#1218: “Irritability and constant criticism in a marriage.”

Dear Captain,

My husband (he / him / his) is extremely smart and good in his job, has a close relationship with his sister, and good at figuring out mechanical challenges (e.g., setting up a new type of tent) patiently and thoroughly.

But I can’t bear the constant criticism. He’s always miffed about something. It is many, simultaneous small things: being hot, not reading for fun anymore, allergies, my refusal to go surfing, my lack of passion for running, that I don’t plan trips/activities, that we don’t share hobbies, that we don’t spend enough time together, that he has to constantly alter his schedule for me, that I interrupt him to serve dinner when he is putting away laundry, that I asked him to hang out when he was clearly doing something, that I can’t travel with him for > one month each year, that I work too much (I have a 9-5), that I joined a support group for depression that meets too often, that I have anxiety, that I’m doing a spiritual retreat, that I got off of work early and asked him out to dinner, that everything house-related is his responsibility. Our worst fights seem to happen I am busy at work. All of these annoyances contribute to big blow-ups with 2-3 hours of fighting every other week. He’s miserable a lot – physically ill or annoyed at me, coworkers, management, our HOA, the driver in front of him. He doesn’t praise or enjoy. He manages his emotions through running or eating.

I’ve done much of what he’s asked – get a non-demanding job; buy a house; plan trips; ask him to spend time together, but the negativity doesn’t abate.

I bring up my challenges gently, but I can’t get a dialogue flowing. If I bring up an issue, he’ll deflect and change the subject. If I ask him a question, he’ll critique the premise of the question. If I persist and bring us back to the question, he’ll start criticizing me.

I am trying to be better (therapy, meditation, support group, reading, self-care) and take advantage of every resource I can find (podcasts, EAP talks about wellbeing, gym). What am I doing wrong (what’s wrong with me?)? How can I do better?

-What’s wrong with me?

Dear What’s Wrong With Me?

What if nothing is wrong with you and the problem is you’re married to an asshole? 

That’s it, that’s my whole answer. What if there is nothing left for you to work on, what if your husband is the one who needs to change? What if he has choices about how he behaves and he’s making bad ones and there’s no amount of accommodating and reasonable and nice you can be that will fix this, he’s got to be the one to do the work? What if you need more in a marriage than “good at his job and mechanical stuff” and “has a sister who doesn’t hate his guts” and it’s time to stop catering to his demanding behavior and mean words? “Smart” means jack shit without kindness and love. He is not behaving like someone kind who loves you.

Oh hey, what if your husband who hates his life and always feels ill and in a bad mood *did* happen to have diagnosable stuff going on, and, get this, what if it were his job to get a medical checkup and a therapist and a support group and do meditation and self-care and listen to podcasts and read books called “How To Be Nicer To Your Spouse So The Whole Internet Won’t Read About How You Suck So Bad” and “Yo, Bro, Did You Know They Make Feelings Besides The Anger You Vomit All Over Your Loved Ones?” and otherwise SORT OUT HIS OWN BULLSHIT so that his behavior isn’t toxic and mean to the people in his life?

None of what’s happening is your fault, you aren’t alone, lots of people find themselves here and have to backtrack from the hopes and dreams they had for what marriage would be like.There’s a book called Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft that you may find informative, there’s a guide to emotional abuse  at Love Is Respect, which is overall a great, gender-neutral resource), here’s a guide on choosing a divorce lawyer, we’ve got a jillion past posts on the site on how and why and when to leave a relationship where someone is constantly mean to you that can hopefully get you on your way to a happier place where nobody interrupts your workday and gets mad when you spend time taking care of yourself because he thinks that’s time you should be spending with him (so he can be mean to you? Why would you want to do that?).

There’s a lot to read through at the links that I won’t repeat, though there are a few things I’ll amplify here:

1) People often balk at the word ‘abuse’ to describe their partner’s nasty and controlling behaviors at first, so it’s normal if your first reaction to reading this post is “Well it’s not THAT bad” or “I wouldn’t call it THAT” or “Those services are for people in Real Trouble, my husband is just a little cranky sometimes!”  In my opinion the way he resents the things you do away from him PLUS the overly-critical behavior crosses the line, and the fact that your question was framed as “how is this my fault/how do I change myself because someone else is being horrible to me” is the textbook indicator, but you can still call places like The Hotline and get help even if you’re not sure, it doesn’t have to be life-or-death yet, you can still invoke all the help in the world to get away from an “unhealthy” situation or one that is making you unhappy and stressed, ok? You’re the boss of you and how you feel and what you do and the words you use about it. I want to give you tools, not rules.

2) Once it gets to the point you’re describing, it’s probably not fixable from inside the relationship. Your husband might get happier, healthier, and less mean eventually, but most people do not do this while still inside the relationship where they are behaving with this degree of contempt and control. Probably don’t bet your happiness and safety on another person’s promise to change. I’m so sorry, the research (by people like Mr. Bancroft) is very pessimistic about this. It’s a bad idea to go to couples’ counseling with someone who is mean to you, they tend to use it as one more avenue for abuse and manipulation. 

3) Once you’re ready to leave a relationship, people often escalate their abusive behaviors, so while you are probably a kind and forthright person who would normally operate with a lot of transparency and reasonable discussions around money and the state of the relationship, you might have to go into Stealth Mode for a while. Don’t share your thoughts or plans with your husband right now. If you consult a lawyer, don’t tell him. Hide your digital history if you’re reading resources on abuse and setting up a new life. Start working quietly working on your safety plan, tell your therapist and support group the truth about what’s going on at home to the extent you feel safe to do so, start looking around for who you can trust to help you imagine and plan and dream your way to someplace much better than here.

We want this to be overkill, an overreaction. I want to be wrong. That’s a best-case scenario, honestly, that things are Not That Bad, but that you’ll be ready in case they get there.

I’m glad you wrote in, and so very sorry for the circumstances. Sending you love and hope and a reminder that you deserve to be treated only with respect and kindness.

315 thoughts on “#1218: “Irritability and constant criticism in a marriage.”

  1. Yeah, I couldn’t even make it through that second paragraph before throwing up my hands and thinking, “The only solution here is to extract the asshole from one’s life, whereupon I will not be shocked if LW’s depression and anxiety dramatically improve about 6 months after tossing this guy.”

    1. It was so hideously clear that this guy’s dream relationship is one where nothing is ever right and nothing is his fault. He’s got a perfect marriage going on, he’s never going to change.

      1. That’s my take on it too.

        I believe that jerks *can* change, but I also believe they pretty much won’t ever change unless they experience some consequences for their behavior. I don’t think it happens often, frankly, but it definitely won’t happen inside a relationship where he’s been able to successfully convince his partner that his negative feelings and behaviors are all the fault of the LW.

      2. Yes. This is the guy who will complain at/about you because he enjoys complaining. If you were able to go so far as to control the weather and make it never be too hot, he’d start yelling about the existence of trees. He is satisfied with this. If you aren’t—and you shouldn’t be—all you can do is go.

    2. Right? All I could think was “Gee, wonder why she’s depressed.” Not saying dumping the guy will magically solve depression/anxiety, but it’s bound to help. Not being around someone who’s constantly mean to you has that effect.

    3. My niece dumped her guy shortly after marrying him; his mother called her mother to say, “Catherine is off her meds, and that’s why she’s blowing up her life.” She had run out of her anti-depressants, but she’d already told the guy she wanted out before, and things came to a head shortly after.

      So she had trouble getting it refilled and then realized that she didn’t feel like she needed them!
      She was like, “I think I’ve been medicating myself to cope with the shitty life we were leading*, and the shitty relationship.”

      *He pretty much led her into homelessness by insisting that they move around a lot, and every time she got a job and started to settle in, he’d uproot them.

      1. *He pretty much led her into homelessness by insisting that they move around a lot, and every time she got a job and started to settle in, he’d uproot them.

        Ah, the ol’ Pa Ingalls maneuver. “THIS time I can run a successful family farm!”

        1. Sounds like you’ve read Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder! Highly recommended for anyone who wants the unvarnished story behind the Little House books.

          1. Oh my god, I need to read this book. I may have just set a personal record for fastest library checkout. Thank you for telling me this existed!

        2. I ended up feeling so sorry for Caroline Ingalls as an adult. Charles must have been exhausting to be married to.

  2. Yeah, I couldn’t even make it through that second paragraph before throwing up my hands and thinking, “The only solution here is to extract the asshole from one’s life, whereupon I will not be shocked if LW’s depression and anxiety dramatically improve about 6 months after tossing this guy.”

  3. People often balk at the word ‘abuse’ to describe their partner’s nasty and controlling behaviors at first, so it’s normal if your first reaction to reading this post is “Well it’s not THAT bad” or “I wouldn’t call it THAT” or “Those services are for people in Real Trouble, my husband is just a little cranky sometimes!”

    This is very true, and LW, if you’re reading this and feel like your husband’s behavior does not cross this line for you, still: you sound like a very patient person who’s done way more than enough to try to be accommodating, both in how you interact with him and how you live your life. Any yet, he always finds *something* to be mad about, and it sounds like you’re on edge around him, that are tense, angry, etc, a whole lot of the time.

    That’s enough! being consistently unhappy is a great reason to end a relationship. You don’t have to clear any objective bar of Bad Enough or Real Abuse or establish that he has no positive qualities at all. You can leave because you want to. You can leave because even though you didn’t want to, you tried to fix things for a long time and it didn’t work. And honestly, it sounds like you should. It sounds like once you get through the other side, your life without this guy would be happier, calmer, and more relaxed than a life with him. You’d have more room to spend with people who’s company you actually enjoy, who are happy to see you too.

    1. It also doesn’t need to be Capital-A Abuse/The Worst Abuse Ever to still be bad and worth leaving someone over. It can be really difficult sometimes to frame actions as being abusive because of all the messages about What Real Abuse Is, and how when you’re in a relationship, you also see the good stuff, so if someone isn’t horrible all the time, or horrible in a certain way, people can resist using the A-word.

      I found in my life, it can help to just remove the word. It doesn’t need to be “abuse” to be bad. It doesn’t need to be the worst. He doesn’t have to hit you. It’s still worth leaving him over. It’s still a way you shouldn’t be treated. It’s still bad.

      1. My friends would get SO MAD at me when I’d complain about the latest hideous thing my mom had said or done to me, they’d call it (correctly) abuse, and I’d reject that with “well, it isn’t THAT bad.”

        (It was that bad.)

        I’d spend an hour crying and ranting over an abusive thing Mom said or did, they’d patiently listen, and then they’d tell me the truth, that it was abuse, and I still rejected it. That didn’t make it NOT abusive, though, it just meant I wasn’t ready to think of my mom, who I still love, as an abuser. Or me as abused.

        Look, someone out there has always had it worse than you, and it is easy to point to them and their sad situation and say, “Well, if that’s abuse, then [abusive action directed toward me] cannot be, because it isn’t THAT bad.”

        It’s not a contest, though. And it doesn’t have to be “A Child Called It” bad or a true crime docudrama bad to be bad.

        When you are an abused person, that is terrifying in and of itself, so we often move the bar to deny reality. “I can’t be abused, because my abuser isn’t doing X,” we say. And if the abuser does eventually do X after all, then we move the bar again. “I can’t really be abused, because my abuser may have done X, but I survived that, and at least they haven’t done Y to me.” Big warning sign if you ever find yourself thinking “well, I did a thing, so maybe I deserved X abuse.”

        Remove the label. It’s OK to not apply it to yourself (abused) or the person being abusive toward you (abuser). But don’t be blind to whether actions are hurtful or abusive or not.

        1. This is exactly the process that I have been through and I have seen others go through. One aspect of this is “if it’s abuse, it means [my parent/partner/dear friend] is an ABUSER and of COURSE they are not an ABUSER, ABUSERS are MONSTERS…” Abusers are not monsters. They are people. (I mean, sometimes it’s helpful to notice that they’re monstrous sometimes, but this line of thinking is what we’re trying to get around here.) Sometimes we have to just do an end run around that whole bit of thinking with “It doesn’t matter if it’s abuse or not, it’s hurting me.”

          I like to think of a relationship as… an apartment. You don’t have to be in a slumlord situation to want to move. It doesn’t have to be a completely unsafe things-falling-off, roof-caving-in, yellow-jacket-infestation, poltergeists-and-voices-in-the-night situation to want to move to a better place. Sometimes it’s just that you can’t stand the leaky bathroom. You don’t have to put up with the bathroom. If you can’t get the bathroom fixed, you can move.

          1. Exactly. Abusers, by and large, are not monsters. They’re usually fairly ordinary individuals who have internalized depressingly common messages about how relationships work, about misogyny, about the lack of need to do their own work. They have nice, fun, kind and vulnerable sides too. They may even love you as best they can. None of those things is a reason to stay or to have hope that they will change.

      2. EXACTLY this! In my first marriage, I used to fantasize that my husband would hit me so I’d have a “good enough” reason to leave. Even now, more than a decade later, I’m really not sure I would qualify his actions as abuse so much as just a deep incompatibility tinged with an angry streak, but I was desperately unhappy regardless. I wish I had known then that being unhappy is the BEST reason to go. I wouldn’t change what I went through, because it led me to where I am today, but sometimes I regret that past-me had to go through so much pain to learn the lessons Captain Awkward regularly teaches.

        1. Your comment hit home for me so hard (about a past relationship) that I got chills reading it. Realizing that being miserable in a relationship was a Good Enough reason to extract myself from it was the hardest lesson I had to learn.

          I thought about leaving for literal YEARS, only to have my brain tell me, “If you say you’re leaving he will blame you for having to find a new apartment, having to pay more in rent at new apartment, and not being able to share living expenses. He’ll make you responsible for his downfall. Probably easier to just stay.”

          1. My husband did blame me for not sharing the car, kicking him out of the house, and putting the majority of our shared savings into an account he couldn’t reach (where it stayed until we officially divorced).

            But he was the one who was a jackass and proved himself untrustworthy. I just wish I could give my Past Self a hug and tell her it will all turn out great (and that she gets the dog!)

        2. “just a deep incompatibility tinged with an angry streak”

          Greetings, sister! (I sometimes wonder if I will run into my ex-husband’s second ex-wife, whom I never met, in one of these forums…) Leaving seemed overwhelming for years. Once I decided to do it and realized it was the Very Right Thing To Do, you couldn’t have paid me to stay.

          LW, let me send you a love letter from the other side of a marriage like this:

          Dear friend,
          Within two days of making the decision, my mother said I sounded like myself again.

          Within two weeks of getting my own place, I was eating better, feeling better, and starting to exercise again.

          Within two months of leaving, coworkers were grinning at me and saying I seemed so much HAPPIER.

          Within six months, I left therapy and weaned off the meds that had lifted me up high enough to find my way out. (I’m a big fan of talk and Rx therapies! I wanted to see if I was okay without, and I was.)

          Within a year, I was in the graduate program (free through work) that he’d said he wouldn’t support.

          Within three years, I’d moved back to a place I love with a person who loved me for me.

          Eleven years later, I am living more happily than ever, EVER would have been possible with him. It’s not perfect–it is loud and messy and expensive.

          Wish you were here! Please take care of you. You matter. ❤

          1. For me, the day after my ex moved out – less than 24 hours later – my dr commented that she was glad that my new blood pressure meds were working out so incredibly well, and it looked like she had gotten the dosing right. She had NOT put me on blood pressure meds, literally the only change was that he had left. I also had the very last migraine of my life 2 days BEFORE he moved out, and 15 years and a LOT of stress later, I have not had another one. (I had even had migraines before I even MET my ex, so I don’t know what the takeaway is on THAT one!)

            STILL not on blood pressure meds.

          2. I love this love letter so much right now. I love it’s rawness, it’s truth, it’s care, it’s hope, and it’s honesty.

            Thank you. And thank you for leaving that situation so that you could be the one to write this all these years later and help us.

    2. Agreed. When a friend first suggested that the manipulative and controlling way my mother treats me could be seen as abuse, I first thought “whoah, it’s not THAT bad!”, because abuse is insidious that way. Because people are unfortunately great at normalising their circumstances and only seeing “real abuse” as something more serious than what they’re experiencing. But once I started reading those types of resources that Captain Awkward recommends, and accounts from other adult children with controlling parents, it all sounded so familiar and I realised that it was indeed emotional abuse.

      1. This really is so, so true! With all terrible permutations of abuse, but I think emotional abuse especially. I think we collectively still find it entirely too easy to still think “well, they’re not *hitting* me, so it’s not really abuse”. So terrible.

        LW, you could be describing my father here. He is not going to change, so I’m afraid to say you have to do the “if this is how it will always be, how long would I stay?” game. I’m so sorry.

    3. LW, I agree with this above, you may not see his behavior as Abusive. And I think that’s totally fine and reasonable, but it doesn’t have to be abusive for you to leave, and it doesn’t have to be abusive for you to use those resources and get out in the safest possible way.

      I’m on the other side of a break up of a long live in relationship. My partner was not abusive or even slightly mean, he rarely criticized me or was negative. We had a very congenial relationship. But I still had contingency plans for events like the breakup, and the moving parts of things. He was a big guy, there were feelings, stuff was hard. While I knew in my heart he would never hurt me, i also knew that he could, if my heart was wrong. Fortunately I didn’t need the backup, but you never know how people might react in an emotional situation.

      When someone is in such a dark place as your husband seems to be, where nothing is right unless it is done by him, it’s going to be very easy for him to create barriers for you. If you try to leave in a straightforward manner he wont let you, because you’re not leaving the “Right” way. If you start making more moves towards independence he will stonewall you and undermine your efforts. He will talk you out of anything you try to do with his cloud of negativity and criticism.

      You deserve to be free of this, and that means treating him like the enemy for a while. He’s not on your side and he hasn’t been for a long time. You don’t have to use the big “A” word, but you do need to start seeing that his negative behaviors are things he is doing TO you – so he can’t be trusted when it comes to you doing things that are right for you.

      He’s wrong, all of the things he’s said to you are wrong. The way he is treating you is wrong. Please, take the captains advice and use the resources that are available, even if you don’t think you really need them. It’s better to be safe, and free of this cloud that you’re under.

      1. I had a breakup once where my partner took some of the precautions you’d take if you were afraid your ex-to-be might flip out (things had been sad and awkward for a while, but no one broached the possibility of breaking up until she told me she’d signed a lease and was moving out that weekend). And while I had a moment of ‘why didn’t you think you could talk about this with me til now??’ she’d had exes turn controlling before, and I can’t fault anyone for making extra sure they’re safe from threats in a hard time. Getting it over with quickly and smoothly hurt a little less. I got to be sad alone and with friends rather than at her, we parted on better terms than breakups I’ve had where we tried every.possible.thing to make it work until we couldn’t stand each other and both feel like failures.

        I cried on a friends couch for a few days while she fed the cats and moved her stuff. I forwarded her mail, we got coffee a few months later, we met other people who’re better matches for both of us, we get dinner and laugh when we’re in the same city. There’s no fun way to end a long term relationship, but getting a firm grip on the bandaid so you can pull it off quickly when the time comes is often best.

        1. Yeaaaah he lived with me rent free for nearly 2 months while I tried to get a firm timeline on when he would move out. DO NOT RECOMMEND. PULL THE BANDAID.

  4. LW, you talked a LOT about what you have done to accommodate your husband’s feelings and desires but didn’t mention what he has done in return. That’s a big, shiny, waving red flag. A marriage is a partnership, where all sides should be giving and taking, making changes for their spouse. If one side is doing all of the changing that’s not a healthy marriage.

    I’m so sorry you’re in this position, and Cap’s advice is spot on. The only thing you can change in this situation is you – but not in the ways I think you were hoping Cap would suggest. Instead, you need to choose YOU, and put yourself and YOUR happiness first. As much as a marriage is a partnership, at the end of the day it’s also about mutual happiness. If the average state of all people in a marriage over time isn’t happiness with the relationship, it’s not a good relationship. ALL people in the marriage should experience close to equal amounts of happiness and satisfaction from a relationship (over time. Not all at once, of course because life ebbs and flows. But it should all even out in the wash.) Because of this, if YOU aren’t getting happiness from your marriage, and you’ve tried bringing it up, it’s time to change what YOU can change, which is your participation in the relationship.

    1. Yeah, there are two people caring about his needs, and none caring about yours. Do you even know what your needs or wants are anymore? Are you allowed to have any? I mean, I don’t think he said you aren’t allowed, but I bet there is hell to pay as you make yourself and your needs smaller and smaller.


    2. This was my marriage. And here’s the thing, dear LW: it probably wasn’t always as bad as it is now. It probably started out pretty good! And then, like a frog in water, the temperature was raised so slowly that you didn’t even notice how bad it got. And maybe, as you were typing things out, you had to go back and edit and reread and you were telling yourself “He’s coming off really bad in this, and that’s not what I’m trying to do, I’m just trying to give all the information.” There are probably things that are worse than what you wrote in with, that you kept to yourself.

      My ex husband actually started therapy before I did, and was working on medication to help with his mental health issues. And every time his therapist would give him a suggestion, he’d ignore it. “She says I have to focus on myself first and take care of myself, but I’m not going to do that. We’re in this together.” “Oh, you’ll love this one, now she’s telling me that it would probably be better for us to be more like roommates, because we need to work on ourselves and we can’t rely on the other person to fix us.” And every time he’d get a new med to try, he’d take it for a bit, then he’d decide that he needed more or less, then he might stop for a couple days. Because “nothing worked,” you see. Not that he ever took anything as recommended by the doctor.

      And the more therapy he got, the more pointed our “arguments” became around how I was unable to communicate properly. “You’re stone-walling. How are we supposed to have a conversation when you won’t engage?” The reason I “wasn’t engaging” is that we’d been arguing for several hours, going around in circles, with me taking all the blame for everything that was wrong, with trying to make promises that I would change and get better. I realized, after I left, that the problem was that he didn’t want to solve anything. He wanted to fight. It was his favourite thing to do, in the end. We’d argue for hours, every night. If I needed to leave and go to bed, he’d come and wake me up at some point so we could keep “discussing things.” He would yell and pout and blame. But it wasn’t always like that.

      And then I started to get help. I got on a medication that worked for me (and still does). I started therapy. And I was feeling better. And he could tell. And after I’d been taking the meds for a little while, and doing better, he said, “If you decide you don’t like them meds, you can just stop taking them. And I don’t think you even really need therapy. I’ll just help you! You can talk to me.” And that’s when I realized that he didn’t want me to get better. He could see me improving and he didn’t like it.

      And for me, I think what saved me is that I was never planning on leaving. I was in it, for better or worse. So there were no signs that I was secretly planning an escape, because I wasn’t. Nothing for him to discover. Not secrets. One night, I was with my sister, and she was dropping me off, and as we were getting closer to my house, she said, “You don’t have to go home, you know. You could go in and pack a bag and spend the night at my place.” And that was it. It was my escape hatch. I packed a bag, I told him I needed some space and a break, and that I was packing a bag. He offered to leave the house but I knew I couldn’t stay there anymore if I wanted to feel safe. I never went back.

      And if you decide to leave, he’ll probably get a lot worse. My ex did. Things really escalated. “Why Does He Do That?” was incredibly helpful and an amazing resource and I will never be able to thank the Captain enough for recommending it. I actually ordered it before I left. That should have been a sign, but I just figured, you know, I’d read it…academically. To see what it was all about. And if I had to hide it from him and take it to work so he couldn’t find it, that’s just because he might take it the wrong way. I highly recommend the book. I highly recommend you take some time for yourself with friends and family who make you feel safe and loved. I am pulling for you.

      1. “There are probably things that are worse than what you wrote in with, that you kept to yourself.” This really hits home. When I was with my ex, I was simultaneously terrified that people would think it wasn’t that bad/I didn’t have a good reason to be unhappy, and that they’d misunderstand the situation if I said too much. So I was constantly editing myself before speaking because I didn’t want people to think things were as bad as they sounded, but at the same time, I was afraid to tell anyone how unhappy I was because I didn’t think they’d think my reasons were good enough.

