#792, #793, #794, & #795: Variations on the Unfixable

You’re worried about someone or something. You want to help. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years and I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother will ignore my existence entirely. If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is. I spend every holiday with them now because if bf goes go with my family they explain how controlling and evil I am. So now my family had just been doing holiday stuff a little bit later or earlier so that both bf and I can attend. They keep trying to convince bf I am controlling him. It started when he became vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people eat meat; I didn’t care if he ate meat). I don’t make a big deal about eating I just take the things I can eat when we eat with them. They however endless “tease” (it can get mean) over it. I don’t want to just not go because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some. I just wish I knew what I could do to help make it better?

You can’t make your boyfriend’s family less shitty, so let’s talk about what you can do.

You could go with him to his family “celebration” while reminding yourself: a) you’re just here to support him b) this is the one day a year when you have to see these people c) nothing they think actually matters to you d) it will be over soon. Bring a really good pie you so that there will be something that you want to eat. Say “please” and “thank you” and “Happy Thanksgiving” and “what an interesting idea” and decide to ignore whatever bullshit they bring. Remind yourself that you are choosing to be here as an act of support to someone you love and give yourself credit for that. Let your boyfriend take the lead on dealing with his family. Leave at the first possible opening, go home, pour some whiskey in your eggnog, put on pajamas and your best turban, and chill out watching Auntie Mame.

Alternately, what’s the holiday celebration that you want to have? Spending it with your family? Quietly at home? Cooking for your friends? Volunteering? Flying somewhere warm and reading novels by a pool? I goddamn guarantee it doesn’t have anything to do with hanging out with his family, so maybe you could just take that off the table as the thing you will do this year.

Whatever your holiday dream is, imagine it, plan it, and then invite your boyfriend to participate. No pressure, no “my holiday will be ruined if you’re not with me,” no “shoulds” (“I should be able to spend a nice Thanksgiving with my boyfriend”) allowed. This year, there is no should, there is only what you want to do. If he comes with you, great. If he doesn’t, do your awesome plan anyway and have a great time. Focus on the people who are present rather than the people who are absent. If he goes to his family without you, he’ll still be your boyfriend, right? Your script is, “Aw, I’ll miss you, but have a good time.” Easier said than done, I know, but if you can’t change what other people will do try changing what you do and see if the situation gets better.

Important follow-up self-care: If he goes to his family alone and they say shitty stuff to him about you, talk up his ex-paragon of perfection from high school, make snide comments about why you aren’t there, etc. that stuff is not yours to deal with, and it’s actually okay for you to ask him not to pass that stuff on to you. He can tell a friend or his diary or a therapist. You can say,”Honey, that sounds awful, but one reason I stayed away is that I don’t actually want to hear any mean things about myself. Come watch Auntie Mame with me.

It’s not perfect, it’s not comfortable, but the situation isn’t really fixable, either. Choose how much you can or want to engage, let your boyfriend make his own decisions about what to do, be nice to yourself, cross it off for another year.

Captain A,

A few days ago my boyfriend convinced a very close friend of his to go to a psych ward. Friend has been struggling with school and depression for a while and the day they went to the psych ward was the day after she’d hurt herself. So it probably goes without saying that Boyfriend is hella scared and stressed. (Side note: Friend seems to be improving, everyone is cautiously hopeful about her recovery.)

I’m writing to ask what can I do to help Boyfriend through this, when I live 4+ hours away?

I have never been in a caretaker position before and I could really use some advice. I want so badly for him to be happy and not being able to help makes me feel like kicking something.

Please help,
–Cyber Hugs Don’t Cut It

Dear Cyber Hugs

It’s great that Friend is improving and that your boyfriend was able to get her the care that she needed. It sucks that the situation is so scary and stressful.

Things you can do right now:

  • Be a good listener if he wants to talk.
  • Affirm his feelings – “Yes, that’s scary!” “You’re a good friend.” “Who wouldn’t be stressed?”
  • Remind him to take breaks and to take care of himself.
  • Ask him if there is anything you can do. If he asks you for something and you can do it, do that thing. If he says something like “Not a thing! I got this” or “You being here for me is enough” then believe him. Sometimes help is awesome, sometimes it’s just another exhausting thing to deal with when you’re already stretched in.
  • Care packages are nice. For the friend in hospital: A non-spiral bound notebook/journal or a nifty coloring book or book of crosswords or puzzles can be good. For boyfriend: Some little comforting things that you know he likes. Hot chocolate packets. A nice letter from you. For either/both: Something short and untaxing to read. (I’m loving the Ms. Marvel books right now if you’re looking for a rec. So amaze.)

Otherwise, keep handling your life. See your friends and ask them to be nice to you. Take care of yourself. Talk to a counselor if you start to feel overwhelmingly sad or stressed out. Do/eat/read/watch things that are comforting for you. Stay on top of your work and/or schoolwork. The sick friend’s doctors and her friends, including your boyfriend, have her stuff handled to the extent that it can be handled right now. You’ll hug and kiss boyfriend very hard when you see him. Until then, being nice to yourself and to your boyfriend is the extent of what you can do. I hope everyone gets through all right.

Dear Captain and Crew:
I believe that my brother and sister-in-law may be headed for a split, and I feel sad.

I know that I cannot have much effect on this situation, and indeed, it’s essentially not my circus, not my monkeys.  Even so, I have two questions:

– What else can I do to be kind and helpful to them?
– What can I do to minimize my own sadness?

Here’s the situation:

My brother and I grew up with no (adult) model for constructive disagreement.  Our parents fought bitterly, constantly.  We both avoid conflict like the very devil.  We both withdraw, and don’t share our hurts easily.  He’s probably even worse than I am about this.

Sister in law has had medical difficulties over the past few years that led to difficulties including memory and impulse control.  Her health has improved enormously, but deficits remain.  As a result she pushes people away a lot.

Sister-in-law has often expressed frustration with Brother’s repressed emotions.  Brother has often expressed frustration with Sister-in-law’s temper.

Both of them over the past several days have approached me and complained sadly about the other.

What I’ve done so far is:

– Tell each one that [what they just described] sounds very tough
– Tell each one that they have my love
– Tell each that individual therapy might help them clarify their thoughts
– Tell each that couples therapy might help them communicate better

But I really really really think from specific unkind and sad things that each of them has said that they will separate.

I (who am not part of their marriage – I know that) have seen them as a working and romantic couple.  They’ve had a number of obstacles to happiness over time.  (For example, each has had medical issues, there have been occasional money difficulties.  None of this is out of the ordinary.)  As it happens, the two of them are quite different in approach to life and in temperament. The thing is, they always seemed an admirable and cooperative team.  Of course I’m not privy to their inmost thoughts.

I’m unhappy thinking of their sadness now. I’m unhappy thinking about how unpleasant a divorce is, and how hard it is to remain friendly (with both halves of a divorcing couple).  I know that really, I’ll end up losing my sister in law.  That disappoints me too, as I introduced them.  Maybe there’s an element of “I really messed up! They are no longer happy together!”

Those questions above are what I’d like some help with.  I’ve discussed this a little with friends.  I’ll bring this up with my therapist, but I’d really like a hand processing what’s going on, and any suggestions on how to be helpful and kind to a (possibly) splitting couple.


Relatively Sad

Dear Relatively Sad,

You’ve completely covered this in your letter, especially with this: “I know that I cannot have much effect on this situation, and indeed, it’s essentially not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Their marriage will do what it will do. None of this is about you, and inserting yourself into it or analyzing why it’s happening will not help anyone, least of all you. If you feel sad and need help processing what’s going on (like how your & your brother’s upbringing is manifesting in adult relationships), write in a journal, talk to a friend who is outside the situation, talk to your therapist. Comfort in, dump out and don’t try to be everyone’s #1 marital sounding board. It’s hard to avoid those “How are you….” conversations that we all lapse into when something is awkward, but it’s okay to ask about work, pets, movies, books, talk about your own life, etc. and let them take the lead if they want to talk about marital stuff.

Even if things get very sour between them, you and your sister-in-law can very likely continue a friendship someday, especially since you knew her before her marriage. Your best chance to make that happen lies in giving everyone some space and some time to work things out on their own. While they do, pour your love and your energy into other areas of your life. Strengthen your ties with your friends (friends who are not them). Strengthen your own ties to family (family members who are not them). Feeling sad when people you love are sad is understandable, but at the end of the day it’s not your sad thing to carry or to fix. Try to remember that when two good people end an unhappy marriage, it isn’t a failure, it’s about them being brave enough and honest enough to admit that something they once wanted more than anything isn’t gonna work out. Speaking of which…

Dear Captain Awkward,

My marriage has been on the rocks for 2 years now. And a couple of months ago we sat down and talk about it and decided to work it out. To move to a smaller house (we brought a huge house and now we are house poor). We are both stress at work and with 2 kids have not a lot of time to be together. My husband has a friend(girl) online for about 10 years now. She lives very far away. And they talk back and forth all the time. When he is mad at me, he will vent to her. I’ve never met her and he hasn’t either. The other day I went to clean up by his computer for our open house and found his Facebook open. I went on to see and found such horrible things about me. That I’m the reason for all his anger and how stupid I am when I talk. Even more things that I can’t say. And she would laugh and make jokes about me too. I confronted him and all he said was that was his way to vent and that it’s like a diary that I shouldn’t have seen. My question is like is that normal and was I wrong to be looking at his private things. Or is this really how he feels about me. And that our marriage is done.

Ugh, it must have been so awful to read that.

We all know that snooping in someone’s private communications is not awesome, but treating your spouse with contempt is also not awesome, and what concerns me here is that your husband is 100% about “Well you violated my privacy, what did you expect” and 0% about “Hey, I’m really not psyched that you read my private messages, but I can see why you’d be upset after reading what you did, how can I reassure you?” He can’t slide that bar to like, 60% outrage/40% concern for you?

In addition:

  • It sounds like these messages about you are recent/ongoing/came from after y’all decided to keep working on the marriage.
  • You’ve been unhappy together for at least two years.
  • Your husband speaks about you with contempt to others. “My wife is stupid and the reason for all my problems” goes beyond venting. That is not the way that people who are in love speak about one another, in my experience.
  • I think you knew, or suspected, what you’d find when you read his messages. Or that you’d find *something* that was “off.” You broke trust by snooping and he also broke trust by mocking you and running you down. End result: trust is broken between you.

Here’s what I recommend:

  • Have things actually been getting better between you since you talked about holding onto the marriage? Is there anything he could say or do to make you relax and trust him after what you read? If so, tell him what that is and see if he does it. If not (and I suspect not), let the subject of what you read drop for now. “Well, if it was just venting, then there is no use discussing it.” Keep your conversations with him focused on immediate topics – the kids, the daily routine, the sale of the house – and be as polite and detached as you can. He might feel like he’s getting away with something, and that’s okay. He is, for now. You have other things to worry about .
  • Quietly document ALL of your assets, debts, and finances. Make copies of all financial documents, wills, insurance, retirement info, bank accounts, etc. and make sure you have the complete financial picture.
  • As soon as possible, and also quietly, visit a divorce lawyer. Give the lawyer copies of the financial documents, discuss all of your options with the lawyer. Make a “if we separated” plan for where you would want to live, what you would want custody to be like, how you would want to divide up assets, what your budget would be living on your own. People tend to freak out at the prospect of involving a lawyer, but it’s important to remember that visiting a lawyer doesn’t mean you’ve made a final decision about getting a divorce. Think of it instead as gathering all the information you need to make a good decision.
  • Reach out to other members of Team You. Strengthen ties with friends and family. Consider seeing a counselor (not marriage counseling – the time for that is probably over, this is about YOU-counseling) so you have a safe place to vent about your feelings. The better care you take of yourself, the better care you can take of your kids, and making sure you have shoulders to cry on and babysitters, etc. is part of taking care of yourself.

When you’ve got the facts & support you need, have the conversation. One possible script:

Husband, I think we should use the sale of the house as a way to start the process of legally separating from each other. We have been so unhappy for so long, and I don’t things are getting better. I love you very much, and we will always be in each other’s lives as co-parents and hopefully friends someday, but I think it’s time for us to say ‘we did the best we could’ and move on from working so hard at this.

He might say a lot of angry stuff about how he’s been trying, about how it’s not fair to leave him because of some Facebook messages. While you’ve been preparing he might not have been preparing and might be taken off guard. He might think you’re too “stupid” or dependent on him to really leave, he might have been planning his own scene where he dumps you. Whatever. Or he might be fine and even relieved that he didn’t have to be the one to do this. His feelings can be whatever they are. Your job is to communicate what you’ve decided, work out logistics of living space and money and parenting responsibilities, and otherwise try your best to find a balance between sticking to the facts and not giving him ammunition to pick at you. Remember that your attorney is there for a reason, and it’s that person’s job to handle really difficult stuff dispassionately, so don’t be afraid to say “In the house, let’s be pleasant roommates and great parents, and let’s let our lawyers handle the contentious stuff.” Don’t share a lawyer, btw, you need someone advocating just for you.

Divorce is complicated and expensive and it sucks. From what I’ve observed, it’s like, a shitty year of wrangling with the details and complicated feelings, but then you are free of the other person and you find a way to be without them. Also from what I’ve observed: It’s possible to be a great co-parent with an ex-spouse, and whatever kids might lose in the process they also benefit from not living in a house suffused with tension. When you’re no longer suppressing all your feelings and trying constantly to make the marriage work, it’s sometimes easier to be kind & relaxed when interacting with the other parent. I sincerely hope that can be the case for you. Please be kind to yourself, and reach out to the people in your life who are kind to you, and remember that you deserve kindness from the person you are married to. You’re not being petty if you distance yourself from someone who speaks so unkindly of you.

