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Living In Fear Of The Next Outburst

Question:

I need an objective opinion. I have been married for five years to a man whom I love. The problem is his temper and his desire to control me. There are times when I know he would love to strike me during disagreements. I find that we speak less and less about important issues because I fear a sudden mood change. If the relationship were all bad, it would be an easy case, but most of the time we get along well. In times of stress, he becomes overwhelmed, however, and that is when I have to walk on egg shells for fear of upsetting him. He doesn’t think we need marriage counseling, but rather thinks I should just listen to him and do as he says. I don’t think I can save my marriage without counseling. And I just don’t trust that things will get better on their own. I am not willing to think that I am the cause of his unhappiness or the constant source of his frustration. I am a kind, well-meaning person who gets along well with others. In all other areas of my life, I am stable. I thought he was too, but his rage has me living in fear of the next outburst. I think he is close to stepping over the line between merely wishing to strike out and actually doing so. I need to get out of here, don’t I?

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Answer:

Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, you very probably should get out of there. Love without mutual respect is a beautiful house built on a crumbling foundation. It seems clear enough to me, based on your report, that you are living under abusive conditions when you are fearing your partner and what he might do. Even assuming that he never actually hits you, you are reacting to many reasonably abusive things that are present, such as his rigid, no-compromise style, and his use of anger to intimidate you (even if he doesn’t intend to intimidate you, that is the very real net effect). This is all verbal and behavioral abuse, if not physical abuse.

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p> I qualify my advice that you probably should leave, only becuase I want to make my own bias as clear as I can. I believe that marriages should be equal partnerships. No one partner should have the upper hand for any reason, if it is not the freely given wish of both partners that that be the case. There are many people who do not share these beliefs, and they might give you different advice. Only you can choose whose advice to follow, and ultimately, it will be you and only you making the decision anyway. Each of us is alone that way.

<

p> I also want to point out just how great it is that you have held on to self-esteem in the face of your tyrant-partner’s attempts (conscious or unconscious) to whittle you down. Many women (and men too) go into marriage feeling as you do, but somewhere along the line they buy into their spouses’ belittling of them, and lose the will to protect themselves from abuse. Congradulations for not drinking the kool-aide!

<

p> I should also say that there may remain a chance you can salvage your marriage even now. Your husband probably has an anger problem. If you can assert yourself enough (and safely enough) that you might convince him to enter into couples couseling with you, and/or him into anger management classes, you might make some progress towards preserving the relationship. Even a trip to the doctor for some medicine he might use to help prevent his tendancy towards overwhelm might help if he is open to the possibilities.

<

p> Divorce is seldom a pain-free choice. It is probably a worthwhile endevor to puruse all reasonable pathways for preserving your marriage until such a time as you are satisifed that you’ve exhausted what is possible and can leave with a clean conscious that no more amount of trying would help. Good luck.

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