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emotional abuse

Hi, Cappy! I recently discovered your column and am so grateful for it. You’re amazing and helpful!

I really could use some situational advice, but it’s a long and complex story, sorry!

I’m a single parent of a 1st grader. Child support basically doesn’t happen.

3 years ago I was (thankfully) laid off from my research position. I’d worked hard after grad school to achieve success in an almost exclusively male-dominated and competitive field, but it was hard to raise my daughter working the crazy hours and with the amount of travel required for my job.

As a result I returned to school for graphic/web design; a field I thought would provide me with a more flexible schedule, increased job opportunities and potentially more money. I started a two year program at a technical school, with tuition and childcare 100% paid for by government benefits.

Enter “Donny”. Donny was a friend who was a neuroscientist at the University I’d attended and worked at. Despite having very different values, he had become a trusted friend. Romantic interest in Donny = 0. Divorced and childless, he is middle aged. He seemed kind and supportive when I really needed that. He was also the only positive male role model that my daughter had. He was not very involved in our lives at this point.

Donny started a tech company outside of his university position and became wealthy enough to retire from the University this year. He has a low emotional IQ, lots of anxiety and few friends. However, Donny loves my daughter and dotes on her. I don’t think he has ever said “no” to her. I’ve never had weird “vibes” about his relationship with my daughter. She was like the daughter he’d always wanted.

Back to me. Two years ago, after finishing year 1 of my program, Donny convinces me to drop out of school and work with him at his tech company instead. He says I am wasting my time at school and that he, the wealthy and successful entrepreneur, would teach me “real-world skills” and his special coding “secret techniques” from start to finish. He told me people would pay lots of money to learn his secret and that I was lucky he was willing to share this very profitable knowledge with me. He started paying me to do small projects, such as writing copy and some print work for his company. I was thrilled, thinking I was embarking on a new, lucrative and fulfilling career.

Fast forward to a year ago. Donny has stopped sending me any work but continues to pay me a barely livable wage each month to essentially do nothing. Projects are always just over the horizon but wind up “falling through” at the last minute or he doesn’t have the time to teach me anything because it’s a rush job, etc…. I make barely enough to cover my bills most months, but through decreased spending, I can still live check to check. I am ridiculously busy parenting (with no breaks), trying to stay organized, maintaining/improving my small house so my daughter has an un chaotic place to live, and being involved with my daughters activities while occasionally making stuff, but I have no social life (unfortunately that often goes along with single parenthood). I would like to make more money, but confess I am also enjoying the opportunity to be there for my daughter since I am her only family and her whole world. We are very close.

Donny continues to point out how rich he is, but keeps my pay at poverty level. He is also increasingly manipulative and controlling with his money, even believing he is entitled to having input in decisions I make about my and my daughters life, parenting, my house, friends, etc. He is by nature condescending and a master mansplainer. I ignore him and avoid confrontation because after 3 years of rarely seeing my daughter I still feel lucky to have this opportunity.

A month ago I ask Donny for more money for the first time because bills are mounting. I know I need to start a job search, but have been putting it off because —what the hell do I do now?

Donny tosses out a figure 33% higher than I’ve been getting monthly. He says he could even pay off my student loans “if he wanted to”. (They are not getting paid because I don’t make enough to pay them.) He tells me to send him the amount I owe and he will pay them off because he “doesn’t want the government to play any role in my life” which sounds generous, but is actually paranoid and a little conspiracy- theory ish. I send him the figure and he ignores me. All three times. I don’t rock the boat, but never even get a response. When that month’s check arrives its less than the amount he’d promised. I don’t say anything, feeling grateful to get anything at all, but irritated that he has changed the amount without mentioning it.

This months check was even less, back to the original too-low amount. I finally tell him (at 11:30 at night, probably sounding crabby) that it is hard for me to budget when I don’t know how much money I will be getting. At the first sign of what he perceives as questioning him or “conflict”, Donny flips out and says he could easily pay me more money but that he wants me to “work for it” by doing sales for him, which I’ve been clear from day 1 that I was 1) not good at and 2) not interested in doing or I would have pursued a sales career.

Then starts the classic rhetoric all single Moms hear: that I CHOSE to be a single parent and that I CHOSE to have a baby with that person, that my current situation is all my own doing. Followed by hinting that I am lazy and that I need to take “personal responsibility” for my predicament. He then drops a bomb by asking “how long am I going to do this?” I get mad and remind him that I was halfway through my degree which was PAID for and that I had wanted to finish, but that he was right, it was my fault that I had believed his promise to train me and give me work, which he not followed through on in 2 years. So now I have no money and no skills– nothing but some extra time to be a good parent to my daughter.