226 thoughts on “#792, #793, #794, & #795: Variations on the Unfixable

  1. Holy shit #792. If ever there was a house of bees, your boyfriend’s family is not just bees they are radioactive bees on fire.

    That’s it, that’s all I’ve got, just wow. WOW. The Captain is correct, you cannot fix a house of radioactive bees so they stop radiating their toxicity all over you. All you can do is decide to sit that shit out. Those people have no interest in getting to know you and find out you’re actually really great in a lot of ways, they don’t care about you at all, so any effort you make will be rebuffed as evidence of your controlling nature. I’d hazard a guess they don’t care all that much about your boyfriend, either, if they disrespect his choice of partners and try to sabotage his relationship this way, but he is free to figure that out on his own. Nope to the nopeth. Enjoy your spa day! Go be with people who want you around and have your back! Have a Team You holiday for all your friends who don’t have kind, supportive family nearby, or hang with your own family, make a collage of all the nasty things your bf’s family have said and done to you, ritually light it the fuck on fire, then take an all day nap.

    1. Tbh, it concerns me that their solution to the problem of the family taking sh*t when the LW isn’t there is that she always comes with him. . . why can’t he tell his family to STFU? I would never subject my BF to this treatment.

      1. Yeah, the BF’s lack of consideration for LW is disturbing to me. “If LW is here, I get shat on only HALF as much!” does not say good things about him. On the contrary: it makes him sound like a cowardly, disloyal little shitstain.

        1. Seriously.

          When my parents got married, my father’s parents told him he could pick them or his wife. He picked his wife. They didn’t talk for nearly ten years. I’ve seen my grandmother twice in my life. My father has made it VERY clear that she is not to say anything critical of to/around/about my mother, and when we did visit them, the visits were kept short and we stayed in a hotel instead of at her house.

          She said something to my father about my tattoos, and he calmly told me they were not up for discussion and he had nothing to say on the topic. My parents have not always had an easy or simple life or marriage, and there were times when having a supportive extended family would really have helped, but my dad has really modeled how to be a supportive partner in a really fantastic way, and I will not settle for someone who tolerates their family being unkind to me. Full stop.

          1. This happened in my family, too. My mother was told that my father was too low-class for her (his family are farmers, hers were professors) and that if she married him she shouldn’t come home. She hasn’t spoken to her mother for 43 years. We *think* that my grandmother died, but we don’t actually know.

        2. #792: “If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is.”

          Holy hell. I’m so sorry. Please try to take comfort in the fact that if awful people have unfriendly appraisals of you, you’re probably doing something very right – in this case, it may well be providing your boyfriend with support and validation that erodes the control his abusive family exerts over him (that stuff about you being controlling sounds like pure projection).

          1. After having to endure a difficult family of in-laws (or as I like to call them “out-laws”) for many years…. this may sound harsh BUT I want the LW to really, really think about her relationship with the bf. If there is any ANY doubt that he may not be the one for you, if there is any carry over of his family’s negative traits into this guy, if you have any, even MINOR concerns/issues with this relationship well then my advice to you my dear is to RUN. RUN LIKE THE WIND. You have to seriously consider what it will be like to have these people in your life FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! What about if you get married? What about kids – how are they going to be treated? Is this a healthy environment for them? I am afraid that this problem is not limited to a seasonal holiday. You need to review your situation very, very carefully. My sincerest, best wishes to you.

        3. He might have been abused by his family so much that he’s in a permanent emotional crouch and assumes that’s how families always are, and doesn’t know why LW doesn’t assume the position with him. IDK.

          1. I can understand not knowing how to talk back to your abusive family, but I don’t understand bringing someone you care about into that situation. Bringing an S.O. to a family gathering of wolves you can’t fight off sounds like bringing your S.O. to a fist fight you know you will lose badly. I’d rather my partner be unhurt and ready with frozen peas when I get back.

          2. This is a very important point. It took me a long time as an adult to really understand that some of the stuff my family did was wrong and unreasonable. In my case they were always very nice to my partners (nicer than to me, and if we broke up that was always my fault too…) so I never had to deal with defending a partner from an abusive parent. But if you’re used to abuse and used to never defying someone who raised you to never defy them I can see how easily you could assume your partner should behave likewise.

            The partners in this case should of course not comply and should set boundaries around dealing with horrible family. But I do see how hard it is to even understand that that’s reasonable when you’re the adult child of terrible parents in the middle of it.

        4. Wow, three comments into the comment section and the LW’s boyfriend gets called a “cowardly, disloyal little shitstain”.

          There are a lot of reasons I love this community, but one of the reasons I dislike it is its ability to see the worst in practically anyone or anything.

          1. I’m sure he’s been called worse, undoubtedly by his own family. Which is a lot of the issue here, I suspect: BF has been abused his whole life by the sounds of it, and he’s traumatised and confused and thinks this sort of thing is notmal.

            Dear LW 792:

            The thing you can do that will help your BF most is the thing you can do that will help you the most, and that is: refuse to ignore, excuse, or condone his family’s abuse of you, him, or anyone else. Refuse to act like this is normal.

            You don’t WANT them to like or approve of you, dear LW. Look at the sort of people they are.

            I’m assuming, by the way, that you’re both out of the house and independent. If not, you will need to be more careful in what you do, and plan for the future.

            But otherwise:

            It sounds as though BF doesn’t really have a lot of experience to compare his family’s behaviour to. More time with your family may be the very best thing you could possibly do for him AND you – which I’m sure is why his family makes it as hard as possible.

            You can’t fix his family’s shit, but you can be firm in your refusal to call it Nutella. You can do what you want for the holidays and let them say what they’re going to say. You can refuse to put up with their abuse and let the chips fall where they want to fall. You can refuse to buy into their worldview.

            Hopefully this, plus time with your family, seeing how they treat you – and him – will give BF some sort of standard of comparison, so he can start getting used to being treated well and start figuring out that what his family does is not okay. It may take awhile. It may take a long time. Meanwhile, though, you’ll be protecting yourself and keeping your bonds with your family strong.

            If you do what they want, they will be abusive. If you do what you want, they will be abusive but you get to do what you want.

            Good luck and good things to both of you.

        5. I got the impression that the LW wanted to support BF and felt bad for him, not that the BF demanded LW go as his shield/whipping boy. I don’t think it’s cool he shares things his family says about her, though. I find that a little weird and it has a passive aggressive vibe- “I’m not saying you’re not pretty enough/smart enough/nice enough/good enough! My mom/dad/sister/talking dog/entire family said that!” That’s a double backhand across the face. If he’s doing that, that’s the problem.

          If LW ever feels like going to support BF, and someone comes at her, think about the following phrases- “Is that how you treat a guest in your home?” “I’m not interested in competing with others [ie. ex girlfriends]” “That was uncalled for.” “Why do you think that?” I’d also go in separate cars, so if you want to leave, but BF wants to stay and chill with Uncle Awesome, you can leave without jerks calling you controlling. It also might be good to stay for an hour or so, then go on to your relative’s/friend’s house. “I’d love to stay, but Great Aunt Hilda is at the nursing home and I wanted to bring her mince pie!” Unfortunately, assclowns are going to assclown, so no matter what LW does, these people are going to suck. But limiting contact will help.Good luck.

      2. Oh yikes, I think I speed-read through that part. Show up in person so you can be a receptacle for all the nasty things they say about you to your face, which means I won’t have to deal with them talking about you behind your back! Then my nasty family becomes your problem instead of my problem. It will be so much… fun?

        Did I also catch that LW’s entire family rearranges their holiday plans so that LW can go get emotionally abused by the BF’s relatives? Aaaaand, that it’s LW who’s supposedly the controlling party in this equation when LW, the bf, and LW’s family all are doing things they don’t want to do at bf’s family’s behest?

        1. “Did I also catch that LW’s entire family rearranges their holiday plans so that LW can go get emotionally abused by the BF’s relatives? Aaaaand, that it’s LW who’s supposedly the controlling party in this equation when LW, the bf, and LW’s family all are doing things they don’t want to do at bf’s family’s behest?”

          Word! Trying to find the logic in that was hurting my brain.

      3. She’s his meatshield: she takes the abuse so he doesn’t have to feel bad.

        Some day if they have children he’ll use them that way too, unless he realizes what he’s doing.

        1. Do we even know that BF asked LW to come? LW gives reason for going that seem pretty internal… they want to spend holidays with BF. For all we know boyfriend has encouraged them not to come!

          Yes, boyfriend my might be using LW as a shield, maybe. But it’s also possible he just wants to spend holidays with his terrible family and LW comes along to give unasked-for (but hopefully much-appreciated) support.

      4. I think we can cut him a little slack for growing up in an obviously abusive, manipulative environment. That can seriously mess with your ability to accurately analyze and cope with conflict. So much of relationships and reality is established by your family. So I’m not going to pass judgement on him for not telling them off or handling this the way that I, coming from a completely different background and upbringing, might.

        That said: there is therapy for this, and he should be seeking it. For his own health as well as that of his relationship.

        1. This. When growing up with emotional abuse you don’t have a good metric for what a safe and healthy interaction is, and we don’t know how old LW’s bf is.

          1. Totally agreed. The last ten years of finding out just how abusive and toxic my family were/are has been as hard as actually growing up inside that dysfunction. It was almost easier “knowing” that I was evil, wicked, ungrateful and deserving of physical, mental, emotional and medical abuse, than it was to become part of a typical, loving family.

            That realisation, that parents don’t tend to keep a list of costs to be paid back by their child, or have strict rules about which months you’re permitted to ask for an extra blanket when your bedroom is icing up on the inside, or asking if it’s okay to eat (never, except mealtimes), or drink (depends on the reason), or whatever. I’m in my late thirties and I’ve been with my wife for ten years; I still occasionally revert to my programming and ask “Is it okay if I eat this?” or “Would it be alright to put the heating on?”

            The same goes for interacting with others, I had no idea that certain types of communication were considered rude, abusive, or disrespectful, because I was so used to that. It sounds like LW’s boyfriend may be stuck in that mode too, and probably could do with having his programming hacked and jailbroken, which was basically what was done for me. New firmware (love, support, and respect) and new really old and basic software (when mother asks inappropriate question then 10 PRINT “That’s none of your business, so stop asking” 20 GOTO 10) helped me lay out ground rules for being allowed to see me, or communicate with me.

            Best of luck to that LW& boyfriend.

          2. @Big Pink Box: Yep! I started working on my Stuff more than half my lifetime ago, but I literally just this week realized that somebody who lived for most of her adolescence without a door on her bedroom, was so used to having her medical problems ignored that she didn’t call anybody when she was so badly hurt that she couldn’t walk, and meekly stood up in the schoolbus while it was moving because nobody wanted her to sit with them wasn’t spoiled no matter how many times her FOO insisted that she was.

            Being raised by people who act this way just plain messes up a person’s logic circuits, is what it does.

          3. LW specifically says that one of the reasons she attends is because she wants to help BF endure the abuse – suggesting that he’s getting it just as bad, if not worse. ITA with those who say this guy is in an abusive relationship with his family and hasn’t yet acquired the tools/awareness needed to get out. LW can’t do that for him; all she can do is model a healthy kind of self-care.

        2. Agreed – BF sounds like a victim of his awful family as well. I also agree that he needs to work on changing that dynamic, else it will poison his other relationships like that with LW.

        3. I agree that the bf gets slack for whether or not they understand, or are willing to try and understand, what’s happening irt their family and their own behavior. The effects on LW don’t change based upon that info, but LW’s approach to bf might.

          1. Oh yes, this dynamic definitely needs to change. I just think it’s important to recognize that “Just tell them off!” is not really useful for someone with an abusive upbringing. Which is, again, why therapy is there to help bridge the gap.

            BF needs to do *something,* but that first step might be more like reading up on resources for victims of emotional abuse and going from there.

        4. I am the LW. Bf does recognize the hurt I face while there and offers to let me not go, but when he goes to family event on his own he comes home completely withdrawn and fragile and will be like that for a weekish. If we go together most of the angst is thrown at me and then we leave he is just upset with his family for the next couple of hours and we can move on. My parents were awful when I was younger (they’ve mellowed out) so I’m used to the insults, but for some reason it hurts more coming his family. Especially the stuff relating to his ex since he cheated on me with her during the first year of our relationship. He knows this is an issue and is in therapy in order to better how he interacts with family. He found me crying as I was typing up my letter to captain awkward and has plans to explain to his family that he won’t be at events anymore if they insist on being not so nice. So…. This thanksgiving should be interesting at least?

          1. good for you both!!

            i was going to say, does he feel like he HAS to go himself? what would happen if he didn’t? it seems like it is very damaging to him, as well as you.

            best of luck this year!

          2. Yeah he feels obligated to go. His father was absent most of his life and the passed away. He blamed on his mother when he was young and treated her not so nice so he feels he deservesthe way that she treats him. Plus he has niece and nephew (children of the eldest brother) that he wants to try and have a relationship with. Hilariously they love me and run to hug me before the leave each visit much to eldest brother’s disgust.

          3. Hi LW. I understand your dismay about sending your bf off to be savaged by the wolves who raised him, but here’s my thing about that. If bf’s family were super worried about appearances and you being there made them behave themselves and not be mean to him, a slightly awkward time would totally be worth it. But that’s not the situation. The situation is that they’re horrible to both of you, so at best, you are merely offering them another target.

            This is not a good thing. This is, in fact, a very bad thing. Your bf is teaching his family that not only will he take their abuse, he will also deliver them fresh victims periodically.

            You say your boyfriend is in therapy, but is it helping? Does he need a different therapist? I know it feels like you’re improving things, but you’re not actually resolving the situation. You’re just making it bearable enough that he keeps showing up to be the designated punching bag. If nothing else, his therapist should be telling him that this isn’t okay!