        It was a nasty, nasty catch-22 that kept me in the relationship for way too long.

      2. “he didn’t want to solve anything. He wanted to fight. It was his favourite thing to do,”

        This is what i wonder if the OP can hold onto.

        If labeling her husband as “abusive” feels wrong, then focus on this:

        He lives this way–with these constant angry complaints–because he likes it.

        But it’s damaging to her, and this is not a good match.

        Time to go.

  5. Holy fuck, I am SO sorry. Nobody should have to tolerate this kind of treatment. Do you feel loved and cherished? I’m gonna guess not. He may be a great person, but not for you. He may need a serious wake up call that you cannot give from inside the marriage.

    He sounds mean as fuck, and if he were a dog, I’d recommend putting him down for aggression. We can’t do that with husbands, but we can re-home ourselves….. There are too many nice dogs/husbands/men who WANT a partner for anybody to put up with that level of anger and agression and ugliness.

    1. If he were an aggressive dog, there’d be more of a chance to rehabilitate him, owing to the fact that dogs aren’t expected to analyze the reasons and consequences of their aggression, reflect on their actions, and come up with ways to make themselves safe and comfortable for other creatures to be around. We humans have to do that work for them because they can’t do it for themselves. (I deal a lot with fear-aggressive animals, which can be dangerous but manageable if you know what you’re doing, and know when to seek more experienced help when you don’t. But I’d never try to rehabilitate an aggressive adult human the way you’re trying to do, LW. That’s his own work to manage, with the help of professionals. The fact he’s not choosing to do so speaks volumes.)

    2. Yeah OR we could NOT make an analogy to killing people for being awful to live with. I don’t know if your comment is helpful to LW (if it were me, it would make me very defensive about my spouse, and angry) but it is certainly NOT AT ALL helpful for people reading this who see themselves in the LWs spouse and are trying to change.

      I’m actually incredibly livid. I probably will be removing myself from the rest of this particular comment section so I won’t be replying to any replies.

      1. I didn’t catch this yesterday as comments were coming in so fast, but I’m not a fan of analogies about killing either pets or spouses. You’re right to be upset, Dia, I’m sorry for not editing or trashing it sooner.

  6. Hey LW, I feel for you. And when I was in that place, saying those things, and asking myself and everyone else how I could be better, I heard a lot of “there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s that guy that’s the problem.” And they weren’t wrong, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. The thing that did hit home for me was “whether there’s something wrong with you or not, this guy won’t help you fix it.”

    There’s probably a little voice in your head telling you all your faults, and some of them may even be close to true. But you’ll never find out while you’re in this relationship because your husband is showing you that he’s not interested in helping. So, take care of yourself, and do what you need to do, and treat yourself gently.

    1. As I tried all those things you talked about to fix your relationship, there was a little voice in my head that periodically suggested I would not be able to fix myself (for the betterment of myself or the relationship) while in such an environment. An environment where someone is actively (consciously or unconsciously) to maintain status quo. I confess it was not enough to push me out the door. However, after I did leave, it has turned out to be true.

      After I left in the emotional roller coaster of post relationship life, I reminded myself what about my new life I was grateful for: no drama but my own, a guaranteed uninterrupted night of sleep, the freedom express my love for my friends and family.

    2. Part of the problem with that little voice in your head is that you *do* have faults, and you’re *not* perfect – none of us is. And it’s so easy to amplify that to “we both have faults, therefore we’re both equally at fault.” Which is 100%, absolutely, categorically untrue in your case. Whatever your faults are, they certainly don’t include not trying hard enough for your marriage. You’re doing literally all the work here. And you don’t deserve to be treated this way.

      I’m so glad you wrote in here, and I hope you can find the space and the resources to get yourself out of this marriage very soon. ❤

      1. I cannot endorse what JMegan said enough! False equivalence regarding faults and behaviours is brutal in an abusive (or just failing) relationship. It completely opens the door to whataboutism and if you are already in a “one down” position, it can torpedo pretty much any reasonable discussion about the need for your partner to change their behaviour. Please, please remember when this happens:

        1) When your partner (or your inner critic) tries to refute your needs by pointing out something you do or are, say “Fair enough, one for me, NINETY-NINE for you. Bad math, bad rationale!”

        2) You do not have to be perfect to deserve a healthy relationship.

        Take good care of yourself, LW, and much love to you on this difficult and necessary journey!

        1. you do not have to be perfect to deserve a healthy relationship – exactly! I love this, thank you

      2. My now partner worked through that when leaving their ex. They rejected the idea that it was 100% her fault. So they and Team Them walked through assigning blame. The numbers that they were eventually satisfied with were approximately: 90% her fault for being controlling, taking advantage of the trust they were given, and being unreasonable and emotionally abusive. 8% of the fault to my partner for trusting her and not expecting her to go full-on Mother Gothel (or insert any other controlling cartoon villain), and 2% of the fault to my partner for not pushing back harder when she was in the process of going full-on Mother Gothel.

    3. This is a really good point! If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling guilty about this letter because it feels like “lying” that you didn’t enumerate all your faults. The thing is, no matter what your faults, this is not an okay way to treat you. There is nothing you could do that would make this treatment deserved. You are allowed to leave, even though you are not perfect, even if you feel like you contributed to the situation. You are allowed to leave, for no other reason than this relationship makes you desperately unhappy. You don’t have to earn kind treatment, and you definitely don’t have to earn the right to leave.

      1. another thought…

        surely you know someone who makes mistakes. How do you treat them when they do?
        Surely you know someone who acts inconsiderately, sometimes even repeatedly. How do you treat them when they do?

    4. This is such a good point! Even if the LW’s faults were cartoonishly monstrous, out-villainizing the husband 10-1, it still wouldn’t “justify” the husband’s criticisms. Like, the criticisms, even if sincerely earned, wouldn’t be some relationship balance that makes the relationship fair, much less HAPPY. They would instead be a sign of dysfunction. Asking “am I more flawed than my partner?” is the wrong question here, but it makes sense that the husband is using it as an effective way to distract the LW from asking, “is this working for me?” LW, the framing is completely wrong. Don’t even bother taking the bait.

      Being handy with a tent is nice, but so is calmly reading the tent instructions in peace, alone, in a good mood.

    5. “this guy won’t help you fix it”

      So powerful!

      If I screw up and my husband, or my friend, or my boss, needs me to fix it, they are always willing to do the part that they can do. Like, remind me to not leave my undies on the bathroom floor, instead of berating me for it.

      Or when I wanted my MIL to stop pushing food at me, we had a pleasant talk, and I asked her to change, and I promised to just remind her while she was reprogramming her brain.

      This guy doesn’t seem to be interested in being part of fixing anything.

  7. Hey LW, I feel for you. And when I was in that place, saying those things, and asking myself and everyone else how I could be better, I heard a lot of “there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s that guy that’s the problem.” And they weren’t wrong, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. The thing that did hit home for me was “whether there’s something wrong with you or not, this guy won’t help you fix it.”

    There’s probably a little voice in your head telling you all your faults, and some of them may even be close to true. But you’ll never find out while you’re in this relationship because your husband is showing you that he’s not interested in helping. So, take care of yourself, and do what you need to do, and treat yourself gently.

    1. Wow. I hit the button too many times. Sorry CW and friends. Please delete as many as you like.

  8. Hey LW, I feel for you. And when I was in that place, saying those things, and asking myself and everyone else how I could be better, I heard a lot of “there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s that guy that’s the problem.” And they weren’t wrong, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. The thing that did hit home for me was “whether there’s something wrong with you or not, this guy won’t help you fix it.”

    There’s probably a little voice in your head telling you all your faults, and some of them may even be close to true. But you’ll never find out while you’re in this relationship because your husband is showing you that he’s not interested in helping. So, take care of yourself, and do what you need to do, and treat yourself gently.

  9. Oh, dear LW, you deserve so much better than this. You are married to a man for whom you will never be good enough, not because there is anything wrong with you (seriously, you sound AWESOME) but because he is deeply, deeply broken.

    I would love to say “Here is the script that will start moving things toward the loving marriage you thought you had, all those years ago,” but the only script I have is “I can’t be who you want me to be and I’m not going to waste my life trying. Goodbye.”

    Being alone sucks sometimes, but it sucks a lot less than being with someone who hurts you and calls it love.

  10. Hi OP, I think this a perfect time to apply the Sheelzebub principle. If this is the way your marriage was to be, with no changes to improve the way your husband treated you, how long could you bear it? One year? Five years? Ten years of relentless criticism and negative emotional abuse?
    You absolutely deserve better.
    I would also second the Captain’s warning to be safe and stealthy as you navigate this tough situation.Too many women who are even thinking about leaving their controlling partners find themselves dealing with spite, rage and even violence to be casual about this. If might sound completely over the top but this is a man who wants to control every part of your life and he will not be reasonable about losing his hold over you. Please be safe

    1. Yes, please be safe LW. If this is how he treats you when he’s getting what he wants, he will not become nicer when he doesn’t. (With the caveat: A deluge of false promises to “work on it” long enough to keep you around isn’t being nicer.)

      1. Lundy Bancroft has a great blog post called “How He Gets You Back.” And I have it sitting in front of me printed out right now because I refer to it often. And when someone starts making those promises to change? “You couldn’t make him happy before, so why on earth would you be able to make him happy now? As soon as you’re back together, he’ll only see what’s wrong with you.” Honestly, it helped me so, so much.

  11. You are not doing anything wrong.
    There is nothing wrong with you.
    You don’t need to do anything “better”. There is nothing you can do that will be good enough. The goalposts will always move.

    You deserve so much more than this. You are worth so much more than this. Please believe that.

    1. This, precisely. the goalposts will always move. Generally after you have kicked the ball, so there’s no chance it will score that field goal.

  12. “I’ve done much of what he’s asked – get a non-demanding job; buy a house; plan trips; ask him to spend time together, but the negativity doesn’t abate.”

    Oh friend, you deserve so much better. SO much better. You have done all the things, all the work, and he is still being mean. That is not normal, and that is not ok.

    You deserve so much better.

  13. Codependents Anonymous is a great group you may benefit from. I would definitely recommend checking out some meetings!

  14. There’s a book called ‘Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay’ that is helpful for people in stressful, toxic relationships who aren’t ready to call it abuse, or might not be sure whether or not their relationship is abusive. It asks a lot of open-ended questions that helps the reader think through what is happening, what they believe about themselves and about relationships, and how they can honor themselves by making the decision that’s best for them.

    I read it recently and I can see why it would be helpful for people who are in this kind of situation. Maybe it could help?

    1. Seconding the recommendation for ‘Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay.’ Really excellent book. I feel like the way she asks the questions and presents her findings – she doesn’t actually make outright recommendations, she just says, after a long career as a therapist, I have seen that people who answered X seem to be happier in the long term if they did Y. It’s a really good tool for thought.

    2. Yes! This book helped me make that final step in deciding to leave my husband. It’s been 2.5 years since I left and I have ZERO regrets. I would third the recommendation.

  15. Long time reader (every. Single. Post.) First time commenter, I have never felt moved to comment until I read this post. I’ve been barely getting through my life for months, but especially this week when I was visiting a popular tourist destination for work and could hardly force myself to leave my hotel room. I do hesitate to call what my partner and husband does emotional abuse. But I’ve never seen my relationship represented so well in another person’s letter. He is vindictive when hurt and I know (because he has aiad as much, which if that isn’t a red flagwhat is?) That he would fight for full custody of our child and he is smart and makes more money than me. I don’t want to lose my child to him even partially. I don’t trust who he would become without me to do an even passable job at treating our child with the love and respect he deserves. I love who he was before. I love our child. I hate reading that it can’t be fixed from the inside, it scares me. I don’t want to steal anymore time from the original letter writer. Thanks for letting me share and LW you are not alone.

    1. Anontodcom, I know nothing about your situation other than what you have said here. But I have to ask: how is staying with him better for your child? Having parents who are together but are miserable is not an obviously better choice than having separated parents. Every child of parents who divorced after years staying together ‘for the kids’ that I have ever talked to says they wish their parents had divorced right away. And yes, telling you he would fight for full custody is a major red flag – and also he has a vested interest in making you believe that he’s telling you the truth. Please at least talk to someone who isn’t him about options. Visiting a divorce lawyer doesn’t commit you to getting a divorce, it means you are doing research.

      1. And remember, what he’s saying IS NOT REALITY.

        He doesn’t own the court system. Having your own attorney and support system may help you crawl out from under the gigantic, smothering carpet of a lie that he will just automatically be awarded custody.

      2. As I read it, she fears that he would get custody of the child and then there would be no one between the father and the child to mitigate his cruelty. It is a real, valid fear. (I have a friend whose ex-husband got custody of their child, mostly out of spite and also having access to better lawyers/money than her) Still, yes, check your options, but don’t minimise the reality of having to give up your child to the abusive parent, this is no garden variety of staying together for the child’s sake.

        1. This happened to my mother. My father got custody we had to endure his abuse until we were old enough to leave. I know she feels guilty for not being able to protect us, but for what it’s worth, I believe it was a no-win situation and I don’t think that having her subsume herself to his control would have benefited us much. I respect her for getting herself to safety and showing us it was possible to escape. I don’t think watching her be abused by him in addition would have been lesser than just being abused myself.

          I’m not saying you should pick one choice over the other. Just that yeah, staying isn’t always better, and your child has their own mind and will see their father for who he is once they are old enough to have some perspective.

      3. Better sometimes means safer. Especially when there are child/ren involved. angle-Many of us have seen dreadful things happen when a woman tries to leave. I know I support a friend to remain in her situation because it’s what she chooses & she’s more scared of what will happen if she leaves.
        No words ladies, just a stranger standing beside you in the ether.

    2. I’m so sorry. I hope you can get whatever support you need to make your situation bearable until you can extricate yourself from the marriage. ❤

    3. Oh, I am so sorry you are going through this, and I hope the resources the Captain shared with the LW will help you as well. Please take good care of yourself. I’ll be thinking of you.

    4. Hi Anondotcom–

      First, Jedi hugs if you want them.

      Second, I want to highlight a resource CA mentioned: LoveIsRespect.org . They have a webpage dedicated to figuring out how to make a safety plan and find resources that can help if you have children with someone who abuses you. This page: https://www.loveisrespect.org/for-yourself/i-have-children-with-abuser/

      I wish I could give you more specific advice, but without knowing your region or exact situation, I hope that page has relevant resources for you.

    5. I let this fear keep me in a crappy marriage for a long time. I did have to share my kid for a while but I still think that was better for her than growing up knowing that this is what a man acts like. And only six months after agreeing to him having partial custody, I went back to court and got full custody. If he’s a bad person, sometimes courts can see that. Also, parenting is hard and not everyone who see himself as a parent can actually get a kids lunch together and their hair brushed in time for school and the fun of the idea wears off. If this is the thing holding you back, talk to a lawyer and to the adult kids of bad marriages who lived this. Staying isn’t the only option.

    6. Let’s assume you get partial custody of your child. Your child would be able to have some regular time in a loving space free from bitterness, tension and meanness. That could make a huge difference to a small person navigating life. It would also show that you’ve done everything you can to free them, even partially, from a tough situation.

      1. Agreed. I was this kid. My dad chose to stay with my abusive mom, and as a result, I had a safe home 0% of the time instead of 50%. (50% is the default starting point in most cases in the US. There are so many people out there who wish their parents had divorced, and not so many people who say their parents’ divorce was a bad thing.

        Also, as a lawyer, can I just give a little non-legal-advice? OP, please don’t assume that because your husband makes more money, he can get a better lawyer. Courts often have ways to make a wealthier spouse pay for a less-wealthy spouse’s attorney fees in the US, and more importantly, an expensive lawyer isn’t necessarily a good lawyer. Abusive, controlling, and mean people often choose bad lawyers who seem very impressive (bullies like to hire bullies) but are ultimately all bark and no bite. What you need, if you choose to divorce, is a lawyer who is competent, has experience in your jurisdiction, and understands how to handle high-conflict divorces. The income disparity might be an issue in some regards, but in family court, there are specific mechanisms to reduce the impact of such disparities, because it’s VERY common for one partner to make a lot more than another. Please do a free consultation with a family lawyer or three in your area before you write something off as impossible or unlikely or too hard. Things get easier when you have a lawyer. Especially on an emotional level.

    7. Anondotcom, this is so scary and sad. I’m terribly sorry you’re going through this.

      I agree with the commenter who suggested secretly seeing a divorce attorney. Borrow money from a friend and pay in cash if you have to, to keep it under wraps. Such a consultation doesn’t commit you to anything, but it will help you feel informed about your options – and if you do decide to move forward without your husband, a good attorney will help you get your ducks in a row – legally, financially, and in terms of your and your son’s safety – before you leave. (It doesn’t sound like there has been physical abuse, but sometimes an emotional abuser (and I would call your husband’s behavior emotional abuse for sure) will turn violent when a partner tries to leave. Better safe than sorry.)

      My heart is with you.

      1. Your first meeting with any attorney is typically free, but especially divorce attorneys. You aren’t obligated to hire the attorney you consult with first. Also, and old but gold truism is that good attorneys do not advertise on the television (especially divorce attorneys). Find out what the largest and oldest “full service” law firms in your area are, and then call them directly to get a recommendation for a divorce attorney. They may also refer to it as family law on a website.

        1. Also, if you’re in the US, you can look up your state’s bar association, which will often have attorneys listed by specialty and with contact information for them. If you’re on a really tight budget, local Legal Aid may also be able to help (and even if your income is too high to qualify for Legal Aid’s services, they can often give you contact information for attorneys who can help).

    8. I can definitely understand Anondotcom’s fear that if they end up with shared custody, the husband will have unsupervised access to their child. That’s a real and valid fear. But I definitely still think it’s worth looking into legal options (as discreetly/safely as they can). ❤️

    9. When I finally sat down with a lawyer, somethings were as I thought, others I was pleasantly surprised.

      We go to a doctor to get medical advice. A lawyer is for legal advice.

      I had baggage associated with seeing a lawyer. So I went to a workshop/clinic that made it seem less of a big deal to me.

    10. Hey Anondotcom, sorry to hear you are having a tough time. Emotional abuse is a very gray area – I have worked as a therapist with many people whose partners are emotionally abusive, but when it comes to my own experience(s), the term never seems to align for me emotionally even when I know, intellectually, that _____ is emotional abuse (e.g., frequent yelling, using the threat of anger to coerce me into not challenging or “talking back”, etc.). Like you, I’ve struggled with labeling certain behaviors as “abusive,” feeling that I couldn’t take action without knowing for sure. But, I realized that if I acted as though the behavior were abusive, rather than seeing the person as an abuser, that gave me some wiggle room. My loved one isn’t an abuser per se (they are complicated!) but their treatment of me is still mistreatment, and hurtful. How can I prioritize my needs and safety? Each situation is unique, and you may still find that there is a lot of value in the resources the Captain recommended. Rather than focusing on the term “abuse”, focus on the content of the resources. We can all use more support around healthy relationships. If you are wanting to know your options, I highly recommend looking into Love Is Respect’s other resources as well as seeing if there is a domestic violence/intimate partner violence service provider in your area that provides services to those experiencing partner/family violence. (For instance, the agency I work at has free legal workshops and clinics, plus general info on other resources). Sending you supportive vibes and hugs if you want them.

    11. So sorry you’re in this situation. Best wishes for you and your child.

    12. Hello, Anondotcom. I’m the child in this situation, and believe me, I completely understand your wish to stay to shield your child from your husband as much as you can, but. I know it hurts to hear this, but you need to put on your own oxygen mask first, for the sake of your child.
      Right now, you’re fighting a battle on two fronts: you’re trying to both survive and shield your child. You are afraid of your husband having unsupervised access to your child.
      Your husband already has access all the time, and unsupervised access some of the time, though. If you divorce him, you’ll be able to 100% shield your child some of the time (a lot, if you’re able to prove he’s mean to your child in court). And you’ll be able to use all the resources and energy you’re currently investing on surviving into supporting your child, defending them, and fighting for their needs.
      As someone who has lived through this as a child, please, use your agency as an adult to provide a safe haven for your child. Divorce is so worth it. Having a safe haven to return to, seeing that it is possible to leave a toxic relationship and take care of yourself, learning that sometimes you need to leave and that your needs get to be put first, that’s so much more worth it than your staying. Please seek legal advice.

  16. LW, it sounds like, no matter what you do, it is always wrong according to your husband. He is moving the target around so you can never quite reach it. This is all on him. If your relationship is so important to him, and he wants to spend all this time with you, why does he make that time a torment to you? If he wants the relationship to work, why is he not the one writing to the Captain and asking how to be a better partner? Treating you with this constant simmering anger and contempt is cruel, and it is incredibly painful and damaging for you to live with. Your husband is emotionally abusive. That is not your fault, and you are not the one to fix it.

    LW, you sound like a really thoughtful, kind and generous partner to him. He does not seem to be similarly thoughtful, kind and giving of himself. He sounds really mean and exhausting. You are awesome, and I hope you are able to get into a better situation where you can surround yourself with people who appreciate you and treat you with respect and kindness.

    If you decide to leave, I think the Captain was wise to tell you to go into stealth mode. Please plan carefully, and don’t let on what you are doing until it is done and you are somewhere safe. Just in case.

  17. This is heartbreaking. I’m so glad you asked for help and that Captain is here and responding. I have nothing to offer other than that you do not deserve this treatment, and that there is no reason for you to let this man use your good nature and your desire to be sure you are trying hard enough against you.

  18. Oh, LW, I am so sorry you are going through this. Nothing is wrong with you and it is NOT your fault. You are being so kind to your husband and working so hard to meet his needs and not only is he not meeting you halfway, he’s moving BACKWARDS. He’s angry that you got off work early and asked him to dinner? That is a very kind and sweet thing to do and he has no right to throw it in your face like that, especially after complaining you don’t spend enough time together.

    The Captain has great advice, I just hope you’ll treat yourself with every single kindness because you are obviously very capable of it, and if that’s hard, think how you would respond to a good friend you love describing this problem — what advice and comfort might you give them? Give that to yourself. You 100% deserve it. All good wishes to you.

  19. LW, I feel such fellow feeling for you. My ex used to nit pick me (you don’t unlock the door right, why are you so uptight about me flushing the toilet, why won’t you do x,y,z thing with me that you find degrading – you are no fun!), insist I share his hobbies and that I didn’t love him if I didn’t. In fact, I should plan a fun vacation for him to prove my love. The list is endless. He also was funny and loved to dance and sing with me, play with our children.
    It’s a myth our society has that one’s partner must be a _terrible_ person in order for us to leave them. I tied myself in knots in an attempt to be what my ex wanted. I finally realized that no one deserves to be treated that way, not even me. That I would never treat another person that way. That the outbursts I had that he held up as examples of How I Was Terrible Too were a reaction to being around that grinding, nitpicking cruelty (yes, cruelty). Now that I am out and healing, I never ( I mean NEVER) meet anyone who is that obsessive over how I disrespect them and am not enough, not doing it right, too sad, too happy, too whatever it was that he decided to be upset with in the moment.
    You deserve kindness and love and happiness and there are plenty of people in the world who will shine it on you. You deserve to live your life as your fullest, most joyous self, not some twisted up, dimmed down version of you.

  20. LW, I want to point this out as specific evidence that he’s an asshole and it’s not your fault:

    “…that I don’t plan trips/activities, that we don’t share hobbies, that we don’t spend enough time together, that he has to constantly alter his schedule for me, that I interrupt him to serve dinner when he is putting away laundry, that I asked him to hang out when he was clearly doing something, that I can’t travel with him for > one month each year, that I work too much (I have a 9-5), that I joined a support group for depression that meets too often, that I have anxiety, that I’m doing a spiritual retreat, that I got off of work early and asked him out to dinner.”

