Today we’re doing something a little unusual for Ask Dr. NerdLove: we’re conducting a post-mortem on an ongoing relationship. Part of what makes it unusual is that we’re talking about an abusive marriage. The other part that makes it different is the fact that it’s a man who’s being abused.
You may notice that today’s post involves a lot less snark or the usual quippy-captioned photos. That’s because, frankly, this is an incredibly serious topic and levity would be distracting and, in my opinion, disrespectful.
One of the ugly secrets of abuse is that men suffer from abusive relationships, just as women do. Emotional abuse -whether perpetrated on women or men is incredibly destructive and damaging. However, just as with cases of male sexual assault, men are much less likely to report the abuse for fear of not being taken seriously, or for being mocked or shamed; their masculinity gets called into question and the “hen-pecked husband” is a long-running synonym for being pathetic. It can be incredibly difficult for men to come to terms with the fact that they are being abused and I applaud Tony for being willing to come forward about it.
Before we get started, I want to make something abundantly clear: I will be coming down HARD on any mockery or blame-the-victim bullshit in the comments. Do not push me on this.
Let’s just say my name is Tony and I’ve got a problem. I’m not sure how to start with this so I’m just going to go straight into it. Doc, I feel like I’m in a crazy and abusive type relationship.
You need to trust your instincts. You already know that things are fucked up; this tells me right from the jump that you already know what you want. At this point, you’re looking for outside permission to do what you already know you need to do.
Let me just get the important facts out of the way real quick.
I’m thirty and she is thirty-nine. We have been married for going on ten years now, so it’s not your typical boyfriend girlfriend problems. I have three children total. Two step kids, one eighteen year old son and a twelve year old daughter. I have my own daughter with her that is now four.
Kids make any break up or divorce more difficult and traumatic under the best of circumstances. And this is rather decidedly not the best of circumstances.
I’ve seen the signs for a long time now but I’ve chosen to ignore them in the hopes of “making it work” but even with my ungodly patience (or stupidity) I can only take so much. I have grown, matured and changed a lot since she and I first got together and I’ve had about as much as I can take.
My issues with her stem from a lot of things. First of all, she is EXTREMELY jealous. I’m not talking about the healthy amount either.We’ve had two major fights over this and a lot of smaller ones in between. The first major fight was when I was working a few years back and apparently there where rumors that a lot of women that worked where I did wanted to fuck me. This led into a passive aggressive ‘interrogation” each day after work.
I think my first question here is whether you work with your wife. Because if you don’t, I’d be really curious to know how, exactly, she heard about these rumors.
I was asked how my day went which is cliche but normal, then the conversation went into who I was working with, what she looked like, had she ever seen her before, what I did for lunch, etc, etc. At first I didn’t pay it much attention, but this went on for about a month or two straight. One day I was transferred to another department that let me do a specific job that let me come home early. According to her, this department had many “disreputable” women that just gave it out like candy. She made it out to be an orgy practically. Anyway, I volunteered for this so that I can get home to her early. Well when I got home she exploded and started accusing me of all kinds of shit. I called her out on her interrogations and we went at it for a few hours.
This right here is one of the classic relationship warning signs. Trust is one of the prerequisites for any relationship – and she clearly doesn’t have any for you. More than that however, she’s using her lack of trust as a cudgel; it’s part of how she’s exercising her control over you, by making you justify everything you do. It keeps you off balance and too worried about upsetting her to realize that this is really fucking unhealthy. She gets off on the control she has over you and the last thing she’s going to want is you to realize that you need to get the fuck out.
That night I almost left her but instead I stuck with it. At this point I just wanted to say, that since I’ve been married I have never been with another woman. That being said, she admitted to me years later that she still thought for a long time that I had been with someone else and chosen her over that “other woman.”
I think that situation seriously messed my head up. After that I wouldn’t look at a woman straight in the eye and I barely talked to them when she was around. She will notice someone checking me out and then get pissed off at me for it.
There’s really no “think” about it. She got in your head and fucked with you. She made a point of breaking your spirit and keeping you cowed. This is how she controls you. It’s a classic abuser’s tactic: to make everything your fault and keep your spirit broken so that you are always worried about her disapproval and do whatever she wants in hopes of avoiding a fight.
A few female friends have told me they get the “stink eye” from her.
