The Controlling Wife


So many times we hear about sociopathic men controlling women. Typically, it is females who become trapped in emotionally abusive relationships and cannot leave due to financial circumstances. However, there are also many men trapped in similar situations. I know that the term ‘controlling woman’ is a stereotype and yet I recently experienced a situation which made me think about it in-depth.

A dear friend of thirty years recently tried to end his relationships with  a sociopathic family member. I had been friends with this man, whom I’ll call Tom, for thirty years. I knew about Tom’s situation with his family member for several years. Several months ago, he came to me because he had decided to cut off ties with this individual, who happened to be his wife.

My friend grew up in a home with a very controlling mother and without knowing it he signed up for the same treatment in his marriage. I met his wife when they first started dating. She struck me as quite immature. She was 21 at the time but seemed more like 11. All that this woman wanted out of life was to have as many babies as possible and to not have to work outside the home. Tom, who was in love with his wife and eager to start a family, agreed that she should stay home with the children but he did not know that he was also signing up to support her financially for the rest of her life.

The number of children seemed to be the first point of struggle. After three children, Tom wanted to stop but she insisted on more. Tom wanted a vasectomy stating that they could not afford more children because his wife was not working and he had a blue-collar profession. After the fourth child arrived, Tom again stated that he wanted no more children. At this time, they had three boys and one girl. His wife insisted that she “needed” another daughter and begged and pleaded. So their second daughter was born. After five children, Tom insisted on a vasectomy.

After the vasectomy there was very little and eventually no sex. Without the possibility of pregnancy, Tom’s wife only used sex as a reward/punishment system, sending him to sleep on the couch so often that he eventually moved to the couch.

In addition to wanting more children than they could afford, Tom’s wife also had expensive habits including wine, clothing, make up and going out to lunch with her friends. She still did not work outside the home. Tom went without to provide her  wants and he subsequently ignored his own needs. His wife had been brought up in a wealthy family and she did not seem to understand that her husband was a blue-collar worker with a limited earning potential. Credit card debts ensued, not for necessary items but for luxuries. At one point the finances were strained after Tom was laid off from a manufacturing firm which was moving overseas. Instead of offering to find work herself to help pay the bills (the youngest child at that time being 8), his wife pushed for them to take a second mortgage, which they did, mounting to the debt.

Early on in this marriage, Tom’s wife took the lead of being the boss, of being in charge. He referred to her as a bully. If she did not get her way, then she would punish him with sullen moods, outbursts of anger, and fits of crying. She inflicted her moods on the children, who also responded to her manipulations by acquiescing to their mother’s demands. The entire household revolved around the mother. Anything and everything was done to keep her calm. Tom pressed her to see a psychiatrist but she refused.

With the economic changes after 2008, Tom found that he was unable to make enough money in his career as an industrial tradesman without traveling to remote areas for weeks or months at a time and sending the money back home to his wife. He lived in squalid conditions including musty hotel rooms, shared housing and even campsites to keep his expenses as low as possible. He was incredibly unhappy and yet he felt that he must keep working to support his children, especially as his wife continued to not work outside the home.

As the years went by the type of work Tom had to perform, which involved climbing and lifting for ten to twelve hours a day, began to have a toll on his body. Having inherited a genetic form of arthritis, his limbs became twisted and as he took medications to control the swelling at such high levels that his liver levels were altered. It was at this point that I came into contact with him again, after an absence of several years. He was desperate to change careers and yet he could not afford to. When I suggested that his wife should get a job, he felt thankful to me for saying so. And yet she continued to not work and he continued to tax his body.

During the past couple of years, Tom remarked to me that lately, instead of working five ten to twelve-hour days per week, he needed to work six in order to make enough money to satisfy his wife’s spending habits. He referenced her credit card bills, expensive clothing, trips to the hairdressers, cases of wine, organic food, vitamins. At this point, I interjected, “Organic food! You’ve got five kids and a workingman’s salary! You can’t afford organic food!” He sadly agreed and yet he seemed powerless to stop her from buying it.

Finally, last fall, feeling his body becoming worn out and broken, and with every day of work more painful than the one before, Tom had enough. He decided to call it off. The youngest child was fifteen. He announced his intention for a divorce, and told her that although he would fully support the children and household until the youngest was eighteen, she would need to get a full-time job right away, as he intended to transition to a career which would not destroy his body further.