    You did what he asked (tried to make more time for him, tried to do nice things, tried to schedule activities) and what he asked isn’t good enough. If he weren’t an asshole, he would be able to see and appreciate your effort at the VERY LEAST.

    1. Yeah, this. My husband and I don’t have a huge overlap in terms of hobbies, and his natural mode of expression is to share his enthusiasm with people in the hopes of bringing them a new hobby they enjoy. That felt like “You’re doing the wrong thing, wouldn’t you be better if you did this other thing instead?” But the thing is, when I said, “Hey, it kind of feels like you are trying to correct me,” he was mortified, we talked it out, and we came to a better understanding. He’s less insistent now, and willing to let me do my own thing nearby if it’s an indoor activity, and I have a much easier time joining into his stuff now and then because it doesn’t feel like a grueling My Fair Lady personality makeover. I can’t imagine just trying to squish yourself out forever, and having your partner think that’s a desirable outcome- but no so desirable they’re going to stop haranguing you about everything! OP is doing the kind of work one ought to do in a relationship, to care for herself and to communicate better, but unfortunately she is shouting into a crabby petulant asshole void.

    2. Here’s the thing … it doesn’t matter that his stated wishes are inconsistent with each other, because what he claims to want is just a cover for what he can’t say out loud that he wants: to control you. To own you, really. To own your body, your mind, your heart, your attention, your care. That is why he will never be happy. You will never be able to meet his demands, LW, because he won’t say out loud what he actually wants and you literally can’t give it to him anyway, no matter how hard you try or how badly you want to. So he gets as close as he can to getting what he actually wants by grinding you down so relentlessly that it just never occurs to you to look at your life and say, “Wow, this sucks so hard and *it doesn’t have to.*”
      I did everything wrong too. The dishes. Driving. Vacuuming. Sleeping. Existing. Every problem in the world, ever, was my fault. He broke a dish? My fault. Traffic? My fault! Earthquake in Portugal? All me. In fact, I still remember (in a decade-plus relationship) that one time that something *wasn’t* immediately my fault. It was so jarring, because something mildly inconvenient happened and he didn’t tell me how it was my fault. By that time I knew enough ways for it to be my fault and there were several available, but he didn’t take the bait. For a whole ten minutes. And that ten minutes was so surprising that years later *I still remember it.*
      Eventually I hit my breaking point. I had no reserves left, I couldn’t keep solving all the problems, I was falling apart on three hours of sleep a night and felt myself on the precipice of a complete mental breakdown. I called my company’s EAP and they found me a counselor. I went for a handful of sessions but really the first one had everything important in it:
      Me: I’m having trouble with my relationship. I’ve tried [a decade worth of reading advice columns to figure out how to approach every problem ever] and nothing is working. I don’t know how to solve these problems. What can I do to be better?
      Counselor: It sounds like you’ve tried everything. There’s nothing left to try. So if you stay in this relationship, this is how it will be. Do you want to stay, if this is always what it will be like?
      Me: NO! I DON’T!

      Leaving was agony. He never physically assaulted me but by that time I fully believed he was capable of it, so I made a detailed list of everything I had to do to get out, and week by week I executed my plan, in secret from everyone, in fear every second of my life that he would notice something and I wouldn’t be able to think fast enough to cover and that would be it, my secret would be out and I would be vulnerable and he would kill me. Months of being terrified of forgetting something. Of being weird around my coworkers and family (I didn’t have any friends left) and knowing I couldn’t explain, because if I let the mask slip for even a second, with anyone, I would lose my white-knuckled grip on that mask of normalcy, the only thing standing between me and death.
      Long story short (too late, I know), I got out, I’m safe now, I’m in a loving relationship with someone who was baffled when I explained how it was possible to vacuum incorrectly. I have no contact with my ex, because a) even years later, it’s too dangerous, and b) why would I even want to? I still have nightmares where I’m stuck there, still living with him, still seeing him every day, still trying to escape. I don’t know if they’ll ever go away. I don’t know if I’ll ever walk down the street in broad daylight and not wonder, just a little, in the back of my head if he’s in one those cars, about to get his revenge for my escape. But there’s nothing in the world that could make me go back to that. No threat, no promise of reform, no remorse, no nothing. Your life doesn’t have to be like it is now, LW. Look up from the weeds he’s got your head shoved down into, and see the big picture of how your life really is, and know that it can be different.

      1. Could you share your plan (I 1000% understand if the answer is no!), or point me to one? I’d love detailed steps, timelines, considerations for each step — something I can tweak for me, line up trusted helpers, and then execute it.

        1. LW, just popping in to say I’m really happy to see you ask this, and I hope you get the answers you need. I’m not the above commenter, but here’s what I’ve got.

          If you’re in the US, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233 and they deal with far more than just physical abuse. My SIL called them when I pointed out that it sounded like her husband was financially abusing her, and the person on the other end of that line was able to point out a few other behaviors that she hadn’t previously noticed. They understand really well how risky it is to leave, and they may be able to point you toward some resources or offer you advice.

          As the Captain likes to say, you are the expert of your own experience. If you’re afraid, it’s for a reason. If you’re being careful, it’s for a reason. Trust your instincts related to self-preservation. You’ll probably hear a lot of words of advice, and some of them will sound much better than others. Take the stuff that sounds good and give yourself permission to ignore the rest.

        2. LW – The Captain has linked to one above in her essay, or a counsellor or therapist or RAINN might be able to guide you, but you’ve got to save yourself. What worked for burner will probably not right for you, and it’s not appropriate to ask anyone to lay out the details of a safety plan in public. We are all on your side, though, and wish you luck.

          1. Here’s the thing though—LW IS saving herself. She took the first step by reaching out to the Captain, and now she very bravely asks for more concrete help at what must be an incredibly nerve-wrecking and terrifying and emotional moment for her. She doesn’t need platitudes. She needs instructions. Can we please, in light of the very fucking letter that LW wrote, NOT criticize her and tell her how she’s doing this wrong, too? She already has her husband for that. People have come forward sharing very personal experiences precisely because they want to help LW. There is absolutely NOTHING inappropriate about asking for more detailed steps in what is such a daunting and overwhelming and life-altering task. LW is not asking for people’s names or social security numbers, for fuck’s sake. Nobody has to reveal more details than they are comfortable with. LW could have replied to any comment on here, so I suspect that there’s something in Burner For Obvious Reasons’ story that specifically resonated with her. The only inappropriate comment here is yours.

          2. Wow. This was a pretty bad thing to say. I think Burner knows what she can and can’t reveal and is capable of responding to a request for details. To say that asking is “inappropriate” is condescending as hell. It doesn’t feel to me like you’re on LW’s side at all here.

        3. Hi LW!

          There is a pretty good list of things to start doing in this HuffPo article: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/leaving-an-abusive-relationship_n_5840504.

          Financial advice: http://money.com/money/3312968/whyistayed-prepare-financially-leave-abusive-relationship/

          Also, just googling “leaving an abusive partner” comes up with a wealth of resources. You know your situation best and will know which things are useful and which don’t apply to you. I am wishing you all the very best.

        4. LW – Sometimes I scan the thread after a few days to see if the letter writer has responded. I was SO GLAD to see your post here. Probably someone else’s escape plan won’t really work for you anyway, but – you are smart and resourceful and careful. You have had to be in order to placate your husband for so long. You are attentive to detail and you are attentive to his whims and perceptions. All of these skills that you’ve used in order to survive within your marriage will be invaluable to you as you escape your marriage.

          Words can be hollow, I know, but I am sending you so much love and support and best wishes and I’m sure everyone else on here is also.

        5. I’m happy to share the broad outlines if it will help, but as has been mentioned these sorts of plans are necessarily very specific to the individual’s circumstances.

          1) Finances. I was the only one who monitored the finances and paid the bills, so I left just enough money in a joint account so his debit card wouldn’t reject purchases and moved everything else, direct deposits and bill payments and everything, into new accounts in only my name. There was every chance that when I left he would spitefully take every penny he could get his hands on because he was also financially abusive, so I made sure he couldn’t get much and that I controlled access to my own income (and it allowed me to intercept physical mail related to these changes so the bank didn’t tip my hand for me). I updated my mailing address for everything to a P.O. box months in advance. I made a to-do list of things that had to be done at the last possible second (like removing him from my credit cards).
          2) Physical possessions. I rented a storage unit and snuck out the bare essentials first, like a week’s worth of clothing and an extra cell phone charger and a toothbrush and some cash in case I had to run for it earlier than planned. Gradually I took everything else I could that was mine and wouldn’t be missed, like photo albums from the back of the closet and my favorite books. I made a detailed list of anything I couldn’t sneak out and would have to remember at the last minute (I am terrible at remembering things under pressure, to-do lists are the only way for me).
          3) Paperwork. Important things like my social security card and passport, anything with an account number on it like bills, old tax returns.
          4) Housing. I found an apartment I could easily afford and signed a month-to-month rental agreement starting a week or so before I planned to leave, so that I would have somewhere safe to stay that he didn’t know about.
          5) Photos with cloud backup. I secretly took pictures of everything we jointly owned that I had to leave behind, so I would have some record when I filled out the “assets” part of the court paperwork. Because he conveniently “forgot” to list as assets some expensive things he wanted to keep. (To be clear, I didn’t want the stuff he wanted. But I wanted credit for the half of them that I legally owned and was giving up in the asset split, so that I could keep something equally expensive that I wanted more.)
          6) Legal and financial counsel. I spoke to an attorney before I left to make sure I wouldn’t run afoul of any laws or court procedures that would hurt me, and I had a consultation with a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA) to reduce the chances I would get financially screwed over in the divorce proceedings. It was about $250 for a two-hour consultation with the CDFA, and I’m glad I did it.
          7) A really long, really detailed to-do list of tasks ranked by importance and when it must be completed. Things like “change all the passwords on all the accounts” (and a break-out of every account) went on that list, because I couldn’t do them before I left but knew I should do them as soon as I possibly could afterward, as well as things like “remove from health insurance” that I couldn’t do until after the divorce was final but didn’t want to forget to take care of.

          I think that’s mostly it. Your situation is different, so the details of your plan will be different, but those are top-level bullet points from mine. Good luck.

          1. Burner For Obvious Reasons this was detailed and impressive. Thank you for sharing! Also I’m glad you got out.

        6. My plan went something like this:

          -Open a PO Box, ideally outside your hometown so you are less likely to cross paths with your partner when checking it, and change your address online with any important places that send you mail (credit cards/doctor/work/bank/insurance)

          -Open separate bank account and start putting any spare cash in it that you can – a lot of banks offer promotional incentives like “$300 for opening a checking account” if you set up direct deposit with them, and every little bit helps

          -Temporarily change (reduce) 401k withholding from paycheck and have that extra cash direct deposit into the new checking account

          -Take a few odd jobs outside the fulltime job (cleaning/tutoring/pet or child care) and find ways to put money from said jobs into separate bank account

          -If you share financial resources and will be less able to afford things on your own before things are finalized, consider getting things like car repairs and maintenance done before making your plans known

          -If you share things like health insurance, go to the doctor/dentist/eye doctor; get a 90-day supply of any prescriptions you can; if you need birth control, consider doing something like an IUD if it makes sense so you don’t have to think about it for a while if you don’t have health insurance on your own

          -If you have life insurance, change the beneficiary (although in some cases you may have to wait til you are divorced to do this – some polices require a spouse’s signature to make changes).

          -Start scouring Craigslist/Apartments.com/Trulia/Zillow for places to live. Pick somewhere close to work, and pick something that is less than the max you could afford. Figure out what utilities are included, figure out if you could do without things like WiFi (is there a Starbucks nearby?) for a little while to save money, figure out if public transportation is an option if that would be useful. Also consider buildings with a secured entrance if safety is a concern; I always look for something second floor or higher for safety reasons but that’s just me. Be transparent(ish) with your landlord that you are going through a separation/divorce – make sure they use discretion if they are checking your references and current rental/address history.

          -Start stealthily separating the finances, if they are joined. Figure out what bills are in each name and take screenshots of whatever financial records you can.

          -If you own vehicles, are they in both names or just one? Look into having your vehicle re-titled in just your name if you have both names listed. This usually involves a trip to the DMV.

          -To move belongings out without raising suspicion, go on a spring cleaning/Marie Kondo type of downsizing spree and take some things to Goodwill but others to a safe place (maybe a friend/family member’s basement or garage; maybe a storage unit) til you can move it out. Start with things like off-season clothing/books/personal mementos.

          -Find out if your place of employment has discounts with moving truck companies – a lot of corporate places do, and every little bit counts. If you need help with the moving itself, TaskRabbit is filled with people who don’t mind lending their muscles in exchange for money.
          -If you share a cell phone plan, you may need to get a Pay As You Go phone for the time being. Gather whatever account info you’ll need later to keep your phone number but move to your own account. Don’t use your shared cell phone to make calls to lawyers or other resources. Try to call from work or your “burner” phone.

          -If you have an HR department at work and you trust them, consider talking to them about things like EAP (employee assistance program), leave of absence options, making changes to your benefits, and any legal or financial assistance resources they may be able to refer you to. Not all companies have these, but a surprising number do have these things standard and few people use them so it’s worth asking.

          -Stock up on non-perishable foods, toiletries, and paper products so you can bring some with you when you move out. Travel sized items are your friend, if you’re on the cheap; and you can fit them into most backpacks/laptop bags in case you think you may have to exit more quickly.

          -It doesn’t hurt to have an outside-the-home hobby or activity that gives you an excuse to be away more. For example, maybe you decide to join the local gym and that means you’re going to be away for at least an hour or so every couple days. You can even actually go to the gym, but use some of that time to work on your plan.

          -If you can, keep some of your personal files & important papers in your desk at work rather than at home where they could be tampered with. Once you get into your new place, you can bring those with you.

          -Change any passwords that are shared/known to your significant other (especially for social media/email)

          I hope this helps. You are doing the right thing, even though it’s hard.

    3. The specific “WTF” for me was “that I got of work early and asked him out to dinner.”

  21. Boy, he sounds seriously miserable, as you say above. “Heaven knows I’m miserable now!”

    The problem is, he doesn’t want you to “praise or enjoy” either. He doesn’t want you to get better or be better or feel better. He’s mad you go to a depression support group. Heaven forbid you should be one iota less miserable than he is. If you actually got better, or were able to enjoy any of these nice things you’re doing, you might look around and LEAVE HIS ASS.

    The second problem is, as you’ve described him, he sounds like the kind of guy (not always a guy, but usually a guy) who thinks he’s smarter than everyone in the room. And *maybe he is*. But that doesn’t mean he’s not depressed or otherwise in a state where he needs help. However, because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone, he a) will probably not accept that he could possibly need help with *anything* and b) will not accept help from anyone because “he’s smarter than they are so what do they know about what he should do”. I, myself, have dealt with this type of person, fortunately not as a significant other, but I have seen this type of dude with this type of ego be absolutely incapable of starting to work on the problem because, remember, he is the smartest one in the room. So I don’t hold out a lot of hope that your dude is going to change.

    For your own sake, I hope you find a way to leave. You deserve better. You deserve not to be miserable.

    1. Guys like this remind me of the Pickle Rick episode of Rick and Morty. I love Susan Sarandon as the therapist putting him in his place.

      “Rick: the only link between your unquestionable intelligence and the sickness destroying your family is that everyone in your family, you included, use intelligence to justify sickness.

      You seem to alternate between viewing your own mind as an unstoppable force and as an inescapable curse, and I think it’s because the only truly unapproachable concept for you is that it’s your mind within your control, you chose to come here, you chose to talk to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces, your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.

      I have no doubt that you would be bored senseless by therapy, the same way I am bored when I brush my teeth and wipe my ass, because the thing about repairing, maintaining and cleaning is: it’s not an adventure. There’s no way to do it so wrong you might die. It’s just work. And the bottom line is: some people are ok going to work and some people, well some people would rather die. Each of us gets to choose.”

      1. Absolutely! That episode was crazy, as Rick and Morty is, but that speech at the end is so, so true it cuts deep.

    2. There is a term for something similar that I’ve heard in my CoDA group. They call it terminal uniqueness, it’s how people believe that the situation they’re facing is different from what every other addict on Earth has ever experienced, so no one will be able to help them. It’s terminal because this line of thinking can literally get you killed.

      Aside of this, there are definitely people who surround themselves with people as miserable as they are and can’t stand it when they put in any effort to make themselves better. It reads to me as if when LW goes to a support group and does therapy and reads books and does all this work to get better, it makes the husband angry for this very reason. It shows him that there *is* something he could try and do about his issues, and while he didn’t choose to have the issues, he chooses to stay miserable and not put any effort to sort himself out, so he lashes out on LW.

      1. How can a healthy sense of uniqueness (if there is such a thing) be differentiated from terminal uniqueness? Someone who was told “you don’t know everything” and “show intellectual humility” in adolescence and “who do you think you are? I can interrupt you/talk to you for 5 minutes” and “Employees of OurCompany do not show off” and “use common English words!” in middle age asks sincerely.

        1. Check statistics. If you are thinking, “I am a smart person, I am unlikely to be beaten up because of that,” then you are probably right, because unless you’re in middle school, most people do not get assaulted for knowing the word “chiropractic.” If you are thinking, “I’m smarter than all those other addicts, I can stop any time I want,” then you are probably wrong, because approximately every single addict has thought the exact same thing and they were all wrong too. You are not a statistic anomaly.

          1. I am also not near addiction territory (really: no smoking, no prescription painkillers or mindmeds, nothing illegal, alcohol maybe once in six weeks) and hope I have taken the relevant statistics seriously enough to protect against risks. I felt keenly the 12% risk of developing schizophrenia because my mother had that disease and have been in therapy most of my adult life, but began to feel less doomed by history after I passed her age of onset. I don’t have children.

            I never got beaten up for being smart and was treated with respect in middle school. I was bullied in grade school for a motor disability (and probably for insufficient social skills, but I didn’t understand that aspect until later).

        2. I know what you mean. Honestly I think the difference lies within what your idea of uniqueness is directed towards. Does the idea of being unique propel you to help people? To love somebody in ways nobody else could quite so well? To make something or give something a fresh perspective? Or, as in how FearfulSymmetry describes terminal uniqueness, as in how the LW’s husband seems to have a ‘shield’ of so-called intelligence so LW thinks better of him, does the idea of uniqueness make you stall, make you refuse to improve yourself?

          1. I was told as a teenager “you use your studies as a wall between you and other people” but was not certain then or now if it was a fair characterization. Building bridges with people out of books and other such things became extraordinarily fun when I found out it was possible rather than shameful/futile to attempt.

        3. Yes, there’s a difference between honestly assessing your abilities (I have a larger vocabulary than other people. I am good at problem solving. I have read many books), and magical thinking (I am too smart/logical/artistic to think about other people’s feelings. I can stop drinking whenever I want. When I hurt other people’s feelings, it’s their fault for not being on the higher plane that I am on. I don’t need therapy- that’s for week people and I am strong.)

        4. I was ID’d gifted and talented as a kid and got some of that same flack, so I feel you here. The difference, I think, is the navel gazing: when you’re constantly thinking about how intelligent/different/unique you are (and to a certain extent, how alone or misunderstood you are becaise of it) it’s never healthy for you, and seldom healthy for your relationships. But if you’re wandering through life saying things like “What a lovely carmine sunset!” and generally being yourself at right angles to other people? You’re not hurting anyone.

          Took me a long time to get through that one, myself.

        5. “Terminal uniqueness” is a completely different thing from being a show-off (or arrogant, or a know-it-all). It refers to a sense of one’s own problems as being SO AWFUL, and SO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than anything faced by anyone on earth before, EVER, so nobody could POSSIBLY expect them to get therapy, or stop using, or seek help, or follow advice from anyone trying to assist them. It’s sort of the inverse of arrogance – you’re taking a perverse sort of pride in being a fuckup.

          IMO, a healthy sense of uniqueness is pride and appreciation for one’s accomplishments, strengths, and interests. So, a completely different thing than either arrogance “terminal uniqueness”

          1. I’m glad that terminal uniqueness came up in this discussion, because it’s a facet of a situation I was recently in that I didn’t understand at the time and now I think I have a better read on things. I tried to help a friend who’s an addict and even though they never explicitly said any of that stuff, they said stuff that makes me believe they feel this way about their situation. This is tangential to the actual conversation so I’ll leave it there, but I’m just really thankful to have seen this part of the conversation.

          2. I have two children in puberty now, and I see terminal uniqueness coming back around in ever-stronger form in both of them. Nobody has EVER had this problem and nobody has EVER figured out how to solve it and nobody ANYWHERE can help because the problem is SO BAD. It’s a child’s fallacy: “I have not encountered this problem before, so nobody in the world has encountered this problem, ever.”

            Some of us develop a reflex as adults to immediately look a problem up.

            Some of us still fall into the childish fallacy sometimes, until somebody or something nudges us to think, “Hey…I’m not alone. Other people have faced this.”

            Some of us are kept in the dark by isolation or by warped normality filters about particular issues, so we think we’re the only ones who have the problem because we can’t see it happening around us.

            And some of us turn malignant, and lie around wailing about our rotten lives and putting our overflowing negative feelings on everybody else because we can’t conceive of any solution but sympathy and compliance with our whim of the moment.

            And some of us go around screaming “I don’t have a problem! YOU’RE THE PROBLEM!!!!!” and end up being posted about on online support groups, because we’ve decided to pretend as hard as we can that the calls are not coming from inside the house and it doesn’t work so we do our bad-emotions-offloading mechanism more until our chosen emotional sump gets away.

        6. I’m someone who retreats into my intellect in moments of stress, which makes me seem disconnected and unemotional when I’m dealing with something difficult. This has lead many people in my life to think that I don’t like them or that I’m mad at them or that I’m arguing or being a know-it-all in stressful situations when the reality is that the rest of my brain functions are all too overloaded with anxiety and depression to function and intellect is the only cognitive function I have access to in the moment.

          I also have a very strong sense of my own uniqueness and individuality, and it is a primal need for me to be able to exist authentically in the world, which means I’m also very defensive of both my intellect and my uniqueness.

          But I use my uniqueness to connect to others, and to attempt to reassure others with whom I resonate (even a little bit, even over the internet, even if I’m wrong about that resonance) that it’s okay to be how you are. Just be aware that how you are is going to affect everyone around you a little differently, and some people won’t be able to understand you and how you are until they gain the perspective in their own life to be able to relate. Sometimes the way you are will rub someone the wrong way, not because of you, but because of whatever’s gone on in their life to make them sensitive to it.

    3. “The second problem is, as you’ve described him, he sounds like the kind of guy (not always a guy, but usually a guy) who thinks he’s smarter than everyone in the room. And *maybe he is*”

      This was mine. And he had some cred to back it up. IQ in the 130s. Had written his LSAT hungover and still nailed it. Could research and write a law paper in a day and get an A+. Genuinely a really smart dude…who had spent his life literally studying philosophy, logic, and law. That is, everything that would get him really good at arguing circles around the rest of us (including therapists – by the time we’d met, he’d already concluded that “therapy wouldn’t work for him.”) So yeah, what you said.

      What I finally realized, looooong after I left, was that even in that worst-case scenario where he had actually been right about everything (and I was wrong about everything) – he was still abusive, and it still wasn’t okay. He wasn’t Dr. House. His brilliance doesn’t negate the fact of being abusive. He’d probably suggest I’m trying to weasel out or rationalize something with that line of thinking. Yeah, weaseling out of being abused. Rationalizing that I don’t deserve to be abused even if the person doing it is smarter than me. Even if he was right, there were a million other ways he could have chosen to act that weren’t abusive.

      I’m talking about it a lot here last night and today – perhaps I’m hoping to say the right words to help OP, or anyone else reading in a similar situation. It was *really* hard to get my ex’s voice out of my head after I left, precisely because he was intelligent and really was right about things a lot of the time. It was just this extra layer of “maybe it really was me” that I had to work through. It took a long time for me to untangle that.