Then Donny says “I wanted you as a partner, but now Im not so sure,” which had failed to ever be mentioned to me. Apparently I had no say in that either. I got mad and told him not only do I not have time for any relationships, but that we have nothing in common, which we don’t- he voted for the One Who Is Not to be Named -not to mention a hearty “no thanks!” to all the boundary-crossing behaviors I put up with like never knocking but just walking into our house unannounced and at varying degrees of earliness to keep me guessing I guess. Locking the door makes him crabby. I have tolerated these behaviors because 25 years ago he emigrated from a culture where personal boundaries are not a priority, so I thought I was being understanding.

I have not heard from him in 6 days now when normally I get multiple texts per day. I assume he is pouting and will contact me with reasons why I am an ungrateful and overall crappy person. I actually feel enormous relief at not being scrutinized or controlled but am frightened for my financial situation.

What I want to know is: was it wrong of me to go along with this arrangement for so long? What if he contacts me and wants to continue this arrangement for more money? I intend to secure my own employment temping or something, but I am really regretful that I didn’t complete my education. Donny has been really generous, but at this point I feel so manipulated and disrespected that I don’t know if a can have any sort of friendship with him, whether he continues to pay me or not. He will see me as ungrateful and leaving because the money dried up.

I have been very appreciative and grateful and thank him constantly for his generosity, but it never seems to never be enough. He tells me I should just “be a good parent to my daughter,” which I am. I and my daughter make things for him and involve him with my daughters activities, but it’s still not enough. He is feeling under appreciated but doesn’t actually know what he wants. Donny has done a lot for us and I don’t think his behavior is conscious. I believe he is emotionally stunted for some reason. However, i cannot handle any more controlling and condescending bullshit. I am also aware that I am equally to blame for my situation. My motive was wanting to be able to be a good Mom for my daughter, no matter how short-lived. Finally, Donny was the only male figure in our lives my daughter could depend on, but I also don’t want to set a poor example by being manipulated and controlled by Donny.

Scripts for what to say to conflict- averse Donny if and when I hear from him would be greatly appreciated!

-Master Builder of Gilded Cages

she/her pronouns please, he/him for Donny

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hi captain,

i want to thank you so much for your website and lovely community and i hope this message finds you well. i’m having a hard time sorting through some relationship stuff and i’m hoping for some clarity.

i’m dating a very sweet and loving man who is still dealing every day with mental health issues due to early childhood trauma. these include ptsd, anxiety, depression (he is now in therapy for this) and nightmares. in his youth, he worked through his feelings of shame about what transpired in violent ways but that seems to be a thing of the past.

our courtship was fairly quick and we fell deeply in love, spending lots of our time together. in retrospect i should have been firmer about my need for a life and friendships outside of our relationship (especially at my age mid 20’s) but it all happened so fast. to be clear he does have friends/interests of his own but he is of the belief that our relationship is THE MOST important one in his life. he would be happy to rarely if ever spend time with anyone without/or other than me. in his words “i am the only thing that makes him happy” and “he welcomed dying before me but now wants to live as long as possible”. he constantly tells me i’m too good for him and is very insecure in our relationship. my friendships are deep and important to me and my feeling is that a romantic relationship should be something that adds to but is not the source of one’s happiness.

i was single for a long time before we met and had a very full life & was close with my family. they are thankfully still present but i spend much less time with them than i’d like because he doesn’t like last minute changes to our plans (even if those plans were netflix and pizza). i told him recently this needs to change and he agreed to work on it. because i’m the only thing that prevents him from having nightmares the idea of my being away causes him immense anxiety. sometimes i worry that he uses his trauma to manipulate me (his episodes early on often coincided with times i’d made plans with friends). we are also an interracial couple so that adds to a dynamic where anytime i express upset about his behavior or try to set a gentle boundary i am talked over, mansplained and/or the conversation is derailed due to the level of distress he’s displayed.

some of this is my fault as i’m not always good about expressing my feelings honestly and i want to hold space and be there for him. i tried to change parts of myself to make him more comfortable as he is an admittedly jealous person. i’m now doing my own work to come back to the vibrant, carefree woman i was when we met but it’s really difficult sometimes. i don’t know what to do or if the above is enough reason to leave or if i should keep showing up for myself, set clearer boundaries and love him through this.

any advice would be so appreciated,

sincerely,

trying not to be a pacifier

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a young woman, eighteen years old now, and studying at university. Three years ago, when I was in secondary school, I had an abusive friendship with a boy named Ned.**

(**all identifying details changed for quality assurance.)