I’m going to be honest here: I’m kind of surprised that she let you have any female friends at all or that she hasn’t tried to drive them off. You will find behavior like this in abusive men all the time: they will try to isolate their victim from their friends – especially any of the opposite sex – in order to keep them from being “influenced” (that is: realizing that they’re being abused).
We had fights off and on about it, but they were small by comparison. That is until I started a new job.
I started this new job and made a lot of good friends there. There was one in particular that was the cause of the next BIG fight…and you guessed it, she is a woman.
Here we go…
Let’s just call this new friend “Dora.” Dora and I became pretty good friends after a few months of my working there. She was just about to get married at the time when a rumor started about Dora and me at the work place. This caused some issue with her and she stopped talking to me, thinking that I had started the rumor. I explained that I did not start it and promptly put a stop to it. The damage was done however and she stopped being my friend for some time.
OK this is a sensitive subject and I don’t want this to sound like I’m blaming you for anything but stick with me here: this is the second time in this narrative that rumors have started about you and women you work with. Is there something about the way you interact with your female co-workers that might prompt outside observers to think you’re flirting or that you’re unusually – possibly inappropriately – close? This isn’t an excuse for your wife’s abuse, but if it’s a recurring issue for you at work, you may want to do some examination of how you’re coming across while on the job.
I, not wanting a repeat of the previous instance decided to tell my wife thinking it was the right thing to do. In retrospect, that was one of the biggest mistakes I have made. Hind-sight can be a bitch like that. Telling her about the Dora rumor made my wife HATE her. She quickly thought that Dora was the one who started the rumor in the first place. I made the mistake of defending Dora knowing full well she didn’t do it which of course made me look bad.
I want to you to look at the language you’re using here. You’re indicating how worried you are about what your wife might think about something that is in no way your fault and that standing up for an innocent party was a mistake. This really should be a wakeup call to you about just how much your wife’s abuse is affecting you and your self-esteem.
At that point in time everything died down. It really wasn’t a fight then but a prelude to something much much worse.
Me and Dora over the course of a few years became friends again. Honestly, she became one of my best friends. I was friends with her for a long time and lied to my wife about it. I shouldn’t have lied I guess, but I just didn’t want to deal with all the bullshit.
OK once again: you’re blaming yourself for things that are not your fault. Under normal circumstances – if your wife wasn’t abusing you – then yes, lying to your wife would be a bad thing. With your situation, you’re stuck with a catch-22: if you lie to her about your friendship with Dora, you’re confirming to your wife that she’s right to not trust you. If you’re straight with her about it, you’re going to be accused of lying and have to endure even more abuse and scorn. You’re in a no-win situation that “validates” her treatment of you no matter what you do – and it strengthens her control of you because you’re tacitly accepting that this is something you did wrong.
Again, I can’t emphasize this enough: YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. She is abusing you.
I think me and Dora became real close, probably too close. She has a flirty type personality to begin with but it was much worse with me. I figure this because she would barely ever talk to me when her husband was around. Everyone else saw it too because those pesky rumors started popping up again. Her husband must have heard or figured something was going on because he used to stare at me from across the store when I worked there. My wife said that Dora would give me a longing and “checking me out” look every time I went shopping at the store we worked in. I will admit this even though it makes me feel like a shitty person. I think we might have had mutual feelings for each other.
Let’s cut this off right here: it is absolutely normal for people to get crushes on others. Even in happy, emotionally fulfilling relationships, people will find themselves with a little crush on somebody on occasion; a co-worker, their barrista, a member of their book club, their stylist, whomever. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy those feelings; they can be pleasantly intoxicating because you’re feeling the rush of novelty, but it’s ultimately harmless and will go away. The only time they’re a problem is when they interfere with your real relationship. Feelings are one thing and are ultimately harmless unless acted upon. It’s how we act that makes the difference in these circumstances.
These aren’t normal circumstances by any stretch of the imagination.
She knew I had a bit of a crush of course; I can’t hide that look on my face for shit. I can only speak for myself but there are a lot of reasons why I think those feelings were returned, although I don’t think she would ever admit to it. I can be naive about these kinds of things, but after I got to really know her, her signals became a lot clearer, more so looking back on it. Anyway, this went on for a few years and then I made another huge mistake and added her to Facebook. This is what led to the next big fight.
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I want to pound this into your head until it squishes out your ears: this wasn’t a mistake.