      1. You’re giving very valuable perspective to people who may still be stuck in a web of misdirection, deflection, and intellectual bullying; you’re showing them that they feel bad because they’re being treated badly, not because they’re not smart enough to “correctly argue” the case for why they shouldn’t be treated badly. Good on you.

      2. I think that truly intelligent people are also emotionally intelligent and compassionate. I dont think someone truly understands people and the world without being compassionate. I don’t care how good someone can argue and what their IQ is. If they are not able to see the someone’s point when they try to explain why something hurt them, then in my eyes, they are not really intelligent.

  22. I’m so sorry, LW, it does not get better from here, no matter how hard you try to twist yourself into knots and appease him. The fact that he’s complaining about you doing your own thing, getting help for your depression, that he’s *arguing with you while you’re at work* (THIS IS A VERY BAD SIGN, LIKE, IMAGINE THE MILE LONG RAINBOW FLAG GILBERT BAKER MADE IN 2003, EXCEPT IT’S NOT A RAINBOW, IT’S A RED FLAG, WAVING SMALLER RED FLAGS), it all adds up to someone who wants to control you, make you as small as possible so he can feel bigger.

    He will complain no matter how perfectly you try to solve his complaints, because you know what? The status quo – the one where he’s complaining and you’re appeasing him, where he has the power and you don’t – is making him happy. People like that don’t change because their partners(/kids, you don’t mention kids but I 150% guarantee you that if you had any he’d be just as bad to them) begged them to, they only change when they can no longer avoid it (usually when all their victims have GTFOed).

    1. When the only emotion a person knows how to express is anger, they will find any reason to be angry. Because the anger is how they process every other emotion they have. He’s trying to make you into an emotional punching bag so that he can express whatever emotion he may be having as anger toward you and be free of it. Except that all he’s doing is heaping it all onto you, and that’s not okay. He needs to learn how to process his own emotions on his own without using anger to expel them from his mind, and he won’t do that unless his other coping strategies are taken away. Right now, you’re the proxy for his maladaptive coping strategy, and as long as you’re available in his life, his tendency will be to projectile vomit all his bile onto you.

      He may be able to change, with work and therapy, but it’s going to be hell to stand by him while he figures that out. He has already shown you that he doesn’t have your health or best interests at heart; even if he were to get therapy to try to address it… I hesitate to guarantee that he’ll try to work out his therapy feelings on you in the form of anger, but… he will probably try to work out his therapy feelings on you in the form of anger as well.

      1. This is likely right on the money, and well put. He’s channeling every emotion he has as anger, and his only way of releasing that anger is on you. This is NOT YOUR PROBLEM and you don’t have to take it.

      2. Everything I tried to express elsethread, but better. LW, print the above comment and keep it somewhere secret to look at regularly.

  23. Boy, he sounds seriously miserable, as you say above. “Heaven knows I’m miserable now!”

    The problem is, he doesn’t want you to “praise or enjoy” either. He doesn’t want you to get better or be better or feel better. He’s mad you go to a depression support group. Heaven forbid you should be one iota less miserable than he is. If you actually got better, or were able to enjoy any of these nice things you’re doing, you might look around and LEAVE HIS ASS.

    The second problem is, as you’ve described him, he sounds like the kind of guy (not always a guy, but usually a guy) who thinks he’s smarter than everyone in the room. And *maybe he is*. But that doesn’t mean he’s not depressed or otherwise in a state where he needs help. However, because he thinks he’s smarter than everyone, he a) will probably not accept that he could possibly need help with *anything* and b) will not accept help from anyone because “he’s smarter than they are so what do they know about what he should do”. I, myself, have dealt with this type of person, fortunately not as a significant other, but I have seen this type of dude with this type of ego be absolutely incapable of starting to work on the problem because, remember, he is the smartest one in the room. So I don’t hold out a lot of hope that your dude is going to change.

    For your own sake, I hope you find a way to leave. You deserve better. You deserve not to be miserable.

  24. How do you decide if you’re the spouse in this letter? I feel like I am mad all the time. My partner says that they are working on the things that I’ve asked them for and getting better. They do improve at the things I’m upset by but it feels like only after the millionth time I’ve been upset by it and by then new problems have accumulated, and damage has been done. We have blow ups so often.

    How do I know if this is something I have to change or they do? What do you do after you’re in this cycle.? “Just” don’t be angry doesn’t address their behaviors that need to change.

    1. It does depend a bit on what it is you’re asking them to change. If they’re not meeting a minimum basic standard of treating you with respect and then complaining that you’re not being patient enough while they drag their feet about treating you with humanity, they’re being abusive and you sure as hell get to be angry.

      If they’re kind and respectful but you keep demanding more services no matter what they do, holding the threat of your anger over them if they don’t comply, you’re being abusive.

    2. If you’ve asked for things to change, and they are changing but not quickly enough or not enough to make you happy, my guess is that *leaving* a person who is incompatible with you and who doesn’t seem capable of making you happy is probably better than sticking around and trying to force or yell or prod them to change into what you need. If someone pisses you off constantly, maybe honor that and choose yourself, and a future where you let go of this thing that brings you down.

      Alternately/Additionally: Check on your own mental and emotional health and make sure you aren’t taking outside stresses out on your partner.

      Sometimes people try their best and it’s still too little, too late.

    3. “’Just’ don’t be angry doesn’t address their behaviors that need to change.” This right here.

      You cannot change another person’s behaviors, period. To attempt it is to be overly controlling. It presumes that you’re the final authority on whether another person’s behaviors are acceptable. You’ve also said nothing of your own efforts to improve yourself — possibly because you think you’re perfect? — or your efforts to accommodate these behaviors.

      **Even if you are correct and their behaviors are objectively awful,** the answer is the same: LEAVE. Get a divorce. You feel like you’re mad all the time, you have blow ups often, their attempts to change themself in order to appease you aren’t working = it’s over. Breaking it off is the only thing left within your control.

      To paraphrase Jaybeetee downthread, free yourself to find someone whose behaviors are more to your level now that you no longer have to settle for someone beneath yourself.

      1. @26actsofpoetry: Are you saying that the LW said nothing of her efforts to improve herself? She clearly did in her original post. Are you actually saying she is the one being overly controlling?

        If you’re talking about somebody else, please disregard and accept my apologies.

      2. 26acts of poetry- even if your message is correct; that when it’s bad he o let option is often to leave- it’s been delivered very harshly.

    4. I hear an interesting thing about trauma bonds today, that one sign of it is essentially, “you can’t imagine leaving the relationship, even though a lot of the time you genuinely don’t like this person.”

      Now, trauma bonds may not be a thing in your scenario, but does the above statement seen worth thinking over?

      That is, do you actually like this person?

    5. My dad was extremely good at toeing the line juuuuust enough that my mother never felt justified in leaving him. He also crossed every line she ever set, but hey, he always worked with his therapist to write apology letters afterwards. For someone who seemed to be totally clueless about how normal human relationships work, he sure was damn good at manipulating her. It took her decades to get out.

      Like the Captain says with great frequency, it doesn’t need to be awful for you to leave. You can appreciate that someone is trying, and still decide that the relationship isn’t working and needs to end. If that makes you the bad guy, well, maybe that’s okay. Staying and being angry all the time probably isn’t going to make you the good guy.

    6. I don’t know if any of this will help but I can throw out some ideas.

      1. This might be a huge pain in the ass to actually do, but could you take a break from your partner? Like physically stay somewhere else and have minimal contact with them for at least a few days? I think you could really use some space from the behaviour that’s bugging you and also a chance to see if you miss your partner. I’m suspicious that you’re so tired and frustrated that you just don’t like them anymore.

      2. Would it even be possible for your partner to make you happy? One of the things that’s the most frustrating for me in LW’s letter is that there’s literally no way they can possibly make husband happy. He apparently wants them to spent more time with him but not ask him to dinner if they get off work early, plan more trips/activities without ever asking him to change his schedule, do more household chores but without ever interrupting him when he’s doing a different chore. If you want totally contradictory things from your partner, you might be the asshole.

      3. What if you were allowed to leave no matter how hard your partner says they’re trying? You’re allowed to just be done. Your partner doesn’t have to be the literal worst, you can both be well-meaning people who just aren’t compatible.

    7. Hi M, I too sometimes worry that I am the partner in this letter. I went to therapy to address it and I think you should too. Therapy is hard work, and not in the ways I expected, but it really does help. It helps you figure out how to ask for the things you want without demanding, how to sit with your anger and think about the reasons for it, how to remember that it’s a good thing that your partner is an autonomous human being. It doesn’t mean that you never get to have wants or needs – in fact, it helps you think about why you have the needs you do, and how to deal with them in a healthy way. It sounds like you are worried that you are hurting your partner. That is up to you to change, and it’s not a straight road or an easy one, but the work is there if you are ready to do it.

    8. Don’t ignore the problems, but also don’t ignore the happy moments. If your partner is listening and trying, then yeah, call them on it when they’re not succeeding, but also acknowledge it when they are, or when you see them trying even if it’s not quite there yet. And if you hit a point where you can’t find happy moments, you can’t see them trying, and you don’t see potential for improvement….recognize that you’re done, break up, and set both of you free from the cycle.

      Basically, anger is allowed, but there needs to be some kind of balance too. If anger is all you have left, and so much damage has been done that you can’t see past it anymore, then there’s not much room for partnership, even if your partner improves a lot. If there are still good things, make sure you’re seeing them as well as the hard things. Either way, be honest with yourself and with your partner about where you are, and do your best to be kind to both of you. Sometimes that’s the best any of us can do.

    9. Are the things you’re asking for reasonable? If, at any point, they amount to “You need to be able to read my mind and divine what I want/need,” then you may be the spouse in this letter. Or if there’s no consistency in what you need, such as, “Well, sometimes when I’m a bit grumpy, I need you to do X, but sometimes I need you to do Y, and there’s no way for you to know what I need in that situation, but I shouldn’t have to tell you what I need, and I’m allowed to be mad if you choose incorrectly” that’s no good. If there are things that conflict with each other so that there’s literally no way to make you happy? You’re the spouse in this letter.

      If they amount to “I need you to respect boundaries and treat me like an equal partner in this relationship,” then you’re probably not the spouse in this letter.

      If you considered giving some examples here and decided not to because you were worried about coming off like the bad guy? Not a good sign. If you didn’t give examples because you don’t want to drag your partner? Probably not the spouse in this letter.

      If you can get a copy of “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft from the library or something and give it a look over, it might help you. If you identify with any of the controlling partners, you’ll know that you have some serious work to do. And it might be work that has to happen after leaving your partner.

    10. I think the important thing to ask what the behaviors are and why you think they need to change them. You can leave the relationship if you need to. And I think that if you’re always angry at your partner, you probably should.
      However, you need to take a long hard look at yourself and what you’re getting mad at. If you’re getting mad at normal, everyday things, then you need to work to change that. You can’t get mad at your partner over every little thing. That’s not how this works.

    11. I suspect that if you’re wondering if you’re accidentally like the LW’s spouse, you probably aren’t.
      You might be on the receiving end of gaslighting that makes you think you’re the abuser when you’re actually teh abused, though.

      Unreasonably people rarely have the self-awareness to realize they’re treating other people unreasonably, at least not in a context like this website, as opposed to “self aware enough not to try shit on people with authority over them”.

      M, your comment isn’t detailed enough for anyone to tell.
      But if the things you’re upset by that your partner is struggling so hard to improve are “respecting your boundaries”, then at the very least you’re not at fault for having them.

    12. Do you respect your partner? At the end of the day, after everything that’s happened, do you think they are fundamentally a great person? Do you want to stay with them because you like them and love them and want to be happy with them and have them be happy with you, or because you want them to fill some need you have? When you think about how your relationship started, about the early days, do you still remember them as happy, as good times, as magical times? Are you working to get back to those times, or do you just want them to change because you aren’t happy now? How much work are you putting in on your end?

      I can’t tell you from the outside if you are the spouse in this letter, but I can tell you that a happy relationship demands respect for your partner and a genuine desire for both of you, not just you, to be happy in the relationship. Anger can be a healthy defensive mechanism, or it can be a mechanism of abuse and control, but either way, when it’s wrapped it’s way around a relationship so thoroughly that even once-happy memories have become further evidence of the misery, there’s nothing left to save. So think long and hard about what you want. If that still feel obtainable, if there still feels like there’s something that would be worth having for both of you that you can work towards, get counseling for yourself as well as couple’s counseling. But if you just want your partner to be something to fill your own needs, or you’re just trying to file down their edges because they irritate you, do both of you the favor of setting yourselves free. And get counseling for yourself anyway.

    13. “Being angry and critical all the time” is just one way to describe the husband from the letter. Another would be, “doesn’t want LW to call his bluff, wants to stay in status quo, doesn’t want to grapple with a reality where his “if only”s are no longer fall-backs for not having to face himself. For example, husband pretends he’d be less sour IF ONLY LW spent more time with him, so they do and thus call his bluff. And he reacts negatively to being faced with this. Won’t discuss an issue head-on with LW. In this sense, the opposite of LW’s husband isn’t “not angry and critical all the time,” but rather “faces the situation with sobering acceptance.” Someone who either worked through a problem and was HAPPY to see it solved, or who took a realistic look at “better than it was” and decides that’s acceptable and honestly accepts it, or who broke up with a SO who was working to resolve issues but just wasn’t right for them or was in fact leading them on with improvement crumbs when really they need the entire loaf of bread to be happy, any of those people would be different in kind than LW’s husband, who just wants to exist in a comforting delusional cloud of “if only other people were different I’d be happy.”

    14. I can’t answer the question of how to know if your the husband in the letter.
      But I don’t need to know the husband is really the bad guy to back the captains advice, because of a neat trick. Read the letter now write and read the counter letter where husband is not so bad, can you believe that letter without thinking wow What’s Wrong With Me is bad for husband they got the letter from that. I can’t. So no matter which version of the story you believe divorce is probly for the best.
      Truth is I sort of believe abusers have a nack for painting a version of the story where they are the bad guy and honestly believing it and also for making the victim believe it. And part of that is no one can see themselves or the situation they are in without bias.

  25. I have been there and so wish I had access to these resources beforehand. Instead, we tried the counseling and his manipulation was effective. I tried to continue to bend over backwards through the divorce process and he took full advantage of that. Extrication was expensive. My healing has been slow, but I’m in such a better place now.

    What continues to be infuriating is how emotional abuse “doesn’t matter” in the eyes of the courts (people ending marriages are “mean” to each other a lot), or the state (I don’t qualify for a program that would keep my DMV/voter registration address confidential, because it wasn’t physical). That doesn’t mean it’s not real abuse.

    I wish you all the best, LW – know you have many people who have your back.

  26. Dear LW,

    Wow. He’s mean and cruel. You sound like an unusually kind and tolerant person.

    Please follow the Captain’s recommendations.

  27. “Our worst fights seem to happen [when] I am busy at work”

    This part especially resonated. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with someone who had this amazing knack of kicking off when I was at work, when I was heading to work, when I was holding a big event, or when I had friends visiting from out of town. (I mean, also all the rest of the time when nothing special was happening and I was just trying to live my life.)

    Sure, sometimes we may all have pressing issues that can’t wait. But the regularity with which this occurred showed me that my time, and my responsibilities that weren’t him, were not considered important. I was so, so lucky that I had an understanding workplace.

    I also bent over backwards trying to make myself ‘better’. There comes a time when you have to ask yourself whether your partner is making anywhere near the same efforts, or whether all of this is just aimed at making you fit into his worldview.

    This stuff is exhausting. Healthy relationships do not drain us like this. You may want to read The Gaslight Effect as well for insights about the ways he derails you. Good luck moving past this!

    1. That part jumped out at me as well. It’s a very common pattern of male-on-female abuse in our society.

      I still snicker about my mother trying to pull that on me as a teen. I was leaving to catch a public transport bus, and there would not be another one that day that went in the direction I needed, so I couldn’t postpone it. I had told my mother of my plans. When I went down to the living room and grabbed my coat and mittens, she was sitting in an armchair with a cup of coffee, waiting to pounce, and said in a very serious and portentous tone, “Stop, I need to talk to you.”

      Claiming she urgently needed to talk to me when she had nothing to say was something she did constantly whenever I tried to study. My doing anything like homework was something she felt compelled to interrupt obsessively.

      I nonetheless stopped and stood to attention, hands folded over my coat, listening. “First, put your coat on before you go outside,” she said with a smirk, then paused to take a long, slow sip of her coffee and then very, very slowly lower her cup back to her saucer. She was sure she had me and was going to make me miss that bus and wreck my plans for the whole day.

      I immediately decided that if she couldn’t be bothered to spit it out promptly, whatever she had to say could be neither urgent nor important, so I turned and swung out of the house at all speed, putting on my coat and mittens as I strode down the sidewalk.

      What a surprise, she never did tell me whatever it was she so needed to talk to me about that it just couldn’t wait.

      1. Oh yes, “We have to talk” but only when I’m on the way to something important or “We can’t go to bed angry!” but it’s the night before a big day (like my thesis film shoot) or “I’m so unhappy, stay home and comfort me” (during a gallery show of my photos) or “I need to tell you a big deal thing” (during a party I’m hosting)… I’m familiar with the person whose emotions are always the Most Important Task.

        1. I consider myself to be a strong, extremely competent, pretty decisive person. It’s actually my career to be so competent that I make other people better equipped to do their jobs. And in the last 18 months of my marriage I could barely make a basic decision. I was a mess. Reading all these comments now, I realize I may very well have been read as the easily flustered, overly needy, emotional spouse when I was just trying to figure out my head from my tail with all the mental gymnastics this bad relationship was having me do. Oh, and I had outbursts too, and beat myself up for them. Now, I take it as a sign that I should run fast and far if anything is making me less than I want to be. The fog lifted only a couple weeks after the relationship ended. I very competently found a divorce lawyer and very decisively got myself a great new job.

          LW, I still have a lot of compassion for my ex (I will say it’s a lot easier now that we have zero contact). The very kindest reading of the situation is that we were very bad for one another. And you cannot make two people magically be good for one another. The best thing really is to free yourself of the dynamics altogether. You deserve to have faith in yourself as a person. This relationship is not allowing you to do that. That is MORE than enough reason to bring it to an end.

        2. You know, my husband does this to me, and yet I don’t feel like he’s otherwise abusive. I’ve always wondered what the heck it’s about. You had nothing to say for the last five hours, but the minute I headed to the door to leave for something important you decided we needed to discuss the budget. What does this mean in a relationship that generally works?

          1. Unfortunately I do that due to procrastination & forgetfulness at times: “I need to talk to him this afternoon… Oh yeah I should get around to asking him… oh shoot, if I don’t ask RIGHT NOW before he leaves, I’ll forget again!”

          2. I guess the test is, do you feel like you can say “Sorry babe, I have to go but we can talk later!” and actually go, and do you talk about it later, and is it respectful when you do. If so, it’s probably a harmless quirk.

          3. I feel like I’m surrounded by people like this lol. My mom, my husband, some of my friends… It’s always, “Oh just one more thing…”. One of my friends is the worst about this! They think goodbye means let’s stand by the door and chat for another 20 mins. If it’s our house, I usually abandon my husband to the 20 min goodbyes and just go to bed.

            Part of it is that I hate drawn out goodbyes, even simple ones, like leaving for work. Once I decide it’s time to go, I just want to go, no delay. I hate standing with my hand on the door with all my things, thinking “come on, come on, get to the point.” Since I hate this so much, I think it’s why I notice it.

            But yeah, it’s not abusive, because a) no one get mad if I say “I really have to go, bye!” b) the people who do this, do it to everyone, not just me c) I know that I can be pretty abrupt and go from “this is great! I’m glad we’re hanging out” to “I’m done. Bye! See you later”. I understand some people need more transition time and warning before I leave a thing. That’s not on me or them. We’re just wired slightly differently.

          4. When I think of something right as someone’s leaving, it’s usually my ADHD brain interpreting it as OMG A DEADLINE MUST DO THE THING NOW. I try to redirect it to email or text or something so it gets out of my brain when I’m thinking of it, but doesn’t impede their ability to get on the road.

        3. Oh God yes.
          My abusive ex periodically complained that it hurt him a lot that I could leave the room and go to sleep when he was angry (and yelling at me).

        4. I spent 3.5 years in university dating this asshole and somehow his Emotional Needs were always more important than my need to sleep, study, or make other friends. “We can’t go to bed angry” happened the night before one of my exams in first year. I failed the exam and had to re-take the course that summer. If only I’d dumped him then… instead I stuck around because There’s Good In Him, I’ve Felt It, and He Didn’t Mean To So It Can’t Be Abusive. And later failed an entire year.

          He cost me tens of thousands of dollars that I didn’t have in tuition and living expenses from having to re-take all those courses. Even then I didn’t blame him, because I Made Bad Decisions And Couldn’t Hold Myself Together (Maybe I’m Not Even Smart Enough For This Degree).

          I did eventually realize that my life was never going to improve with him in it.

          LW, even in the mildest interpretation of your situation (and my previous one), you and your husband are wildly incompatible. Maybe you weren’t before, but you sure are now. There is nothing left to fix. Love doesn’t conquer all. I’m sorry. It’s not going to get better while you’re around this guy.

        5. Wow. I had never, ever considered this an issue but my parents do this All. The. Time. Everything from right before major exams to moments before important flights. And always for something silly like you washed the dishes but you didn’t dry them or you didn’t clean x well enough. The most annoying one is when they call at night, keep commenting how tired I am, then won’t let me hang up until I’ve talked to them enough. I had no idea this isn’t something parents just do. Damn.

          1. Solidarity, Rin! “I won’t KEEP you” followed by 15-30 minutes more one-sided conversation was a frequent pattern of my mother’s when calling long distance several times a week. And she didn’t seem to connect my statements such as “I was on task, yes, at 9 pm/It’s strategy season at work again/I sent out a publication after midnight last night” with its actual underlayer of Please Give Me Space, I Lack Cognitive Spoons Even For Me Right Now, but tended to see it as a cry for more mothering and more frequent calls. Using the words “please give me space” would have been hugely counterproductive: she was a boundary DISALLOWER who felt So Hurt by any suggestion that we were not So ONE.

      2. I had the problem of “you can’t go do the time-critical thing until I finish talking to you” with the staff at my last apartment building. We weren’t allowed to use any exit except the one by the office unless the building was on fire, so I had to walk through there any time I had an appointment. Often I was planning to take a train that ran once an hour to get to my appointments, because of a lack of parking or bad traffic.

        So I would be on my way out, and unlike the times I was just going to get library books or groceries, THESE were the times the staff would need me to sign paperwork or talk to them about something that wasn’t even their business.* And if I asked to do it later? Screaming and threats of a lease violation for insubordination.

        *Such as ordering me to sell my 15-year-old car tor 6-year-old laptop to get rent money, because the substitute mailman had misdelivered my rent check along with those of any other tenant who used that bank.

    2. Yes, it’s a game they play to disrupt anything you do that might make you healthier, more independent, or stronger. In other words, anything that will give you an option to leave.

      1. It’s also a power play. Whenever your attention is focused elsewhere, they have to regain control by keeping you from doing what you’re doing / going elsewhere and getting there on time / etc. Because of course they are The Most Important Thing in Your Life, and you’d damn well better reorganize your priorities so they are always #1.

  28. If you’re going to stay with your husband, you’re going to have to accept he is not going to be happy with anything, ever, and live with that. Having grown up in a situation where one parent was un-pleasable, I learned a terrific life lesson from it[1]: when it becomes clear you cannot please someone, no matter what, you are thereby exempt from having to try to please them; the only person you have to please is yourself.