Ned had no friends, and I, as a somewhat awkward outcast in a small country school, quickly connected with him. It became very clear that he was not a good fit for a friendship – he shut down my interests quickly while begging me to participate in his, he told me I “couldn’t” be friends with other people and that I was the only thing keeping him from suicide, and he reached the point of physically stalking me.

The Ned situation was handled, but it has left me feeling frightened of myself. I am at university and have a few very close friends now, but I’m terrified that I may end up clinging to them as tightly and as unhealthily as Ned did to me. As a result, I find myself pushing away from the people who are closest to me – I ask them, more than I should but less than I used to (yay therapy) if I’m doing something wrong, etc. I am frightened that, just like I felt about Ned, my friends are too frightened of me to tell me if I do something wrong.

I know that this hurts my relationships far more than just me being myself ever could, but I don’t know how to squash my insecurity completely. That, of course, just freaks me out even more, and I end up in this ridiculous cycle of panic and insecurity that really needs to go.

Do any of you humans on Team Awkward have any suggestions on how not to become a Ned-type person, and on how to stop being so afraid of it in the first place? I’m at my wit’s end.

Thank you!

Signed,
Nope, Not Ned

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Ahoy Captain and Commentariat!

I feel horrible for writing in with this question because Fiancee and I are supposed to be getting married in roughly 20 days. This was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in and the most serious, but I’m so stressed out I’m about to snap.

We met two years ago, started dating formally at the end of 2015, she asked me to marry her in March 2016, I said yes even though it felt a bit rushed.

Problems:

1) Fiancée has a small dog that shits and pisses everywhere in the apartment. When we moved in last June she assured me this would stop now that it was away from her abusive stepdad. NOPE. I’ve told her several times how much it frustrates me and asked her to please clean it up and train the dog, but she just acts frustrated or depressed with me for asking and defensive of Dog. Though she does clean the carpets maybe once a week, Dog is still not housebroken. I am so done dealing with this creature. I want it gone.

2) She acts entitled toward my money (apparently it became “our” money when she moved in), her constant spending has run me $1,000 in debt, and she won’t stop even when I tell her we are out of money and to give me back my cards. (I am the only one currently employed.) I’ve raided my savings account to cover expenses so many times it’s practically empty. I have also brought this up several times to no avail. Her spending habits have me so stressed I have contemplated suicide.

3) She is so messy: dirty clothes all over the bathroom, bedroom, and closet; dirty dishes in the bedroom with moldy food on them; piles of garbage covering her side of the bedroom floor; and dried food left on the kitchen counters and stove after cooking, to name just a few. I have OCD and anxiety, and the mess is driving me insane. I’ve asked her to please clean up after herself several times, but nope. She literally screamed at me last night for bringing it up. She later apologized, but that’s not something I want to deal with forever.

4) We originally planned our wedding for Earth Day 2018, but in January she woke me up in the middle of the night — when she knows I won’t remember anything — and convinced me to bump it up to this coming Feb. 27. When I didn’t remember, she got angry and hurt (at least I think she did; her favorite way of being playful and joking is to act offended by something I did or said, so I have a hard time telling the difference), questioned my commitment when I was hesitant about keeping the new date, and claimed we had to because same-sex couples might not have that right given Trump, and I caved in and agreed.

This is not actually okay with me, but I’m too scared of hurting her feelings (she has a past history of suicide attempts), really dislike emotional confrontations, and don’t know how to deal with the potential fallout, since we live together.

5) I’ve got the feeling more than once that she’s just using the relationship to get out of her stepdad’s house, get more financial aid for when she decided to go back to community college, and to get on my health insurance. But I also have PTSD and depression from past abusive relationships, so this could legit just be paranoia.

6) Finally, she doesn’t have a job, doesn’t go to school, and we don’t have kids, and spends most of her days in bed watching Netflix, outside working on various projects watching Netflix, or playing video games. I’m honestly tired of bankrolling her extended vacation from the real world while I’m stressing out making ends meet and have very little free time.

Despite all this I love her very much and would love to make it work; she is kind, funny, talented, and smart, tells me often how much she loves me, that I’m beautiful, that I’m her muse for art projects and the love of her life, is physically affectionate, and does small things like bring me food when I’m busy or make me gifts from the raw materials I buy.