My wife’s jealousy is pretty crazy and can go into weird extremes. She even once got pissed at me for using a body wash that had pheromones in it. Funny thing is that she picked it out. She even gets pissed over me admitting some famous actress is cute. She hates Felicia Day for that reason. She also says that she looks like Dora and that’s why. This translates to Facebook of course. She is the type to get pissed when I “like” or comment on a females post, my family being the exception.
This is, again, classic abusive behavior: she’s extending her control over you into every aspect of your life, including your brain. She’s trying to dominate you to the point that she has control over your fantasies. Her getting pissed over your pheromone body wash1 is just another way of using her disapproval as a means to control you; she’s trying to train you to believe that you are only able to act in ways that she approves of.
I started friending women that I was friends with in high school and she got pissed over that.
Small wonder. Having friends outside of her runs the risk of diminishing her influence over you.
My wife refused to even be on my friends list until we had a fight about her prudish and jealous tendencies which I will get into later. Dora had been on my friends list when I finally added my wife. This of course caused a big problem that got a lot worse. Seeing Dora on my friends list, she went to add her too. Dora accepted and my wife began to facebook creep her. She went through months and months of posts to see if Dora said anything about me and to get whatever dirt she could. She started going through my posts as well, but I was smart enough to delete them before hand.
I’m beginning to run out of ways to point out that a) this is not acceptable behavior in relationships and b) the fault is firmly on your wife. Seriously, if the genders were reversed, there would be absolutely no question in anyone’s mind that this is profoundly disturbing and abusive.
This led into a lot of fights for a month. My wife wanted me to drop her on Facebook and pointed out that she was flirting with me. I refused.
I told her that me and Dora where just friends and that nothing was going on. Eventually I couldn’t take the bullshit anymore and I dropped Dora.
And thus your wife gets what she wants by wearing you down. This is a continuing pattern and helps inoculate her against resistance from you. The more she breaks down any signs of defiance, the less likely you are to defy her in the future.
Dora understood but put my wife on her block list for all the drama she started. Me and Dora did still communicate via private messages on occasion. It got worse from then on. My wife demanded that I not be friends with Dora anymore. She wanted me to say it to Dora, right in front of her. I refused that for a long time. She threatened to get her fired and threatened to leave me if I didn’t.
Once again we see her trying to isolate you from anyone whom might diminish her control over you. The fact that she’s added threats to the mix means that this is no longer a marriage, it’s a goddamned, motherfucking hostage situation.
And YOU’RE the hostage.
I didn’t want to get anyone fired because of this, which I was in danger of as well. I also didn’t want to risk losing my four year old daughter either. I told Dora about the situation and we put on abit of theatre for my wife. She bought it. The damage was done however. I almost left her because of all this.
Pardon me while I address the readers for a moment: there are undoubtedly a lot of you who will be wondering why Tony didn’t leave right then. I imagine there will be a few of you who will blame him for not leaving sooner. I want to remind you all just how hard it is for anyone, regardless of gender, to leave an abusive relationship. Part of the abuser’s arsenal is to make it difficult for the abused to leave, both psychologically and practically. The fact that children are involved – children who the abuser might very well hold hostage, metaphorically and literally – makes it even tougher. It can take a long time for someone to leave an abusive relationship – and even then they may well go back to them. It may take several attempts for someone to leave their abuser for good. Giving someone grief for not having left earlier or for going back only makes it harder for them to leave; in fact, it can make it harder for them to want to reach out to the people who might help them get out. Abuse survivors need the support of others, not judgement.
When I told my 18 year old step son, He said he was surprised I had stuck it out for this long and didn’t blame me at all. That really blew me away honestly.
Your step son is right and clearly cares about you.
I eventually left that job to start pursuing my career as an artist a few months later. I kept in contact with Dora via Facebook private message for awhile but that stopped after someone sent an email to my wife disguised as a forwarded love letter from me to Dora. It’s hard to get into that one. I know the guy who sent it but the story between him and me could take up a whole other letter and I’m writing you a book as it is. Long story short, he hates me, wants to sabotage my life, knew about the bullshit between Dora and my wife, and sent that email.
I didn’t know who did it at first and asked Dora if she sent it. Dora got pissed and asked that I never message her again. I apologized and told her that I didn’t think she did it but I had to ask to make sure. It didn’t matter though. You mix all that, with some hateful looks from my wife across the store, and now Dora has me blocked on Facebook and barely acknowledges my existence, Although on occasion she will make a funny face at me when my wife isn’t looking, albeit that’s rare.