Tom’s resolve lasted a few months while his wife battered away at him daily. First, after having ignored him sexually for years, she began pursuing him against his will. He felt extremely uncomfortable about her advances and asked her to stop. She did not. Since he was working several hours away, and saw her only occasionally, at first this was not too difficult. But then she began calling him and texting him unceasingly. After having ignored him completely for years, she began a campaign of constant contact, which anyone outside of the situation would consider harassment. She agreed to go to counseling to address her poor behavior, then she missed the appointments. She yelled, screamed, cried, withdrew. She harangued him, argued with him and accused him repeatedly of neglecting his duty. She shamed him. She told him that his children were suffering because of his actions. She upset their teenage and young adult children, whom she drew into her confidence as she designated herself as the victim, suddenly thrown out and forced to get a job, as if doing so were an indignity she could not bear. Soon his young adult children began to call him at work asking, “Why are you making Mom get a job?”

None of Tom’s children seemed to be aware of the breakdown of their father’s body, or how hard he worked, or what that work did to him. All they heard was the deafening yells of this woman who was simply a large child not getting her way. Finally, after several months of harassment, Tom needed unexpected surgery and wound up unemployed and living under the same roof as his wife. Due to pressure from her and his oldest daughter, he finally gave up his intention to get a divorce and agreed to reconcile with his wife. Undoubtedly, he will work six or seven days a week until his body fails, which cannot be too many years from now. (He is currently 50 years old.)

As sad as this story is, I know of several men trapped in similar situations. Their female partners control them by withholding sex, and making them feel ashamed. They accuse them of neglecting their duties and being bad fathers if they consider leaving their wives. My friend Tom knew that it was possible to get divorced and still be a good father and he set out determined to do this and yet his intentions were undermined by his wife convincing him (and the children) that if he left her, he was also leaving the children. This case is particularly sad in that the wife used the children to such an extent that Tom began viewing them as if they were much younger and more helpless than they were. A secondary aspect of this family’s dysfunction is that the adult children were also growing dependent on Tom to be the person who not only made all the money but who solved all of the emotional squabbles in the household. Two of the adult children were still living at home and not contributing anything to the household in terms of either money or labor.

Control and manipulation are gender neutral. Anyone can play in these twisted games. My heart goes out to all persons trapped by controlling partners or family members; may you all find the courage to escape.

Namaste,

Ixchel

Being Devalued in a Pathological Relationship


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde poster. Converted losslessly from .tif to .png by uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have been in a relationship with a pathological individual, then you may recognize the three distinct phases of idealization, devaluation and discarding.

Twice, I have been involved with  my ex husband who has Narcissistic and Anti Social Personality disorders. The first time was when we were young adults. The second time was twenty years later. Both times, he ran my heart  through the wringer of all three phases.

During the first phase of idealization, your lover will shower  you with more attention, gifts and flattery than you ever believed possible. He will place you on an altar and worship you night and day. It will feel as if all your dreams have come true. He will convince you that he is your soul mate. You will be filled  happiness and joy by his adoration.

Conversely, during the phase of discarding, you will feel as if your lover has dumped you into the trash. Perhaps he has already replaced you with another lover before ‘getting rid’ of you. If so, then he was ‘trying out’ the new lover before ending it with you. (He needed to make sure in advance that the new woman would  ‘work out’ for him.)  After having been discarded you will eventually come to realize that none of what happened during the idealization phase was real. This realization is incredibly painful and difficult to recover from.

Today, I would like to discuss the middle phase, devaluing. In my most recent involvement with my ex husband, the devaluing phase was the most confusing and, after the relationship collapsed, it was the most painful of the three phases to examine retroactively. However, it was through a close examination of all three phases that I was able to recover and move on.

During the moments of his devaluation, I was so confused. All of a sudden, he would say something strange and almost insulting to me which seemed to be completely out of his character. For example, one day, he mentioned something about my clothes which made me realize that he was unhappy about how I dressed. Another day, he mentioned that I had picked out the wrong glasses because they didn’t ‘frame’ my face ‘the right way.’ This behavior on his part was entirely new. During the first eighteen to twenty months of our relationship, he’d convinced me that I was the most beautiful woman in the world. All of a sudden, he was pointing out my ‘flaws’.  I was shocked and hurt. In consequence, I became more careful of how I dressed around him and I got new glasses, which he approved of. I did not know that he was most likely comparing me in appearance to his other girlfriend.