          4. Hey, Caiti. I wanted to write and offer jedi hugs. Neither you nor your boyfriend deserve to endure that kind of bullying and abuse. Your letter really touched me because I know how I would feel if my partner’s family spoke to me in the way your boyfriend’s family has spoken to you.

            I think it’s really positive that your boyfriend found out how distressed you are while you were writing in to the Captain. An honest conversation with your boyfriend about how their behaviour is affecting you sounds like it was sorely needed. You sound like a very caring person who wants to protect their boyfriend from emotional harm. At the same time, your wellbeing is equally important, and you shouldn’t have to eat up a side serving of his family’s emotional toxic waste at Thanksgiving so that you guys can ‘move on’ shortly after.

            Sometimes we think of ourselves as shields, deflecting all the arrows and barbs, but instead we’re sponges, and when we’re exposed to poison and bile we can’t help but soak it up.

            It’s also really positive that your boyfriend has said he wants to put you first and not go to his family’s events if they continue to mistreat you both. If I could offer some gentle advice, it’s for you guys to keep talking about this issue, and for you to bring it up continually if it looks like things might ‘slip’ back to the way they were before. Make sure he follows through. It sounds like your boyfriend’s heart is in the right place but it can be hard, even for someone who really wants to, to break out of a powerful dysfunctional emotional family dynamic like the one you’re talking about. Talk also about the details, like what will happen if they promise to behave and then you find them abusing you again, because it sounds like that’s quite probable with his mother.

            Keep communicating and always remember that you are important and that the strongest relationship is not one where one partner shields the other – it is the one where both partners stand together and are stronger because each has the other’s back.

          5. Thank you so much. Bf is creating a battle plan including a safe word for me if something bad happens that he doesn’t hear, so that he can iniate us leaving. I really really appreciate all the help.

          6. I admire your insight and the bravery it takes to put hard things like these into words. At the same time, “I’m used to the insults” is a premise I’d like to encourage you to re-examine. Should this be a goal?

            I’ve just started reading “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, and oh, boy, is it a revelation on every page. I’ve also newly committed to work with one therapist. These feel better than what I was doing, namely, seeking new, destructive relationships to hide from old, destructive relationships in. -I hope this is useful to you.

          7. I’m so glad that you and your boyfriend are going to have a Thanksgiving that reflects the true spirit of the holiday- surrounding yourself with loving and thankful people! Maybe you can have a Thanksgiving with people who aren’t able to get home, or are lonely this time of year. Take the phone off the hook, so the evil bees don’t call, and have a great Thanksgiving!

        5. Agreed. This situation did not spring full-grown from Zeus’s forehead. BF grew up this way and probably never learned how to handle things healthily.

          Therapy. Lots of therapy.

        6. I agree. I can understand having questions about how this situation is developed, but calling the BF a shitstain or saying he will treat future children badly seems like a reach to me, especially considering we don’t have that much information.

      5. And its ALWAYS – so, by the sounds of it, its been a while since she had a holiday -on the right day- with her family?
        Its a double down of nasty.
        Evil Bees indeed.

        My in-laws aren’t too bad, but I find visiting with them stressful. So we only do Christmas every 3rd year with them and one other visit a year most years. Limiting my stress, yay for husband caring!

  2. Nice gaslighting by the husband with FB pen pal. I mean, I guess it’s technically snooping to read messages on someone’s FB when they forget to log out, but it’s way more akin to eavesdropping on a conversation than prying open a locked diary.

    1. That depends, I think, on your household computer conventions. Shared computer where you are supposed to log out when done, yes, but for example in my household, you DO NOT touch the other person’s laptop except to close it/move it out of the way. You CERTAINLY do not read the screen.

      She says it was his computer, not their computer. To me, that makes a difference. Something left open on a shared computer vs something left open on a private computer…one is a significantly greater violation.

      1. I dunno. I am not particularly snoopy, gossipy, nor jealous, and my spouse and I are on pretty great terms, but if I walked by his open computer and saw something written to another person with my name on it, it would take a very powerful force of will, indeed, to keep me from giving it at least a glance over. If that thing with my name on it was awful, all the more so.

        1. I wouldn’t look unless I felt like something was off.

          (I know this because I have closed laptops and walked by desktops without looking.

          I have also shamelessly snooped when things went wrong between us.)

        2. Yup. Especially on FB. Anything said on a social media site (including PM’s since they can be easily shared) is no longer private.

          1. That logic doesn’t really hold water for me. If something is not intended to be for your ears/eyes and you deliberately find it out, that’s not cool, whatever the medium. Paper can be photocopied, emails can be forwarded, hell, spoken conversations can be recorded on cell phones. That doesn’t mean we have literally no right to expect privacy any time we express a thought to another person.

          2. Photocopying letters and recording conversations take conscious effort. It’s very easy to accidentally forward an email or share something with an unintended audience electronically and especially on social media. Even if the person you are communicating with is trustworthy.
            I once pasted part of a text to Spouse into a text to my supervisor, lucky she thought it was funny and not sexual harassment. But these things happen.

            Saying things on social media is like saying them in a small cafe frequented by your friends, family, and community. Even if you have the conversation at a table in the back corner, there’s a good chance of someone overhearing you.

            It doesn’t mean people can never have privacy ever, just choosing that venue indicates privacy was not your top concern.

        3. Yeah, sometimes you are genuinely not trying to be a snoop but it happens. I heard my cat sneeze on night and when I looked in that direction saw that bf had a message from a boundary-pushing ex. Fortunately he was understanding that I truly wasn’t trying to snoop when I brought it up.

        4. I’ve done that–walked past my spouse’s open computer–and been pretty sure I’ve seen my name, and have never even checked to make sure. It didn’t feel like it took a huge effort of will.

          It’s his computer. And my computers are mine. We even specifically look away when each other enters their passwords, because those are easily learned, and respecting other people’s passwords is a courtesy that you extend because you do; they get to share their passwords with you, you do not get to collect them.

          That said, regardless of my feelings on that particular matter, I understand household conventions might be different for the LW, and even if it isn’t, I’m very sorry for what they found out, and I think the Captain’s advice was solid.

      2. It can also depend on individual preference. I haaaate people even so much as glancing at my computer/phone screen to a degree that is totally unjustifiable. If my partner looked through something I had opened on my computer I would be very upset even though I can’t think of anything specific that I’d mind them seeing. My partner is much more relaxed and I have a standing invitation to use their computer.

        It kinda doesn’t matter. The LW and their husband know whether boundaries were trampled but even if they were it’s something separate to deal with in addition to the horrible things he wrote rather than instead of.

        1. Oh, certainly. I’m not at all saying he has a right to expect her not to be upset, or something like that. I’m saying that it’s not possible to automatically assume that snooping on Facebook is at about the eavesdropping level rather than the diary level.

          1. Sorry J. Preposterice, that second bit wasn’t meant to be directed at you specifically. I just meant that if the husband does view it as a breech of privacy is an issue they will ALSO maybe need to talk about. The problem is that the husband seems to think it supersedes the issue of what the LW saw.

      1. Yeah, this is a question of scale. Leaving something open on a computer in your house which you share and then being mad someone saw it is… eye roll. If the husband is acting like this it’s 100% a smokescreen to try and distract the LW from what is really the problem: that he is being unforgivably nasty about her to his Ladyfriend while paying lip service to “fixing their marriage” or whatever. LW’s behavior? = NOT THE PROBLEM, HERE.

        1. Yeah, how mad would spouse be if LW invaded his privacy and found that he’d got her a surprise gift? Or he’d gotten a DUI he failed to mention? Or even his venting in an okay way? How mad would he be if one of his hypothetical siblings had read that mail by accident-sorta?

          I doubt he’d be as mad as he is about this infraction of trust and manners.

          Because however much he dislikes having his privacy breached, I imagine he has an added dose of dislike because he’s been busted doing something really, really not OK, which is talking about his partner in the way he has. And he damn well knows it!

        2. Absolutely. I have a gentleman friend who is in a relationship and we message a lot (nothing non-platonic ever) and he very rarely messages me about it when they have big problems that he’s trying to cope with (I work in counselling and he sometimes asks for my perspective). He is never less than totally respectful of her and I likewise, pay her the same respect by speaking about their relationship the same way I would with one of my female friends who was having difficulties in a relationship. I try to empathise with both their situations though I don’t know her, I offer support but don’t take sides, and I wish him the best for sorting out their problems. I can’t counsel a friend, I can only listen and support. I have no idea what Ladyfriend thinks she’s doing. She’s been sidechick for 10 years, if he was going to leave his wife, he would have done it already. Does she think she’s going to swoop in and break up this marriage?

    2. Look. On one hand, I have ISSUES with people even touching my phone or computer. My husband and I now (after YEARS together) share a computer, and even then seeing my profile on the screen raises my anxiety. And he knows that, and will switch to his profile before even doing a google search for a thing he wants to show me, while I’m in the room with him. Respect, people! Yay! (And I don’t password-protect my profile, because I TRUST HIM.)

      But, look. if he went through my Facebook messages, or my email, or anything, I’d be upset at the invasion of privacy. Like, seriously pissed. And similarly, I wouldn’t go through his FB messages. But… if we were on the rocks, and things were going badly, and etc, I can kind of understand someone slipping on that (because seeking extra information that affects your life is NORMAL, if not particularly great ethically). And if either of us had written anything like what the LW sent…lemme just say that we would NOT be focussing on the invasion of privacy, but rather on the content and lack of respect and where the hell do we go from there.

      Venting is understandable (“my spouse did X thing and I’m upset because it triggers Y and help me work through it.”) Lack of respect and full-on disdain (“my spouse is stupid and I wish they’d just leave”) is not. If I read my husband’s email and found venting, I’d be ashamed of myself for invading his privacy and hopefully retreat to never do it again. If I read and found disdain, we’d have a WAY bigger issue, and there’d be no retreating.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is… it’s not because you found something out by prying or snooping that the thing it question shouldn’t be addressed.

    3. also I think it is important to remember that wrongs do not cancel out. snooping = bad (and I think even if his FB was logged in, unless messages were already visible on the screen with no clicking necessary it is snooping) but also saying horrible things about your spouse = bad, and those things are independent of each other.

    4. While you’re probably right about it being more like eavesdropping than reading someone’s diary, that doesn’t change the fact that eavesdropping has much the same risk: you will potentially hear (or read, as the case may be) something unflattering or hurtful about yourself that the other person would never have said in your presence. I’d still be mad about the FB message reading, but it would be flavored with self-directed “can’t believe I left that open, won’t be making that mistake again” chagrin.

      I don’t think it was gaslighting, though. The LW doesn’t say he denied that the FB messages were real or told her she was imagining things. He just said it was venting and she shouldn’t have read them.

      With all that in mind, I second the Captain’s analysis that the husband behaved crappily and the content of his messages (now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag) suggest that he’s done with the marriage now, regardless of what he may have agreed to previously.

      1. It is definitely gaslighting. LW’s husband is acting as if her possibly snooping on something he left open on a computer screen is anywhere near the level of trust violation and relationship destroying action as the content of what he said about her. He’s acting as if she has no right to be upset or to expect a discussion of his statements because of the way that she got the information. Him saying that it’s just venting is definitely gaslighting – it’s the angry version of saying, “I was just joking!” when someone calls you on saying something insulting to them. And it is working – the LW started out confronting him about his word and ended up wondering if they might really be normal venting enough that she felt the need for independent verification. Gaslighting is about getting someone to doubt their perceptions and understanding enough so that you can manipulate them. It doesn’t always take the form of “that didn’t happen.”

      2. According to the LW, the things he’s saying are “That I’m the reason for all his anger and how stupid I am when I talk.” That’s not “venting,” especially if it doesn’t actually succeed in relieving his stress (which is what “venting” means) and helping him be a better partner to the LW’s face, and especially when said to another person who is ALSO saying horrible things about the LW even though they’ve never met. And it is 100% gaslighting to tell the LW that they don’t have a right to be hurt because by those horrible things just because they found it out in a possibly less-than-ideal way (what would we prefer, that he print them out and tape them to the fridge??).

        Sorry, I guess if your partner is a dickbag I’m on Team Snoop. It’s important information about the LW’s marriage, so I guess I’m not really inclined to care how they got it.

        1. What if he left it open on purpose? So the LW would find it? Then he could cast LW as the bad one for snooping without the burden of initiating the break up himself?

          1. Then that would be an extra layer of gaslighting. But the part where he’s asserting that saying things like that about a partner in any context is not a big deal and something she shouldn’t be upset about is gaslighting all on its own.

    5. I’m not sure “eavesdropping” is just one thing. There’s a big difference between a phone call I make with you in the next room, where I assume you’re not paying attention/might have headphones on/whatever but I know that you can hear every word if you choose to, and one I have in my office with the door closed when I think you’re not even home, where you a) got home early, b) came in quietly, and c) are now lurking outside my office door to hear it.

      Personally, if I left something up, I’d consider titles and images fair play (so if you want to know why I was searching for divorce lawyers, yeah, I owe you an answer) but reading through text is a little worrisome.

      However, it’s not at all clear to me that LW did find this conversation up. It’s hard to say, but it kinda sounds like he was just logged into facebook, y’know, checking up on his friends’ new-puppy pics, and she took it upon herself to check up on what he’s been saying to this person. That’s… I’d feel pretty violated if my associate did that to me. “Prying open a locked diary?” Maybe not, but definitely “opening the desk drawer where I keep the diary (and nothing else), noticing that the key’s still in the lock, opening it, and reading the whole thing.”

      I’d also question “gaslighting.” He doesn’t seem to be denying any of her perceptions, he’s certainly not claiming that he didn’t say those things. He does seem to think his privacy is more important than her interest in him not saying nasty things about here, but then she thinks that interest trumps his privacy, so it’s hard to see that as gaslighting.