    Please note if you do decide to live by this mantra, the amount of negativity in your immediate environment will not decrease in the slightest – it may actually go up somewhat. But given nothing else you’re doing is making it decrease either, you’re not really going to lose much by the deal.

    [1] This is probably not the life lesson the parent in question was expecting me to learn, and they’re almost certainly not pleased I didn’t learn the “right” lesson from their un-pleasable behaviour. This is not my problem.

    1. Accepting he is not going to be happy EVER is such an important step. LW is still in the “maybe I can fix” stage, it seems.

      My ex’s parents used to joke that he was a “Grumpy Bear,” like it was some cute, endearing thing. But he was, in reality, a bottomless misery pit. And he was so convinced that he was smarter than everyone — so that if THEY were happy, it was because they were less intelligent and didn’t see the truth of the situation (like he did). If they were smart enough to see the truth, they would also be miserable. So, in his eyes, the only thing to do was to “help” everyone see why they should be miserable. None of us idiots deserved to be happy, he would show us why! How could I cheerfully walk into a our apartment, sharing details of my day, opening windows and happily fixing dinner when there were So Many Things to be unhappy about/criticize.

      If you do the things he’s asking, he’ll find more things to be unhappy about.

  29. OP, a relationship should be good for both of you. If you’re unhappy, and your every attempt to address that is being shot diwn, deflected, or turned around on you, there’s a problem. In a healthy relationship, your partner would take this seriously.

    My ex was similar to your husband, and he was screwed up enough to believe himself. He leaned on Truth and
    Honesty a lot. It was never that he was overly-critical of upsetting me – it was that he loved and respected me enough to call me out on my worst traits, stay with me despite them, and that he had thought I would have the integrity to face my flaws instead of sticking my head in the sand and expecting him to coddle me. That’s truly how he saw it right up til our last conversation when he teared up and said he just wanted to help me, that he was afraid I’d stop growing without him. He said he was disappointed in me, that I was apparently someone who would choose a beautiful lie over living the truth.

    Man, my life has been peaceful this past year since I left.

    Somehow, I feed myself (and have lost weight!), and hold a job, and pay my bills, and see friends and family (and have made new friends!), and keep my apartment cleaner than I ever did before, and engage in hobbies, and somehow still acknowledge and admit my flaws on the regular, without him. Occasionally I screw up, and someone else corrects me, and it doesn’t become an hours-long fight about how bad my mistakes are or how I’m not ownin g up properly. Occasionally I think about something the wrong way, and someone offers a different perspective, and it’s not steeped in condescension or implications that I need help. And not a single person (including a therapist!) has suggested I’m mentally ill!

    Somehow, I seem to be doing alright.

    I didn’t mean for this to become a comment about a relationship that is very close to being ancient history in my own life. I just mean to say, OP, that I’ve been with a man who found a lot of fault with me, and had a way of always deflecting the conversation if I ever dared have a complaint about him. I spent a lot of time trying to change and improve myself, and the problems just got worse and worse – and were somehow still my fault, despite working exhaustively at myself and our relationship. While he said point-blank that he didn’t need to change. I loved him and couldn’t imagine leaving.properly

    You remind me of where I was.

    But once I did leave, it felt like losing 100 pounds.

    OP, you’re showing so much thoughtfulness and insight. You may not see it right now, but you will have such an AWESOME life when you’re able to get away from this person who constantly makes you feel small and flawed. Your life can be so peaceful, and so authentic, and so filled with love and gratitude and happiness, without this person focusing on the things (he perceives) you lack. Your life can be so much better and easier. He’s gonna be miserable with or without you.

    If you’re putting in all this work and all this introspection and all this effort, and there are still problems. And he’s still blaming and criticizing you. If he’s still deflecting your complaints about him. If he’s taking the attitude that you have to keep trying to make yourself worthy of him, but he doesn’t need to worry about doing the same for you – you’re not the problem here. Let him go find someone more to his level, if he’s been settling for someone beneath him. And

    You’re going to be just fine.

    1. “he was afraid I’d stop growing without him” and “he was disappointed in me, that I was apparently someone who would choose a beautiful lie over living the truth” WHAT A BUNCH OF PRETENTIOUS CONDESCENDING PATERNALISTIC BS! OMD!
      Jaybeetee, I’m so glad you escaped! And I’m very impressed with you too!
      LW, there is hope! You can go! And I think your distress will be *much* reduced if you do.
      Jedi hugs to you both.

  30. Hello, LW this sounds agonizing as clearly you have made some accounting of his possibly good qualities too.
    I am struck by the contrast of these two sets of words- I can’t bear the constant criticism , what is wrong with me?
    I don’t think any one is designed to bear constant criticism.
    I am certain that as a job description , “while In partnership with this
    Person, you are required to bear constant criticism” ,some type of hazard pay would be required
    and a high turn over of personnel would ensue.
    But it isn’t a job. It is work, unending work.It’s just not good.
    And I am guessing we are all going to assert that to you.
    There is nothing wrong that needs fixing so that you can
    Now bear constant criticism.

    This has been helpful to me – a primary message in Coda, Alanon and A.C.A. , that we cannot cure, control or
    Cause (!) another person’s behavior, thoughts, responses ( or specifically their alcoholism ). Sometimes I think
    If I do all the work, if I am flexible enough, patient enough, hopeful enough or if I just explain one more time
    Something will cause my partner to have an epiphany and we will be all ok. It may be another side of the statement –
    What’s wrong with me, the idea that I can become better, smarter, kinder,” righter” if I work harder.

    So what is wrong with me? I settle for bad treatment. I let my world shrink.
    I second guess and attempt argue myself
    Out of acknowledging the sorrow and grief related to the reality I am living in.

    Please join me dear LW and read extensively in this blog and do anything else that will allow you to
    See that the wrongness isn’t in you , it is a direct result of the living situation.

    I’ll be leaving my situation. A path begun thanks to the constant insight I have found here.
    It’s a nice wide path, come on along.

    1. Thank you for this kind, insightful comment. I hope it is helpful to the LW, and that your journey is as painless as possible. I’m so very proud of you for finding the strength and self knowledge to leave. ❤

  31. My cousin just left her husband of 22 years (and I hope it sticks). He never hit her. He never hit the kids. She thought his controlling behavior was normal, and then he started verbally going after their youngest child, and she acted to protect him. She kept taking the blame for things she did to protect them, and she was working to leave him for at least a year. I’ve seen some of his texts to her recently, and he might be the brain twin to your husband.

    Emotional abuse is abuse, full stop. A partner who doesn’t respect you or your contributions is not a good partner, no matter how good they are at other things. You are allowed to want things, and to have things outside the marriage, and to do other things. As a matter of fact, my spouse is off playing D&D with friends, while I read fanfic! That’s fine.

    Find a safe way to leave. Gather documents. Gather money. Find someone who can help and be very discreet. Reach out to friends and family if you can. Above all, take care of yourself. It’s okay to put yourself first.

  32. I was you 22 years ago. Please get out of this marriage. For your own sake. I could never do anything right. He subsequently lied to our kids about the why of our divorce, my ability to hold a job, and to anyone who would listen about how he was the victim and I was a total bitch. Al-Anon helped. Stealth mode is very important. I was journaling and he found it. That was a bad night. I wish you all the best and am sending you a Jedi hug from Canada.

  33. He has to change, but you can’t expect him to, or hope that he will become a nicer person.

    Does he make you feel loved? Does he make you happy?

    Would you think it’s ok for the woman you love most in this world (your mom, a sister, a friend, a cousin) to marry a man that makes them feel like your husband makes you feel?

    If the answer is no, there you go.

    Good luck!

  34. OMG. I could have written this letter a few years ago. By the time I was able to get out of the relationship (about 18 months ago), my self esteem had eroded almost completely away.

    It’s taken time, but I am safe now and in a much better place. LW, I earnestly hope for the same for you! Please know that there is nothing wrong with you. You deserve so much more than this.

  35. Reminder: Diagnosing people via internet comment is against the site policies. If the husband has mental health problems or personality disorders, he can figure that out and work on them so he isn’t being mean. If people need a refresher, that’s here: https://captainawkward.com/2018/07/19/rule-explainer-why-we-dont-diagnose-people-through-the-internet/

    I’ve deleted several comments that suggest diagnoses
    so far. The Letter Writer could say “Hey, you seem so unhappy and stressed, please go get checked out!” but the corollary has to be “Also, you aren’t allowed to be mean to me anymore.”

    Additional moderation note: If the LW’s husband is unhappy with the division of household labor he can address that without constantly putting down the LW. There are ways to renegotiate household stuff that aren’t mean. If the Letter Writer never did a single chore ever again it might make them incompatible with the husband, enough that maybe they should get divorced, but it still wouldn’t be a justification for verbal abuse.

    1. Thank you Captain. I came here to say that before my husband got treatment for his particular diagnosis, he behaved rather like the LW’s husband. But every time I said, you are killing my joy in life, he would apologise and stop. Sometimes it would creep up again, but as soon as he realised what he was doing he would stop. Because he doesn’t actually want other people to suffer for him.

      That’s the difference. Diagnosis and treatment might affect someone’s mood. But if they consistently want to hurt you to make themselves feel better, you have to get out.

      1. Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That?” does a great job explaining the (lack of) link between abuse and mental illness. Abusers believe that they have the right to control the person they abuse and that their methods are justified. They are invested in preventing you from understanding (and seeing through) their behavior, so they behave erratically to throw you off, but a belief that you are allowed to control other people does not stem from mental illness, it stems from an unhealthy value system. It’s of course possible for a person to have both, but they are different problems with different solutions.

  36. “What if nothing is wrong with you and the problem is you’re married to an asshole?”

    This! A million times this!!! OP you are doing nothing wrong. You are doing way more than I would ever do in order to placate him. Repeat, you are doing nothing (!!!) wrong.

  37. He wants you to plan things, but when you do he doesn’t want to spend time with you. He resents changing his plans for you, but you have evidently changed your whole life for him, and now he complains about your legitimate mental health needs too. You work too long, but when you get off early that’s annoying too – and he can’t just say “no thanks, can’t meet for dinner”, this has to lead to a fight?

    Sounds exhausting. So, why are you still with him? The sex can’t be that good.

  38. It sounds like he’s set up a situation where you can never win. He doesn’t like it when you don’t spend time with him, but he also doesn’t like it when you ask him to do things with him. He doesn’t like that you’re anxious, but he also doesn’t like that you’re taking steps to address the anxiety. I don’t think there’s any way you can change that will please him.

  39. I pretty much could have written this letter. My marriage wasn’t quite as bad as this, but my husband was angry and upset and stressed all the time. He blamed his job; he had nothing left over at the end of the day and his job made him crazy. However, it seemed impossible for him to get a different job, etc.

    I stayed for years because of the kids and because I kept trying to figure out a way to make things better. It was never bad enough for me to think I should leave because of the incredible disruption to the kids’ lives. But he just kept getting crankier and crankier. He didn’t criticize my housework or anything, but there was no romance or intimacy left at all by the end. He was just a cranky hermit.

    Finally I quietly laid the groundwork and left — rented a house and moved within ten days. Amazingly, he accepted that I was going.

    Because of the kids we interact a lot and he is so much nicer to me now. Funny, that.

    I was actually afraid he might turn on me and blame me for things when I moved out, but that did not happen and I’m very grateful.

    But your letter gave me chills. Captain has the right of it. You are simply married to an asshole. You can’t change him. The only thing you can do is leave. I predict you will feel much better when you do.

    I’m lonely, but I was even lonelier when I lived with him. I am wishing you all the best.

    Reading letters at this website really helped me get a grip. Also I had a good therapist.

  40. From what your saying your husbands complaints amount to the fact that your not constantly on call for whatever he deems fun whenever and only when he wants.
    Also you dared to have a life outside him.
    And a few things that amount to you don’t always know exactly what he wants when he wants it.
    It sounds like he’s more interested in complaining about a lack of shared hobbies than taking an interest in your hobbies which I’m sure there are things you do for fun or would do for fun if you were not wasting all your time accomadating him.
    It sounds like he’s more interested in complaining that you are not available to spend time with him than planning time to spend time together.

    1. Yeah, this flagged for me too, especially the fact that the fights most often occur when the LW is busy at work (though I’m not sure if the LW meant ‘while I am busy and at work’ or ‘while I’m home but during periods where there is a lot of stuff going on at work’).

      That and the grouching about her attending the support group sounded a lot like he complains that he isn’t constantly central to the LW’s life. And that’s a BIG red flag.

  41. This sounds spookily similar to my ex, right down to having a good relationship with his sister. If it weren’t for a few details and the fact that I know my ex is single, I would have sworn it was the same person.

    Spoiler alert: I left. I tried really, really hard and talked with my ex a lot to try to make things better, but not enough changed. I literally begged him to change and made it really clear that if he didn’t, he would lose me. Breaking up sucked, but staying with him was extremely psychologically damaging to me even though we both loved each other very much. I can still hear his voice in my head all the time telling me I’m doing things wrong. It’s faded a bit over time, but is probably something I need to get therapy for to truly make it go away. LW, there’s nothing you can do to fix this relationship. You need to get out.

  42. Yeah CA got it in one sentence. He’s an asshole.

    Think about what you wrote for a moment: “that we don’t spend enough time together” yet you also wrote: ” that I got off of work early and asked him out to dinner”
    complains about doing all the housework but then complains when you do dinner for him

    He’s got you in a loop trying to get approval you are never ever going to get and…. that you don’t need. You’ve done tons to accomodate him but I also notice he complains about having to accommodate you and I’m betting he’s done way less accommodating.

    “He manages his emotions through running or eating.” no, no he doesn’t, he manages his emotions through abusing you.

    The only way to fix this is to get out. You’re not the problem in the relationship.

    Hypothetically say he starts to improve, whether on his own or through seeing a therapist or whatever. You should still get out, you’re not obligated to stay with someone who is abusing you just because they are getting better. You shouldn’t have to endure someone transitioning to a decent person, you deserve a decent person from the start.

    Hypothetically you find it in you just drop it all right now and leave and not even think about this guy for 10 years and you run into him and he’s got his shit together and is a great person…… don’t get back together with him. There’s always a chance he could backslide but even if he doesn’t there’s always going to be this cloud of the past relationship holding over it. You aren’t someone’s reward for improving themselves.

    Further, I think that once you get away from him you’ll find out something very important: you’re kind of awesome. You’ve got a full time job, have been managing a house, realized you need some help and sought it out in an effort to help yourself all while enduring this behaviour. You’re not only gonna be fine on your own, you’re going to kick ass.

    1. That’s exactly what I came here to say! My emotionally abusive ex boyfriend pulled the exact same no-win scenario bullshit that you just pointed out in LW’s letter. He would either subtly or obviously make me feel like everything I said, did, thought, or felt was stupid, and then got mad because I wouldn’t open up to him.

      LW, there is nothing wrong with you! You’re obviously trying really, really hard to make your husband happy. I could ramble on about whether he isn’t capable of being happy or just doesn’t want to be and why that might be, but you know, I really don’t think it’s important. Here’s what I do think is important: the way he’s treating you sucks and you’re miserable. It doesn’t matter why he makes you miserable, you’re allowed to leave. If he’s just sort of vaguely shitty but not capital A Abusive, you’re still allowed to leave (and for the record I do think he’s seriously emotionally abusive). If he was the nicest man ever to nice you would still be allowed to leave!

      1. My ex even used to name his own bullshit behaviour. “I realize I’m putting you in a lose-lose situation. But you still should have done x or y.” “But you just said there was no way I could have done the right thing.” “Yeah, but doing nothing is worse.” The goal posts move and there CAN’T be any consistency because then there’s actually a way for you to make the right decision. And that’s not what the abuser wants. If you make x decision once and it works out, there’s no way to know that x decision, under the same set of circumstances, will be what they want.

  43. Oh, honey. I was married to this guy also. And I couldn’t see my way to leaving until something very bad happened, but I hope for you it doesn’t take that.

    I saw mine as a 3 on the 10 point scale of assholes, where a one is snippy some times and a 10 kills you. And once I read Bancroft’s book (for a second time in my life) and remember that this kind of shit IS emotional abuse it freed me from feeling like I had some obligation to set it out for him or give him a chance or try etc. You can just go. It may suck for a while but I am on the other side and not having anyone ever tell me what is wrong with me (because, as a reminder, it is cruel and no one worth being in a relationship of any kind ever does that IMHO) is BLISS.

    My level 3 asshole upgraded to a level 5 or 6 in the process of getting his ass dumped (being scary, threats, fucking with me on purpose with respect to the child). Many of them do when no longer placated. Assume he will be worse when you leave him, plan for that, and then come join me in the frolicking field of Not Married to That Guy. There is room here for you and I hope you come enjoy life without being ground down by someone who should lift you up.

  44. I was in a very similar marriage once upon a time. I was succeeding by every measure I set for myself (my degree, my job, mental health); he was working an entry level retail job, failing his final semester of college in his thirties, and expressed all of his unhappiness in terms of things about ME that needed to improve. He got ambitious at one point, wanted to start blogging and turned our study into his “office.” I got him a bulletin board and literally the first thing he posted on it was a list of ways I could improve. Thank you, Captain, for both your mention of Lundy Bancroft’s book AND your advice about marriage counseling. It was so obviously beyond repair that my marriage counselor asked me, if all of this hadn’t gotten me to leave him yet, what would? And I realized I was reacting instead of acting, and he was too much of a coward to take the responsibility for his unhappiness and ask for a divorce. He was throwing every verbal pot and pan he could at me, and why was that okay? (My stuff. Plenty of time to deal with that after I left him.) He did everything he could short of hitting me (oh – he did punch walls. LW, does your guy punch walls? Because if he regularly takes out other negative feelings throw a show of force on an object external to him, that is another version of what he’s doing to you with the criticism and the 2-3 hour fights, and no amount of changing your own behavior or patching walls and paying security deposits in every apartment we ever lived in is going to stop him.)
    I remember it took a good three to four months to silence the internal voice of criticism that ran on a loop because of him. “I know I should be…” I would think, when my single, newly divorced self looked in the mirror, or sat on the couch playing video games instead of working out.
    We’re taught that relationships are work and that is true. I feel like part of the sex/relationship education kids mostly aren’t getting right now should be “but here are some examples of the kind of work it’s not supposed to be.”

    1. >We’re taught that relationships are work and that is true. I feel like part of the sex/relationship education kids mostly aren’t getting right now should be “but here are some examples of the kind of work it’s not supposed to be.”

      I think the whole question of “are relationships work, are they supposed to be, how much” is a red herring. The fact is that EVERYTHING is work – everything is hard sometimes, takes energy, makes you bored, makes you tired, involves people you don’t like and activities you find uninteresting and places you wouldn’t go if you didn’t have to. There’s nothing on earth you will ever do, from getting in the shower to walking on the moon, that isn’t work. The thing is that most of the time we don’t NOTICE that those things are work, because they don’t FEEL like work – whether that’s because it’s something we love doing or something that’s easy enough we don’t notice the effort. Either it doesn’t feel hard, or it feels worth it.

      When does work feel like work? When no one’s helping. When you’re spending all your energy on something and there’s no one else doing it with you. When you don’t have the tools you need, the space you need, to do it right. When you’re working on something that doesn’t feel like YOURS, doesn’t build skills you care about, doesn’t make you feel closer to the person you want to be. When you’re not being rewarded for the work, when no matter what you do, nothing changes, nothing gets better, nothing gets built. But not a single one of those situations is your fault. Those are all situations that arise when you are working all alone, or next to someone who is actively sabotaging your work.

      So I have a theory that how and when you ask that question, about relationships being work, tells you exactly where you fall on that continuum. If you’re saying, “Relationships are work!” in response to someone ELSE, you’re trying to get them to do work, and one way or the other, whether they’re the ass in that situation or you are, you can’t make another person do emotional work. If you say this to someone else, you’re either being an ass or you’re way too enmeshed in someone who is being an ass, because you feel you have to appeal to the authority of “what relationships are supposed to be” to get them to listen to your needs.

      If you’re saying it to yourself, privately, like, “Well, this is hard but I guess relationships are work,” that’s you trying to tell yourself that this work doesn’t feel worth it. Because the relationship was actually always work, but it didn’t always FEEL like work. So then you can investigate why – does it feel like you don’t have help? Does it feel like you’re not being rewarded or appreciated for what you do? Does it feel like you’re doing more than you can healthily sustain? Does it feel like you can ask for help if you need it, like your partner is there working alongside you, ready to help if you drop something? Or does it feel like they’re just standing around, waiting to criticize you for dropping something?

      I think in both of those situations the relationship needs to change, but it’s important to be able to discern (even just to yourself) when something’s become hard because the situation has changed and new challenges have arisen, or it’s become hard because the person carrying the other end of the mattress suddenly dropped it. Just because you see that something needs to be done, that doesn’t mean YOU have to be the one to do it, or you’re deficient for not doing it. It’s okay to not pick up the slack, to not be the one who tanks the inconvenience and the pain and the awkwardness. As the Captain says, it’s already awkward – the bad thing is ALREADY HAPPENING, the relationship is already feeling like hard work, and you can’t stop that by absorbing all of the fallout. If your relationship feels like work to you and not to your partner, you’re shouldering way more than your share of the consequences that result from their lack of work. I think that’s part of that “I should be doing X” feeling, and I also struggle with that constantly – you feel like the work is there to do, and someone’s got to do it, so you feel guilty for not doing ALL of it, instead of properly assigning the responsibility for half that work to the person who promised to do it with you.

      1. Super insightful. I had gotten as far as “but if it feels like work, maybe it’s not worth it.” But I was particularly struck by your reading of what motivates to tell another person: “relationships are work.” I’ve been in loving relationships where no one had to tell me to do the work – and not because they were effortless.

  45. From what the LW wrote they work a 9-5. the husband also works a job. But the husband is still in charge of all the house related work (and unhappy qbout it). He also is already altering his schedule for LW and is over it. If this is the case, LW getting off work early and wanting to impromptu go out to eat without regard for the husbands schedule is going to seem disrespectful.

    Similarly, if the husband was hoping for a couple’s vacation, LW’s personal spiritual retreat might seem like yet another sign that they aren’t going to prioritize their spouse’s needs. When LW served dinner while husband was doing laundry, was it the husband who had cooked the dinner?

    The husband might be an abusive asshole, but i have to wonder if this isn’t just simply two people whose needs are incompatible.

    1. It does sound like these two people are very incompatible and will be happier apart for so many reasons.

      But examine what is compelling the need to find excuses for and give maximum benefit of the doubt to someone who checks off a jillion emotional abuse checkboxes in a thread where a person is writing for help. The husband takes out EVERY annoyance he has with the entire world on the LW, if the LW never washed a dish again it wouldn’t make them deserve verbal abuse. The husband can be both unhappy and also be acting like an asshole.

      This ain’t Reddit.

      1. I honestly sympathize with people who work and still have to do 100% of the housework. I think it’s emotionally demoralizing and tears a person’s sense of self down. I wasn’t intending to be unnecessarily harsh to the letter writter.

        1. Ok. We don’t know how or why that arrangement came to be (does he work from home and have no commute or a more flexible schedule, it sounds like it if he wants to take a whole month off, do they need to hire help?) and it can be renegotiated without being *mean.*

          The husband clearly thinks the LW’s mental health care support activities and career choices are selfish and interfere with home life, but we don’t know what they do for work or who earns what.

          There are plenty of people, usually women, doing more than their share of housework on top of 9-5 work who don’t become emotionally abusive. The idea that this is an excuse for a man to be awful and mean is not cool.

        2. you may want to look at the letter again where the LW mentions making dinner and still being criticized. Just because he complains about doing all the housework doesn’t mean he is doing all the housework.

          1. Yeah, and LW’s exact words were “that everything house-related is his responsibility”. That doesn’t sound like chores. Maybe stuff like “the roof needs fixing, plz call someone”. Or, abuser-logic, he might consider it his responsibility to criticize the way she does all the chores, and then complain about the burden of that responsibility.

