In episode 309, I received a question from a listener who is stuck in a dysfunctional and perhaps abusive marriage which is having a profound negative impact on their own mental health. In this post, I offer my thoughts on how best to analyze the situation and look at the options that are on the table for moving forward and taking care of yourself.
I’m 23, I’ll be 24 on the 8th, and I have been married for just over a year. Before getting married, we dated for about 4 years. While getting to know my wife, I learned that we had both had a “not so great” childhood. Parents divorced, abusive fathers, struggled financially, the list goes on. Feeling that deep connection, and me being a big time people pleaser and wanting to help/fix everything and everyone. I felt that she was perfect for me. Except for the last couple years, every time there or a fight/disagreement, I am always the fall guy. Regardless of the situation. She will get very hateful and belittle me to the point of putting me into some very dark headspace. I’ve changed jobs, I’ve given up hobbies, all trying to make her happier. Yet all have the same outcome. I’ve recently came to the realization that I have no goals set in my life and feel like I’m out here simply existing. Recently I came home from working on the road to explain to her that I believe I could benefit from taking some time to try and find myself again. I was immediately bombarded with anger, blame, and insults. To the point I sat in my yard, at the point of wondering what the point of me living was. Realizing where my mind was headed, I knew I had to create as much separation between myself and my truck as possible. Due to the fact that I was considering trying to wrap it around a tree, or take my pistol that I carry for personal protection and ending it that way. After regaining my head, I walked back inside and went to sleep in our guest room. The next day she asked “what do you want from me?” And I explained “I just want you to try and understand and apologize for how you spoke to me last night “ explaining that I was at the point of suicide. She responded by rolling her eyes, a laugh, then calling me “a f**king narcissist” At this point I am completely lost on what to do, where to go, when I’m always the bad guy.
Thanks for writing in. This is absolutely worth attention. You aren’t being dramatic here. This is a bad situation. There is obviously information and context that I’m not privy to here and I’m getting one side of the equation, so I’m just going to take you at your word here and react to what I’m seeing from your perspective. And given that perspective, I’m pretty concerned.
The broad strokes here is that I get the feeling that your relationship has developed into one where you are codependent and she is very mean to you if not outright abusive. Your relationship should not be driving you to want to kill yourself. I’m sure this hasn’t been the case all the way through, but it sounds like things have been continuing to build and not improve. You are at the limit of what you can handle in this relationship and that really needs to be honored. I don’t want you to be suffering in this way. Of course, the first instinct for most people is going to be to try to fix things. Obviously, there are reasons you got together with this person and there are reasons that the two of you got married. However, if she is rolling her eyes at you, calling you names, and belittling you, I highly doubt that she is going to feel very motivated to work on things through going to therapy together, hiring a coach, reading books, going to classes etc.
Understand what’s right for YOU
Obviously, you could give it a shot, but you also need to take a step back and consider whether you want to be with this woman or whether you want to be with her. If you are here because you made a commitment and your instinct is just to keep trying to salvage and see things through. Regardless of whether she is willing to recognize that you guys have issues and work on them… do YOU want to put in that work? Is it work it for you? If you fast forward five years in your mind, can you see yourself being happy in this relationship? If so, and she is willing to admit that there are issues to work on, then great. Do that. Get some help, because regardless of who is at fault, you guys are in a toxic pattern. You’re allowed to not feel that way though. You don’t HAVE to find a way to stay. You are allowed to move on if that is what is right and healthy for you.
If you are not already, I think it would be a really good idea to talk to other people in your life that you can trust about this situation. You need some touchpoint people that you can be totally honest with. This is going to help you feel more grounded and less crazy. I do not want you to keep this all to yourself. It’s easy to feel lost and like you aren’t sure if this is really your fault etc. You need people in your life that will be honest with you. You can describe situations that have happened and the way things are at home and if they are concerned, they can tell you. Hopefully, they are also good enough of friends or family that they will also call you on your own bullshit if that’s necessary in this situation.