During the devaluation phase,  your lover may begin to  flare out in a ‘narcissistic rage.’ A narcissistic rage is notable for its sudden appearance and just as sudden disappearance. For no apparent reason at all, your lover flares out in irritation at you over something trivial. I experienced my ex’s narcissistic rage one early spring morning, about seven months before our relationship ended.

We were sitting outside on a sunny day outside his house. Usually, we held hands when we sat outside, or had some type of physical contact.  Our chairs were several feet apart and I went to move mine closer to his and he reared back in disgust, pulling his chair further away,  and roared at me, “I’m RIGHT HERE!”

I was completely shocked. It was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde moment, which is a classic description for the onset of narcissistic rage. One moment, your lover is calm and gentle and the next he is flipping out and then it’s over in a moment and he is back to himself.

After the breakup, I combed through all these moment of being devalued. It was traumatic to look back at them and to remember how I felt. When these moments were happening, I felt as if the ground beneath me were splitting open and there was suddenly no safe place to stand. I could not make sense of his behavior, or his rage. I could sense that something in him had changed, but I didn’t know what or why. And then he’d be back to his charismatic, friendly self and so I’d gloss over the moments of being devalued. As most of the time he was not in a narcissistic rage, I began to discount those moments as not being real. However, I was wrong. The narcissistic rage represented the crack in his mask showing me his true self inside.

In reality, I was not spending a sunny afternoon during a weekend visit with my devoted lover. I was spending the weekend with a man who liked many aspects of being with me, including our active sex life, but who had been secretly sleeping with another woman for nearly a year and who was beginning to prefer that woman’s company to mine. The narcissistic rage, his intense and sudden irritation with me wanting to be close to him, revealed his true underlying feelings. Although he didn’t object to spending time in bed with me when I came to visit him, he was beginning to resent having to pay attention to me outside of bed.

Other incidents of devaluing occurred in the few months before we broke up, however this incident is the one that sticks out in my memory. I remember how hurt I was. I remember thinking, “What is going on? We’ve been in bed for two hours. Does he really object to holding my hand now?” My conscious mind was aware that his behavior was a serious red flag, but my emotional self shushed my mind as soon as he returned to ‘normal’ behavior.

Remembering it makes me feel warped, used and yucky. I feel very sorry for the woman who was me, being fooled and tricked by the man who had convinced her that he was her soul mate. I feel sorry for the time she wasted driving down to see him. I empathize with the time that she has spent recovering from this man’s betrayal.

I am glad that I am not that woman anymore, being used and lied to.  I applaud myself for getting out of that situation. I applaud all of you who have also rescued yourselves from similar situations.

Overall, devaluing sucks, but, if you can shut off your emotions (good luck) and let your mind see it as a red flag, it can be a good sign that it might be time to get out of a relationship that’s going downhill.

Namaste,

Ixchel

Stages of Recovering From Betrayal- Stage 1: SHOCK


“Betrayal is a shock. Most of us have experienced it and felt the harsh hit of reality and the isolation and confusion that follows. People say “get over it,” but you can’t. Betrayal involves lying, cheating, stealing, broken promises, or revealing someone’s secret. Betrayal is the violation of trust.

There are five stages of the betrayal experience that must be addressed during the healing process:

  • Shock.
  • Grieving the loss of the person you thought you knew.
  • Grieving the loss of the actual person.
  • Dealing with self-blame and humiliation.
  • Forgiveness and letting go.

The first four stages are not necessarily consecutive. They can overlap each other like waves in a turbulent ocean.

The first stage, shock, comes in many different forms. It might feel like numbness or unreality. You might feel immobilized or have a strong urge to run away. You may feel calm or full of rage. Your mind swirls with thoughts. It is a crisis. Shock, disbelief, anger, devastation, humiliation, sadness, the wish to rescue, and the wish to retaliate are all natural and expected reactions to betrayal. The most important thing to do during this stage is to find a support system to contain and normalize the feelings, and rather than beat yourself up, try to deal with it in constructive ways.”

This is a quote from an article, “Healing: When Betrayal Ends a Relationship” by Melanie Brown Kroon MA, MFT. Link to the article is listed under “Blogroll” on right column of blog.