            But LW later mentions “buy a house” as something he asked her to do, so I think house-related might mean house-buying-related.

          2. Yep, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that for this guy washing *some* of the dishes once a month equals ALL THE HOUSEWORK.

          3. I also read “house-related” as maintenance and bills, not day-to-day housekeeping. It’s possible that LW’s husband is responsible for calling tradespeople and being around to let them in, possibly because it seems like he has a more flexible schedule than his spouse.

            But this is speculation and also beside the point. Division of household labour should be an ongoing negotiation in any cohabiting relationship – it’s never 100% perfect, but it can be functional and relatively frictionless provided everyone is communicates clearly and is honest about their expectations.

            LW is married to someone who seems to want multiple, contradictory things simultaneously. (“I want us to hang out more, but also I will be annoyed if you interrupt me during a non-urgent task so we can eat dinner together!”) LW has also tried to get a dialogue flowing, and been met with deflections and criticism. LW has made major concessions – including switching jobs – in an attempt to make their husband happy. If the root of this issue was unfair division of household labour, it seems like LW would only be too glad to renegotiate.

            LW is married to someone who is deeply unhappy, who blames everyone and everything else – and especially his spouse – for his unhappiness, and who will remain deeply unhappy as long as he refuses to take any responsibility for his own feelings.

    2. Okay but if LW is so shitty, why doesn’t husband just leave them? When it finally occurred to me to wonder why my emotionally abusive ex boyfriend didn’t just leave me if I was so terrible on every level, I realized he fundamentally liked it when I felt shitty and desperately tried to please him.

    3. Please don’t. Please don’t step in and play the Devil’s Advocate. The Devil is knee-deep in advocates as it is: seriously, he ain’t hiring.

      Also? I will guess that you see yourself in the description of the husband: Why else the need to defend an abusing abuser who abuses? What’s going on here?

    4. Things the husband could say if these things were problems and he wasn’t an asshole:
      “The way we’re splitting up chores isn’t working well for me; can we sit down and try to figure out another way?”
      “I can’t change my schedule any more this month; maybe we should talk about how to schedule our mutual stuff better.”
      “I don’t want to go out to eat tonight, and I really prefer planning things further in advance. Can we do more of that?”
      “Do you have enough leave time for us to still go on vacation together if you go on that retreat? I really want us to be able to get away together.”

      1. Exactly. There are absolutely ways to advocate for what you need without being a jerk. I think a good litmus test is, “Are both partners approaching problems with an attitude of respect and a desire to work together to solve the problem?”

        For example, it’s totally fine to ask something like, “Hey, when I get into the zone on a project and get interrupted, it really throws off my grove. When I’m working on [particular thing], could we make it a plan that I won’t join you for dinner?” It’s completely different than what’s described here, which is the LW’s husband getting angry and criticizing them for not being good enough because the LW didn’t perfectly anticipate his desires.

      2. This was pretty close to what a therapist said to me during our “Uh, this guy is abusive” session. I was talking about some nasty things he’d said in a fight, and my therapist was taken aback by them. I did the, in hindsight, classic abuse-victim thing of backpedaling and saying, “But I *did* screw up with…”

        To which my therapist responded, “Okay, you made a mistake”, and rattled off about 10 ways my ex could have handled that without shredding me verbally.

        Unhappiness is one thing. We all choose how we deal with it.

  46. I’m married to a man who occasionally comes home from his tough, demanding job and sprays anger at family members. However:

    He knows the signs that he’s probably going to slip, and he forewarns all of us that he’s getting to the end of his cope.

    He catches himself mid-crotchet, and says that he’d better stop talking.

    He doesn’t try to make up for it with displays of affection, or try to evade responsibility by saying that we set him off.

    He will knock it off if I tell him to knock it off.

    He does not see spraying anger at his nearest and dearest as okay, and he tries really hard not to do it. LW, I think that your marriage is not like mine.

    I’m sorry.

    1. Thank you for this, Jenny Islander. I am also married to an angry man who is slowly becoming more self-aware – this post hits very close to home. It’s a painful process and sometimes I wonder if it’s going to get better, but hearing from others that it can helps a lot.

      Your situation IS worse, LW. It has to be incredibly hard to not only write in but to see CA’s answer and all process all the thoughts and support here. Jedi hugs if you want them. You are lovely.

    2. Seconding what Jenny says! My partner also has a very demanding job (law enforcement) that takes up A LOT of his emotional energy. Sometimes he comes home and just wants to not talk and focus on dishes, sometimes he comes home wanting to seethe, sometimes he comes home super pissy and gets mad at me over stupid mistakes! The key is that we can talk about it and (after a period of pissiness) he can laugh at himself and the ridiculousness of shouting me down because I let the cat outside when he wanted her inside.

      I so feel for LW – those periods of pissiness take so much out of me and I would be so devastated, for DAYS, if my partner couldn’t cool it and resolve things. If he’s either not self-aware or not willing to try and resolve things (pride issues?) then there’s not any amount of self-improvement LW can do. From your letter, he does sound like an asshole at best (abusive at worst)… at the very least, ya’all aren’t compatible.

  47. I was married to a man who was diagnosed with major depression. He quit his job without telling me, refused to apply for another one, and refused to apply for disability or seek treatment for his conditions. Instead, he threatened to commit suicide every time I turned around. Five years of this, then we had our final fight. He asked me what he had to look forward to. I said, “Getting better.” He said “Getting better is bullshit.”
    I left him because he refused any treatment for his mental illness, despite his being on my insurance.

    Before the tomatoes come flying, people, I’d like to point out I have five diagnosed mental illnesses. I am in therapy and am medication-compliant. My ex was not even trying to manage his issues. I met a lovely lady who helped me see that my ex was emotionally abusive. Reader, I married her. Our third anniversary is in October.

    1. Nawwww. Congratulations on your third anniversary.

      No tomatoes here. There is a long-documented (on this blog!) difference between ‘depression’ (and other mental health conditions) and ‘raging, unremitting, un-sorry, unlikely-to-ever-change asshole’. People can be one, or the other, or both. But having a mental health condition doesn’t ever make it OK to treat other people like shit. (I also say this as a mental illness-haver)

      1. Yup. I’ve had depression since before prekindergarten, if not from birth, and I don’t have rage or anger issues. (I could do with expressing or demonstrating justifiable anger more often, to be frank.) I’m also not (usually) an asshole.

        My hypoglycaemia is more of a predictor of my mood than my mental illness. If I have forgotten to eat and am about to faint, I can get very impatient and HANGRY. This is because fainting in public due to low blood sugar is really embarrassing, and I can’t afford to be dragged off to a hospital without any current health insurance. I MIGHT GET A WEE BIT CURT WITH YOU IF YOU GET BETWEEN ME AND A FOOD.

        But my depression has actually made me a calmer, more pleasant, more patient person than I’d probably otherwise be, because I turn a lot of negative emotions inward and sometimes, if I am in a bad way or insufficiently medicated, I take them out on myself with unproductive behaviors (not recommended, just how it is). I used to grumble a lot more and be negative when I was a child, mostly because I was pretty much forbidden to have obviously negative moods when at home, but I gained enough self-awareness to realize that was not attracting friendships. Anyway, depression is not an excuse for dumping any miseries, mad, sads, bads, and/or upsets on others.

        This is a life-long thing. FWIW, part of my coping mechanism includes being really frank on social media about bad moods, but also sharing good ones. (The “memories” feature on Facebook is actually very validating my re: mental health and basic life situation progress. I’m doing better!)

    2. I suspect this is one of the last places on the internet that would throw produce at you for not trying to miracle away a problem you are not equipped to solve. You did a good thing by getting out.

      Congrats on that new marriage!

    3. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary! ❤

      I had to cut out an incredibly toxic friend a few years ago for somewhat similar reasons. She had several mental illnesses, was very aware of it, and refused to get any kind of treatment; instead, she used it as an excuse for her generally awful behavior and outright emotional abuse of both friends and romantic partners ("oh, that's just how I am/I do X because Illness so I can't help it/I'm not doing VeryHurtfulThing AT you, so you can't be upset with me"). As someone with my own pile of mental illnesses who, like you, actually sought out treatment and worked HARD to get better, I finally had enough and cut her out. My life has been considerably better and healthier since.

    4. Congratulations on your upcoming anniversary! ❤

      I had to cut out an incredibly toxic friend a few years ago for somewhat similar reasons. She had several mental illnesses, was very aware of it, and refused to get any kind of treatment; instead, she used it as an excuse for her generally awful behavior and outright emotional abuse of both friends and romantic partners (“oh, that’s just how I am/I do X because Illness so I can’t help it/I’m not doing VeryHurtfulThing AT you, so you can’t be upset with me”). As someone with my own pile of mental illnesses who, like you, actually sought out treatment and worked HARD to get better, I finally had enough and cut her out. My life has been considerably better and healthier since.

  48.  “To Be Nicer To Your Spouse So The Whole Internet Won’t Read About How You Suck So Bad” 

    I would buy this book for so many people

  49. I was married to someone very similar for 13 years. I’ve now been divorced for about 8 months.

    It’s very hard leaving. I second guessed myself a lot. But I also went to my local support organisation for domestic abuse thinking they might at least be able to point me to resources for “lesser” abuse. They did not. They supported me and they were horrified by the stuff he said to me. That was more helpful than anything else. This stuff that I thought was Not All That Bad? The women who deal with Proper Abuse think it’s That Bad.

    The time since I’ve left has been very hard. I’ve cried and I’ve felt alone. I’ve been exhausted. But also it’s been like taking the lid off my life. I got promoted at work twice in the year after leaving after being at the same grade for 3 years. I do things I love doing. I have changed my clothes and my hair and get such joy from it. I’ve reconnected with people I dropped out of touch with – I’ve realised that I thought I had decided to drop out of touch with them but he had me under control so well that I ended friendships with people because he didn’t like them. I didn’t realise. Luckily these people have been really glad to be friends again.

    I feel like I’ve recaptured myself.

    You don’t have to stay.

    If your best friend’s spouse was treating them like that would you think it was ok or would you be horrified?

    Sending strength and Jedi hugs.

    1. I too was married to someone like this. He was wonderful, great fun, supportive, the father of my children, etc. But he also had me convinced I was a terrible driver, a horrible housekeeper, fortunate to be supported since I couldn’t hold down a job, and not very supportive as a partner when he was going through the death of a parent and some pretty rough health stuff.

      And finally I realized that it doesn’t matter how bad he’s grieving or how much he hurts, he’s not allowed to use me as his emotional punching bag, because that’s actively bad for me.

      Now, you could say that I went from the frying pan into the fire. My boyfriend has DID, and has been coping with a lot of internal system reworking and old traumas resurfacing. But. He’s in therapy and on medication. He’s active in coming up with things that will make it easier on all of us, and values my contribution of listening, sympathy, and safe-to-eat-with-allergies homecooked meals in a clean house with clean pajamas waiting on his nicely made bed. And he says so repeatedly at length. And if there’s a problem we talk about it.

      It’s much better now. Find much better.

    2. “I do things I love doing. I have changed my clothes and my hair and get such joy from it. I’ve reconnected with people I dropped out of touch with – I’ve realised that I thought I had decided to drop out of touch with them but he had me under control so well that I ended friendships with people because he didn’t like them. I didn’t realise. Luckily these people have been really glad to be friends again. I feel like I’ve recaptured myself.”

      I felt all of this when I left my long marriage. I think if I had waited much longer, I would have totally lost myself. I am SO much happier and more relaxed now. I don’t have to walk on eggshells, wondering what will set him off this time. It’s so much easier taking care of just me. Turns out, I’m kind of a cool person after all!

      LW, get out. Look around and see if this is emotionally how you want to feel for the rest of your life. Or until one of you dies. Or until he leaves you and takes all the money.

      100% agree with the stealth mode. It took me about 4 months to get everything set up before I left the house. Money secured away from him, storage unit to spirit things away to, new apartment, utilities set up (phone, internet, TV), go-bag packed and stored where he would not find it and ask what it was.

      You can do this. You are a big can of bad-ass!

  50. Hi LW. I just wanted to say that sometimes when we’re in a bad relationship, our partner shows a different face to the world than he/she does to us. I wonder if deep down you’re blaming yourself for the marital issues because your husband seems to the rest of the world to be such a great guy: smart, hardworking, talented, patient, etc. And you may feel that if you leave him, other people will judge you, saying “What’s the matter with her?” (Sounds like he may encourage that kind of talk, too: “I don’t know what happened! Everything was fine…I treated her like a queen!” Etc., etc.)

    My father was a crappy husband to my mother. Never physically abusive, and often he was loving toward her, but he gave her NO emotional support and he treated her like a second-class citizen. When she finally (after 20 years) left him, everyone who knew them was gobsmacked because he seemed like a great guy, in many similar ways to how your husband seems to other people. One of his cousins even said Mom must be crazy…or have a brain tumor! (Seriously.)

    Just remember: They don’t know the truth of what he’s like as a husband. You DO. Don’t let them gaslight you into thinking you are the problem. You’ve bent over backward for him!! Time to prioritize your own happiness for a change, and if that means leaving him, know in your heart that you have the absolute right to do that. If others judge you, it’s because (a) they’re jerks, (b) they don’t want to believe the truth about him, or (c) they really don’t know what your marriage was like from the inside. None of these people, however well-meaning, is in a position to make a better decision about your life and your marriage than YOU are.

  51. Oh LW, I’m so sorry. This is such an incredibly draining situation to be in, and one that can sap your energy and passion for so many other things, and colour your entire life with “I’m not good enough” and “I’m exhausted”. I hope hope hope you are able to leave soon, but I understand that’s a confronting and emotionally and practically difficult step. If I can offer some recommendations of what you could do if you aren’t ready to DTMFA:
    -do things that are just for you that make you connect do yourself/your friends/your values/your dreams/your interests wherever possible
    -get your ducks in a row. Get legal advice to protect your share of savings/assets, get a separate account, start getting copies of important documents to keep with friends. Prepare for the worst case scenario of how nasty things can get in a separation.
    -read up on emotional abuse and get counseling if possible.

  52. LW, your husband sounds perfectly horrid and exhausting to be around. I agree with the captain that his being mean to you is not a problem you can fix by making yourself even gentler and sweeter and smaller and more accommodating.

    This comes rather apropos: I had to have a difficult conversation with my husband last night, in which I explained that something he had said had upset me very much, and that he had not been sensitive to my needs regarding something particularly important. The way the conversation went is this:

    I told husband I was upset and why.
    He acknowledged it thoroughly and sensitively in a way that showed he had already realised this and put effort into thinking about it.
    He explained the thinking behind his words and actions without being defensive or rejecting.
    He apologised sincerely and thoroughly.
    He followed up by asking me questions about my feelings about the whole situation and actively seeking to reconnect, understand and show support.

    As a result, I felt heard and respected and I am not going to spend today rage-crying and looking for somewhere else to live.

    There are mutual hurts and mistakes in a marriage sometimes. But does your husband respond with care and attention when you tell him he has hurt you? If not, I really, really think you deserve better.

  53. Amother perspective, My partner has a long term, degenerative pain condition and that restricts his life in lots of ways that add up to a feeling of frustration. If he doesn’t actively make choices to look after his emotional wellbeing, then his default will be frustration. And honestly, if I had to live with his condition; I’d be so miserable.

    Part of the hard work he did on himself before we met was to choose the way he will handle his frustration. This means that even with an illness that may well progress to being in a wheelchair and scary organ failure related complications, our home life is filled with laughter, affection, relaxation, trust. Even on bad days, he will acknowledge he is frustrated and avoid venting that at me.

    Do we live the life we want, taking trips and freewheeling adventures? No. Do we have the struggles most couples do (time, money, housework.) Yes. The difference is the deliberate choice with which the partners choose to act; with grace and love.

    You deserve that. I have no doubt that some one willing to go on spiritual retreats, to support groups and move towns like you have is capable of finding big love in their lifetime, even a big love living solo. I hope you can rely on the people in your support network to remind you that you are enough.

    1. Bibliotherapod, indeed, this.

      The sad thing is no matter how many spiritual retreats or other worthy activities LW and other wonderful people like her work at to self-improve, the boundary beyond which that will have no influence is… the partner.

      Mine has to deal with me being depressed, diagnosed so. He’s a good man, and has never EVER “used” this or my needs for certain kinds of support against me. (LW’s husband’s problem with her own pursuit of self-care in this realm is a huge red flag of warning. Also: I’ve experienced the dynamic in my birth family, of “What? You’re depressed? Are you CRITICIZING us for the way we raised you?!” and suspect there’s possibly a touch of this in the husband’s choice to needle LW about it, with “being raised” replaced by “being in married relationship”.)

      Some men would say it’s harder than rocket science, but… it’s not. It’s “do I want to see this person in my life happy? Even if I’m feeling weighted down by my own challenges?”

      He had been willing to look seriously at the pain his partner (me) had been going through before I was – I had all those “but, it’s not THAT BAD!” reflexes described by the good Captain above. Pain is indeed a signal, and not necessarily one coming to you through some fault of your own.

      Boundaries – such an easy word, such a difficult concept. There are days when husband is less than sterling in his own mood – but there’s no onus on me to “help” or “fix” that. I’ve told him explicitly, sometimes, “Look there’s nothing I can do here, so I’m just going to go over to this corner/other room and look after myself.” It’s a practiced move in this household, but reading the original letter from LW, I would fear for the response of her husband if she’d said such a thing to him. (Shorter me: it *should* be okay to feed back to overly critical partner, even for criticisms not directed directly to you, that having to absorb those criticisms is extremely wearing. One isn’t seeking to change the partner, just providing feedback on the experience of having to listen All The Time to that.)

  54. I recognise in the letter a certain logical fallacy that I used to carry and sometimes still do:
    “If I receive critique, it must mean I’m doing something wrong”.

    Nope. Not neccesarily so. Especially if the critique is ongoing and continuous and broad-spectrum, there’s good reason to check if the problem is with the critique dispenser.

    1. I think this is so important and I am STILL learning it.

      For the LW, I was with a very critical person who would throw plates of food against the wall, etc. I tried too. I have a vivid memory of the first time I made coffee after I left him. I felt so light and free to be able to make coffee without being criticized. It’s the most amazing feeling! You can do ordinary tasks perfectly well, I wish you the feeling of making something to drink without being wrong about it.

      If he were just some dude, would you let him treat you like that? He is just some dude to us, and we don’t think you should be treated like that.

      If you were trying to correct someone’s behavior, would you do it like he does? That is, even if someone were legit terrible, would you think it’s even possible to improve behavior by constant criticism? Does that even work, in a philosophical sense? Why aren’t you trying to change his behavior by constantly nitpicking and shaming him? Because it’s a bad, unloving, useless method.

      If you were watching yourself and your SO’s relationship in a movie, would it be a romcom or horror film?

    2. like button like button where is the like button

      It took me most of my life so far on this Earth to learn this one.

    3. “If I receive critique, it must mean I’m doing something wrong.”

      You just blowed my mind, Tortoise! This is me! I have been hurting so much because OF THIS!

  55. I’ve heard the Captain be called the “Marie Kondo of Breakups” before, so…

    Does your husband spark joy? Sounds like you need to declutter him.

    Strong agree with CA here – you spent the whole letter describing how much of a jerk your husband was, then asked what YOU could do to improve the situation! The ball’s in his court, and he’s dropping it.

      1. That poor trash can! It got sick because it had #thisfuckingguy stuffed in it, so it turned over and threw up.

  56. LW, what really worries me in your letter is the presumption that the status quo is your fault, that it’s happening because you’re doing something wrong, and that it can be improved by you changing yourself. That presumption speaks volumes to the mindset this relationship has put you in, and is what makes me think this isn’t salvageable.

    It is not your fault that your husband acts like this. Even presuming that you’re not perfect and sometimes do annoying or disappointing things (like we all do! because we’re human!), he is the one choosing to respond by acting in these hurtful and harmful ways. That’s on him, 100%. You aren’t causing it; he’s choosing to do it (most people do not respond to someone they love doing something they don’t like with this kind of assault of negativity, this is not a foregone conclusion). You can’t make it stop because it’s his decision to do it and you can’t make his choices for him. In short, his actions are his responsibility; you are neither to blame for them nor able to change them.

    Regardless of what you choose to do about your relationship from this point forward, please please stop assigning yourself responsibility for things you have no control over. When your husband is a jerk to you, it’s because he chose to be a jerk, not because of anything you did or didn’t do. Stop excusing him from responsibility for his own actions.

  57. LW, there’s a sense in your letter that you’re responsible for his moods and his feelings.

    I think one of the hardest things to accept is that you can’t make other people happy. They can be happy spending time with you! You can have fun together! And in some cases, you can help improve the physical circumstances someone is in, which gives them an opportunity to be happy. But it’s not possible to MAKE someone feel happier or more at peace. At the end of the day, that has to come from within.

    You and your husband are both acting like his happiness comes from you, and that’s a losing game. Moreover, it’s a self-reinforcing losing game because the more he expects you to make him happy, the less he looks within for happiness and the more miserable he’ll become.

    I agree with the others who are saying there are MASSIVE red flags in how he treats you, but even ignoring that, this situation isn’t good for either of you, because the setup is doomed to fail.

    1. OMG this so much! His happiness is a moving target. The mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You’ll never find it and he has no incentive to create it.

  58. I have been in something similar to the LW’s shoes before, and what helped me a lot was to re-write “he’s an asshole” into “he’s an asshole TO YOU,” because I made all sorts of excuses about why my SO wasn’t actually an asshole, because he wasn’t an asshole to everyone. It was only when I learned that being an asshole TO ME was enough of a reason to gtfo; my SO didn’t need to be universally an asshole for that to be the best route.

      1. Thank you! It doesn’t even work all the time. But it’s useful. I think there’s a sense of fairness involved here–like if he’s only an asshole to me, is he REALLY an asshole? And it turns out, who cares!

    1. Once upon a time Mx. Sparklehearts overheard their then-partner Mistress Ruins-Everything-We-Love doing a mentorship session with someone just entering the BDSM scene with a new submissive. Mistress Ruins-Everything was talking about best practices with negotiation and consent and good treatment.

      Mx. Sparklehearts was shaken. Because this meant Mistress Ruins-Everything *knew* the best practices, she was just choosing to not employ them at home, so she knew better than to treat someone the way she was treating Mx. Sparklehearts.

      Mx. Sparklehearts is no longer with Mistress Ruins-Everything.

  59. This is one of the most House of Evil Bees letter I’ve ever seen. LW you are living in the House of Evil Bees:


    I’m just going to quote the last paragraph because it’s so perfectly applicable here:

    I don’t think there is a language that expresses “I don’t like you” more clearly than the one abusers all seem to share, and yet, when it hits our ears, that “I don’t like you” somehow turns into “I can’t leave or they would be sad.” Even though they can’t seem to stand you, and have told you so, repeatedly. Because maybe we did something to make them not like us? And that somehow means we’re obligated to hang out with somebody who doesn’t like us? Until they like us again? Even though they seem to hate every fundamental part of our personality? And yet they don’t want us to leave, even though they hate us fundamentally? Because that makes sense, right, all the time I am hanging out with people that I hate, and feeling sad if they are not around to annoy me.

  60. I was married to a guy like this. Guess what? He’s an ex now, and for good reason. It’s liberating to be able to do stuff like load the dishwasher without being criticized and told I’m doing it wrong. I can go out with my friends now without being asked “why are you dressed like a whore” and told “have fun with your boyfriend” in front of my children. I still have to co-parent with this narcissist but at least I’m not devalued every minute of the day.

  61. LW, I can’t stress strongly enough how fantastic the advice you’ve received is. I wish people had told me this when I was in your shoes; I wish I had reached out as you have. For me it was simply that it hit me at random one day that the rest of my life was right now, and I was miserable and nothing was going to change unless I changed my tactics completely. I sat my partner down for some serious talks about how I was treated and didn’t let him argue or talk over me. I started being way better about enforcing my boundaries and engaging in appropriate self-care.

