away from loved ones when our attempts to have them see us don’t work. This is not a game of hiding so he sees you. This is about protecting yourself from damaging interactions. While divorcing your entire marriage shouldn’t be your first option, divorcing yourself from that particular pattern of complete disrespect is a good idea.
You might start with deciding that you won’t spend time with him in public. If he wonders why you want to create distance, you can explain how you aren’t going to tolerate him humiliating you in front of others. If you’re not around, he can’t humiliate you. While this might bring on more criticism and insults from your husband, it will provide you with more clarity about whether or not he’s willing to take your concerns seriously.
Imagine how long you would hang around if you were in a dating relationship with him. Former president of Brigham Young University, Jeffrey R. Holland, counseled students that when dating others, “I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”
If this type of behavior warrants immediately ending a dating relationship, it certainly makes sense to create some space in a marital relationship. Your dignity as a human being is at stake and you have to teach him how to treat you. If you have children, you certainly don’t want them to believe this is how intimate relationships should operate.
It’s time to stop pleading and to take action so you can have emotional safety. He may not understand what you’re doing, but it will create a new interaction that might produce a much-needed change in your marriage.
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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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