The signs of abuse
I’m not trying to jump to the assumption that you are being abused here, but I think it’s worth looking into. If you do some google searching about signs of abuse, especially emotional abuse, you may see some things that resonate with you. In particular, something that jumped out to me is all of the stuff that you said you have given up. You mentioned that you have given up hobbies, jobs, etc. I’m wondering if this also includes friends or certain connections of yours. One of the most powerful tools in abuse is isolation. Keeping you away from people that would be like “no way – you need to get the hell out of there.” Aside from this, you’ll want to pay attention to whether she blames you for her own explosions and whether you are feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around her.
I think that you do have some good instincts here. You have been trying to keep yourself safe by keeping away from potentially dangerous situations. You kept away from your truck and gun when you were feeling dark. You have tried to take a break and get some perspective for yourself. These are all good things. They may or may not be enough, but I appreciate that you are trying. One thing that I would have you reflect on is what the benefit is for her here. What does she gain from this? Despite the toxicity in your relationship, how is she benefitting? Why hasn’t she left? I’m not sure exactly what the answers to those questions are, but it’s a question I think you should ask yourself. That may play into how you view things.
You mentioned that you both have not-so-good childhoods. That’s rough and everyone in a situation like that has their own reactions to it. Another thing for you to ponder would be your upbringing. When you were younger, how did you get your needs met? How did you keep yourself safe and afloat? There can be many answers to this. Some kids act out in order to finally get their parent’s attention. Some become smaller and meek. Some become people pleasers to avoid abuse or getting in trouble. Some run from everything and trust nobody. Think about the defense mechanisms that you developed when you were younger to help you get through it all. How are those mechanisms now playing out in your marriage? There may be good elements and there may be elements that keep you in a problematic cycle.
Finding yourself again
Aside from couples therapy and such, it could also be a great idea for you to get a therapist of your own. This is another way to get some perspective and to feel grounded. I asked you a ton of questions so far, these are great avenues of exploration with a therapist. Another thing that you can do is to start keeping a log. Write down incidents that are concerning to you. When she explodes at your or belittles you. When there is something that you feel like you are getting undue flack for, etc. Write those down. I would keep this secret and do not tell her about it. If you use it as a weapon against her in arguments, that will really cause things to blow up. This is more to get your own head on straight about things and also to have something to refer to if you were to talk to someone you trust about what is going on.
You didn’t mention kids, so not sure if you have any together. If not, that makes things a little less complicated if you decide to leave. If you are planning on having kids, please consider the health of your relationship with each other first. A kid won’t fix that. Either way, if you feel that you need to move on from the marriage, you will be able to figure it out. There are some logistical challenges always and it’s something that hard and sad, but all of these things will smooth over in time.
You are SO young. Do you want to live this way for the literal rest of your life? That’s what most people mean by marriage. I’m going to be with you forever. That’s a long time to be this miserable. Something has to change. If you think it’s salvageable, great. But there are a gazillion other people in the world. You essentially have infinite opportunities. You do not need to settle for being mistreated just because you made a commitment at such as young age. I know people in their 30s who have had 2 or more marriages already and have finally come to a place where they are so happy in their lives. If you were to move on and it took you a year or two to recover from everything, you would only be 25 or 26. To me, that sounds like a baby still. You have time. Make choices that are going to be healthy for you. Again, if you can work it out, I’d be happy for you, but don’t trap yourself in a situation that is unhealthy to the point of being almost lethal to you. Nothing is worth that. You may need to start finding yourself again, as your instinct has probably already told you. You don’t need to wait for some sort of resolution to start returning to your hobbies and activities that are meaningful to you. If you aren’t allowed to be yourself, that’s a problem.
Reclaim yourself and if she doesn’t like that person, she doesn’t need to be with you. Get some perspective from others, be honest with yourself, and if you are straight up being abused, it’s time to work up the courage and resources to get the hell out of there. Some things are just more important, and I’m saying this as a very romantically inclined person.
Best of luck.
You can listen to this on Episode 309 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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