    6. I agree. I would be mortified if anyone went into my FB and read my messages (and mostly, I share cat pictures/mac and cheese recipes), but that’s why I log out of my account and have a password protected computer. I think the husband wanted her to find it. He wanted an out, though, so he wouldn’t be on the hook for saying vicious things to his wife personally. This way, he can paint it as a mutual problem- “You big snoop! You don’t trust me! You violate my privacy (that I obviously disregard)!” rather than “I am having an emotional affair with another woman, and we mock you horribly behind your back. Also, I blame my problems/character flaws all on you.” If he just said “Everything is your fault/bad thing/bad thing!” then he would be forced to own his words. Here, he can escape all responsibility for his bs and leave the knife stuck in his wife’s back. I do think he’s entitled to privacy, but the only privacy you get is the privacy you create (with the exception of abusive relationships- in which case, it’s the abuser’s fault for stripping the victim of their privacy).

      A couple years ago, my dad gave my mom permission to open his email account, and she found emails from dating websites. It turns out he submitted his emails to dating websites so he could get access to personality quizzes, but he didn’t yell at my mom for clicking on his promotional email folder. He apologized for lying, redacted his email subscriptions, and showed her he didn’t have a profile on any of the sites. Yeah, he was annoyed, but he knew he screwed up and tried to make it right.

  3. Oh, #795. I just want to give you hugs and tell you everything will be ok. At some point in my 2-year do-I-get-divorced-or-not process, I realized something: I couldn’t think of a single thing he could have done to make me want to stay. I went through every individual complaint and thought, “If this were better, if we worked this out would I want to stay?” And the answer was always no. I went out of town for a conference, was gone for nearly two weeks, and didn’t miss him. We went to couple’s therapy. After three sessions I shrugged and said everything was fine now, because I didn’t want to go back for a fourth (but I was still too scared to leave). I was just done.

    While you’re doing all the things you need to do, and while you’re going through your options, really think about how your react to them. It might be difficult to see through the general miasma of Suck right now, but I bet if you really listen to yourself, you’ll notice that the idea of living apart from your husband makes you want to sing, or makes your shoulders crawl up around your ears with Nope. Be nice to yourself. Do little things that make you happy. Do little things to make your kids happy. If it’s feasible, you might consider shipping them off to a relative’s or friend’s house for a weekend, to give yourself some breathing room and them some time away from the tension.

    Jedi hugs and wine and chocolates and foot rubs. You’re doing a hard thing.

  4. soooo, the last one? My husband does this. We’ve had a really rocky year and things were looking up-ish. I knew he had friends online as a support group but noticed that every time he talked to them he would become angry, accusatory, and demanding(and drunk). I’m not proud of it but I looked at some of his conversations and was horrified. He said he hated me, that I ruined his life, ran off his whole family(literally, what?), was an awful person, was lazy and could never support myself (I supported him most of the marriage) and looked forward to the day when I was a single mom with no support and annoying kids… He, on the other hand, apologized profusely and claimed it was “venting” which i really don’t hold against him, per se. And, look, I’m not perfect, I’m just confused as to how he can tell me he’s madly in love with me and then tell other people he thinks I’m scum. I’ve “vented” to friends and never attacked his character or said hateful things about how I wanted his future to be miserable. It’s a weird relief to see that someone else has had this happen to them and that you *don’t have to be ok with it.*

    1. That’s so horrible. I’m so sorry.

      I personally think there’s a huge difference between venting to your friends because your SO leaves his darn socks on the floor, and spending a LOT of time crafting a false narrative about how your SO is the worst person in the world to an entire online community. That’s not just “venting.” That’s turning your SO into a monster to justify your own shitty behavior, and it is Not. Ok.

    2. Oh my god. No, you don’t have to be ok with it. Venting is, “Would it kill her to run the dishwasher before she goes to bed?” or “GOD I HATE IT WHEN HE WHISTLES WHY DOES HE KEEP WHISTLING.” What you’re describing isn’t venting. I hope you’re able to work this out with him, and that he sees how hurtful it is to you.

      1. Yeah, I agree it crosses the line from “venting” into something darker when it involves composing elaborate stories about how your spouse is terrible and you’re a perpetual victim. There’s a premeditated quality to the latter that seems at odds with “venting.”

      2. I think you’re right. I’ve thought something like those before but it never crystallized until you said it. I think he could also be crafting these narratives as a way to present himself as the victim to other people. If I’m the witch that stomped all over his heart then he doesn’t have to take responsibility for any of his shortcomings. *sigh* I’m just tired of this. And even now I would never try to make him look like a monster to someone else; It wouldn’t be true and it’s not fair.

        1. I’m really sorry you are dealing with this. I don’t think he should treat you that way; you deserve better.

        2. It sounds like your spouse has what some people call an “emotional spouse,” where they have a very intimate relationship even if they’re not physically intimate. And that sort of thing is often hard to deal with. The standard rule of thumb is, would your partner say the same things to that person if you were there? and it seems pretty definite that they wouldn’t.

      3. Even if it’s potentially more serious… I’ve been writing about my boyfriend in my diary like: “We are not getting on so well as we used to; I’m worried we don’t connect as well as I thought on [issues], I feel sad and confused and I don’t know if it’s me or him” but I’ve never thought of calling him an awful person, and no one sees that but me.

        1. Yeah; I was thinking about that too. When things were really dire toward the end of my husband’s life but I couldn’t even conceive of actually leaving him, I didn’t really let myself think “oh this is awful and the stuff he’s doing is pretty bad”. If you’ve reached the point where you’re doing this? Shit is probably over.

    3. I feel as though recognizing that emotions are not reality is not a skill that everyone has practiced. I feel really uncomfortable with misrepresenting the facts of a situation based on how you are currently feeling about it. I might say some harsh things about people I love sometimes, but I try very hard to frame it as my perceptions and my understandings — “I feel like,” “It seems to me,” “From what I’ve seen.” It’s not just trying to be fair to a person who I want to keep in my life (though it is that too) but not allowing my emotions to change the situation into something it’s not, because that way bad, bad shit lies. Are there situations that I can’t perceive the reality of because my emotions are too strong? Yes, and I have escaped them, because they were dangerous places to be.

      So, emmaclaire, I’m not a big fan of how your husband is handling “venting” either.

      1. My husband has had issues with identifying and finding healthy outlets for emotions (was raised very religious with strict parents) and that’s something he’s working on. So, you’re right. he probably does have difficulty examining his emotions and the situation separately. His ineptitude in this area is beginning to make me more and more uncomfortable, not only for the fact that I feel he has little understanding of himself, but that he has little understanding of *of others* – like his wife!

        I really like how you state you handle your emotions and those are strategies I use and have used in the past – but it’s good to be reminded of them though, especially when tensions are high, like they are right now.

        1. You know, that’s interesting. I can see where it would be a problem. I was raised in a household where it was not ok for me to have negative emotions — not for religious reasons, but it was still a big problem. It made it hard for me to cope any time I was upset with anyone in my life. And as I suffered through a lot of bullying and abuse at school, well, it was very very difficult. But you know, I didn’t respond by crafting false narratives about how other people were bad and wrong. I actually was much more likely to turn the negative emotions inward on myself.

          Then I got therapy and got better at Doing Feelings and oh man it’s so much better, but my point here is that even if he’s totally unable to deal in a healthy way with his emotions, which is a thing that happens, there are other choices he could make than dumping on YOU that way.

    4. Well, usually when one vents, one says true things. And several of the things you’ve mentioned are exceptionally harsh and even, at least by your account, untrue. So that’s pretty disturbing.

      1. From my experience, venting is done to relieve tension. It doesn’t make you “angry or accusatory or demanding,” it lets you get the little annoyances off your chest, and put them behind you. Not hold on to them and make the object of your venting feel worse.

        1. From my experience, venting is done to relieve tension. It doesn’t make you “angry or accusatory or demanding,” it lets you get the little annoyances off your chest, and put them behind you.

          Yes! I’ve had times where I’ve complained about things someone has done and then after that… I just wasn’t that bothered anymore. (I’ve also had a couple of incidents where I did not use the correct filters when doing this, which was quite unpleasant :/ Especially when it’s about someone you interact with but aren’t close to it can be hard to explain “I don’t actually really mean it, I was feeling cranky and wanted to get the overreaction out of my system by whining to people who know I don’t actually mean it” and have it be heard because they’re quite rightly busy being hurt.)

          1. Great point about whining to people who know you don’t really mean it. It’s a whole different ballpark from “venting” to someone who’s delighting in the negativity and feeding it.

    5. OMG, I am so so sorry to hear about this. I agree with the others that that is NOT venting, and no, you don’t have to be ok with it.

      When you say “I’m just confused as to how he can tell me he’s madly in love with me and then tell other people he thinks I’m scum” – I would say that if he’s not lying, I think it might be shame. Some men have a very tough time admitting that they are ashamed of having been supported by a woman, or that they are ashamed they have dropped interacting with family because they subconsciously expect their wife to take on that emotional role, even though that’s terribly sexist. So he blames you for things he has done or not done, in order to feel better about himself and his choices. But again, you *don’t have to be ok with this* because it is not ok. If your husband truly is madly in love with you, then I’d recommend he get some personal therapy about that need to talk you down.

    6. Is his online support group an MRA forum? Everything you describe in his running you down to other people is a common MRA meme, and “every time he talked to them he would become angry, accusatory, and demanding(and drunk)” sounds like they’re not so much supporting him as working to sabotage your relationship. It sounds to me like for things to work out between you, he might have to do some work unpacking a bunch of misogyny he’s internalized.

      I’m so sorry you’re in that position, and you definitely don’t have to be okay with that.

      1. I just looked up MRA. Are you referring to a Men’s Rights Association? While
        I’m horrified at what I’m seeing I wouldn’t be surprised if he was influenced by some of this information, at least early on. And actually, he has made some off-color comments about women thinking they can control men with sex, me “using sex as a weapon” when I simply say I’m not in the mood, or women really being the ones in control of society… Uhg. Please no. He has a history of being insecure so he’d probably like the stuff he saw there. However, the main person he talks to is a woman? So I don’t know.

        1. Men’s Rights Activism/Activist. There are women in MRA circles/the MRA movement. I’m sure there is information out there on specific groups/websites/etc to look out for in the links your husband posts etc, but I’m not sure where one would start looking. You might consider taking a look at the website wehuntedthemammoth.com, which calls out that kind of thing.

        2. Unfortunately there are women out there who support the MRA movement. I think they call themselves “honey badgers.” MRAs or no, and no matter who he’s talking to, the way he’s talking about you to third parties is not cool at all. Marriage researchers say that once contempt for your partner enters the relationship, there’s no going back, and unfortunately it sounds like your husband has some contempt. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I hope that you can find some good counseling, or speak with a divorce lawyer, whichever you like. You deserve better than this, and if he can’t give that to you or you’re no longer interested in finding out if he can, it may be time to leave. Good luck to you.

    7. ” He said he hated me, that I ruined his life, ran off his whole family(literally, what?), was an awful person, was lazy and could never support myself (I supported him most of the marriage) and looked forward to the day when I was a single mom with no support and annoying kids…”

      Whoa…have you done any digging into the online group that he is venting to? It sounds like he’s hanging out with MRA-types (highly anti-woman “men’s rights activists.”) I mention this because they are a community of extremely hateful guys who see women as the cause of all of their problems, and they tend to give each other really bad advice on how to handle it. Many of them encourage talk of violence and cheer whenever yet another disaffected guy kills a bunch of women in a mass shooting. There are also lots of folks (some lawyers, some not) giving advice on how to completely screw their wife over in a divorce financially while maintaining as much legal authority over decisions regarding kids as possible. (The perfect MRA divorce decree would be having their kids as much as they want but no more with 100% flexibility when they need to make changes but no obligation for flexibility on their side, total authority for all major decisions with no responsibility for taking care of day-to-day shit, all or most of the assets of the marriage, and no child support or maintenance of any kind. They won’t get it all, but they’ll put you through the ringer trying to get as close as possible. And if they can get the kids to hate you in the process, they consider it a bonus.)

      Seriously, if the group he’s hanging with is in any way affiliated with MRAs (A Voice for Men, Men Going Their Own Way, any references to “red pill” or the Pick-up Artist philosophy), get thee to a lawyer now and gird your loins for a NASTY divorce.

      1. CW: gun violence/homicide

        Was doing some quick google research today on how many mass shooters are women (1-2%, it seems) and came across an article that says about 64% of victims of mass shootings are women and children… but victims of all total homicide done with a gun, only about 22% are. (15% women, 7% children.) Really shows up the toxic masculinity that goes into the perspective of mass shooters. It’s [almost] all about taking aggrieved entitlement out on women who deny them what they want.

      2. Crap in a hat. He was literally reading an article about the “red pill” a couple weeks ago…he shared some quotes with me about it (nothing that made me hoist a Red Flag) and seemed to think it was silly, but he’s still reading it, and now I’m concerned about where his head is.

        He’s made me feel like he resents me before actually, but at the same time he tries to remind me he is proud of my accomplishments, which, to some, might look “better” than his… I think he’s always been internally conflicted as to whether or not he should be proud or resentful of me – and he’s said as much. If he’s reading bull like I’m worried that he’ll swing to the “resentment” side.

        1. Oh my dear. This is not a good sign. I don’t know what’s to be done about it, but I feel that hoping for the best and just continuing on is probably not that thing. 😦

          I dated a guy several years ago who consumed MRA media, but we were only dating for a few months, we didn’t live together, I hadn’t introduced him to any of my friends, and I had the (real and perceived) authority, when he started spouting talking points from the websites and videos he was consuming, to tell him to shut up or get out of my house.