    Within 2 weeks his frustration and nagging spiraled into obvious abuse. It’s true what they say:

    “Pay attention when people react with anger and hostility to your boundaries. You have found the edge where their respect for you ends.”

    Wishing you all the light and love, LW. I hope you’ll send an update someday so we can all share in your happiness.

  62. I am a sister who has a brother who is *not* an asshole but even he, like absolutely everyone else under the sun, has some difficult personality traits. He’s a lot better to his wife than your husband is to you. I know this because he would be either single or dead if he weren’t.

    Also, a lot of massive jerkfaces are worst to their “loved ones” because the loved ones are the last to leave. I bet he’s not an ass to his boss, because there are real consequences to that. He does this because he thinks it won’t cost him.

    1. YES. My husband used to claim he “just couldn’t help it” because “everything is so frustrating”. But he COULD help it with his parents and co-workers (even when they would have richly deserved to be told exactly where to get off.) He saved all his rage for his loving wife who was trying her best. Because he felt confident I wasn’t going anywhere.

      He did get better, after he realized:

      1) I was serious about not living this way anymore
      2) This isn’t Saudi Arabia, I can get a divorce if I want one, even if he thinks my reasons are dumb

  63. I feel like PastMe wrote that letter. I’m 8 years out of my marriage, and yet I needed to run across this today.

    I was married for 18 years when I left, after maybe just 5 years of this sort of unrelenting negativity and criticism. I had tried and tried, been in solo therapy for almost a decade, been in couples therapy on and off for 18 months, when I finally hit the point of “even if he’s right about everything, even if I’m lazy and unattractive and dumb and offputting, I still am not required to stick around and listen to him tell me so.” It was another six months or so before I was able to even consider that it might have been an abusive environment.

    Even now, years later and doing so much better as a single person, I still can self-flagellate with the idea that I could have fixed it, that if I were stronger, smarter, more committed, I could have stuck it out and made him see. So I needed to read the response myself, that it’s rare for that abuser to change while they’re in the abusive relationship. I’ve re-read this post 3 times now, because I still needed to get that in my head.

    *hug* Hey, OP — it can get better if you get away. Really.

    1. “even if I’m lazy and unattractive and dumb and offputting, I still am not required to stick around and listen to him tell me so.”

      OMG, this is so, so true and sharply put. So what if I’m absolutely, truly less than perfect? I know that, I certainly don’t need some dumb asshole reminding me of it every minute of the day.

    2. “Even now, years later and doing so much better as a single person, I still can self-flagellate with the idea that I could have fixed it, that if I were stronger, smarter, more committed, I could have stuck it out and made him see.”

      This – I was taking a video training at work on how to de-escalate conflict. One of the presenters used to work in the FBI in hostage negotiation situations. I caught myself thinking “if I had these skills when I was married, could I have made my marriage work?” Luckily all of my therapy and hard work on myself came to the fore – no one should need FBI levels of hostage negotiation skills to have get along with their partner

  64. Dear LW, You have gotten excellent advice from the Captain and others here. I want to add something more: you probably don’t feel very powerful or self-assured now. That’s a function of this bad relationship where you are always getting blamed and always second guessing yourself. But once you start the process of leaving, even small steps, you will grow incrementally stronger, better, more amazing. Picture yourself one year in the future: no longer doubting yourself, open to the world, free. That’s the real you. Good luck friend.

  65. Also, this? miffed…that I interrupt him to serve dinner when he is putting away laundry

    …can die a thousand fiery deaths. If he’s so bothered that you’re serving dinner (that you cooked?) at a time that’s not 100% convenient for him, he can serve his own fucking dinner.

  66. LW, I am very concerned by your husband’s interference with your employment. This is a classic sign of abuse.

    He emotionally manipulated you into giving up a demanding (and presumably higher-paying and more upwardly-mobile) job in exchange for a 9-to-5. He undermines your ability to perform even that job effectively. He is positioning you to be less and less economically independent, and to have more and more difficulty recovering your career the longer this continues.

    You might see all the rest of his behavior as “not that bad” or “not really abuse,” but this part of it is really abuse. Please be careful.

    1. Hard same. And the “buying the house” part, the way LW’s phrased it? I can’t help but read it as one more way to try and shackle her to him. Worst case scenario she ends up with no savings, no career to fall back on, a shattered mental health, and an abuser ready to tell her, “Who would you even be without me?” This dude is insidious.

  67. Just coming here to say that I 100% needed to read this today. Especially this: “Yo, Bro, Did You Know They Make Feelings Besides The Anger You Vomit All Over Your Loved Ones?” So spot-on, it’s funny because IT’S TRUE. Thank you Captain for giving me the courage to have my own necessary conversations — gonna have them ASAP.

  68. My first thought: https://cdn.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1331148130837_268271.png

    Dear LW:

    Growing up with a Difficult Parent molded me into a person much like you: a person whose Asshole Detector is faulty. You’re so willing to accept all blame for everything going wrong. You’re working so hard to make yourself a better human being. For some reason, it just isn’t enough for the cranky person in your life. They are never appeased. If they have a good day where few or no things go wrong, they are still unhappy, and still fail to look within themselves for a reason why, the reason they think they are unhappy is external, it is always someone else’s fault. It is often your fault, they say. But it is not.

    I think you need AT THE VERY LEAST a break from this person, one that involves you and Cranky living underneath different roofs for a while. At least one area has a moving service that will move abused women out of one place and into another FOR FREE: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/meathead-movers-helps-women-leave-abusive-homes/

    Once you get some physical space, take stock of how you feel. I imagine there will be some sorrow, because it is all too possible to fall in love with assholes, abusers, and abusive assholes, and love is kind of stupid about what is best for us sometimes…but do you also feel more at ease? More calm? More relaxed? Are your shoulders suddenly not up around your ears all the time? Are you sleeping much better?

    I had to flee (several states away) from an abusive male roommate who was, unknown to me at first, chasing away any friends, potential boyfriends, and co-workers I’d bring by the house we shared by being scary and weird, and telling them he was my boyfriend (he was not). One friend finally told me what he was doing, and I caught him doing it, and that was that. I put a lock on my bedroom door, and he threw a violent tantrum and broke some of his stuff. I promptly made secret plans to move in with a friend, and started saving money. I wasn’t old enough yet to rent a moving van, so I got a friend who was old enough and arranged to pay him to help me out. And so on. I moved. I got one scary letter that I did not respond to, and then it was over.

    I won’t say that the rest of my life has been asshole-free since then, but it has been 100% abuser-free, and no assholes have shared a domicile with me since then. I have my own issues to work on and I do not need to have my self-care time eaten up with non-stop asshole abuser appeasement.

    It is a million times better to be alone than to live with an asshole, especially if your asshole is also abusive. YOU CANNOT FIX AN ASSHOLE. You really, really can’t. They have to decide on their own that losing friends and loved ones due to their own asshole behavior is hard, and they want to fix themselves and not be an asshole anymore. Double this if there’s abuse involved, because the asshole does not see himself (or herself) as an asshole or abuser. They have to own what they are before they fix it. If you are not there to be a convenient thing to blame for their misery, maybe they will start to figure out that their misery is internally-generated, and work on it, and thereby become happier. This is not something you can do for them.

    In fact, STAYING WITH A SAD ASSHOLE KEEPS THEM SAD LONGER, and they also continue to be an asshole.

    Inertia, and the status quo, may be easiest in the very short term, simply because change is scary and the asshole you know is somehow better than the non-assholes you don’t know yet, but, as a person terrified of change who nevertheless has had experience leaving an abusive asshole behind, and being a million times happier afterward, I urge you to at least consider working with a Team You with experience with abusive situations (even if you really, really think you aren’t being abused, they will have the best ideas on how to extricate you safely and as peacefully as is possible from a situation where your presence is not making your asshole feel any better, but is definitely making YOU feel worse).

    You have value, and you deserve not to be scapegoated for another human being’s unhappiness. If he had a broken leg, you could not fix it by putting a cast on your own unbroken leg and hopping about on crutches. You’re doing all this self-improvement and working on your own stuff, all of which is great, but none of it is fixing his issues or his stuff. He has something broken that is making him very unhappy and angry all the time, and he has settled upon you as a safe target for his unhappiness and rage. You being “nice,” and understanding, and accepting being a verbal punching bag for his unhappiness is not making anything better, it is just hurting you.


    Take at least a month or two to deal with moving and settling. Once you have settled, take ANOTHER month, with Team You, and maybe a therapist on Team You, to evaluate. What do you want? What feels good, and what feels bad? What helps you grow, and what makes you feel safe? What do you miss, and what do you definitely NOT miss? Where do you want to be in a year? Five years? Ten years? If you were struck dead by lightning today, what regrets would you have? What have you always wanted to do? What have you done that you didn’t enjoy, just to go along with someone else? Have you always wanted a pet? Any hobbies you always wanted to try? This is when you settle in and start figuring out what nurtures you. After you know that, you can decide whether you want to deal with your angry asshole or not, and talk to your Team You about how best to safely do that.

    Though it should not be the uppermost concern for you, know that sometimes angry assholes do get better when they have to live with the consequences of their angry asshole behavior. They have to want to do the work. You can’t force them to do it, and any bargains about “I promise I will do better and I’ll definitely work on myself” are empty. Accept only actual work being done.

    Best of luck, LW. This isn’t your fault. Time to take care of yourself. Life is short. Time spent with someone who is bringing you less joy than angst / stress is time wasted.

    1. Brava.

      “sometimes angry assholes do get better when they have to live with the consequences of their angry asshole behavior.” But never forget that often angry assholes get better only as long as they need to to rope you back in.

      “any bargains about “I promise I will do better and I’ll definitely work on myself” are empty. Accept only actual work being done.”
      Better, accept only progress you actually see.

  69. > “that we don’t spend enough time together” … ” that I got off of work early and asked him out to dinner”

    Have you read the blog “Reasons Why My Son Is Crying”? This list reads like that.

    It’s easier to be patient with people who have no ability to self-soothe and little empathy for others when the people in question are 2.

    1. My sister recently broke up with her toddler boyfriend due to his inability to self-soothe.

      She was already growing sick of his crap, but what made her see the light was when they went on a trip to an all-inclusive resort. They got to their room, he flopped on the bed and she announced she was going to throw on her bathing suit and jump in the ocean.

      And he was like, “But I don’t want to do that! What am iiiiiiii supposed to do? When will you be back?????”

      And she realized they were in literal paradise (on paid vacation days), with 24-hour dining service, four bars (one of which was a swim-up), three pools, a beach and unlimited alcohol, free Wi-Fi — and this guy STILL couldn’t find a way to make himself happy.

  70. Sounds like this guy would rather be married to Siri than to an actual human person.
    He hates everything that makes LW a person and not a reflection of himself or a tool for his benefit.

    LW, you deserve better than the be treated like an incompetent inferior. You do not have to make yourself smaller and smaller to meet an asymptotic standard.

    I hope you find a place to thrive, away from this.

  71. LW, your letter left me wondering, “Soooo, what would make this guy happy…?” Because except for “A wife who ties herself into knots to dance to my tune,” I really don’t know.

    It’s one thing for spouses to pinpoint behaviours that drive each other crazy — my husband hates when I leave my socks on the couch, I wish he would put the dishcloth back by the stove — but your husband doesn’t seem into you as a person. There’s nothing wrong with your lack of passion for running or surfing. It’s OK for you to have your own hobbies. He should be proud of you for finding ways to combat your depression and receive comfort from your spirituality. Your interests, activities and strengths are part of who you are as an individual, and he should be celebrating those, not criticizing them. You don’t stop being your own person once you’re married; you grow and explore as individuals as well as a couple.

    You’ve done an awful lot to make your husband happy. What is he doing to make himself happy? Yes, our marriage and spouse should bring us joy, but ultimately we are each responsible for our own happiness. (We are also each responsible for turning on the AC when we get too hot and building time into our own schedules to read for fun.) What is he doing to make you happy? How does he help you achieve your goals? It’s one thing to make sacrifices and compromises and to put your spouse first — relationships involve some give and take — but they shouldn’t all come from one person all the time. This is your marriage as much as his, and you deserve to be happy in it.

  72. The good Captain said: “Smart” means jack shit without kindness and love.

    Soooo much this! I used to assume smart meant goodness and kindness as well and thought evil geniuses were just caricatures. Then I was forced to examine my own bullcrap and ended up revising those assumptions and a lot of my behaviors.

    I am proud to be smart, but it has always come easily to me. I am much more proud to be kind and empathetic, because I worked my ass off to become so.

  73. LW, you sound like a truly wonderful person who has done so much to try better your marriage and yourself. Your husband has somehow managed to make you feel responsible for all of the ills of his world, and that is not ok!

  74. LW, your relationship sounds alarmingly like the one I just left. I kept reading all the articles for “are you in an abusive relationship” and not enough of any of them rang true. If you don’t have time or ability to read all of “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft yet, at least read some of the excerpts that our good Captain posted here: https://captainawkward.com/2018/09/06/1143-talking-about-emotional-abuse-and-leaving-my-marriage-with-my-potential-support-network/

    This was the first time I could actually see my own relationship described accurately. Each time I broke up with him he begged for another chance and promised to get better, until the day I snuck away and didn’t tell him I was gone until I was in a place where he could not follow me to beg for another chance. One of the things I told his therapist during couples therapy once was was “I shouldn’t have to break up with him for him to take my concerns seriously.”

    What made me leave was that I got to the point where I couldn’t function when I got home – I would get home and then patiently wait for him to decide where we were going and what we were doing. I learned through wretched repetition that him asking me “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” was a trap and no matter what I suggested there would be something about it that made him sad and we’d end up going the same place again where he didn’t feel as angsty.

    Also, just because you are strong enough to survive it and cope with it (which I was) doesn’t mean you should have to. You might find (as I did) that most of your depression issues sorta disappear one you’re free.

    This is my first comment, so I want to also thank Captain Awkward for answering all the other letters that were so like the one I would have written and for introducing me to Lundy Bancroft’s book. You saved me, not just by helping me leave, but by sharing the book that made me realize that it WAS that bad and that he would never have changed.

  75. LW, one thing I haven’t seen anyone else address is the way you describe your husband. You mention that he is smart, gets along with his family and good at explaining technical things, but I don’t hear anything about how you feel about him, or how you have good times together, or things he does for you, and based on the rest of the letter, that makes sense because it doesn’t seem like he is very nice to you.
    Do you like this guy? Do you love him? Do you feel like you have to list positive characteristics like “he is good at his job” because you’re not coming up with anything more personal?
    If you were dating and it was like this, would you marry him? It’s ok not to. It’s ok not to stay.
    Whether he makes you feel like he feels lucky to be married to you, like he wants to be married to you, like he loves and likes you is more important than whether or not he gets along with his relatives.
    Whether he is a good partner is more important than whether he is a good employee.
    You don’t need to come up with reasons that he is actually a good catch. It’s ok to decide that he might not actually be a good catch.

    1. For What It’s Worth: It is perfectly normal to still feel love towards this person who seems to be irritated by everything you do. Feeling loving still doesn’t mean it’s okay for that person toward whom you feel love to tell you that everything/anything/most-things you’re doing is/are being done the wrong way.

      After enough blowups, mine finally stopped criticizing everything, and became a lump of depression instead; sleeping all the time instead of interacting. Lundy Bancroft points out that this is just another flavor of emotional abuse, not an improvement.

      It is a sad truth that we can still feel love even when the other person isn’t actually right for us and may actually be undermining our sense of self-worth with semi-regular belittlement.

  76. For anyone who’s looked out from inside a bad, sad relationship, I really recommend The Neilds’ “Last Kisses.” It’s short and it just…so perfectly captures that feeling of every piece of joy being punished BUT also having the thought of leaving.

  77. I had essentially this marriage! Highly recommend getting a divorce and cutting contact by whatever means necessary. LW, you don’t deserve to put up with this, it’s not how life has to be.

  78. Moderation Update: Spam filter is eating a lot of legit things and I’m cleaning stuff out as fast as I can. It will help if people *do not* repost things multiple times if a comment doesn’t show up the first time, thank you so much for your patience. I’m about to be occupied and away from internet for a few hours and it will help me if I don’t have to also figure out which comments are duplicates.

  79. Hi LW —I’m so sorry you are going through this! Your story is very familiar to me — I was in a long term relationship with a similar dynamic. At the time, I did not accept that ex was emotionally abusive, but I do see it as abusive now. I was initially devastated when ex and I broke up, but soon became very grateful to be on my own. Ive regained the joy and confidence that all of my ex’s criticisms and negativity took away. I think he is happier too — he is still the same guy but it seems like breaking up may have lead him to address some of the issues he was projecting onto me/ blaming me for.

    I think you will feel light and free if you end this relationship and start putting your needs first. Life is much better when no one is criticizing you for being yourself and doing your best. I wish you the best and send you Jedi hugs thru the internet if you want them!

  80. Letter writer: my aunt married this man’s doppelganger, give or take a few hobbies, nearly twenty years ago. Pre-divorce preparations are going very slowly.

    Please find yourself a safe place, because even if everyone’s well-justified concerns don’t play out, you’ll be happier and better able to make decisions about your future without your husband’s constant criticism.

  81. Captain is 1000% right, LW. Read that first sentence in bold and the first paragraph under it again. And again and again and again. Read it any time you find yourself thinking that you want to remain married to this guy.

    As someone who’s been there, done that, I encourage you to make plans to get away from this man. I was fortunate that I never married mine and that I was the one with the money. While there was only one episode of physical violence, and that was at the time of separation, his constant negativity was what wore on me the most. Didn’t matter what I did, there was always something he’d pick at. And he complained about everything and everyone. It was how he tried to feel better about himself – by putting everyone down – and with me, he used it as a tool of control, constantly keeping me off balance and trying to mold me into someone who would give him even more control. That’s all he really wanted: to control people, yet he refused to take responsibility and control of his own life and actions, and blamed everyone else for his problems.

    LW, trust me when I say he – your husband – will NEVER change. He’d have to do that work himself, and the odds are a million to one against him ever trying. As much as you may love him, as many dreams you may have had about your lives together – none of that will help him or inspire him to be better. It will hurt, but let go of all that. In time, you will be much less depressed and anxious, and eventually, you will likely even feel hopeful about finding some who will be kind, respectful, supportive, and compassionate, in addition to loving you.

    I’m sorry that your best choice is to leave, LW, but if there were any better option, I would gladly recommend it, and the Captain would have already suggested it. Good luck, LW.

  82. Usually letters like this begin with a litany of examples of what a *good guy* the actually horrible controlling spouse is.
    The fact that LW had to offer “technologically adept” as an example is a pretty good sign this guy is on a whole new level of awful.
    LW, you don’t need to contort and silence yourself to fit this man’s definition of an ideal spouse. Even if you’re uncomfortable with labelling his behavior as emotional abuse, it’s okay to leave someone because you’re fundamentally incompatible as a couple. And given that this guy sounds like he’d prefer some kind of silent road-tripping athlete robot to an actual human spouse… it’s time to go.

    1. This is a pretty depressing thread but the “silent road-tripping athlete robot” made me chuckle. Maybe he can put this preference in his dating profile once LW Marie-Kondoed him for good.

  83. I was married to your husband. Happily, I am not now, and I managed to break the cycle, and now I have a nice one.

    *The marriage counselor asked me (when we were together, because he got mad at me for something, and punished me by now showing up for the appointments, a lot, so when that happened we just worked on me–in hindsight, this was a serious mistake on his part) what would be the characteristics of the woman would **could** be married to my husband. All I could come up with was a woman, whom for religious reasons, believed she had to submit at all costs, or had something broken in her own head and believed she deserved to be abused. That wasn’t my belief system. There really was not then and is not now any flaw in me that causes me to deserve to be abused by constant criticism.

    *People should not say “marriage is hard work” unless they are darn sure that someone comes from a healthy and functional family. This is not helpful. It harmed me. I came from a miserable, horrible parental marriage, and my sense of “too hard” or “f’d up” was totally broken. My marriage was impossibly hard work, because his construct was a system where he had all the rights, and I had all the duties. Reader, that is the legal definition of slavery. It is not “hard work.” It is way beyond hard work. Friendship is work, it takes effort to maintain. A healthy marriage also takes effort to maintain. But there is REWARD to maintaining a healthy friendship or a healthy marriage. It isn’t a life sentence with no parole. It isn’t all work, all sucking it up and zero reward.

  84. So, a while back, I read something (I can’t recall where, forgive the lack of attribution, please) that stuck with me: “The best barometer for the health of your relationship is how you feel about your partner’s flaws.”

    LW, from everything you’ve described in your letter, it doesn’t sound like your husband likes your _positive_ attributes.

    You deserve to be with someone who appreciates you as a person, who cherishes you, who approaches your flaws with kindness and a sense of humor. I’m so sorry that your husband is making no effort to be that person, and I wish you all the best moving forward, whatever your path.

  85. This was me just over one year ago. I would have never considered my spouse abusive, but it took time, and patience with myself to realize, it was abusive. It took a lot of counselling, talking to other women in similar situations. It doesn’t have to be physical to be abuse. I did counselling on my own, and I still tried counselling with my spouse.

    I did a lot of reading here, and it was very helpful to realize that just wanting to leave, was enough. That not being satisfied or happy in my relationship was enough to leave. I was married for 20 years, with two children. I thought I stayed for them, but they are happier now too, that there is less tension in our home.

    Please take the advice seriously about having a safety plan. I didn’t think I needed one. But I did, and I didn’t have one ready because I didn’t think he was capable of physical violence. He hadn’t ever been physically violent in our relationship, although I did get scared at his out bursts a couple times in the previous years. It’s better to have it, and not need it, than need it and not have it.

  86. Dear LW,

    you wrote an entire letter listing all the things HE finds annoying (I bet it wasn’t exhaustive), then added an entire paragraph of how YOU were trying to fix those things. These parts do not fit.

    You started your letter by naming three “good” things about him. I notice how none of those things relate to you, or your marriage, in any way. You didn’t say he was kind, or funny, or attentive, or made you feel special, or supported you in your endeavors, or was a good listener, or made you feel safe and at ease, or always made you your favourite desert when you were down and gave you a foot rub knowing you’ve been on your feet all day. You said he was smart (extremely smart, even! Hooray!) and he knew how to put up a tent. Ouch. Oh, and he’s got a good relationship with his sister! Not that this helps you in any way, but sure! This, along with the fact that you said he is PATIENT when he is figuring out mechanical challenges, leads me to believe one thing: he knows EXACTLY how not to be “miserable” or “annoyed” and have a working relationship with somebody when he wants to; he is CHOOSING not to implement those skills around YOU (and presumably all other people, apart from his sister).

    You said he’s miserable a lot (“annoyed at me, coworkers, management, our HOA, the driver in front of him”)—but that’s not being miserable, that’s being a fucking crybaby with no self-regulation skills whatsoever (at the best—or simply ignoring them at the worst). I mean, is the fact that your wife that cooked you dinner* “interrupted” your laundry-folding an actual objective reason for misery in your opinion? Or is that just a nifty attempt on his part of making someone feel bad, insecure and even more intent on trying to cater to him when they do not know what else to do to fix the situation? (*Insert any of his ridiculous demands here.)

    The fact that your fights seem to be worse whenever you are especially busy at work is another huge red flag for me. Very understandable from his point of view, though! Who is he going to dump all on his negativity on when you’re busy with something else? Who is he going to make cater to his whims? Who is he going to criticise, berate, and make miserable? He ALREADY made you take a “non-demanding” job (and by “non-demanding” you mean he, like, made you give up your entire career?). What’s next? Giving up work altogether? And then there are still all those other annoying activities, like going to a depression support group “too often”, when you could just stay home and be available to him allllll the time. Now wouldn’t that be nice. (Of course then he would be saying how you’re boring and have no ambition and never do anything apart from catering to his needs.)

