I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, married for 16. He’s always had anger and control issues, but has never been physically violent towards our children or me.
When I’ve confronted him about his anger, he says I’m overly sensitive.
Five years ago, I started seeing a therapist to work on my own self-esteem and stress issues.
I now believe that my husband may be emotionally abusive and manipulative. He’s also controlling and belittling when he deals with our two sons, ages 14 and 12.
We went to couples’ counselling this year and it was awful. I felt I was being blamed for everything wrong - not just in our relationship, but also in his life.
The therapist also seemed charmed by him and I didn’t feel supported or safe to express myself.
Since we stopped counselling, my husband thinks everything’s great. But that’s because I now don’t feel comfortable communicating my concerns, so he doesn’t think I have any.
Recently, he got angry about something I forgot to do, and swore at me in front of our oldest son. I was shocked and upset.
I raised this respectfully later; saying that I don’t feel swearing at each other is something we should be doing.
I explained that no one in my life swears at me and it’s even more upsetting coming from him.
He said he was upset at the time and agrees he shouldn’t have sworn at me.
But he figured it was a moment and then it was over, and couldn’t understand why I was making a big deal about it.
He then said he wasn’t comfortable talking about it at that time (in a restaurant) but I feel he’s closed the door on continuing the conversation.
In therapy, I’ve been working on setting healthy boundaries, but I still tend to question myself and my own needs.
Was I right to be upset about him swearing at me, or am I really just over-sensitive?
This is no time to start doubting yourself about the need for respectful boundaries.
With teenagers at home, it’s even more important that you both understand the negative message when their father swears at you – e.g. crudity’s okay, the nastier person wins, etc.
However, therapy is a process and even as you grow and gain confidence, it doesn’t mean the other person gets or appreciates it.
Pick your battles. You’ve made your point about the swearing. If it happens again, walk away.
Through therapy, you’ll find ways to assert yourself when you feel “manipulated” and/or “controlled.”
In the past, your husband likely thought his behaviour was okay because you didn’t react then. Now, your responses are different. They may unsettle him. It may even cause an impasse.
Of course, if he lashes out physically or becomes consistently abusive, you must draw the line, even if it means separating with the insistence that he get anger management therapy to return.
Meanwhile, discuss with your therapist his “belittling” of your children.
If it persists, it’ll surely escalate tensions through their teenage years. And it can affect their responses to others throughout their youth and adult lives.
Talk to him without blame (to avoid anger). Say that you’re aware that teenage boys need encouragement as much as rules.
They need to be part of the conversation when they try to stretch boundaries… given more responsibilities, yes, but also more independence as they show they can handle it.
FEEDBACK Regarding the teenage daughter living with her mom and her third partner (Nov. 10):
Reader – “Regardless of the dramatic changes, she’s 18, old enough to clean up after herself.
“Constantly” leaving dishes on the counter and other messes isn’t acceptable.
“Finding a mess after an 18-hour workday is upsetting for this couple. The girl likely gets free room and board and does nothing to help out.
“Having house rules teaches children responsibility and respect for the home and parents. Disrespecting parents, by saying if they can leave a mess, she can too, is unacceptable.”
Ellie – Sure she’s old enough, and once she and her mother can address what’s really the problem, the “rules” will be less contentious, especially if she’s brought into the conversation.
Repeated upheavals through Mom’s changing relationships are not “dramas”… they’re a pattern that’s made this teenager insecure, unsettled, and angry, too.
This mother and partner need to reassure the daughter of love and security.
Tip of the day:
Counselling may help you handle a difficult partner, but anger management may be necessary to effect change in him or her.