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Cycle of Abuse

Ms. Vicki

Ms. Vicki,

I've written this letter three times to try to express what is going on properly, but now I just need advice and figure I'll just come out with it.

I have been married to my Marine husband for three years. We had a very short engagement and married quickly. Because I have two children, I decided once we were married to stay put and my husband stayed on the base he was stationed at, for the stability of my kids. That lasted 18 months. I saw him three times the first 18 months of our marriage.

Very early in, I noticed he was very irritable and generally anxious. He would accuse me of cheating no matter what I would tell him I was doing and he began calling me names. I began to just go to work and straight home. I stayed home every weekend because I wanted to make him feel comfortable and ease his anxieties as well as avoid his wrath. The name-calling began to evolve into lectures, criticism of me as a person, and blame. I journal because it helps me to center my emotions and I started noticing a pattern of verbal abuses that I did not, at the time, recognize as abuse.

At our first-year anniversary, my husband told me that either I had to move to be with him or it was over. He stated that all of his frustrations and anxieties, all of his bad behaviors were because of our long-distance relationship. I agreed that it was hard to be married long-distance and that it was time to merge our lives,.but I wanted to make sure that his abusiveness would not escalate into physical violence when we merged.

I talked to him about how he treated me and what my fears were. He admitted that he was "an idiot," he was selfish, abusive, and treated me wrong (his words, not mine). He begged and pleaded and agreed to marriage counseling when my kids and I arrived on base. I waited until the end of the school year, another five months, and after I saw the changes he had made in how he treated me long distance, I decided to move. In June 2013, we came to California to live with him.

Things were good for about three weeks. After that first three weeks, life became chaotic and confusing. I have never had another person be so abusive verbally, blame me for things I had nothing to do with, or have emotional/angry outbursts over literally the brand of peanut butter not being right!

From August 2013 until December 2013, I felt like I was living in hell. I could never do anything right. I was called every derogatory name you could imagine; I was threatened physical violence if I didn't do what he expected; I was physically abused to the point of cracked ribs and an ER visit; I was told I was useless and worthless on a daily basis; I was told that I was disgusting and that he wished I looked like a porn star. He threatened to cheat on me on a regular basis. There's so much more I could write, but you get the picture.

After the physical violence progressed and I went to the ER, he was forced into mandatory therapy, marriage counseling, and parenting classes. Because I took some of the responsibility for our "fights" (at his request), his superiors brushed it off and told him to shape up, do his mandatory stuff, and it would not go on his permanent record.

I didn't want to harm his career, but I couldn't lie about cracked ribs. All of 2014 was better. After he completed his therapy, and after lying his way through marriage counseling, he has been getting better at controlling his rage. He is still abusive to me with his words at some point every day, but he does not touch me physically any more than a shove or a frustrated bump into me.

BUT ... he received orders for a PCS to Japan this coming March. It is accompanied, so the kids and I are on the orders over. Do I go or do I just stay in the states and lose all of our BAH? Last week, I told him that I wanted a divorce after one of his tantrums. The words he said just cut me so deep I couldn't even cry.

He threatens to divorce me several times per week so I told him he can have it. I will sign the papers; I can't handle this life anymore. I realize he's unhappy so I will let him go so he can find what does make him happy.

I don't want to leave him, he has a lot of good qualities, but when he rages about non-issues and I live on eggshells, I can't see those good qualities anymore. All I see is a raving lunatic, a controlling bully who cares only for himself. I know he is hurting. I know that he is reflecting his shame, his inadequacies, onto me. I know that he probably needs love more than any normal feeling person. I just don't know if I am strong enough to keep his words from hurting me while I try to be patient with his "changes." That sounds so stupid because I think it speaks more of me than him that I stay.

He is in the begging, bargaining, pleading phase right now. Doing everything in his power to make me change my mind. I haven't really made up my mind, I just wanted the behavior to change so it's hard to hold my position.

In the past, I would always try to ease his hurt, make him feel better, but not this time. I've pulled myself away from him to protect myself. I want to know, do you think we can save this marriage, or should I follow through with the divorce and stay stateside? Thanks for your advice.

Sincerely,
Barely Breathing

Dear Barely Breathing,

Your signature says it all: Your husband is choking life from you. He's almost succeeded. As you know, you are in a very abusive relationship. You describe the power and control quite vividly. You also describe the cycle of abuse: There is a big blow-up, he name-calls, threatens you, hits you and does physical damage (cracked ribs etc.), he calms down, he apologizes and tries to make it up to you, you threaten to leave, his command gets involved, he is ordered treatment, but the same thing happens again.

I can see power and control and the cycle of abuse in your marriage, but there is something else that I see in all abusive relationships that is happening to you, too. Being in an abusive relationship makes you second-guess yourself, as you are doing right now. You're even dissociating from and repressing what is occurring. In other words, you are blocking these events from your memory, or it's like you are sitting in a movie theater watching your life events on a theater screen. These are defense mechanisms to give you protection. However, this is your life and it's real.

Another characteristic that you have that is very common with both men and women who are in abusive relationships is that you vacillate from one spectrum to the other about the person who is being abusive toward you. He's a saint -- no, he's the devil. For example, you said he a raging lunatic, but he's hurting, and he has a lot of shame. Listen, this may be true, but he has to take responsibility to heal all of his hurts. This is not your responsibility. What you have to do is be responsible for yourself and your children.

Speaking of the children, let's think about them for a minute, please. What do you think this is doing to them? I don't care how young or old they are -- this abusive relationship is surely giving them anxiety and even depression. Abusive relationships ruin a child's self-esteem.

So what do I think you should do? I think you should let him go to Japan alone. Your life is in danger and your children too. Before he leaves, you should let the Family Advocacy therapist know the abuse is still occurring and that you don't want to accompany your husband to Japan. You should also get the Victims Advocate involved.

As a matter of fact, you should have one assigned to you already. These people should help you transition to a different location so you can be near family and friends who love you. They should also help you work with Legal to establish a legal separation that includes spousal and child support.

For you and your children's sake, you must reclaim your life and get on a road to self-sufficiency. You must also figure out how you got in this relationship with a very abusive man. I believe there were many warning signs early on in your relationship with him. However, you married him anyway. You have to find out why "you don't matter." If you don't figure this out, you will be with another abusive man before long. Please write to me again and let me know how you are doing.

Sincerely,
Ms. Vicki

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Contributor

Ms. Vicki is a native of Dallas, has been the Dear Abby for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology.

Ms. Vicki appears regularly on Military.com and in the Fort Campbell Courier. Her column has also appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Looking for advice about your military life? Email Ms. Vicki here. Find Ms. Vicki on Facebook here.  Find Ms. Vicki on Twitter here.

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