    You say you’ve done much of what he’s asked—some of those things being some life-altering, long-term decisions. What has he done of what you have dared to ask of him? (Except for putting up that damn tent.) If I started to point out how pathetic and ridiculous and plain contradictory his complains to you are, while HE thinks GOING FOR A RUN or EATING is an adequate way of communicating with his spouse, or talked about how DISGUSTED and ANGRY I am that he’s trying to blame you for your depression and anxiety and ACTIVELY TRYING TO HINDER YOU GETTING BETTER, I would stay up waaaay past my bedtime. But let me just second what others have already mentioned—that I strongly suspect that both your depression and anxiety would improve immensely once he’s out of the picture.

    Dear LW, the fact that someone is smart (I bet he never lets you forget that!) or can put up a tent or is nice to maybe, like, one person does not make them a good husband. Or a good person. It breaks my heart that in face of all that your wrote, you are asking what is wrong with YOU.

    Even if you didn’t want to call it abuse—you are MISERABLE, and being miserable is ENOUGH to leave a relationship. You do not exist to work yourself to the bone servicing your husbands never-ending, contradictory list of needs, or trying to teach him the basics of adult communication; you deserve to feel happy, and content, and loved, and he does not give that to you.

    Sending you all the love and support.

  87. Is anyone else reading this and feeling a chill of familiarity, and then immediately worrying if it’s actually YOU and your anxiety and depression that are the asshole, just like your ex says it was? Like you can’t even read an advice column without applying it to your own relationship to figure out how you failed even though you gave up pretty much your entire self for your partner’s comfort?

    Yeah, me neither. (cringe).

    1. Phrased like this, no, you aren’t the husband in this letter. If you have anxiety/depression/insert x thing here but still do your best in your relationships, usually that shows. It may not be enough for your partner (and that’s perfectly legitimate) but hopefully it will rarely leave them with the sense that everything they do is wrong. Or at least, as someone who has both depression and anxiety and tries her best not to expect partner to fix them for her and communicates explicitly “yes I am sad BUT IS NOT YOUR FAULT IN ANY WAY” quite frequently, I like to think that the difference is obvious

  88. LW, your husband’s behavior is abusive, and you deserve better. Your letter contains no “I love him, but” or “He’s great, except”. The best things you have to say about him are that he’s good at his job and has the mechanical aptitude to figure out how to set up a tent (which is not that high a bar; my Girl Scout troop managed it regularly, and they were in middle school). That was followed by several paragraphs of heart-breaking things that he’s said and done to make your life smaller and smaller.

    In addition to _Why Does He Do That_ by Lundy Bancroft, I recommend _Impossible to Please: How to Deal With Perfectionist Coworkers, Controlling Spouses, and Other Incredibly Critical People_ by Neil Lavender and Alan Cavaiola. It gave me a lot of insight into a colleague relationship that’s driving me up a wall right now. She’s constantly complaining, criticizing, or fortelling doom, because she feels that it’s her “responsibility” to tell everyone how we’re doing it wrong … but of course, agrees to implement her advice, she finds a way to push back against that, too. Every time I see her, even if she seems to be in an OK mood, I’m bracing for the inevitable ambush. The book helped me realize that there was literally nothing I could do to meet this person’s ridiculous standards, and no way I can communicate with her constructively. The only thing I can do is minimize my interactions with her and try to get her moved off my team. Controlling, hypercritical perfectionist types are incredibly resistant to change. They don’t see themselves as the problem; everyone else is the problem, because in their minds, there wouldn’t be a problem if the rest of the world simply adhered to their standards.

    Make a safety plan, consult a lawyer, find a therapist, and get yourself free. Then, paint your bedroom a color he hates. It was scary at first, but three years out from my own Darth Ex, I still derive immense joy from looking at my sparkly teal bedroom walls, and I marvel at how quickly my own depression and anxiety lifted after dropped that dead weight off my shoulders. Best of luck, LW.

  89. Has anyone even noticed that the LW commented?

    “LW on July 16, 2019 at 3:57 pm
    Could you share your plan (I 1000% understand if the answer is no!), or point me to one? I’d love detailed steps, timelines, considerations for each step — something I can tweak for me, line up trusted helpers, and then execute it.”

    I don’t have the experience to advise her.

    1. One thing to put on her list would be separating financial stuff as cleanly as possible. A financial advisor can help with that!

      And divorce lawyers are excellent at drawing up plans with a client to take care of a client legally, and making separations as painless as possible.

      Therapists are excellent at drawing up plans with a client to take care of a client emotionally and mentally.

      I’d also consider reaching out to the former job and seeing if it is still a possibility, but even if it isn’t, look into a specialized staffing agency for your career niche (there are a lot out there) and work with someone there to get you back into a career with upward mobility, if you decide you want that. That may be a back burner kind of thing to deal with once everything else is taken care of.

      I’m the kind of person who finds lists very comforting. I also like “comparison shopping” for things like apartments, cars, etc., and my experience as a person who is not and who has never been rolling in cash has led me to discover that small realty companies and small car dealers are more likely to work with you and your needs. You’ll have to do more research, but just scrolling through all the photos of apartments and imagining yourself living in them, and how you’d decorate, and what stores are nearby, is really comforting. The more places you look at, the more of an idea you’ll have of what you need and want.

      Consider my thought process when searching for a home: I have exotic pets–two little ferrets–and I like 2 bedrooms so I can have guests for more than a day or two and I like a covered balcony. I also need enough wall space for my bookshelves and art, and enough closet / storage space for my admittedly too large collection of clothes and footwear. I also don’t want to go to a laundromat or worry about gathering quarters for and the safety of a shared laundry room at 3 AM, which is when I might feel like washing a load of laundry. Consider your own specific needs, and when you go home shopping, know what you have to have. So, I didn’t have to have a balcony, but I do have to have a place that allows ferrets, because a lot of places have dealt with people who don’t keep their animals clean, or which have misconceptions about them, and do not allow them. I didn’t need a second bedroom for guests, but I did still need a way to wash and dry my clothes in my own home, as I am too old, antisocial, night-owl-y and cranky to deal with schlepping my crap to a laundromat every week. I didn’t get everything I wanted (I had hoped to just pay for rent and utilities in one fell swoop and to have a landlord that allows online payments, but I have to pay utilities in addition to rent and hand deliver a check to their office each month), but I got what I needed, and I am very happy in my new home.

      I think your list should consist of people you want to assemble for Team You at this point. Pick a pro to help with areas of your life that you will want guidance with, like the lawyer or financial advisor. Set a small do-able goal where you tackle assembling your Team You one person at a time. Also, no harm in asking any pro you find if they have recommendations for other pros you may need. The divorce lawyer probably knows dozens of reputable financial advisors. The therapist will probably know of several relevant support groups and maybe even reputable movers and organizers. A staffing agency person is likely to know about not only jobs, but professional groups and seminars. Your friends will likely be able to come up with good recommendations as well!

      Every big task can be broken down into small, easy-to-do steps. But everyone is unique and everyone’s situation is different. That’s why I’d recommend working with someone in your area for each sub-task of your big task who you can meet with face-to-face and talk at length with, and who will know their onions about what you need help with. I think visiting or talking on the phone to your local people is going to be more efficient than drawing from a pool of internationally-sourced wisdom online that may or may not apply to your situation or jurisdiction. We all want to help, and can offer general guidelines and wisdom borne from experience and oodles of support, but any more specific help given may not be precisely pertinent to your situation.

  90. OP, if the word ‘abuse’ sounds a little scary, you can use the word I used to figure out if my husband’s behaviours were fixable. I call ’em “kiss of death” behaviours. My list of KoD behaviours are:
    Neglect (Not asking about your life stuff, not doing nice things for you, not ‘seeing’ you)
    Unilateral behaviours (No attempt to get joint agreement, not arsed about your enthusiasm for stuff, acting like he’s a solo pilot or The Boss of what’s right).
    Favours stick over carrot (You’re doing something he doesn’t like. So instead of trying to engage with you positively, ask why and find a win-win solution he just reaches for a punishment stick. These are dismissal, put downs, judgements, lectures, anger; anything that will make your needs go away).

    Complaints are fine! Not being actively in your corner and on your side is not. Good luck.

  91. I hope it’s okay to come back with another comment because this letter just won’t let me go.

    Dear LW, I have seen that you commented above and while I cannot help work out a specific plan for how to best leave him, the Captain and others linked to a lot of resources that I hope you will find helpful. I am so happy to see you ask for more detailed resources because it means you are on the right track.

    What I find so frightening, and what I see more clearly now, is how he is setting you up to be so utterly dependent on him while at the same manipulating you into thinking that YOU are the one who needs to fix things/needs fixing, wearing you down so constantly and thoroughly that you don’t even get a chance to take a step back and realise that things are. not. right. He is manipulating your career, thus making you less financially independent and making it harder for you to find your professional/financial footing once you leave him. He is tying up your financial resources by pushing you to buy a house. He is undermining your health, actively hindering you from getting better with regards to your depression and anxiety. He is criticizing your spiritual retreats, once again trying to cut you off from anything that would give you support and perspective outside of his immediate control. And in the meantime, he’s burdening you with all those demands of how specifically you need to change to make him happy, shifting the goalposts constantly, setting you up for an impossible task. In addition (he’s just that fucking thorough, isn’t he?), he’s physically and mentally wearing you down by openly arguing for 2 to 3 hours every other week. I can’t even imagine how you would argue about any of the things you mentioned he’s annoyed with for 2 to 3 hours, let alone do that every. other. week. You just can’t seem to get any break from him, do you?

    He knows exactly what he’s doing. None of this is a coincidence. You need to get out of there.

    Make your decision and do not let him rope you back in. You are doing the right thing by leaving. You will find a wonderful person who will find joy in what you do and who you are and appreciate
    everything you are so openly giving. And who will give back just as much. Or maybe you don’t even want a person! That’s fine, too. You have so much to explore and enjoy on your own! Plan trips and activities solely for yourself! Or do none of that. Stay cozied up in your blissfully quiet home with a cup of tea and a cat purring by your side, doing absolutely nothing at all, and especially no running or surfing. Fuck that noise. You make your own rules. You’ll never go to the beach in your life again, if that’s what you want. And that. is. fine.

    Wishing you so so much strength and love and compassion. We are all rooting for you.

    1. “He is manipulating your career, thus making you less financially independent and making it harder for you to find your professional/financial footing once you leave him. He is tying up your financial resources by pushing you to buy a house. He is undermining your health, actively hindering you from getting better with regards to your depression and anxiety. He is criticizing your spiritual retreats, once again trying to cut you off from anything that would give you support and perspective outside of his immediate control.” (and pretty much everything else you wrote cofeepenguin)

      WOW, all of this! This is a brilliant analysis of what is actually happening, something I wanted to articulate in my comment but failed.
      W, this is so true. The whole pattern of his behaviors, demands and asks is created so you become less independent, are exhausted all the time, can’t think straight: in other words, so you can’t escape.
      Kinda like in cults members are given exhausting tasks all day longs so they can’t have a moment to sit down and really think about their situation, not even mentioning actually creating an escape plan, which is serious mental labor and can be too much for someone who is constantly playing the ‘please me, do that, do this’ game. That’s the exact point and its done maliciously.

  92. Oh Lord this is so familiar. I was married to a version of this man for 22 years and we have three (adult and almost-adult) kids together. He is not the Devil. He loves his kids and can be fun to be around on occasion. But he was cranky and irritable and mean and over-critical All. The. Time. We would swing between his anger and irritability and then the depression and the self-loathing where I was supposed to comfort him for how much he hated himself for his behavior (or take care of kids and house and job by myself while he smoked cigarettes and drank too much and slept all the time). (Somehow we skipped the part in between the meanness and the self-loathing where he was sincerely sorry and promised to try to do better).

    I divorced him 4 years ago and (after a brief and eventful Slut Period) have dated several men who are Nice To Me, and even-tempered, and cheerful, and Nice to be Around. I am so much happier. I am 53 years old, and this is the best time of my life. I don’t mind seeing Ex-Husband on occasion at kid stuff, because I get along with him ok when my exposure to him is brief (and he is on his best behavior) and it’s no longer my job to take care of him. He is living with a woman now who seems very nice (my kids like her), who apparently takes care of him now and I hope they are happy, but I am SO GLAD to have escaped Cranky, Irritable Over-Critical Husband.

  93. I was married to someone like this once. A wonderful counselor helped me see that I was being abused and that she needed to do all sorts of work to be relationship-worthy. Divorcing her was sweet, sweet relief.

  94. I know this has been said over and over but I just can’t stop myself: srsly, LW, he complains that you don’t spend time with him, but when you try to (the dinner) he complains that you are trying to spend time with him.. the wrong way, I suppose?
    He complains that you have anxiety but then complains that you are taking steps to address it bc… i dunno even.

    LW, THIS IS A TRAP. This is constructed in such a way so that you are always Doing It Wrong, never mind what you do.
    No time together? Bad LW! Let’s spend time together? Bad LW, not now, not in that place, you asked me with the wrong tone!
    LW, that his is a no-win scenario is not a bug, it’s a feature. He is doing this on purpose.

    You will never be enough, you will never do the right thing because he doesn’t want you to. He wants you to feel that you are not good enough, he wants you to be always on edge. Those are classical abusive behaviors that will take all your self worth away and the longer you say, the more it’s going to mindfuck with you. He is abusive, 100%. Please leave. I hope you can get to safety.

    1. Also, it just occurred to me: he picks fights mostly when you are at work. That is a biig red flag. I would even say it’s an attempt at sabotage bc srsly why would he repeatedly pick the time when he KNOWS you have to concentrate and do your job?

      Not just once but repeatedly, it’s a patters. This is a bid deal LW, he is making that choice for a reason. Maybe he hopes you will lose your job so he can have even more control, maybe it’s about something else. But the timing of the fights is definitely about something, it’s not random.

    2. Building off what Czarnoskrzydla said:

      It’s important to remember that he may not even be doing it on purpose, with “purpose” meaning “a plan that extends past my immediate impulses,” Purpose implies the ability to perceive a pattern and recognize consequences. If he were doing it on purpose then you might be able to say, “If you keep this up I will lose my job and then where will we be?” But it’s clear just from your letter that he can’t hear that. He is a giant quivering ball of festering upsetness about something. Most likely–I am extrapolating from what I’ve seen when other people do this–he doesn’t even know what it is or that there is an “it” that he is upset about. What he knows is:

      1. Feel uncomfortable emotions.
      2. Locate emotional sump.
      3. Make words and noise at emotional sump to make emotional sump demonstrate that they now feel uncomfortable emotions.
      4. Uncomfortable emotions offloaded. Success!

      He may even believe, at that moment, that whatever he says is upsetting him really is the thing that’s upsetting him, but that isn’t the point. The point is that spreading discomfort around reduces his own tension.

      If this sounds bizarre…LW, this is a bizarre mindset, and it can’t be made non-bizarre by your understanding or accommodation or discussion or compromise or self-knowledge or spirituality or hope or love or faith. If I’m right, then he can’t see beyond “feel it, offload it, don’t feel it as much.” He can’t see that there is anything beyond his uncomfiness release mechanism. This mindset is, in a word, babyish…and like a baby, he can’t own his shit because he can’t even realize that he’s shitting when he does that, much less what it costs other people to own his shit instead.

      He might be intellectually adult enough to restrict his emotional offloading to you, the person who can’t order him to knock it off. He might be perceptive enough of the world around him to realize that he shouldn’t do it where other people can see, because they might treat him thereafter in a way he wouldn’t like. But he is like a baby grown monstrous in this one aspect of his life if not others, and like a real baby you can’t do the work of growth for him. He will either see the need for change on his own, or he won’t. And I strongly advise you not to be there either way. He can’t be what he isn’t. The best you can realistically hope for is that he picks some other emotional sump and reclassifies you as Do Not Piss Off. That’s no basis for a marriage.

      Please note, if/when you do leave, that some people who act like this need their current emotional sump so desperately–because they cannot even imagine any other way to defuse their tension–that even as they proclaim their hatred and contempt for the departing sump, they will pursue, even woo, that person. Take precautions.

      1. Good analogy
        Ironically what the adult baby and a real baby need are practically opposites.

      2. Hm, I do still think it’s on purpose because the pattern of behaviours very obviously and consistently maks her: take financial hits (she changed her job, the house, she is not having to fight at the new job), take mental health hits (he’s against therapy and retreats) and he keeps her tired and exhausted all the time so she can’t think as clearly. To me, this is way to consistent to be just random spurts of someone who can’t regulate emotions/is a big baby.
        I do think that he may not be aware of it tho. Often our motives and real goals are not clear to us, we try to achieve something subconsciously but think consciously we are in fact trying to achieve something totally different. But the purpose not being conscious does not change the fact it is still there and IMO that differs people like LW’s husband from babies and makes them more dangerous.
        So I guess we differ in defining what ‘having a purpose’ means – you say it’s if someone is aware of the pattern. I think he may not be aware of the pattern, but still subconsciously have a purpose, it being: isolate LW, make it difficult to leave.

        1. I agree.
          Babies cannot *initially* regulate their emotions and behavior. But they *learn.* And they learn *fast.* They spend literally their entire lives learning to regulate their emotions and behavior and how to properly interact with the world and other people. That’s babies’ entire existence, a crash course in Human Behavior 101. The guy is showing he has less emotional maturity than a baby.

          Granted, his behavior is not intentional in that he probably is not saying to himself, “I’m going to call her at work and disrupt her day on purpose,” but continuing to act sh!tty after you’ve seen you’ve hurt someone else is intentional.
          When someone does something sh!tty and harms someone else, and they see that the other person is upset/harmed, and then they keep doing the something sh!tty, the options are either (i) they are literally devoid of empathy and *cannot* comprehend the other person’s pain, or (ii) They. Don’t. Care.

          Whether they cannot or will not should be irrelevant to the people they are harming when planning what to do, because while knowing which it is might help their victims process their own emotions, it makes no different to the abuser’s behavior. Cannot or will not, the abusive behavior will continue.

          1. YES @ your last paragraph! LW, it’s very tempting to try to understand why people act like this, but it’s only useful to answer two questions:

            1. Is it me? (It isn’t you.)

            2. Can I find a pattern in the literature about people who act like this that will help me predict what he may do in the future?

            Digging any further than that into how he became who he is just spins your wheels and may tempt you to stay out of pity or whatever. But again, he has to do the work (and recognize, on his own, that there is work to be done).

  95. Godd&mn I love the first line of Captain’s response. More generally, it’s sad to see so many folks like LW who have such low expectations of what they should expect from a relationship. For sure there are self-entitled &ssholes in relationships and there are also so many decent people who needlessly suffer in relationships because their expectations are so low. You deserve better!

  96. LW, This was my marriage. Exactly. I spent significant resources; emotional, financial and ohysical attempting to find the magic spell that would make him happy. It was impossible. My list of some things that made him angry include: cricket, ‘posh people’ women (all cunts) people in supermarkets (cunts) wine, wine bars, small dogs, other people having an enjoyable time, picnics, cyclists, the French, female bosses (utter cunts) birthdays, Christmas, the way I positioned myself on public transport, my blonde hair, the house not being clean enough, the house needing cleaning, me cleaning the house. Me not drinking enough alcohol, me drinking too much alcohol, my family, his family, the sea, me swimming, him not being able to swim, me not liking his friends, me liking his friends, the country…

    It has occurred to me whilst writing this list that I could go on almost indefinitely. You get the picture.

    My life became smaller and smaller in an attempt to calm/humour and satisfy him. I recall arriving home from work (I had a demanding and interesting corporate role, he would often quit jobs after a few months, especially when there were women as his managers/stakeholders) and placing my key in the lock whilst attempting to work out WHAT he would be angry about that particular day and how I could manage his emotions.

    I eventually left. It has taken me a while to accept just what a meanminded and cruel person he somehow became during our 16 years together.

    It wasn’t without its challenges. I was 46 when I left and society has very particular views about single women nearing 50 (my favourite was my own brother’s ‘You’re not attractive enough to find a new bloke you know’).

    But I can now do what I want, when I want. If’s quite lovely. I have an even more interesting, well-paid and rewarding job now that I don’t have to be home to cook his meals (and cop a torrent of medium grade rage about my choice of meal). I can develop friendships and interests and make my own financial choices. I volunteer. My life is good. No one is angry at me.

    Please remember this going forward. You hVe options. Divorce is a very simple legal procedure. It can be done. You’ll get through it.

  97. Spot on Captain. And LW, you may find that once you get free of living in an abusive relationship with constant undermining, gaslighting and blaming, you may have a lot less anxiety and depression. Those are normal, non-pathological responses to a pathological situation. I wish you strength, safety, support and a peaceful future.

  98. Sigh. The OP and all the comments were hard for me to read. My relationship is very similar to the LW’s, but I can’t determine if my partner is the husband, or if I am. And that just sucks.

    1. Is it about finding who is the most to blame or is it about admitting you are very unhappy together and making a plan to separate as peacefully as possible? Wish you well.

    2. You don’t have to figure out who’s who right now. Abusers can leave a relationship as quickly cleanly and safely as possible and take a break from relationships for a bit to figure out how to live outside of a romantic relationship. They should. People who are simply incompatible with their current partner can also do that. You can reflect on stuff once your seperated. Also I think still being in a bad relationship can make it hard to see whats wrong clearly.

  99. I knew my husband was a negative guy when I married him. His negativity when we dated was a sore point but he took well to feedback. He can still get really critical sometimes, mostly when he’s tired or “hangry” after a long day. I’m not ready to DTMFA but I do a lot of pushback. I really liked one of the Captain’s rebuttals once to a negative Aunt. “Thanks for the constant feedback! It never gets old or annoying!” Or something like that. 🙂 I’ve used versions of that many times. I’ve just left the room. I’ve told him to take his criticism and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. I do broken record. No matter what he says, however, I just respond to the criticism. Didn’t park the car right? Thanks for the criticism! Did something wrong? Thanks for the criticism! I never argue with the topic. I have noticed improvement but mainly because I push back, push back, push back.

  100. This spoke to me greatly. I am almost 2 years post-divorce from someone just like this. He still acts like this and believes that everyone else in the world are idiots and he is the only smart one. I could never do anything right according to him. I didn’t realize until I was out of the relationship and dating someone supportive that I was truly in a verbally abusive relationship. I made so many excuses over the years I didn’t see it until I was on the other side of it. He also became more and more hot-headed and signs were pointing toward physical abuse.

    I have a favorite quote that helped me through the transition and realize this this was not me and not my fault “If you meet an asshole in the morning, then you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, then you are the asshole.”

    Best of luck to you. I agree with Captain’s advice. I did the same — do everything secretly to build your case so-to-speak. I even sent things to my parent’s house so he wouldn’t find it. I took my personal computer to work every day so he could not hack into my PC. Important papers I removed from the house, etc. Once we decided on divorce, he became a loose cannon and I didn’t trust having anything important in the house.

  101. LW, I understand if maybe you aren’t ready to leave; doesn’t sound like it from your letter. What else can you do? Stop managing his feelings. Those are his to deal with; do what makes you happy, when you want. Work the kind of job you want. Do the things you want. If he complains about anything, make vague sympathetic noises then change the subject or leave (whatever you want); do not put any effort (mental or otherwise) to fixing what he is complaining about unless it is actually something you also find annoying and want to change. Just give zero gratification for complaining and do your own thing.
    This is all assuming you feel safe doing so; if your spider sense says there will be Bad Consequences for doing above, please again consider the hotlines etc above.

    1. Even if its something that bugs you as well don’t try to fix it unless it can be done unilaterally in a way that makes you happy. If it can’t let him do the heavy lifting, and progressively invest less if it does not pay off

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