Love a Bully
Q: I recently got married a year and a half ago after being divorced for 10 years. This man is the love of my life. We both have one child from our past marriages. Since we met, my husband has been bringing up his past, from showing me photos of his ex on our second date and telling me what a "goddess" she was, to phone conversations from an ex lover while he was engaged to me and I was sitting right there, to his ex-father-in-law and his wife constantly filling my husband in on what the ex-wife is doing, in front of me. Meanwhile, I had to sever a three-year platonic friendship with a male (based on our college classes together), and was not allowed to invite him to our wedding. But I allowed him to have his ex in-laws and all his single "woman friends" from work come to our wedding.
Whenever I state I'm hurt by something he has done to me, my husband takes this as me starting an argument and lies on the couch or in bed with his back to me and ignores me for days. I constantly try to talk to him which in turn turns ugly. I'll start yelling because I'm being ignored. If he does say something to me it's usually mean or rude. He makes time for all his son's activities but when I mention us spending a one-on-one "date" together it usually turns into another argument. He has constantly insulted my dress code saying that my tops were too revealing and I didn't dress like a "married woman." I may not be conservative but I do NOT dress like a tramp as he always stated. Imagine how hurt I felt after these insults to find out my husband was a Playboy magazine subscriber.
I work full time and contribute my paychecks to the household. I put my husband before everyone but I don't get the same back from him. I've packed my things and left the house, for the last time, because having my husband ignore me like I'm worthless is a sad way to live. The house is for sale, yet part of me keeps waiting for him to ask me to come back. I'm just wondering if perhaps all of it has been my fault for telling him the things he did that bothered me. I just can't understand how he can not fight for this marriage or for me just one time. -- Laura, 40
Dr. Susan: Your guy gave you strong hints early on as to the one-sidedness of things when he lauded his ex so highly to you, when he meanly put down your clothing choices (he wanted to keep you on a pedestal of purity where he could ignore you!), and when he invited his single friends to the wedding but wouldn't let you invite one male friend of yours. I can understand how your love for him may have blinded you to those signs for a while. But don't, I repeat, DO NOT blame yourself for discussing your dissatisfactions with him. You didn't cause the split. You merely let him know what was going on for you, and that's something every good relationship demands. His response to your complaints, however, was utterly counterproductive. It's typical enough for men to withdraw when their wives express annoyance, but in the best relationships husbands learn not to do that. It's also common for their wives to pursue them when they withdraw. Both actions lead to trouble. Some information for future use: When one partner feels overwhelmed by the emotions brought up by a disagreement, it's okay to say, "I need to be alone for a while, but I'll come back when I'm able to talk about this again." It's then the withdrawer's responsibility to return to the conversation. You mustn't pursue, yell, or insist that the discussion continue at that moment. It only angers the pursued person and causes him to hide more deeply under the blankets.
Tell that part of you that still expects your husband to ask you to come back that he isn't going to. And even if he did, nothing would ever change. Better to start afresh than creep back to the same old hurt and misery.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.