        2. Be careful, and please make a safety plan. I would also recommend building/maintaining a strong Team You that you can use for a reality check if he starts gaslighting you.

          It’s not guaranteed that he will become aggressive or violent, but he is consuming media that portrays women as less than human and asserts that men have the right to get laid (they actually use the term “incel” for guys who aren’t getting sex, which is short for “involuntarily celibate.”)

          If you haven’t checked out the We Hunted the Mammoth blog (which reports on things said & done by various MRA groups), here are some relevant links.


    8. No one is at their finest in a breakup, but even when I was leaving my husband for someone else it wouldn’t have occurred to me to rant to an audience about how I hated him and he was stupid, and if I did I’d kind of expect that that would make getting back together a non-option. I’m surprised these guys don’t see it that way.

    9. @Emmaclaire, “venting” can be done without lying about basic facts. Of course you don’t have to be ok with what he did. He apologized, that’s something, but has he admitted to his online friends that he distorted the truth beyond all recognition?

      1. Not at all. He’s cut back communication and stopped with the onslaught of “she’s a horrible person” and said a few qualified comments like, “I don’t really think she’s that bad most of the time.” But he’s now keeping everything locked and although he told me the code at one point for the sake of transparency, he’s changed it and hasn’t told me.

        1. Oh, I do not like this at all for you.

          He doesn’t seem to respect or treasure you.

          If we knew each other in real life, I’d offer you my guest room while you two separated. :/

    10. Yeah, I’ve vented occasionally too, and it is the level of the dishwasher stuff fcjaugusta mentions; it is never, never, never that I hate my spouse or that they are a terrible person who I cannot wait to see suffer.

      I’m so sorry; that does sound horrifying, and hurtful, and I’m really sorry you went through reading that.

  5. Regarding reading the husband’s posts. He knows the computer is in a public-ish place in the house, he knows she cleans before guests, I’m sorry but if you don’t want people to glance at an open screen, do not leave it open. He probably passive aggressively wanted her to read that. I don’t know about other people, but if I have private stuff, I close the window. This now permits him to, in his own mind, parse her as the “Bad Partner,” because she read what he left there probably wanting her to read it (if only unconsciously.)

      1. Yeah, me too. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t at least change screens to something neutral if they’re dealing with private things online.

    1. Yup. I don’t think LW should mention this to her hubby — “you subconsciously or consciously wanted me to see that” — because she will just get herself a long frustrating litany of denial and accusation. But she has information that is relevant to her situation, including that he did not try hard to keep these ugly trashings of her out of sight. I think there is a gendered dynamic of men being like “it meant nothing it was an accident” and women rationalizing “he’s just so emotionally clueless he doesn’t realize” that is itself like a master weapon of psychological acuity and insight that yeah. Some dudes wield with a lot of dexterity. They know and you should know that they know and act accordingly.

      1. “But she has information that is relevant to her situation”

        This bit. Whether or not LW should have read it is kind of moot at this point. LW read it and it would be silly to pretend you don’t have this information. Which is a thing that I have done, honestly, because I felt it would be “unfair” to hold something against him that I wasn’t supposed to have seen.

    2. Yeah, he knew she’d see it.
      It was either a threat (I can’t stand you and am maybe going to leave you soon), or a warning (Other Woman wants me, these are the things you should change to keep me).

    3. I disagree completely. I think it’s more like going through someone’s mail, and it’s a huge violation. What’s done is done, and CA is right that there are bigger problems in their marriage than snooping. It definitely sounds like the husband doesn’t respect the LW. But that doesn’t mean what she did was excusable.

      1. I just cannot work up the disapproval “unexcusable” requires here. Do I think snooping is not good? I do think that.

        But I also think this reminds me of the US intelligence service having the position prior to WWII that gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.

        Gentlemanly behavior and excusable actions are really big luxuries to worry about right now. If this is how LW finds needed information to take care of herself and make good decisions, to protect herself and her kids… it might not be excusable, but it’s forgivable.

        She can vow not to snoop again when she’s not in the disadvantaged position she’s in right now.

  6. For 793, Cyber Hugs: I’m in a not-too dissimilar situation with long distance support of a caregiver. one of the things that I’ve been able to do that’s been helpful is providing the occasional dinner via Grub Hub. You may want to see if that’s something you can afford and/or something available in your sweetie’s area.

    1. ^Seconded. I’ve been a delivery driver for a number of ‘send my long-distance sweetie their favorite meal’ gifts, and it’s always appreciated. Just make sure he’s, like, home and stuff. Things that come in multiple servings and reheat well are A++

    2. I was able to do this for my two-states-away friend, too, just calling the restaurant directly. I added the tip for them while on the phone and then told my friend to sign my name to the delivery receipt. I felt so crafty when she unloaded it all!

  7. “Quietly document ALL of your assets, debts, and finances. Make copies of all financial documents, wills, insurance, retirement info, bank accounts, etc. and make sure you have the complete financial picture.”

    LW 795, and anyone in the early stages of contemplating divorce: In addition to this excellent advice, I would add that if you don’t have any kind of savings somewhere in an account that your spouse cannot access, set it up (quietly) as soon as possible. Even if it is asking a friend to hold some money for you. Every person I have ever known whose spouse cleaned out their joint accounts during their split always said, “Oh, there’s no way they would ever do that!” People do that. People who are otherwise great people can do selfish, cruel things when they are angry and in pain. People who are already at the stage of treating their spouse with contempt can do it more easily – once you are at the contempt stage, you don’t see the object of your contempt as a person anymore. If you aren’t a sociopath, the first step for doing seriously egregious things to another person is to stop seeing them as a person. Once someone is seeding their contempt and seeking reinforcement from someone else for it, watch your back.

    1. Other things:
      Make sure your copies of documents are in a safe place only you can access (friend’s house, safe deposit box)
      And get a major credit card that is in your name only. Review your credit report too to make sure any debt is legitimate.
      And get counseling for the kids.
      And take a day to stay in bed and sob if you can.

      1. And as well as financial documents, your passport and any immigration papers if this is relevant to you, particularly if your residency is connected to your spouses status.

      2. Would LW’s new credit card then also show up on a credit report her spouse pulls? Worth a talk with a bank officer when setting up new accounts.
        I’ve also learned one should quietly check that the house and car payments are being made on schedule.
        Did we mention getting a POBox? In the US, one of the big overnight mail carriers also offers mailbox services that read as a regular apartment and street address, if one doesn’t want a postal POBox. They offer 24-hour access.

        1. Only if the spouse has the LW’s SSN and enough identifying information to pass the screening on a credit report site. When my ex and I were divorcing, we each had to pull our own reports, and we brought them to a restaurant and poured over them together prior to writing up our divorce petition.

          The only other ways I can think of the spouse having access is if the LW is keeping a copy on file at home or if they applied for mortgage approval in anticipation of buying the smaller place they discussed. (Spouse could probably social engineer a copy out of the mortgage rep.) Maybe spyware on the computer if LW downloads the report at home or applies for the credit card at home?

    2. Yeah, definitely get a credit report so you can find out if any cards you don’t know about have been taken out in your name. I’ve known a couple of people who’ve discovered, upon being divorced, that somehow all the debt in their marriage was in their name and all the assets were in their spouse’s.

      1. Yes, this happened to a good friend of mine. Her ex-wife opened multiple lines of credit in her name and maxed them out. It’s completely destroyed her credit and she’s struggling to pay it all off.

        1. My SIL’s ex ran up every joint credit card they had before bailing, signed an agreement to pay off their joint debts jointly, then declared bankruptcy. She spent 20 years having her income garnished–even when she was so poor she qualified for government aid programs.

      2. Even if nothing is awry, it’s good to get a credit report in order to fill out the divorce papers. Every debt must be identified in the financial paperwork, regardless of who gets it. Pulling credit reports is a good way to get account names, numbers, approximate balances, etc. in one place quickly.

        Also, if you fear your spouse is going to run up credit accounts in your name (but it hasn’t happened yet), in the US you can put a temporary security hold on your credit report with each bureau. It basically sends a message to any company doing a hard inquiry on your credit that you are concerned about the possibility of false accounts being opened and to call you to confirm.

      3. That is such a smart idea. My friend is in loads of debt that her husband secretly ran up in her name. I wish any of us had thought to check this sooner.

    3. This. And, LW, make sure that you open that second account AT A DIFFERENT BANK. Although by law your husband would not have access to your second account, people make mistakes, people assume that if you’re married you know all each other’s finances, and it would not be at all out of the realm of belief that your husband might get an “Oh, did you want to put this in the joint account or your wife’s savings?” by mistake.

      Also, on lawyers: Do not be afraid that going to a lawyer means you are irrevocably choosing to divorce; you can if you want to, but you need advice and to know what to do if you exercise that option. You want somebody who specializes in family law, and if you don’t know any lawyers or paralegals who can recommend someone to you, (privately!) call your state or county bar association to ask for a referral.

      1. OMG, yes! Even if the bank doesn’t allow husband to do any transactions in a separate account, just the chance that they could spill the knowledge of its existence before LW has made her decisions/is ready to make a move could be problematic. Having a separate bank (that sends any mail to your work or a PO BOX) protects you for people who are just trying to be helpful.

      2. http://www.legalmatch.com/ can help you find a lawyer in your area with the appropriate specialty who’s in your price range. I used to work at Legalmatch, many years ago; it’s a legit company, and the lawyers listed there are all actual lawyers. (That said, anytime you find a lawyer through any means other than word of mouth, it’s good to check with the bar association to make sure they’re admitted to practice, not currently under censure, etc.)

    4. Word. Sadly this is such good advice.

      Also be ready to notify your bank immediately that you and your partner decide to split, but check the ins and outs of how separating out joint accounts works in your country/at your bank ahead of time so you can plan accordingly. My bank has a policy that if either party of a couple with a joint account notifies the bank that they have split up, the account is immediately frozen and they have to speak to both parties to get consent to release any of the money. This is really helpful in the long term for preventing one side from cleaning out the account, but can create cash flow problems if you aren’t aware that’s going to happen or if it’s a nasty separation and there isn’t agreement on what to do.

      It’s horrible to have to be so calculating about the money side of things, especially when you’re going through huge emotional distress already, but this stuff can really screw you over for years after those emotional wounds have healed, and can in themselves be so incredibly distressing when they go against you that it’s worth digging deep and putting yourself through the stress of getting your financial/administrative ducks in a row.

    5. I know it’s not always possible, but if you can, try to get your paycheck deposited into an account that has only your name on it. This is advice my parents gave me (happily married for nearly 40 years, and to this day they still have separate accounts), because no matter how happy or in love a couple is, it’s still best to keep money separate. You can have a third, joint account that you can move some of your money into for joint expenses like bills and such, but always keep your checks going into an account that is solely yours.

      The reason being, first off a spouse can’t clear out a bank account if their name isn’t on it, but secondly direct deposit doesn’t always transfer over to a new account right away (paperwork takes time to go through the HR cogs at work), and it keeps an ex-spouse from getting ahold of one last paycheck that might make a huge difference for you.

  8. LW #792, the thing I noticed in your letter was a conspicuous silence as to your boyfriend’s reaction to his family’s treatment of you. The oldest brother outright ignores you — has your boyfriend talked to him about that? His family repeatedly engages in very mean “teasing” of your eating habits — has your boyfriend told them to knock it off? His mother tells your boyfriend you’re controlling him and he should leave you — does your boyfriend tell her to stop saying those things?

    It sounds like interactions with his family are unpleasant for him as well, and I understand that it’s not easy — especially for someone from a toxic family situation — to take their family members to task. But “I will continue to let my family say terrible things to/about my partner while also bringing said partner to every holiday gathering because I want support” is not being a supportive partner to YOU, and is not a workable long-term plan.

    Your boyfriend doesn’t have to cut ties with his family, but he does need to ensure they don’t treat you badly. So if they won’t stop their behavior, he shouldn’t expect you to visit with him. If they say terrible things to him about you, he shouldn’t tell you. And on the occasions where you are forced into contact with them, he needs to 100% have your back — telling them to stop it when they attack you, and leaving the event if they refuse to treat you with basic respect.

  9. LW 792, I’m just putting this out there, but…what if you decide it’s OK for boyfriend’s family to think you’re controlling and a jerk and whatever else? It seems like you’re putting a lot of effort into avoiding a criticism that you know is never going away. So maybe consider instead that they are wrong, and they’re not going to change their minds about being wrong, so it doesn’t actually matter what you do? You can spend holidays with them or not spend holidays with them, and they’re going to have the same opinions of you and your relationship. So just do what you and boyfriend want to do, and let them deal.

    Obviously that’s easier said than done, but think about it for a while. Imagine a future in which their opinions don’t factor into your decisions and see how you feel.

    Also, I don’t think you mentioned whether boyfriend is seeing a professional to help him cope with all of this. If he isn’t, please do what you can to facilitate that ASAP. He needs someone else (who is professionally trained!) to support him and strategize with him, so that you can just be his girlfriend.

    1. I wonder what would happen if, when she was pulled aside and insulted… to just continually and cheerfully agree with them. “You know, I AM really terrible. The ex really DOES sound like a great person!” blah blah blah…

      Oh, sure. It would probably just fan the flames, but sometimes my inner a-hole likes to come out and screw with people. Could anything really make the situation worse, barring physical violence?

      1. My built in defensive mechanisms from when I lived with my parents (who I disagreed with a lot) kick in and I just start agreeing. Something along the lines of “bf told me about her and she seemed like a great person” with a polite smile. Even though it’s totally bullshit since she was not particularly nice. It tends to turn into her asking for my dress size and why do I weigh so much if I don’t eat animal products.

        1. Please quit agreeing to be abused for someone else. I know you love him, but would you allow anyone, for one MINUTE, to abuse him for you? Equality. It makes things so much more clear.