On the one hand I really want to spend my life with her because the good stuff is so good! But on the other, I often daydream about being single with just my cats in a clean, organized, dog-free home. We love each other a lot, but after almost a year of living together my opinion is that we don’t have compatible living styles.

Aside from breaking her heart and possibly forcing her to move back in with her abusive stepdad, my main concern with breaking up is who will get the kitten we rescued and raised since she was a day old. I honestly think I should get to keep her because I have income and can care for her, plus her step-dad hates cats and her mom is allergic. But Fiancée got to spend more time with Kitten when she was really young because I couldn’t stay up with her all night due to my job.

Can you please give me some scripts to 1) ask that she fix the above problems or I’m gone (without sounding like an asshole), 2) if she agrees, scripts to postpone the wedding to make sure the fixes stick and aren’t just lip service; or, if she doesn’t agree or she does but the problems continue unabated, 3) scripts to call off the wedding and break up?

Thank you in advance!

~Would I be dodging a bullet, or losing the love of my life?

PS: Please, no How to Train Your Dog tips – I do not like Dog and do not want to waste any more of my very limited free time dealing with it more than I already have to.

[She/her pronouns]

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I know the number one rule in divorces and co-parenting is to never say mean things about the other parent and to protect the child in a way that won’t “hurt” them.

With this in mind, I’ve been struggling trying to explain to my child (who’s 4) why their Father’s lateness in picking them up on their days together is not because the child did something and that the father is the one at fault. My child has been asking more frequently why their Dad isn’t here yet or what’s taking them so long. I hate seeing my child become sad about their Dad not being somewhere when he said he would be. Often he texts a few minutes after he’s due to arrive and I’m left having to make excuses for his lateness. I don’t want to damage their relationship, but I’m also tired of covering for my child’s father’s poor behavior. I’m afraid that by covering for the father would continue to set up false expectations for my child and I’m afraid that what I’m saying to alleviate the stress my child is feeling about it could also be bad.

I tell my child, when they ask why Dad is late is that their father’s lateness isn’t the child’s fault and that we continue with our day not worrying about when the father finally shows up. And that their Father will do their best to meet up with us wherever we are. Am I telling them the right things?

I of course have been trying to fix this lateness situation with the father by changing pickup times, but that hasn’t worked. They continue to show up sometimes over 2 hours late and when I do let them know that we have left our house, then the time that they do show gets further delayed. I’m tired of keeping my child and I trapped at the house and rearranging my and my child’s schedule to fit the other person’s lateness. It makes me so angry that even after the divorce that I’m still powerless to him. I just want to make sure I’m doing right by my child.

Thank you.

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Hi excellent captain,

Firstly I wanted to say that your blog has been, like, profoundly life-changingly important for me.

I have two parents who are both, in their different ways, abusive. My mum has had a difficult past but can’t control her outbursts of destructive rage, and my dad is the more cool, calm, evil genius type of abuser who thinks really hard about how to twist the knife while appearing totally rational. They are divorced and used me and my sister as weapons in their proxy war for years.

Coming to realise that they were abusive was really important and useful for me, but it also drastically reduced my tolerance for their bullshit. Earlier this year my mum started some weird guilt-trip stuff about me moving in with my partner, and it was one thing too many and I ended up slow-fading her. This weekend, my dad and I got into a row about him being needlessly aggressive – I told him I didn’t want to hear from him until he was willing to apologise, and instead he sent me an appallingly offensive drunken rant about how insufferable I am – which he ended with that Oscar Wilde quote about losing your parents. I know, right.

So I’m now, for the moment at least, without parents. I’m 25. I’ve just started training in a career I love. I have a stable living situation and a caring partner (who incidentally has an absolute cinnamon roll of a mum). But I don’t know how to deal with this emotionally. There aren’t many protocols for how to get over a break-up with your parents. I feel relieved to be rid of them but angry they treated me so badly and it’s all a bit mixed up.

Can you help? Your guides for how to get over romantic breakups are so good, so real, so true, but I feel like they don’t quite apply here in the same way.

Oh, and one more think – my dad has a nine year old son, my half brother. I adore him and he adores me; he’s the only bio family member I have who just unproblematically loves me and likes to be around me. He lives in another country with my dad and doesn’t have a phone of his own yet. Every time I think about what I’m going to do about that, I cry. Can you give me a nudge towards knowing what to do?

Fleeing the Toxic Trash-fire

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