Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Aggressive Husband

4th October, 2009


I'm in a state of total despair. I'm in my late forties and my husband is two years older. I work part-time, am trying to further my career by studying, and do everything in the house, as well as organising the lives of our three children, the eldest of whom is in his Leaving Cert year. My husband works long hours and does nothing to help me at all, not even on a Sunday. It's not that I expect a load of help, but an offer to help clear up after dinner might be nice. He lifts his plate as far as the sink and that's it.

The big problem is his aggressive personality, plus the fact that he is totally self-absorbed. No-one else is as tired, or works as hard as he does. I am never asked how my day was. Everything is about him and his problems. He doesn't take much interest in the lives of the children either. His daughter would love to be a daddy's girl like all her friends are, but this will never happen. I feel so sad for her as she is a great daughter and we are good friends. Our two sons need a good example from their father about how to treat women and they are not getting that. They are both great boys, but again do very little with their father.

Over the years there have been a lot of rows which involved my husband becoming very verbally abusive towards me in front of the children, not caring what he says or the damage he is doing. I've told him arguing in front of them is wrong - well certainly to the extent he does. He is an extremely insecure person, perceives any criticism or disagreement as a personal attack, and refuses to acknowledge any blame for anything. Instead, I am the problem and need help. He had punitive parents who never praised him and is very bitter about it. This has resulted in depression which has got worse over the last number of years. He used to come out of his moods reasonably quickly, but now they go on for ever, and he stops talking over the slightest thing.

The atmosphere is terrible for the children but he is too selfish to stop. I've told him he needs therapy, but he is in denial. Instead he blames me for everything. I was always supportive of him, but I have had enough. He is very immature in his outlook, never taking responsibility for anything that goes wrong. He calls me names at the drop of a hat and because I don't want a big row, I don't fight back. This is bullying, because he knows I hate rows in front of the children, so he has the upper hand.

If I had the money I would separate, but I am stuck for now in this hell of a marriage, feeling no respect for him. I think he should count his blessings and not always see the negative in everything. I get on with things and can't stand the constant moaning and long face that is his lot. When he is being normal, which doesn't happen much now, he is a nice person and in the past I was always able to put the bad things behind me. I can't do that anymore. The years of verbal and mental abuse have taken their toll, particularly because he never ever said sorry. How can you get someone to get help when they won't acknowledge they have a problem? I can't stand the thought of spending the next few years with him, let alone the rest of my life.

We could stay focussed on your husband and remain stuck, as you clearly are at the moment. So shall we, instead, turn to you, not as part of a blame game, but for the sake of sanity, and hope, and the chance to change things?

You can't give your children a better father than they have. At least you can't set out to do that. If that's to happen at all, it's up to your husband. You can, however, show them how a man should be, both as a husband and a father, by clearly distancing yourself from his bad behaviour. If he calls you nasty names, you tell him his behaviour is unacceptable, and leave the table, the room, the car, the restaurant, your parents' house - wherever you are. That's not having a row. That's a refusal to take abuse, or be bullied. Children are not damaged by seeing someone behave badly. They are damaged by learning to accept that bad behaviour. Peace at any price is a bad motto. It teaches acceptance of the unacceptable.

You've helped your husband be the way he is. No, of course you didn't mean to. You saw it as being supportive, understanding, compassionate. When we build a theory of why someone is the way they are, two things happen: We excuse their behaviour, however inadvertently. Look at what you've told me, namely that your husband had punitive parents, which has led to depression. And he's insecure, you say, and threatened by any feed-back or comments from you. Fine. I'm sure you're right. I'm equally sure that this doesn't give him the right to be a bully. And it certainly doesn't mean that you should accept the bullying.

Secondly, when we have a theory about someone, it leads us to suggesting solutions - you think your husband should seek therapeutic help. This results in a subtle form of bossiness, you know best, he's in denial you say, won't face the truth, won't take responsibility - you get the picture. Then what happens? Yes, your husband feels threatened, lashes out at you, and becomes even more like he is, as a mechanism of resistance. And all that time, by focussing on him, you've actually been indulging him. Of course it's all about him, all about how tired he is, all about his difficulties and woes, while you soldier on. But that's not just because he's selfish - which I'm sure he is - but because of all the attention you give him.

Forget your husband. Try anything which would shift your obsession with him. Could the children organise themselves more? Could you give up the part-time work? Could you get in paid help? Could you do something outside the home which feeds you by being enjoyable? As I said to a house-bound husband recently - which didn't go down too well with some men who objected to my apparent heartlessness - could you get a life? And no, of course I don't mean it unkindly.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design