Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Emotional Bully

13th December, 2009


Please help before I go mad. My husband and I have a very rocky marriage and I would leave if I could afford to. As long as I can remember, he has been very close to his sister. He's 55 years old and she's about three years older. He tells her all the details of our marriage problems, and also spells out every row we have, twisting the truth to suit himself and making me look like the bad guy. I've heard him on the phone to her, so I'm not dreaming this up. His excuse is that he needs someone to talk to. I tackled her about it once, and she just defended him all the way, saying she knew her brother. The fact that I'm married to him for 30 years didn't seem to count.

He has always been an emotional bully, saying terrible things to me in front of the kids and running me down to my family. So much so, that my family no longer want anything to do with him. I feel sorry for him really as he suffers from depression and low self-esteem, and just lashes out at me with all his suppressed rage. However, at this stage I just can't take any more and he needs to get help for his emotional problems, which go back to his childhood. I feel if his sister would help him see how wrong he is, it would set him on the path to healing, but instead she just reinforces him. She is a bitter, discontented woman herself and not happy in her marriage either. But my husband, of course, thinks she is wonderful. It's ironic that both of them blame their partners for their problems.

What can I do to let my husband know that it's just not right to tell his sister intimate details of our marriage? Nor is it fair on our children, who bear the brunt of his awful moods. He won't seek help even for their sake, saying that his depression is not of his making. They are teenagers and need a strong father figure, not some weak person running to his big sister. I just think he is so disloyal and underhand and I basically can't trust him anymore. Please give me some advice on how to cope with this situation. I am at breaking point and feel I'm in danger of doing something which I'll later regret.

The problem is not that your husband talks to someone. Like it or not, we all need friends to share our troubles with, even when it involves revealing marital intimacies. The fact that it's his sister he talks to is not even the issue - although a wise person treads carefully there, because old family stuff can get in the way of being a good friend. The problem is that his sister and he have formed a victims' alliance, reinforcing each other in their victim mentality, rather than seeking enlightenment, or wisdom, or the insight to take responsibility for themselves. That said, there is nothing you can do about that. There's no point being jealous about the relationship, trying to compete with the relationship, or trying to break it. It's your husband's choice.

What you must do is change your own attitude to him, which subtly, but firmly, also reinforces him in his role of victim. He is not an emotional bully because he's depressed, or had a hard time as a child. He bullies you because he chooses to do so. He doesn't lash out at you because of all the pain of his past. He does it because he gives himself permission to use you as an emotional punch-bag. More importantly, he's vicious to you because you allow him to be. There is no excuse for his behaviour, yet you give him one. You must not do that.

There is no way around saying this, and I do not mean it unkindly. Focussing on your husband, and particularly on his sister's reinforcement of his behaviour, is an intellectual and emotional dodge on your part. It allows you to overlook the central fact that you take the punishment. It allows you to avoid responsibility for your own behaviour.

You won't do anything rash if you start a systematic change. He's nasty, you walk away - out of the room, up the street, out of the car, the church, the children's birthday party. You just don't stand there and take it. You don't try to fix the situation for the sake of the children, or out of social embarrassment, or because you feel sorry for your husband's past emotional hurt. You are not his whipping boy. In fact, by accepting that role, you're holding him back, allowing him to continue in his belief that his problems are made by others. And, of course, accepting the abuse is the reason you feel so frantic. That's the first step, you get the message. The rest you can decide for yourself.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design