This actually makes me literally quiver with anger. The bag’o'dicks who sent the letter has made himself an accessory in your wife’s abuse of you and cut you off from someone who might very well be an ally in getting you out of this relationship with your wife.
I have other problems with the woman, but the above have been my biggest and I just felt the need to tell the story about them and unload abit. Since I unload a book on you I will just throughout the rest in rapid succession to save you time.
She is jealous but she is also very prudish. She does not like me to watch anything with nudity. She practically accused me of watching porn in front of her when I watched 300 for the first time. She didn’t want me to play the God of War series because of the same reason. She does not want me to finish a very important and required nude figure drawing class for my illustration degree. I had the first Game of Thrones book thrown at my head while I was sleeping because it had rape in the book. I think she accused me of being ok with the notion of rape because I read it in a fictional book. Those crazy Dothraki huh? She accused me of being ok with kiddy porn because I friended someone on another social network that had some questionable but probably 18+ nudes on his profile. Again, not my profile, but someone I friended. I can’t go to the gym because of the possibility of being hit on. I can’t even watch a ten minute Phillip DeFranco video because he occasionally, for a minute or so, has news about sexy ladies. I think you get the jist. I still of course watch, play, listen to what I want but have to do it all ninja like to avoid the bullshit.
Oh and did I mention she hasn’t held a job in a few years. Doesn’t help clean the house and is jealous of my personal accomplishments. I have made some strides in becoming a professional illustrator. I’m networking with other artists and she is sabotaging that because she has these imaginary slights.
All of this is how she exerts and exercises her control over you. The more she gets you to fall into her frame – that the only acceptable behaviors and beliefs are hers and you must conform to them or else – the more she solidifies her hold on you. She is trying to extend her control into your very thoughts, where it can be the hardest to excise her.
Please don’t mistake this for hyperbole. I’m being utterly serious when I say she is trying to control the way you think; she is telling you what you are and are not allowed to find entertaining or attractive and that you will be punished for having thoughts she doesn’t approve of.
She thinks that the artist groups I belong to are stuck up and snubbing her because they won’t let her into it the group but will let me. She tries to do the same things I do, but hates that I am achieving my goals. Hell, I can’t even lose weight without her being jealous of it.
Anyways, I’m a guy who knows his own faults. I admit whole heartedly that me having feelings for Dora while married is wrong, Even if her and me never where together, it was wrong. It was wrong for me to lie about the friendship for as long as I did, a fact that my wife loves to through in my face.
Once more with feeling: YOU. DID. NOTHING. WRONG. Your wife is abusing you. There was nothing wrong with your feelings for Dora. Lying about your friendship with her was the only way you could maintain it, and I suspect that if someone hadn’t thrown a spanner in the works, she may well have provided support and motivation to get you out fo this relationship.
I have to deal with alot of bullshit when it comes to her and sometimes it feels easier to lie. It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission and all that. Dude, I am at my wits end and not really sure what I should do about it. I jumped into a marriage too young and before I really got to know the woman I was with. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
All apologies for the book and the inevitable spelling and grammar issues. I wrote this in a hurry
Here’s what you do: you document everything. If you have any emails to anyone about the way your wife treats you, make copies of them - print outs if at all possible – and put them somewhere. Same with any Facebook messages, emails, everything. Change all of your passwords – email, bank accounts, Facebook, Twitter, everything. Then you hire the best divorce attorney you can find and get the fuck out. Start divorce proceedings as soon as humanly possible, sue for the custody of your daughter and fight tooth and nail for her.
I want to say that you should take your daughter – and your stepdaughter too – with you when you go, but a) not only is Doctor NerdLove not a real doctor, he’s also very decidedly not a lawyer and b) in all likelihood it would backfire on you.
You need as much documentation as you can manage to bolster your case because my Spidey-sense is telling me that this would likely be ugly.
You also are going to want to get help: you’ve been emotionally abused for years and that is going to leave some major scars on you. Find an abuse survivors support group, find a therapist you think you can work with and reach out to your friends for their support. You’re going to need it.
I won’t lie to you: it’s an incredibly difficult path you have ahead of you. Escaping from abusive relationships, especially long-term ones, is difficult. I have faith in your ability to be strong and make it through.
Best of luck to you.
Have you escaped an abusive relationship? Do you have practical advice for Tony? Share your stories and your support in the comments section.
- total aside: pheromone “enhanced” colognes, body washes, etc. are complete bullshit. Don’t waste your money on them. [↩]