          1. Yeah, it makes a lot more sense when I think about like the situation was reversed. I would never let those things happen to him.

        2. Try coming up with responses and practicing them in front of the mirror so you can get the expression that you want. Also, if you do any form of repetitive cardio, like running or treadmill or elliptical, practice them in your head while you work out. (I would not advise doing this during yoga, but that’s me. If the hate-fire fuels your Half Moon, go for it!) This is a technique that has always really helped me, so that when I hear the thing or something similar, what *automatically* comes out is the practiced response. It doesn’t have to be snarky (although mine would be, because I’m not inclined to let assholes think they’re the only ones who get to be rude). You can just say the same thing you would say anyway, but with a big grin, which tends to seriously throw people off, because your face and body language don’t match what you’re saying. Exaggerated smile and “fuck you” tone of voice plus “Oh, she seems like a great person”. “I don’t know why you’re asking about my dress size”. “This is a weird thing to ask”.

          The thing is that their behaviour is unlikely to improve–you can’t magically force them to act right by being polite, and they already think you’re horrible so it’s not like you’re going to make their opinion of you worse. Whether you absent yourself or start talking back to them, I think you’ve established that what you have been doing (being a reasonable, kind person) isn’t having the desired effect, so…just do something else. And it might as well be something that makes you smile later. 🙂

  10. #792: those are not bees. Those are mutated Tracker Jackers. Avoid if at all possible.

    Suggestion: If you have to go, since they obviously don’t really care what you have to say anyway, take an iPod and listen to podcasts/music/audio books while you’re there in one ear. Just one, so if you hear your name, you can respond, but if you don’t, you can concentrate on something pleasant. Like Doctor Who Big Finish audio plays. Or the new Stephen King anthology. Or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Is it rude? Yes. Could it possibly save your sanity? Yes.

    #793: I’ve been….not exactly where your SO is, but close. It’s hard. Thank you for thinking that the supporting person needs support, too. Well done on both of you. I wish I had something more concrete, but maybe since you’re separated, both of you get on Skype or something and watch MST3K or something that you both like, is mindless, and you have inside jokes about? Like a long-distance cuddling movie night? The Blues Brothers. Ghostbusters. Something you both practically know by heart, just to kind of shut down and unwind with.

    #793: I’m really, really sorry their unhappiness is causing you discomfort, but I’m seconding the Captain all the way here, and you. Not your circus. Not your monkeys. Not your elephant, and you don’t have to run around with a broom behind it. Be gentle with them, and with yourself, reaffirming to both of them that you love them.

    #794: Again. Everything the Captain said. Everything. Everything.

    1. Suggestion: If you have to go, since they obviously don’t really care what you have to say anyway, take an iPod and listen to podcasts/music/audio books while you’re there in one ear. Just one, so if you hear your name, you can respond, but if you don’t, you can concentrate on something pleasant. Like Doctor Who Big Finish audio plays. Or the new Stephen King anthology. Or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Is it rude? Yes. Could it possibly save your sanity? Yes.
      I feel like this is an unnecessary strategy. If you’re prepared to piss people off by doing stuff they perceive as rude, it would be easier to just not go.

      1. I’m a hundred percent sure if I showed up and had one head phone in it would be ripped out by one of the siblings or cousins and they would ask “Why is she ignoring us?” and “she thinks that she’s too good for us”

          1. No need to be sorry! It’s perfectly reasonable suggestion they just aren’t perfectly reasonable people.

        1. Aside: I actually do the “one headphone” thing with my bluetooth headset around family gatherings because of anxiety, lolsob. Family is cool about it, but not everyone would be. But then I got to this:

          [i]I’m a hundred percent sure if I showed up and had one head phone in it would be ripped out [/i]

          *record scratch*

          OMG ARE THEY *TOUCHING* YOU? AT ALL? That is not okay. THAT IS NOT OKAY.

          LW, I cannot strongly enough stress that I would love for you and BF to just… not go. I get that he feels like he’s obligated to because of past family issues but he’s so, so, so not. He does not owe these people anything. They have broken his (and yours!) trust with their horrible behavior.

  11. Oh, and 794, with the brother and sister-in-law having troubles, I just want to point out that it’s totally OK to ask them not to complain about each other to you. They really shouldn’t be involving someone who’s so close to both of them, IMO. Venting is for people more outside the situation than a spouse’s close friend or sibling.

    Script if you need one: “I’m sorry you guys are having a tough time, but I really can’t be a sounding board for your issues with my [friend/brother] right now. Is there someone else you can talk to about this?”

    1. “I’m sorry you guys are having a tough time, but I really can’t be a sounding board for your issues with my [friend/brother] right now. Is there someone else you can talk to about this?”

      Yes, this!

    2. I am in exactly the same situation and oh god oh god it’s so sad. My s-i-l is from another country and doesn’t have any family over here, so she desperately wants to stay part of our family. But she keeps trying to get me to be her sounding board for what’s going wrong and how she can fix it, and my brother is super super private and doesn’t do discussion (which is one of the problems), so her attempts to talk it out with me, with their mutual friends or even with him just make him feel attacked and threatened and ganged up on.

      They have a two-year-old son and at the moment I think they are both refusing to be the one who says it’s over, so they are just staying together and being horribly mean to each other. I wish one of them would just do the bigger thing and end it, and then they could start figuring out how to be good parents whilst not living together. But at the moment they’re just tearing at each other and it breaks my heart.

      Nothing I can do except hope they work something out. 😦

      1. That sounds terrifying for her, even more so if English isn’t a language she’s comfortable with. Is there a local group from her home country that you could steer her to, maybe something at a university or a company that sponsors workers? A website for a consulate? I’m having the idea that you point her towards resources that support her and the security of the child, and then step out of the triangle.

  12. Dear #795. I agree with the Captain’s sage advice and I think it may also be a good idea to have a short-term plan for if it all hits the fan. Like a bag at the house of a nearby friend or family member you can stay with, just in case, that has basic toiletries, clean underwear, and supplies for you and the kids to get through a few days on your own. It’s not that I think you’re in any kind of danger. But in my own divorced experience, when things go south they can go south very fast and it would be very nice for you to have the ability to NOPE out for a few days in your back pocket.

      1. Thank you. I think having a backup plan in mind makes it easier to handle stress and act with more confidence because I’m not going, “What will I DO if I can’t COPE? OMG now I have to COPE! I can’t handle the pressure!” and that is a self-defeating spiral.

        1. Yes! In a situation like that, anything you can do to quell one of your situational brainweasels makes it easier to deal with whatever happens.

  13. Wow, divorce as a legitimate option for LW#4 (#795) …

    Can I say how very happy I am to see this being affirmed in an advice column?  This is (a) so very different than what I’m used to reading from other advice givers and, quite frankly, (b) a necessary antidote to the “anything to save the relationship” advice I’ve seen in other spaces.

    I don’t mean “You left the cap off the toothpaste?  I’m divorcing you!”  I mean “Yeah, this isn’t working out.  Let’s consider separation for the benefit of everybody.”

    So big ups for the Captain.  Hang in there, #795.  You’re gonna be okay.

  14. In response to #795
    When life changes happen to married people (good or bad) they run the numbers to see if the relationship is still worth investing in. We talk as though marriage is binary. Happy, supportive, working, or draining, abusive, broken.
    But marriage is more like the stock market, on any given day it might be dramatically up, down, or meh, and it’s only by looking at the long-term trends that a person can judge if it’s been a good investment. Married people never stop running the numbers periodically.

    The simplified equation of marital investment goes like this:


    (needs/wants met by partner) + (miscellaneous awesomeness*) X (difficulty of separating)

    is greater than

    (needs/wants unmet by partner) + (fuck this shit**) X (potential for better life after split)

    for both spouses then they will stay together.

    * Things you wouldn’t put on your list of must haves in a partner, but enjoy and have become accustomed to with your current partner. ( Ex: Can get Mrs. Biggles to take her medicine, so you’re not stepping in cat vomit when stumbling to the bathroom at 3 am.)

    ** Things that another partner could enjoy or overlook, but that will never stop irritating/upsetting you. (Ex. Obsession with Tom Petty)

    How the numbers come out reflect whether an offer for a better paying job is seen as a chance to buy a family home together, or the opportunity to get a small condo by yourself.
    Whether you think about your spouse’s chronic illness as seasons to be weathered through, or a never-ending winter that has left your field of fucks barren.

    When the relationship is at or close to the tipping point, when you realize you might not be able to rely on your spouse to have your best interests at heart anymore, spending the money to evaluate things with a divorce attorney gives you invaluable information you need to make good decisions for you and your kids.

    That information is especially vital if you want to stay together and try to work things out. It allows you to say what you need from a position of strength. Because while his feelings and thoughts about you matter a great deal in the context of the relationship, they don’t matter one tiny bit to anything else.
    Talking to an attorney pulls you out of the place where you are waiting on pins and needles to see if he still loves you, and into the concrete world where hundreds of years of marital law lets you operate independent of his whims.

    Is he off in a fantasy land of a perfect life with this Other Woman he’s been writing to for a decade? That doesn’t change what the law will of require him in terms of child and spousal support.
    He’s talking trash about you to convince Other Woman to move here or let him go there? Doesn’t affect the appraisal of your home’s value or division of property at all.

    1. I love your math! It made me smile.

      Unfortunately I’ve found that the (fuck this shit) element isn’t a constant — other changes in the equation change it, too. Maybe it’s as simple as “If I felt like you really had my back with your sister, then I wouldn’t be so irritated about you practicing the harmonica after midnight.”

  15. “Mine is fat, dumpy and annoying” That is what I read about me on my now ex-bf’s computer screen when I got home from a conference to discover that instead of waiting up for me he’d gone to bed. Which was totally weird. Should I have snooped? No, I shouldn’t and I pay for that all the time when those words ring through my brain. However, that was a piece of information I needed to know.

    He did/does still love me and we tried to work it out for several months. But the relationship (14 years) was over and it was partly because of those words. You don’t say things like that about someone you really care about. You just don’t. And now, 2 years after the break up, they still make me cry.

    We’ve salvaged a friendship because there was a lot that was good in that relationship. We worked for a long time until our lack of communication bit us. And I’m happy to have him as a friend to bounce things in my life off of and yes to even support each other in the hard times post-break up.

    But I will never forget those words and they haunt me. They always will. I simultaneously wish I hadn’t seen them and am glad that I did.

    1. Maybe I’m just more conservative about who I consider a friend, but I’d never insult a friend like that either, jeez. Not even if there was zero chance they’d ever see it.

    2. “that was a piece of information I needed to know”

      THIS. If my partner thinks (and says! out loud! to other people!) the most TERRIBLE things about a person they say they are in love with, I absolutely have the right to know. Otherwise I’m dedicating myself to a liar (at best) or someone who is staying in the relationship for other, questionable reasons.

  16. I love the Captain’s point that even if it’s okay for him to be upset with her for reading his personal correspondences, it’s not okay to act like she’s the only one at fault, or that she deserved to read those things by snooping.

    I feel like our culture is obsessed with placing blame, and seeing things as black orvwhite, right or wrong. Instead, conflict is usually a striated mass made up of 1 million shades of gray. I like to think it doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong, what matters is who is hurt, if it’s reasonable that they’re hurt, and how we can work it out. Working out usually doesn’t look like everyone’s hurts being solved, but it looks like everyone finding enough resolution that they feel comfortable putting their hurts side and moving on and trying for better next time.

    On a sidenote, I’m meeting my boyfriend’s parents for Thanksgiving this year for the first time and now I’m terrified

    1. Most of the time when meeting a partner’s parents for the first time it is slightly awkward and perfectly polite. The stories we see here are not the norm! You’ll be fine 🙂

    2. Alternate anecdote! I met my now-husband’s parents for the first time about a week before Christmas, and stayed at their house for several days. It was occasionally a little bit awkward, but everyone was both polite and nice. They are marvelous people, and I love them dearly. My MIL has told me, more than once, that I bring out the best in my husband, and they treat me like family. (And theirs is a fairly happy and emotionally healthy family, so being treated like family = a good thing.)

      Not saying that everything will be peaches and cream, but it’s more likely than not that it will be okay.

  17. #795: Things I have said venting about partners of mine:

    “Damn shit! Can’t BF clean his bathroom before I visit him?”
    “GF has a really annoying way to open packages. She stabs them with a knife!”
    “BF always lets some rice on his plate and I don’t get it! Why doesn’ t he eat the damn ten grains instead of leaving them on the plate?”
    “GF always complain about university, and I know it’s hard for her right now, but I can’t hear it anymore.”

    and so on. Would they have been shocked to hear it? I guess no. Maybe mildly irritated; maybe worried that there is a problem in our relationship (which there is not). I think sometimes it’s necessary to vent a bit, but you just don’t say horrible things about a partner!

    @LW795: this is not venting (or at least, it’s not the okay form of venting). Someone who say that terrible shit about you is not on Team You. There’s no point in having a husband if he is not on Team You.

    1. I think it’s important to keep venting specific, like, “S/he did this stupid thing and now we’re having a fight about it” or “I can’t believe s/he has this annoying habit!” It should never be “S/he *is* this horrible thing, as a person,” IMO.

      You have to choose your venting buddies wisely, too. Someone who will maintain fundamental respect for your partner and definitely never join in on making fun of them. It’s like complaining about a sibling – I can say he’s a jerk, but you better not say the same thing. My sisters and I have an explicit, spoken agreement to listen to each other vent about our spouses, with the default understanding that we all know each other’s spouses are good people and that our relationships are generally good. If we want to show solidarity, we complain about our own spouses, rather than piling on each other’s. It’s a good system.

      795’s partner definitely failed on both of these important points.

