I am a 30 year old married woman with two children. Outwardly I do not have much reason to be unhappy but I do feel depressed, anxious and annoyed most of the times. I feel I cannot give my children a healthy atmosphere like this and that is why I am sharing this with you. My husband is otherwise a nice person but he is rude almost all the time. When he is good to me its like everything is really good but the problem is that he keeps verbally abusing all the time. He constantly tells me I am worthless, good for nothing, calls me names without any reason. He can start just about anytime without even the slightest provocation. He even tries to belittle me in front of the children. He says I have a large ego and that is what keeps him at constantly trying to instill some sense and make me more humble. I have been brought up in a very healthy manner feeling proud of the fact that I am a girl. Though my husband went to a better college and is much better settled professionally, I have also done my masters in engineering and am a hard and sincere worker. He keeps telling me that I am stupid and know nothing. He says I should do everything as he tells me and when I say I have my own mind he says I create problems in everything. He will be extremely rude the whole day and then in the evening he’ll act as if nothing has happened. By that time I am disturbed enough and am not feeling quite alright and then he says now what and calls me mentally unstable. I simply don’t know what to do. Its been almost 10 years since we married. He has driven me almost to madness with his behavior. He says the choicest of rude things and when he is in a better mood he apologizes. Yes he would have apologized and said sorry at least a thousand times until now. But I know everything he says and does is totally meaningless. I do not think I can describe everything here and its difficult to understand my situation from this. I would just like to to tell you that I have tried to just ignore everything and get on with trying to have a normal life…always forgiving and forgetting…bearing with him …going along with however he wants things to be .. laughing when he allows me too and crying when he chooses to pour out all his negativity onto me. But then he feels he can get away with just about any kind of behavior. When I try to confront him and show my anger and tell him that I won’t take this then also things just carry on and on. I just want to ask you whats the best way to deal with verbal abuse? How do you instill the slightest amount of respect in men who feel respecting or trying to understand and care about a woman is unmanly?
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On the contrary, I think you have plenty to be unhappy about. Just because the abuse you are suffering is verbal in nature doesn’t mean that it isn’t dangerous. While it is true that it is less acutely dangerous to be verbally abused than to be physically or sexually abused, verbal abuse is still abuse. It wears down your spirit and can make you depressed and feel bad about yourself. Your depression and anxiety symptoms are very likely to be a result and response to the toxic environment you’re in.
I don’t think there will be any easy way to get your husband to treat you with more respect, but I do have an idea about what might help. It seems you have sometimes taken a passive approach towards his belittling of you (when you have ignored and forgiven him), and you have also taken a fairly aggressive approach to dealing with him too (when you confront him and show your anger). Neither of these approaches has seemed to work. The problem with being passive is that your husband gets to treat you badly without challenge. The problem with being aggressive back towards him is that he is likely to see your anger and get angry himself, causing a fight to occur. There is a third approach, usually called ‘assertiveness’ that maybe you haven’t tried yet. The middle way, assertiveness, is a way to confront the abuse without attacking back yourself.
There are a few secrets to being assertive rather than aggressive or passive. You’ll want to give up on ignoring your husband’s behavior as this doesn’t work for managing him. Instead, you’ll want to challenge him most every time he says something disrespectful to you. By making a policy to challenge him most every time, you’ll get into a habit of doing so when you are not yet angry at him. Importantly, you don’t want to communicate anger in these challenges. Rather, you want to communicate your hurt feelings. It is vital that you not call him names, hit him, or say nasty or sarcastic things back to him. If you become angry, he will become reactive to that anger and there will be a fight that will go on and on. Instead, talk about yourself and what you are feeling, and remain respectful towards him while doing so. Use “I” statements to communicate these feelings. “I am hurt when you refer to me as an idiot. Please don’t do that”. In essence, to be assertive means to be like Gandhi: to defend yourself and assert your rights but to do so in a non-violent and respectful way.
Taking an assertive approach might help, but there are other things that might help as well. I’m not sure how available psychotherapy is in India, but if it is available, it might benefit your marriage if you both went to marriage counseling. If counseling is available, but your husband won’t agree to go, well then, it might benefit you as an individual to go. A sympathetic listener who can help guide you through the work of learning to be assertive could be a benefit. If psychotherapy is not available or affordable for you, perhaps you can at least read a book about assertiveness. “Your Perfect Right” is a classic work in this field, and should be available used for an inexpensive price on the Internet.
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