Question:

My husband and I have been married seventeen years. We’ve got an issue that keeps bothering me and I’m not sure I can tolerate it any longer. When my husband gets frustrated or angry, he takes it out on me. He speaks to me disrespectfully and, to my way of thinking, abusively. He yells at me and speaks to me as if I were a complete idiot or a child. He does this regardless of where we may be at the time. He treats me as if I were less than and I find it demeaning. He diminishes my love for him every time he does this. I’ve repeatedly asked him not to speak to me that way and not to treat me that way, especially not in front of others who then look at me with pity in their eyes but he continues to do it. He always says, “I’m sorry” later, but to me, his apologies are worthless and empty because he keeps on doing it. If he were really sorry for it, he’d stop doing it. I am tired of being ashamed, embarrassed and humiliated in public, by his poor treatment and behavior and I’m tired of being pitied for enduring it. I can’t take it any longer and I don’t want to either. I do love him but I have had enough. How do I get him to see that he is destroying our marriage with his behavior?

Answer:

Getting a loved one to see the impact they’re having on us isn’t always easy. As you painfully described, it’s often the case that our loved ones have no clue how certain interactions cause damage to the relationship. It’s a good thing you want to do something about this. I can’t see this changing without some direct action.

In an article called “The Invisible Heartbreaker”, Ensign assistant editor Judy C. Olsen outlined important steps individuals can take when facing emotional abuse in their marriages. One of those steps involves seeking truth so you can better navigate the emotionally confusing terrain of living with an abusive spouse.[i]

As you begin setting boundaries with your husband, it’s important to get support so you’re not alone as you try and change these deep patterns in your marriage. You can start by reading “Love Without Hurt” by Dr. Steven Stosny, an expert on helping couples in emotionally abusive relationships. Getting this type of education and clarity will help you decide what direction is best for you and your relationship.

Since your pleas to have him stop treating you this way both publically and privately aren’t effecting any change, I recommend you try going the other direction and creating more distance from him. It’s normal for us to move away from loved ones when our attempts to have them see us don’t work. This is not a game of hiding so he sees you. This is about protecting yourself from damaging interactions. While divorcing your entire marriage shouldn’t be your first option, divorcing yourself from that particular pattern of complete disrespect is a good idea.

You might start with deciding that you won’t spend time with him in public. If he wonders why you want to create distance, you can explain how you aren’t going to tolerate him humiliating you in front of others. If you’re not around, he can’t humiliate you. While this might bring on more criticism and insults from your husband, it will provide you with more clarity about whether or not he’s willing to take your concerns seriously.

Imagine how long you would hang around if you were in a dating relationship with him. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, shared the following counsel with students:

“I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”[ii]

If this type of behavior warrants immediately ending a dating relationship, it certainly makes sense to create some space in a marital relationship. Your dignity as a human being is at stake and you have to teach him how to treat you. If you have children, you certainly don’t want them to believe this is how intimate relationships should operate.

It’s time to stop pleading and to take action so you can have emotional safety. You are giving him a chance to see the interaction differently so he can turn things around and treat you with respect. He may not understand what you’re doing, but it will create a new interaction that might produce a much-needed change in your marriage.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com. 

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at <a href="http://www.


<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />marriage-recovery.com/”>www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT 

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