      1. [[ It should never be “S/he *is* this horrible thing, as a person,” IMO ]]

        YES. Because if s/he is a horrible person, WHY ARE YOU DATING THEM? It does not bode well.

      2. That is exactly what I do with my sisters! We don’t shame each other for venting, we just normalise that feeling of ‘gaaaah!! That is infuriating!’ And none of the venting gets to bad person territory. Our respective partners could hear it all and the only thing they’d do would feel a bit miffed/mildly defensive. It would never make them feel like a bad person or that we held them in contempt.

    2. Seconded. And more so: it is an actively bad thing to have a husband if he is not on Team You. We are vulnerable to our spouses. I don;t just mean abuse: I mean that you are legally and financially bound to a husband in many ways. It is **NOT SAFE** to be bound in those ways to someone who is not acting in your best interest.

    3. Haha! Now I kind of want to try stabbing my packages with a knife. But I just won’t do it in front of you 🙂

      1. re: stabbing packages – they know I find it terrible. We also all know that it doesn’t really matter how one opens them as long as the things inside still exist after opening. 😀 It’s more of a pet peeve of mine.

    4. I think there’s also a big difference between venting to someone who is going to affirm the idea that your partner is a horrible worthless person and venting to a friend who says something along the lines of “Ouch, that sounds really frustrating. I’m sorry you guys are going through a rough patch.” and maybe offers advice or a distracting bad-movie night. And I’m not even trying to put all or most of the responsibility on the friend here — there are vents that are clearly intended to elicit one or the other reaction.

      1. I couldn’t agree more.
        I vent a lot to my best friend, but she really likes my husband and understands that ALL humans have frustrating things. She tries to help me see his side when I’m ticked off at him. Even if it’s one of the (very rare) Real Big Problems that crop up and she’s all, “Now that is just WRONG” I know she’s not going to feed into it- just assure me that I’m not overreacting. If it’s just a little frustration she’ll joke with me about it, but she honestly cares about both of us.
        People like that are great for venting- you vent and then feel better after. Maybe you even get some awesome advice! People who just make you rage-spiral harder are NOT the right people to vent to.

    5. LW, I say this as someone who in the past has had feelings problems that led to hate spirals towards others: those words were not facts about you, I promise you that. My working theory: they were someone trying to find the words that will express an emotional spiral that they were having and you were the target. The thing about that kind of, basically, rumination-spiral is that at first it can feel both true and cathartic to just give voice to a nightmarishly terrible emotion. But it’s often not cathartic, it’s not true venting. It blows up the emotion until the emotion is the only thing in the room and the facts about another human being – including that they are a person who deserves compassion and respect – can get completely crowded out.

      What you read are not facts about you. They are not facts about you. They are not facts about you. I say this because I’ve been on either side of a similar interaction and sometimes in the dark of night the stuff I read comes back and haunts me, so I say one more time to you: they are not, they were not even trying to be. They are facts about a feeling your husband had. Your husband’s feelings are, at the end of the day, his responsibility. Dealing with them constructively is his responsibility. Getting into a shittalking spiral with an internet friend is not dealing with them constructively, because internet friends are not trained professionals who can help us see or break patterns of obsessive rumination or blame-passing or self-sabotage or, uh, being a giant wad to people who love us and are trying to support us.

      I am not saying this to validate what your husband did or say that you have to put up with it because he’s having feelings problems; rather the opposite. I’m very frustrated for you that when you talked to him about it (which was responsible of you!) his feelings about the privacy of his computer tried to crowd yours out of the room again.

      I like the Captain’s plan for trying to make sure that you have the option of not having to be in that room.

      1. Hey purps, do you have any advice about not going into hate-spirals? As I’m reading these comments I’m realizing that this is a thing I need to work on.

        1. With me, it’s helpful if I catch myself fairly early and ask myself why I’m feeling like this. Really look into how I’m feeling physically, cognitively and emotionally. Then I ask myself if I can do anything sensible to solve the issue – anything from planning a serious conversation with someone to having a sandwich. If not, I look for ways to distract myself from feeling horrible, whether it’s exercise, drawing, punching something or listening to loud music.

          1. In general, the thing to do with feelings that you don’t want to be having is, instead of trying to stop them — in which case they just come up in unexpected places — is to distract yourself or channel them. Like they say with people having bad trips, “set and setting.” If you’re inside, go outside. If you’re outside, go inside or someplace else. Listen to different music. Keep yourself busy.

            Some people are successful with things like changing the inner voice in their head to something silly, like Mickey Mouse.

            Alternatively, you can decide you’re going to spend a certain amount of time, and only that amount of time, thinking about the thing. If you ever saw the movie Broadcast News, the female protagonist would cry for a few minutes every morning, so that she didn’t break down any other time of the day. Similarly, when I was getting a divorce, I would make a point of finding time to cry every once in a while so I could keep it together in front of my daughter.

        2. I can only say what worked for me, which was essentially DBT (please enjoy the stock photography on this page about it, I know I did) and learning to set boundaries/acknowledge small emotions of, like, vexed or sad or displeased instead of feeling like I needed to keep a polite face on and then ruminating forever until the small feeling escalated into HDU THIS IS AN EMERGENCY NOW. In my case my obsessive rumination also turned out to be an anxiety disorder symptom and I take a low-dose SSRI now, but I don’t know that that’s standard.

          I do think that hate spirals can be a way of ramping yourself up to do something – in general, mine were around things like “finally saying that that joke at that party two months ago made me REALLY UPSET”, but I did totally ramp myself up into a hate spiral during a friend breakup once because I didn’t feel like I could just go ahead and send the African Violet until I proved to myself that she was the WORST and our friendship was HORRIBLE. Which, it had some bad parts, and I did need out, but I regret some of the things I said to her and to mutual friends so much.

        3. It may help to do the opposite of what you want to do.

          When we are in this kind of mindset, our body/brain/whatever will tell us to do something that will make us focus more on the issue because that’s a strategy that is familiar to us. The strategy may not have been beneficial in the past, but when a hate spiral starts, you do not feel particularly bad about what you’re doing. It can be energizing. Problem is, when the hate spiral culminates, you will not be energized at all, but drained from these intense, but ultimately useless, feelings. And maybe you will even have hurt someone in the process.

          So my advice: Do the opposite.
          If your brain tells you to make a non-mention post/tweet about the person you’re angry at online, either talk to them directly and privately about what’s bothering you in an straightforward and compassionate way or take your feelings all the way private: Write in a journal, rant at your pet, box a pillow, cry in your pajamas.
          If your brain tells you to rant at a friend about the problem and to dissect it in excruciating detail, then give yourself a time limit of 5 minutes to vent and then change the topic to something cheerful with a “thanks for listening”. Or decide in advance that the topic is not big enough to warrant this kind of attention and instead focus on talking about something you both enjoy talking about.
          If your brain wants you to go over everything you’ve ever done wrong in your life then stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and either look for compassion for yourself or, if you can’t find it, list all the things you have done well in your life.
          If your brain wants you to go over everything that another person has done to you, take a pen, give yourself a time limit (I recommend no more than 15 minutes), write it all down, take a few deep breaths and check in what you’re feeling, then burn it/ cut the paper in pieces/whatever and feel how these shitty things become part of your past. Alternatively, look for a constructive resolution in case it’s something the person could fix if they are willing to.


          The goal is to re-learn how to deal with frustrations in a manner that strengthens your relationships instead of destroying them and that will leave you feel energized and happy instead of drained and angry. This will only happen over time, but it can definitely happen.

          1. Opposite action is one of the DBT skills, so it’s, like, canonical for clinical hate-spiral treatment. If you feel like avoiding for a million years, approach. If you feel like sending a five-page furious email, disengage and go make yourself some tea and put lotion on your cuticles. Disrupt the pattern your brain has paced into the floorboards of your life by deliberately seeing the thing you’re about to do and turning aside. Like you say, it has to be done over and over, and at first it doesn’t feel like it’s working at all. But it does get easier and SO MUCH BETTER.

  18. For #793, especially in response to this: “I want so badly for him to be happy”: maybe “happy” doesn’t need to be your focus right now? Your partner is sad and stressed because he’s going through some really difficult stuff, and it might be helpful for both of you if you put your energy into supporting him while he feels all those scary and complicated feelings, rather than wishing for him to feel “happy” or “better.” (This doesn’t necessarily mean you do anything different on a practical level; it’s more about how you’re understanding your own role, and possibly reducing some of the pressure you’re putting on yourself.) I know how hard it is to see someone you love in pain, and I absolutely understand the desire for him to be happy, but sometimes we just need to feel the feelings that come our way (sometimes with the help of therapists or others) instead of necessarily aiming for happy all the time. Would it help to frame your own understanding of the situation in terms of wanting him to feel loved and supported, rather than wanting him to be happy?

    1. Yes, it sounds like this crisis is still ongoing and very new, and I wouldn’t expect someone in boyfriend’s position to be happy right now. I don’t think this is a “I’m worried because my boyfriend seems persistently unhappy/doesn’t seem to be bouncing back from a tragedy/trauma” kind of situation — it’s really very normal for him to be unhappy about a crisis that only began a few days ago, and not something that really needs fixing. I’d focus on just being nice to him and being there if he wants to talk (about the problem, or about things that will distract him from the problem.)

    2. This is really excellent. Sad, uncomfortable feelings arise for reasons. Trying to feel “happy” all the time is unrealistic, going to fail, and… bad for your overall mental health.

  19. Re: #792: For a long time I dated someone whose family would abuse me on holidays. I told myself it’s only one day a year, and it’s his family doing it, not him. But the truth was I was spending the entire year with someone who didn’t think it was his business to speak up to prevent me from being harmed. He is no longer my boyfriend and I’m with someone else who is much kinder.

  20. LW 792, I almost thought you could be my sister, except my BIL didn’t become a vegetarian like her. Add in “jokes” about making my vegetarian sister dress and cook deer that someone had hunted. My sister’s in-laws felt & acted similarly to her for the entire 18 years of their marriage. And then he divorced her, and went back to his ex-paragon of perfection.

    That was 5 years ago, and she’s still in counseling about it.

    1. Hey that does sound quite familiar. Last Christmas I kept getting called into the kitchen to be shown “what a beautiful color was developing on the turkey” that was in the oven by his mother and my responses of “ohh yeah that looks wonderful”, ” wow you’re a fantastic cook”, other nice things, was met with “I still don’t get why he likes you more than ex”…. You know besides the fact that she cheated on him…..

      1. That is…unfathomably awful. It seems to me that this level of cruelty shouldn’t be rewarded by either of you turning up to take such abuse. What is your boyfriend’s long term hope about his family? Does you acting as a viciousness-guard help him get there, or just put off the point at which he decides he’s had enough? Without a long term plan for how your boyfriend can start enforcing boundaries and get better treatment from his family, you might both be better off taking a break from holiday attendance for a couple of years. Or maybe think of this year as the last one for a while?

        This is all easy for me to say, of course, speaking from a very different setup. But no level of guilt on your boyfriend’s part about prior family stuff justifies this treatment. If his mother is still upset enough to take revenge on the pair of you, that needs addressing if possible. But turning up year after year to be a punchbag isn’t likely to change much, as far as I can see.

      2. I’d bet money that Mom was equally venomous to the ex and has conveniently forgotten it. Now, in her mind, that girl was the perfect one that got away and she was the wonderful welcoming future MIL.

        1. I’m not sure of their relationship while he was dating her, but ex hung out with his mom all the time after they had broken up. His mom would call him (we go to college about 4 hours away from his home town) and say ex is here crying and misses you.

  21. What kind of an idiot thinks that posts on Facebook are like a private diary? If there is anything less private than Farcebook, I’ve yet to see it.
    As for LW792, what multicoastal said. Your bf doesn’t seem to have the nerve to stand up to his relatives. Be glad he’s a boyfriend, not a fiance. Dating is a test drive for a deeper relationship, and so far he’s failing the test drive.

      1. Ha ha, you’re right! I got pressured into FaceBook by my relatives and just hate it. I’ve got maximum privacy settings, but I still check constantly to see that they’re still in place and I post as little as possible. Even LinkedIn feels far too public to me.

        1. It’s not my thing either. But it took on a different aspect when I started noticing subjects I’d written about in private email when logged out of FB were the same as ads in the margins of FB once logged into it. Notice too that the “games” want users to share their address books, giving who knows who your friends names, birthdates and any related info.

  22. LW #795, I’m going to pass on to you something that was said previously by a commentor on CA who was a divorce lawyer. (If the commentor recognizes the quote, thank you and please let me know so I can credit to you if you want to be credited.)

    I actually have a form letter that I have to send out to a client every few months or so with the gist of “Your ex is no longer your partner. S/he had a legal and ethical duty to watch our for your best interests before. That duty is now totally gone and clearly they are trying to screw you or at least just get the best deal for themselves. Stop trusting them with your emotions and money because it will eff you up financially and legally.”

    Your husband is no longer on Team You. Nobody who talks that way about you is on Team You. He’s on Team Him. Act accordingly. And good luck.

  23. #795 — Something about the impending sale of the house worries me. If I were you, I’d talk to a divorce attorney before any commitments are made. Your husband may be an honest man, but if not (and the tone of contempt doesn’t fit with “honest” in my view), he might be planning to take the proceeds from the sale and run (along with everything else.)

    Oh, and _absolutely_ have your own attorney. There’s the real danger that you’ll be too generous and find yourself screwed over five years down the road. Especially since, in all likelihood, you’ll be the one primarily responsible for your children. You want someone looking out for _your_ interests who has seen it all and knows what to look for.

    I realize that we are all assuming that your marriage is done. Sorry, but between the contempt and the gaslighting and your own suspicion that it’s over, it’s hard to see any way it could continue. And maybe it’s for the best. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses.

    1. It bothers me too.

      Those kinds of words are things you say about people to dehumanize them. Repression of empathy towards someone is the first step in screwing them over to your benefit. Humans have an innate sense of fairness towards other humans.

      Couple that with a large amount of money potentially coming in, and a long-distance intimate friendship. Taking some steps to protect her credit and finances seems prudent.
      Even if she and her spouse are 100% committed to their marriage, having it there will give her the confidence and security she needs to get through this hard place. And if she’s 75% and he’s already halfway out the door…

  24. Thanks for the script. I’ll try it next time this comes up.

    I will try to hope most for their happiness, not any particular outcome

  25. Quick response to the last LW, #795: No, it is not normal to “vent” by calling your spouse stupid. That is mean, it is unacceptable. I’m sorry you put your trust in that person, because he doesn’t deserve it.

  26. Holy moley, Relatively Sad, are you my aunt? Cause you just described my parents to a T, right down to my mother’s medical issues and my father’s emotional repression. The only difference is that my grandparents don’t/didn’t fight a lot afaik.

    Can anyone possibly offer any advice to an adult (but still at home and reliant on parents) daughter in this situation? I’m torn between wanting to Make Everything Better and realising all I can do is try to support my parents… But since my dad never talks about his feelings, this leads to many more conversations with my mum and the sense that by agreeing with her (admittedly totally valid) complaints, I’m vilifying him.

    1. No, I’m not your aunt, but I’ll speak to you as if I were.

      Your ma and pa love you.

      Your mother can’t help her deficits. They are torture for her. She wishes desperately that she could demonstrate the love she feels in a way that wouldn’t wound

      Your father does have feelings. Even harsh feelings. Please trust his gentleness with you.

      Please understand that your mother and father want nothing more than for you to not make their mistakes.

      1. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply in the midst of your own family troubles.

        I think these words are exactly what I needed to hear and I’m going to sit and think on them for a while, and how I can bear them in mind when supporting my parents.

    2. One piece of advice I have, as a former member of the Make Everything Better Daughters’ Club: it’s okay not to support them, either some of the time or all of the time. My now-divorced parents have occasionally used me as a sounding board for their feelings about each other, and it was a great day when I realized that not only did I not have to fix their relationship, I could also choose not to be available for emotional support. The value of “Sorry, Mom, I’m not really up for talking about that right now” cannot be overstated.

      It’s actually pretty terrible to use your kids, adults or not, to talk out your issues with your partner. That’s something I’ve only figured out in the years since I moved away from home. It’s a special kind of helplessness, watching the people who raised you struggle with each other. Your parents are hurting, and may reach out to you in ways that they would normally not – in ways that are not in your best interests, or in ways that they would usually be upset or even appalled by. Your parents may love you and want what’s best for you, but the pain they are feeling may make them misjudge the negative impact they have on you. I encourage you to set limits on the amount and types of emotional support you offer them, or at least figure out what “too far” would look like (before it happens).

  27. LW #795: My BF and I have been going through a rough patch for a long time now. I have on occasion vented about him and the situation. I have never said he was stupid or called him horrible names or insinuated that he’s 100% to blame for all our problems. If I felt comfortable doing that, I’d break up with him.

    Come to think of it, I don’t see talking about him that way even if we do break up.

    1. Yeah, some of the stuff in those Facebook messages was stuff I wouldn’t have even said about my ex when we were freshly broken up and I seriously hated him. I kept my anger in reference to specific ways he’d hurt me, and vented to only people he didn’t know in ways he could not possibly see. Making sweeping untrue statements about a partner’s behavior and wishing that they become an over stressed single parent – especially while you are still married to and living with them – is really messed up and mean on a whole different level.

  28. LW #795: If/when you decide to leave your husband, also be prepared for your kids to be pretty awful for that year – depending on how old they are. This will be a big transition for them and from my experience, it’s almost always the Mom who gets the blame for the marriage ending. You will doubt yourself, you will think “maybe we should have waited until the youngest graduates,” you will most likely, at times feel like a big fat failure. This is all normal and it will pass.

    There is no shame in getting your kids (and yourself!) into therapy so they have a dumping ground other than you. Give them that gift so they can process what’s going on in neutral environment and dump a little less on you. Pull in as much Team You as you can, especially people who are sympathetic to single moms and won’t judge you for feeding them fast food 5 nights in a row while you cry into your third glass of wine surrounded by hampers full of dirty clothes.

    A year later your kids will most likely be thriving because the constant, silent tension between you and your husband is gone (trust that they noticed). You will each be happier and in turn your kids will be happier and calmer. Trust you and your family will get through this and after a miserable year, things will be a million times better.

    1. A year later your kids will most likely be thriving because the constant, silent tension between you and your husband is gone (trust that they noticed).

      This! It’s really common to hear that divorce is terrible for children and that you’re the worst for considering it. That’s total bullshit*. As a child of divorce I am absolutely sure of it. Yes, things sucked while my parents got divorced, but after everything settled down, I was so happy just not to have to hear them fight all the time. It was like I’d been living under this crushing weight so heavy I could barely breathe and then one day it was just gone.

      What I learned from parent’s marriage is that marriage is when you live in a house with someone you hate and yell at each other every night. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my first long term relationship was with a guy who emotionally abused me.

      *Sure, fine, if you’re just sort of vaguely unhappy in an “I love you but I’m not in love with you* way, then putting your kids through a divorce is a dick move. If things have gone as far as your husband having contempt for you, please, please think about what your kids will learn about marriage if you stay. Especially if you have a daughter, don’t teach her that it’s normal for her spouse to feel contempt for her.

      1. Ditto. I think my mom stayed married to my dad for so long because she thought that she had to for me and my sibling. Now, as an adult, what I am still furious about is that my mom didn’t divorce him sooner. She kept trying to make it work, with the absolute best intentions, because of these bullshit societal ideas that marriage = good for children and divorce = bad for children. I mean, I’m not the poster child for well-adjusted adults, but it definitely wasn’t divorce that fucked me up—it was what I experienced while my parents were still married. The day my mom told me they were getting divorced was the best day of my young life.

        1. Ditto, except I was 30 when my parents split up.

          Please don’t stay for the kids. It is easy to understand needing to stay for a million reasons, but if it is just for the benefit of the kids, I promise you that a house free from fighting would be better than seeing parents tear each other apart and live in silent contempt of each other. I write from experience.

          1. My mom wrote her doctoral thesis on early childhood development, and worked as a child psychologist for almost 20 years. She’s a big fan of saying that a good divorce is better for children than a bad marriage.

    2. >A year later your kids will most likely be thriving because the constant, silent tension between you and your husband is gone (trust that they noticed).


      I sleep with earplugs every night because far-off muffled voices elsewhere in the building sound like “fighting” and give me legit anxiety attacks.

  29. There are times when I have vented about my husband. However, it’s not about my husband but about certain circumstances, and it is to one specific person. My husband, who I dearly love, had a TBI and has some major memory deficits, among some other issues. It can be really frustrating to both of us, and sometimes I just have to scream about it. The one person that I vent about it to is to a very good friend of mine whose husband has also had a TBI and has many of the same problems that my husband has. She and I often joke that we are living the same lives, we also both have sons that have the same diagnosises.

    The vents are never about how terrible we think our respective husbands and sons are. It’s more about how frustrated we are about the circumstances that are happening.

    All that said, any significant other that talks about their partner that way needs to be gone.

  30. Re: venting. I grew up in a home where contempt, name-calling, and disgust were the norm. [never to the level of this dude, holy crap that’s awful]. This whole “focus on the behavior” mentality is still brand new to me. I was definitely a culprit of “venting” by calling people horrible names and screaming my hatred for them. I didn’t actually hate them, it was just my understanding of what “expressing emotions” and “venting” was. I know now it’s super toxic and when done in front of the person, abusive but at the time I truly had no idea what I was doing was super toxic.

    But regardless of The Reasons, I still *did* those awful things and everyone who walked out of my life for doing those crappy things were 100% in the right. This is a big problem for people who grow up in shame-based environments, in that they often have no idea that what they are doing is toxic, to them it’s normal. And the only way they will change is they experience new Life Consequences, as in: the good/kind/loving people around them stop accepting their shitty treatment and demand the behavior changes or leave.

  31. LW#792, I’ve been married 15 years and for many years experienced being ignored and or on the receiving end of rude behavior from my IL’s. I just was never accepted or liked by my IL’s. Like you, I gave them no reasons why, but I was dealing with highly judgmental and negative people with a very closed and rigid family structure. I put up with this bad behavior for many years, until I just said no more. Life is too short to waste it involving yourself with hateful, miserable people, regardless of who they are. I ended up cutting off my IL’s, but I chose to stay in my marriage. It was a lot of work to stay in my marriage, because I resented my husband for not having my back and allowing his family to crap all over me. I also had to forgive myself for allowing this behavior to go on as long as it did.

    I am in a much better place without these people in my lives, and from my experience will tell you that the sooner you set up boundaries to respect yourself the better.

  32. #792, I was engaged to a man who had abusive nasty parents – they snooped through his things, controlled him and bullied his girlfriends out of his life. We dated for a year and upon our engagement they spewed horrible vitriol.At the time I felt sad for my guy and determined to give him the love he should have seen at home and rise to the bait by addressing the abuse.

    The engagement ended, in part because I saw how accepting and comfortable he was to let them abuse him and me. I looked at his parents and the cruel, bigoted, snobby things they’d say and imagine every holiday with that backing track. I realised I’D be marrying into a family who think it is ok to treat people that way and that parents are allowed to demean their kids.

    My ex fiance stayed at home and let me go because his family was his norm and he didn’t have the guts to fight for himself. I didn’t want him to fight for me as much I wanted him to wake up to it. He would make excuses, justifications and keep showing up for more. His mother could insult me to no consequence in ways that, if anyone else did, a fiance would step in.

    Three years later and he has not found anyone else, his mother continues to harass the women in his life.

  33. ‘Is there anything he could say or do to make you relax and trust him after what you read? If so, tell him what that is and see if he does it.’

    If this is the case, see not just whether he does whatever the thing or things are, but what your gut feeling is about the attitude with which he’s doing them.

    There’s “I’m going to do these things my partner wants because I really do feel awful about having hurt her and recognise how wrong that was, and want to put it right.” There’s also “I’m going to grudgingly do these things my partner wants because, even though I am The Person In The Right here and she is The Person In The Wrong who really should be knowing her place and accepting my Rightness about it all, she’s unreasonable enough to break up over this and I don’t really want to go that far, so I will nobly do these things/make a token effort towards doing them, and expect lots of extra credit and gold stars for being so willing to do all this when really I’m the one in the right who shouldn’t have to bother.”

    Check which one of those your spidey-senses think it is. And remember that, at the end of the day, you don’t need irrevocable evidence or proof to decide that this isn’t a relationship you can be on board with continuing. You get to leave even if you can’t come up with a nice coherent pro-leaving argument which meets his satisfaction (which no pro-leaving argument, however, good, ever will, by the way). You get to leave even if he’s done the things you said he wanted him to do and he’s complaining about how it Isn’t Fair because he ticked all the boxes and why doesn’t that earn him the right to stay? You get to leave just because your gut feels it’s the right thing to do. That’s your right. That’s OK.

  34. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

    This is so so so brilliant and difficult and vital.

    It was a breakthrough in my own mental health to realize my job description does not include The Impossible Task. In fact, thinking it does creates all sorts of mayhem for me.

    Because the one thing I can almost always do is take care of myself; usually, better than anyone else around me, at least in terms of what I want and need. That is my own Humanitarian Imperative.

    Especially if no one else is doing it.

  35. @LW #793, whose boyfriend’s friend is dealing with mental illness: my mum was recently in hospital after a paranoid breakdown culminating in a suicide attempt. Much of my support network is long distance, but I was still incredibly grateful for the help and support people offered even if they couldn’t physically be there.

    I was my mother’s primary carer during her hospitalisation so I’m not sure how similar the kind of support i needed will be to your boyfriend, but it sounds like he’s taking a fairly active role in his friend’s recovery. Some things people did for me which I found incredibly helpful:
    *listening to me vent, especially after difficult days. Being nonjudgmental and reminding me it was OK to, eg, feel upset or frustrated with my mum, to be scared, or to resent having to shoulder as much responsibility as I did.
    *telling me things like that I was doing the right thing, that I was being really strong in a difficult time, that I was a loving daughter and a good person
    *listening to me attempting to plan/navigate practical considerations (eg getting mum stable housing for when she came out of hospital) and helping me figure out what steps I needed to take. This could involve affirming I’m on the right track, reminding me it’s OK to make mistakes or take a break, checking in in an encouraging and positive way, and if i specifically ask, offering advice and/or helping brainstorm possible steps to overcome problems. (If he seems overwhelmed by something, it’s OK to ask if he wants help, but be careful with unsolicited advice).
    *reminding me that I’m important too and that it’s important to look after myself
    *talking to me about happy things or their own life to distract me (if he’s having a particularly rough day though, stay away from anything too heavy and if he’s spent a lot of energy supporting his friend that day, avoid requiring him to do too much emotional work if possible. But that doesn’t mean not talking about anything bad going on in your own life – I wanted to stay involved with my friends and give back to them)
    *Accepting it if I said I needed some space/alone time and not taking it personally, sometimes I just couldn’t talk to other people
    *I found that one simple comment/offer like “I wish there was something I could do” or “let me know if you need anything” really let me know the other person cared and I appreciated it even if they couldn’t help. But believing someone if they say there’s nothing/the thought alone helps is important, because getting pushy about that makes it less about what they need and more about the person offering’s ego.

    For me, the whole experience was one of the worst, most intense and overwhelming experiences of my life but my mum has recently been released from the psych ward and she’s doing much better in her life, and my situation is improving too. So know that there is hope and things probably will get better.

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